You've made the decision.
"I'm going to blog. I've got so many great travel experiences. And everyone says I should blog to improve my travel agency's SEO – even though I'm not sure what that exactly means."
The best intentions, however, won't necessarily help you overcome the obstacles that most travel advisors face when planning a blog content marketing strategy. Finding the topics and the time to write, and publishing content that engages clients to do more than click, read and leave, is difficult, even for professional writers.
And then there is the challenge of producing content that will catch the attention of Google's algorithms. According to the latest research, the click-through rate for the fifth top result in an information search (your prospects using phrases like: "family-friendly Playa del Carmen hotels") is around 5%. Below fifth place? Click-through rates drop to 2-3%.
This means that travel agents looking to generate sales leads by creating blogs and other web page content need to hone in on the ideal client looking for them and answer that prospect's most urgent questions and needs.
If you ask Google, "How much does a Disney vacation cost?" the number one organic page listing at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) is a blog post by VacationKids.com, even above stories from major media outlets like Money Magazine and HuffPost.
This one post brings VacationKids close to 20,000 unique visitors to their website every month, since it was first published in 2013.
The reason why is because VacationKids has doubled down on its family vacation specific blog content to generate sales leads, and as a result, the Kunkletown, Pennsylvania travel agency appears at the top of Google SERPs for a number of similar family travel questions.
"If you expect viral success, you will be disappointed," said Sally Black, owner of VacationKids.com. "Blogging is a long-term investment, but it does pay big rewards in both sales leads and building trust with online clients."
Travel Market Report collaborated with Black on these top tips for your blog.
"It took me several months to get one of my ICs to write an account of the Christmas trip she took with her 4-year-old son skiing in the Alps," Black said. "I posted her article in April of that year, and she complained that she got no leads for the time she spent writing it. In September of the same year, her first lead from that post yielded a $15,000 booking. With an $1,800 commission, that's like earning $900 an hour for the 2 hours it took her to write the article. She didn't complain about blogging after that."
Start with ‘who,' not ‘what'
It is so much easier for you to craft great, consistent blog copy if you can picture the person you are writing for. Write down descriptions of your best clients, the ones you love working with, the ones who value you the most – and hopefully drive higher commissions, like Black's IC received for her skiing blog.
Don't settle for a description like this: Millennial couples who love to travel twice a year, and don't want to book their vacations themselves.
Shoot for this: Jane and Steve are a busy, professional dual-income couple who prioritize saving for at least two trips a year. They love to lounge out on at least one of those trips, preferably on a beach in the Caribbean or Mexico. They are always willing to try a new destination, but want to be at a resort that's low-hassle for them, so they have to think less and just be more. And while money is an object, they are willing to splurge on some extras if it means they relax faster and deeper.
"While Jane and Steve may plan to vacation together, your blog also might need to speak to each of them individually," Black said. "For example, the topic of a family vacation budget speaks to a female audience when I compare it to buying a little black dress, but when I present this same topic to a male audience, I don't use the dress shopping analogy."
Okay, so now you have the beginning of an avatar. As you build your blog's editorial schedule for the year, think about the places Jane and Steve might want to explore next. What do you know about the services and experiences at those destinations and resorts that would encourage them to click on your newsletter link to read more at your website?
When you're writing your articles, are you helping Jane and Steve feel the experience before they book with you? Are you answering the questions they would have about resorts and destinations they haven't explored yet? It all comes back to who.
"When writing blog posts, I use the principle of ABF," Black said, "Always Be Useful. Don't focus on selling. Focus on teaching, solving their problems and giving them insider ideas."
You would make time for selling, wouldn't you?
Many agents say their biggest challenge is finding the time for creating blogs and content marketing. Black recommends changing your mindset to thinking about how scheduling a couple of hours blogging each week is not about writing, but about building the opportunity to meet thousands of new potential clients.
Black said: "I started blogging because I was lazy! I was tired of answering the same old questions over and over, like 'How do I apply for a passport?' or 'How do I navigate Cancun Airport?' Over time, as it started to generate sales leads, I saw that blogging saved me time and client sales support. It's a win-win."
According to Orbit Media's 2018 survey of about 1,000 bloggers, the average blog post is about 1,150 words long and takes an average of 3.5 hours to produce. (Half of all bloggers spend less than three hours per post, while one in eight bloggers spend more than six hours per article.)
More than half of the bloggers who write 2,000-plus word articles report "strong results." Bloggers who write longer posts are far more likely to report stronger results, while only 20% of bloggers writing 500-1,000 words reported strong results.
That's a lot of time for a travel agent who may already be working 60-70 hours per week, but efficiency comes with time, Black said.
"With practice, everything becomes easier and faster. Whenever I get a flash of inspiration for a new blog post, I write down the basic title or idea. I wake up early on a Sunday morning with a cup of tea and a bagel – I look forward to that quiet, creative time," she said. "It's how I speak to a few thousand new people in a couple of hours."
To use your time more efficiently, recycle and repurpose content within and across marketing platforms, she said. A great performing social media post might spur a great blog, and a great blog can populate your weekly client newsletter, said Black.
Putting blogging in perspective, think about the variety of ways you try to generate sales leads, and how much time that takes. For example, attendance at a weekend bridal expo might require 18-20 hours minimum just being at the show. Then include all of your prep time leading up to the show, and an hour or so afterwards, and you could easily be committing 25-30 hours for one weekend's worth of sales leads.
In terms of time, that's equivalent to Orbit Media's estimate of ten weeks of writing blog content that will be up on your website permanently, with the power to potentially bring in new sales leads long after you publish it.
"Blogging and content marketing is the gift I've given to my business that is evergreen and keeps on giving," Black said.