3 questions to determine the “link risk” to your travel business

If you’re fortunate enough to not have to spend a large chunk of every week sifting the latest coming and goings in the SEO news you probably missed this story – that is, unless your business was relying on private blog networks (PBNs) for inbound links and therefore your search rankings. If that’s the case, you’re probably trying to work out where the hell all your search traffic has gone.

Either way, all online travel businesses need to be aware of Google’s latest move against low quality links, in its ongoing war to clean up the web.

For the uninitiated, private blog networks are large collections of blogs and sites all owned and operated by a single entity for the sole purpose of publishing low grade “content” accompanied by large numbers of links to member websites. Members pay a handsome fee to join the network and in return they enjoy automated link building to their website, which contributes to improvements in rankings and therefore search traffic.

Last week Google completely de-indexed the entire network operated by one of the largest PBN’s, BuildMyRank, causing the value of all its backlinks to vanish, which in turn undid any ranking benefits that they had passed on to its members’ sites. For any sites that had been using BuildMyRank as their sole source of links, the results would have been disastrous.

Rumour and conjecture on the SEO blogosphere abounds, and current chatter suggests that this marks the start of a concerted new effort against blog networks and other “black/grey hat” link manipulation schemes. With that in mind, now might be a good time to review your link development strategy and make sure you’re not exposed to any unnecessary risk. The following questions may help for online travel businesses:

#1) Are you relying on automated link schemes? Automation is the operative word here. Anything that automatically publishes links to your site from other sites should be viewed with a healthy amount of caution. Google (and the other search engines) place emphasis on the value of quality links published by human-controlled editorial processes, i.e. someone creates a link to your site because they specifically think your site fits the editorial nature of their site. Any links that are created by automated processes are by definition low value, and may become the target of algorithm changes in the future.

#2) Are you relying on low quality content? Low grade, thin “space filler” articles, or articles that are “spun” beyond recognition using automated re-writing tools and then mass submitted to hundreds of article directories do not count as a legitimate linking tactic in the eyes of the search engines, and are likely to be targeted or at least devalued in the future.

#3) Do you have an editorial linking strategy? “Editorial” links are the opposite of the above. They are links that have been deliberately placed on a website by an editor because they are deemed to be useful and valuable for site visitors. These links are massively important for travel businesses as they offer huge opportunities to connect with the travel blogs and publications that match your destinations, services and audiences. These are the links that Google, Bing etc are searching for and these are the links that will help secure long term rankings in the search results.

A healthy link development strategy would avoid #1 & 2 like the plague and would place priority on #3, to build up a strong and diverse link profile that is future-proofed against any more algorithm changes targeting low value, low quality links.

Timeline for Facebook pages is coming

In the ever shifting sands of online marketing, only one thing is certain: no matter how hard you try, by the time you figure out how something works, it will have changed.

In fact, Douglas Adams could have been talking about Facebook when he wrote:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened”

You guessed it; there are more changes on the way for Facebook Pages and they’re going to require a significant re-think on how you use your Facebook profile and what resources you dedicate to it.

On March 30, all Facebook Pages will be converted to the new Timeline format, whether you want it or not. Before that deadline you will be given some time to experiment with your page and see how it appears to the public and to your followers. You should use that time to make sure your page is ready and to familiarise yourself with some of the main changes:

  • Cover photo: This space gives you an opportunity to grab attention and make an impact with some great photography. The recommended image size is 851 X 315 pixels, and you will also get a smaller space for a profile photo, which should be 180 X 180 pixels. Unlike previous profile photos, these are not allowed to contain promotional text, company details or contact information, references to Liking your page or any other Facebook interactions, or any call to action such as “Get in touch” “Tell your friends” etc.
  • Default landing tabs: Whereas previously you were able to create custom tabs and set them as the default landing tab for your Facebook Page, or specify certain landing tabs for specific sources of traffic, this functionality will now be removed. All visitors will land on your main Timeline page. However, you will be able to create up to 12 custom tabs or apps for different groups, audiences, products or promotions, and place them at the top of your page, next to your Photos tab.
  • Star/Pin important content: Any important content can be “pinned” to the top of your timeline for a maximum of 7 days, which means it will remain conspicuous and will not be buried under subsequent posts by you or your fans. This is especially useful for promotions or other time-sensitive posts. You can also widen important posts to occupy both columns of the page, by clicking the star button in the top right corner.
  • Direct messages: This is a new feature to Facebook Pages and it allows your fans to contact your page admin in private. This presents a new customer service opportunity, but if you choose to enable the private message function, be sure that you have the time and resources to properly monitor and reply to your messages.
  • Friend activity: The new layout places additional emphasis on how a visitor’s own friends have interacted with your Page. If they have several other friends who have liked, commented or shared your Page’s content, that will appear prominently on their personalised view of your Page, and presumably will help drive their own interaction with you and your Page.

Facebook has provided an interactive guide to the changes, but your most effective learning curve will be to get stuck in and have a play around with the new format – and remember to give yourself plenty of time for the 30 March deadline.

Some ideas for how travel businesses can take advantage of the latest changes:

  • Be visual: Photos and video are both given extra emphasis and are known to be effective in driving user engagement. Aim to share extraordinary, inspiring and creative images and video of your destinations, activities or attractions. The better they are, the more likes and shares you will generate.
  • Make best use of custom tabs: Although a lot of functionality has been removed by removing custom landing pages/tabs, you should make full use of the new spaces for custom tabs at the top of the page. Use effective content and calls to action in these tabs and on the pages themselves to drive leads, newsletter signups and other engagement. Fill these spaces with messages that are likely to resonate with your target audience: featured tours, offers/promotions, travel guides, newsletter registration, you could even embed full itineraries complete with contact forms into the new pages.
  • Publish and “pin” weekly messages: Create a weekly message and pin it to the top of your Timeline. It doesn’t need to be a promotion or offer, it could be a giveaway, a contest, a poll, a great new blog post, or any other piece of content. Whatever it is, make sure it is compelling, inspiring and uses jaw-dropping imagery.

Given all the investment and fanfare that has gone into launching Timeline, the format will hopefully be around for the foreseeable future and there shouldn’t be any more major changes for a while. But don’t get too comfortable: at some point it will change again, and all those engineers at Silicon Valley are doubtless already plotting the next bizarre and inexplicable replacement.