facebook instant articles for travel content marketing?

What effect will Instant Articles and AMP have on travel content marketing?

Moves from the web’s two biggest giants to shake up mobile publishing have been causing waves among mainstream publishers.

Two features, Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) were launched last year, ostensibly to improve speed and overall experience for mobile users.

The initiatives are part of a broader shift in the tectonics of digital publishing, among a backdrop of debate around mobile speed and UX, ad blocking, the open web vs walled gardens, and other heady themes.

But while regular publishers grapple with the implications, could there be new opportunities opening up for content marketing too?

Instant Articles

Instant Articles is a way for publishers to post their content directly onto Facebook itself, allowing mobile users to load and read articles instantly without having the leave the Facebook app.

facebook instant articles for travel content marketing?

Instant Articles in the wild (Source

 

The company claims this makes the reading experience up to 10 times faster than the mobile web, making users more likely to engage with content and, of course, keep them inside Facebook’s walled garden.

Originally released for just a handful of major publishers, the platform is scheduled for general availability on April 12, meaning anyone, including travel businesses, will be able to publish their own Instant Articles.

The nuts and bolts are relatively straightforward. All content must already exist on your own site. From there it’s formatted into an HTML markup and submitted either manually or via an RSS feed.

Importantly, Facebook has accommodated publishers’ needs by allowing 3rd party ads, analytics and audience tracking.

As far as the mobile user is concerned nothing much has changed – you still share, comment and ‘Like’ links as normal, only if an article is available in the Instant format, that is the version that will be displayed to users on the mobile app.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

The clunkier sounding Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is Google’s response to Instant. It works in a similar way – publishers provide a stripped down, mobile-friendly version of existing content that can be loaded much faster by users on a mobile device:

google accelerated mobile pages for travel content marketing

AMP pages in the wild (Source

Unlike Instant you don’t need to physically submit your content to Google, the search engine will crawl your AMP links and cache the content so it can be displayed instantly to mobile users.

As with Facebook’s platform, publishers retain their ads and analytics.

So what does it all mean?

The implications of all this for regular publishers and news orgs are complex. While the mainstream has already jumped in at the deep end, others are justifiably skeptical over giving up even more control and ownership to two already gargantuan platforms.

But for travel companies it could be an easier decision. If Instant and AMP make it easier to get your content in front of mobile users, it must be a no-brainer?

Firstly, it’s worth noting that these features are currently aimed at top tier news organisations and other mainstream publishers. Most AMP pages you’ll see ‘in the wild’ are breaking news and current events from well known sources.

That said, there is already talk of potential applications beyond news publishers. If AMP pages start displaying for a wider range of search queries, such as blog posts, long tail keywords, or even e-commerce and product pages, it might make sense for brands to jump on board.

For sites using WordPress there are already plugins out there to generate AMP and Instant Article versions of your content. The popular Yoast WP plugin announced they’ll be supporting AMP markup in the near future.

Secondly, don’t expect either features to provide a direct boost to your mobile visibility. Both Facebook and Google have explicitly stated that having content available as an AMP page or Instant Article won’t bring preferable treatment in the rankings or Newsfeed.

On the other hand, the AMP carousel does tend to appear high in Google’s mobile results, and in theory a Facebook post that loads faster should get better engagement rates, both of which mean there could be an indirect benefit to adopting these new standards.

Finally, although brands are constantly being told to act like publishers, they’re fundamentally different in that eyeballs alone are not enough – we’re looking for an action and conversion too. This means thinking creatively about how to get readers clicking off from the AMP/Instant Article and onto your site.

The jury is still out on all the above. A sensible position for brand publishers might be to wait and see how it all shakes out over the coming months, but be prepared to adopt quickly if they turn out to be an obvious win.

SEO implications of Google’s new mobile trip planner

Another day, another search engine optimization (SEO) wobble. In late January, Google released a major re-design of its mobile search interface for trip planning.

With this change, searches on Google for various destination keywords, such as “where to go in Thailand” or “Thailand destinations”, trigger a knowledge-graph result that leads users into a rabbit hole of Google-controlled content and travel-planning tools.

The move further de-prioritizes once-sacrosanct “organic” placements, causing yet another SEO wrinkle for travel marketers.

Google’s mobile trip planner

The interface looks like this:

Google mobile trip planner SEO

Users can filter destination results by “interests”, such as architecture, beach, culture, fishing, and Scuba diving.

Google mobile trip planner

From there, users can dig deeper into whatever location or point of interest piques their interest.

For instance, doing a mobile search on “where to go in thailand” leads to a horizontal carousel of Thai destinations, with the capital city on top. It pulls a representative airfare by pulling the nearest major airport geo-located to your phone for sample upcoming travel dates — along with benchmark lodging costs.

google mobile trip planner

Clicking on the Bangkok “location card” leads to incredibly long and detailed information. The card links users to other points of interest, maps, info on climate and when to travel, and YouTube videos — all hosted exclusively on Google-controlled digital properties.

google mobile travel

Most importantly – for Google, at least – is the prominent “Plan a trip on Google” section, which allows users to book flights and hotels and find restaurants, again all via Google’s pay-to-play platforms. (Still a bit rough around the edges but I bet that major OTA and metasearch brands that advertise on Google won’t be thrilled…)

google mobile travel

It doesn’t take a Sherlock to figure this out. Google makes more money when people stay on its properties and click on its ads. And these knowledge graph results are presumably a highly effective way of retaining users and channeling them towards ads and paid listings on hotel and flight search.

Google of course is crafting a broader, more altruistic, narrative around this. They’re talking about mobile usability and “micro moments,” i.e. customers using their phones in many, short sessions while searching for “immediate answers” in the journey to purchase. In a recent report, it said:

“Today’s travelers are turning to the web to be inspired and take action—and the brands that help them at those moments will win hearts, minds, and dollars.”

The author forgot to mention that increasingly, the only way for brands to reach these travellers through Google properties is by paying for ad listings.

So what does it all mean? Is it yet another nail in the SEO coffin? Well, not so fast.

The biggest losers in this particular update are likely the top-tier sites and publishers who’ve dominated destination search for a long time: TripAdvisor, Yelp, Lonely Planet, major news and travel sites, etc.

More than anything else, this is a play against the short-tail or “head” keywords that hoover up the lion’s share of individual queries and have long been dominated by the biggest travel sites.

The other losers are likely the OTAs and metasearch sites competing for big flight and hotel queries. With this new interface, Google is channeling more users directly to its own paid hotel and flight search tools.

At the very end is a very inconspicuous link to organic (i.e. non-Google owned) results: (Blink and you’ll miss it…)

google mobile travel seo

Where this doesn’t necessarily impact is further down into the longtail of search queries. A query like “Things to do in Bangkok” may be off limits, but for anyone outside of the top-tier that has long been the case anyway.

On the other hand “Visiting Bangkok with young children” and any of the infinite number of longtail keywords are still fair game.

These aren’t always purchase-intent queries and you might not convert them into bookings on the first visit, but used strategically within the rest of your marketing strategy they can be an important top-funnel source of traffic and prospects.

If this interface change has hit mobile share for short tail results, then I’m sure the big beasts will be smarting.

But for mid- to small-tier players, long-tail SEO as a traffic acquisition tool remains reliable, provided it’s used strategically and in conjunction with other conversion channels.

What's happening to rankings and keywords in travel SEO?

SEO: What’s happening to keywords and rankings?

A few days ago we published a piece for Tnooz on Google’s latest travel SEO upset, a tweak to the mobile interface which could cause problems for people targeting “short tail” travel keywords.

Coincidentally, in this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand Fishkin talks about the changing nature of keywords and rankings in SEO – with a specific focus on travel and flight searches. (Watch the full video below).

In our Tnooz piece we highlight the fact that although SEO is a fickle game, content-driven long tail SEO is still a reliable traffic acquisition channel, especially when used strategically in conjunction with other tools. (More on that here.)

In this short video Rand explains how content can be a good driver of organic traffic, provided it’s sufficiently useful, detail-rich and optimised not just for keywords but for user intent.

Time to turn your email strategy on its head?

Is there a marketing channel more used and abused than the humble email? Email has somehow managed to retain its importance in digital marketing strategy despite becoming synonymous with spam and sleazy, aggressive sales.

Perhaps part of the problem with email as a marketing tool is its versatility. Email (when used correctly) can be effective at various points in the customer journey to purchase. It can work at high-funnel inspiration and mid-funnel planning/consideration, it’s obviously good as a low-funnel driver of sales and it can be especially powerful with post-sale customer retention.

email spamGiven this versatility, the widespread misuse of email by unsophisticated marketers is mind-numbingly dumb and self defeating. Used as a blunt tool to hammer unwanted sales messages into unsuspecting inboxes, most commercial email is distrusted, blocked and filtered into the junk folder where it belongs.

Not that email isn’t good at producing sales – it clearly can be, provided care is taken with relevance, segmentation and the quality of the promotion and message (see this good analysis from Econsultancy).

But proper email strategy isn’t just about leads and sales. Used effectively, email can carry people beyond the moment of purchase and turn your satisfied customers into repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

This is a no-brainer. You’ve spent good money acquiring leads and customers, now you need to use every tool available to improve your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). And email is purpose-built for the job.

Email can be effective much earlier in the customer journey too. We know that travel purchase decisions can be long and convoluted, with multiple inputs and interactions contributing to an eventual booking:

email in the customer journey to purchase - travel content marketing

Digital channels should work together to create a customer journey to purchase [click to enlarge]

Good email can be central to nurturing your prospects towards making a purchase, sowing seeds of inspiration for future travels, or delivering useful and informative content to help people plan and research their upcoming vacations.

But getting this right means turning everything you know about email marketing on its head.

With bottom-funnel email, the idea is to offer as relevant and compelling a promotion as possible – you’re selling yourself, your brand, and your offering. But that’s just a narrow band of the spectrum. Elsewhere in the customer journey your emails need to be about the audience themselves, their interests, and their needs.

You need to be thinking about what they want to read, not what you want to tell them.

For a start this means ditching the ubiquitous but utterly ineffectual “company newsletter” email. You know the type: a message from the founder, some latest news and a blog post or two. There’s a reason emails like this see terrible open and click rates: They’re branded and promotional and they exist primarily to serve the sender, not the recipient.

What would a reader-oriented email look like? Maybe it’s a “lifestyle magazine” that curates authoritative content from high quality sources around the web – all the stories and features that your particular audience would want to read, not necessarily just your own content.

For two good examples see “The Saddlebag” from BikeTours.com or “The Latin American Traveler” from Ideal South America.

At first pass it might seem counter-intuitive to send emails packed with links to other people’s content but there’s some method to the madness. Remember this activity isn’t designed to drive direct sales, it’s aimed much earlier in the customer journey.

The goal is simply to maintain a strong relationship with your subscribers, bringing your brand to mind every time they open and read your emails and, when they are ready to book, guess who they’ll come back to?

With this as the cornerstone to a healthy distribution list you can insert some owned content (experiment with the mix, but an 80/20 split seems about right) and send separate, sales-focused emails aimed further down the funnel – taking precautions to segment your messages and not do anything that could damage the relationship with your readers.

Remember that proper content strategy is about using overlapping and integrated channels to nurture prospects along the customer journey. Use other tools and channels to achieve that: Facebook and Twitter custom audiences, Adwords search retargeting and SEO are all effective at reconnecting with your email subscribers later on when they approach a purchase decision.

Fundamentally this is about smart content marketing. Empathise with your audience and focus on their, not your company’s, needs. Identify what they want and then do your best to provide it. Build a qualified, engaged and loyal audience, and then create the necessary touchpoints to recapture people when they’re ready to make a purchase.

It’s indirect and takes much more thought and sophistication than indiscriminate sales and spam, but in the long run it’s well worth it.

travel massive what is brand publishing and why do content creators care

What is brand publishing and why should content creators care?

Bloggers working with travel organisations is nothing new. But as the marketing landscape evolves and travel companies start to think and act like publishers, we’re finding exciting new opportunities for content creators and audience builders to work with their industry partners.

Travel businesses have a huge need for insights and data on the audiences they’re trying to reach, can independent publishers and bloggers move beyond the sponsored content model and start to provide a new level of value? It will require a higher degree of maturity to our relationships but the opportunities are vast!

See the slides from our talk at TravelMassive Manchester, Dec 9 2015 here: