When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), your website is the foundation on which all of your hard work will rest.
It doesn’t matter how many keywords you add, meta descriptions you tweak, or plugins you remove: If the building blocks of your tourism website aren’t properly assembled, you’re always going to struggle to get the site to rank as well as it should.
On top of the technical benefits of a well-built website, as a travel brand, your website is one of your most valuable assets.
Here, potential customers can browse available packages, read testimonials from previous guests, and get a taste of the experiences on offer through engaging imagery and text – along with actually booking a holiday directly with your company.
Creating a travel website from scratch is always a significant project, but the benefits of designing a site from the ground up are widespread when it comes to ranking as high as possible on search engines.
So whether you’re a new travel brand that needs a website to start your business journey, or are redesigning your site to reap the benefits of a custom design, here are 10 dos and don’ts for building a successful travel website.
Before you decide on any of the pages or content that’s going to be included on the site, you need to understand which factors will influence how your site ranks on search engines.
High-ranking websites are structured based on keyword research and target phrases, as these influence the topics that landing pages are focused on and the kinds of questions that content needs to answer.
They’re also built to optimize page speed and minimize unnecessary plugins while making it as easy as possible for search engines to understand their intent.
This is one of the key reasons why using a website builder template or trying to cut corners with website design can be such a big problem.
Unless the website for travel is specifically designed with SEO in mind, you’re shooting yourself in the foot right from the start.
If you’re trying to quickly get a new travel website off the ground, it can be tempting to choose a generic hosting platform.
These are often advertised as simple ways to build a functional website, and whilst this is true on the surface, there are plenty of problems that lie beneath.
When you use ‘drag-and-drop’ website builders to put together a website using existing templates, you often end up with a lot of unnecessary code and dependencies in the site’s backend.
This massively impacts how long it takes for pages to load and how smoothly the whole site runs, which will stop the site from ranking highly on search engines, and potentially frustrate users that want to book a holiday or make a purchase.
Using bad platforms to build your site can also limit the features you’re able to add to it later down the line.
Not only can this stifle creativity when you’re trying to come up with the best travel website design, but it can also come back to haunt you in the future when you’re unable to expand your site.
Opting for a custom-built design for your travel website is the route I recommend to ensure that all of your specifications are catered for – but this can be an expensive and time-consuming venture.
Many people will opt to choose a template on a site like WordPress to build their travel website, and the good news is that there are plenty of ways you can customize this to make it look unique.
One of these is the photos that you use on your travel website, which are an incredibly important visual element. One of the key ways you will engage a user is by encouraging them to picture themselves on a trip or in your accommodation, and eye-catching, immersive images are a great way to do that.
Having unique photographs on your website is ideal, but it’s not always possible when building a website, especially if your company is based in a different location. Thankfully, there are plenty of stock image databases you can utilize, offering both free and paid images.
If you’re looking for beautiful free stock photos, Unsplash is a fantastic option. Pixabay and Pexels are also good, but often only have a limited selection of images on offer.
If you’re looking for a greater variety, paid sites like iStock and Shutterstock offer reasonable prices for their images.
Plenty of travel companies have a booking system as part of their website. This element needs to be carefully considered, as some booking platforms can negatively impact a site’s SEO.
It’s worth properly doing your research into the best kind of booking system for your travel website, as many can be difficult to use, time-consuming to update, or are just built with a lot of unnecessary code that can really slow down this section of the website.
Here are some of the best WordPress booking plugins that cater especially to travel businesses:
In some cases, you may be better off building a custom booking system that is much easier to edit and clearly lets customers book what they want without any misunderstanding.
Yes, building a bespoke booking system is another cost if you’re already investing in a unique travel website design. But it is likely to save you a lot of time and money in the future by making this booking system simple and optimized specifically for your brand, minimizing issues later on.
If you’re working with an agency or a designer, content creation might be included in the website design package that you’re paying for.
But many brands prefer to write their content themselves in order to capture the right tone of voice, so it’s important to factor in how long this is going to take.
You can start writing content for your website once you have a clear plan of the site structure and how many pages are going to be built.
It might be useful to see template designs for different landing pages to know how much text is needed – or your designer might ask you to write the content first, so they can design the pages around this.
If you want your travel website to rank highly when your customers search for your offering, you need to complete keyword research first.
This gives you a list of popular, relevant phrases that you can include in your travel website content that will help the site to rank higher and ensure that genuinely interested web users are arriving on the pages they’re looking for.
There are several different paid and free keyword research databases that you can use for this, with my favorite being Ahrefs.
These databases often have a tool that allows you to enter a word or phrase and then generate a list of related keywords, showing search volume and other useful data.
For travel keyword research, you want to focus on keyword phrases that indicate the user is looking to book a trip, visit a location, or get a recommendation.
For example, ‘family safari in africa’ is a general phrase with broad intent, whereas ‘where is the best place for a family safari?’ or ‘what animals can you see in south africa?’ are likely being searched by someone planning a holiday.
Once you’ve compiled a list of relevant phrases, you can either write landing page content that includes these phrases, or create pages of blog posts that specifically answer questions or focus on a topic with high search volume.
As well as keyword databases like Ahrefs, you can use Google Trends to identify popular travel topics and create content targeting query spikes, capitalizing on seasonal traffic.
It’s not just chunks of text for landing pages that you need to think about when it comes to website content creation.
Headers, title tags, and meta descriptions need to be carefully considered and written, as they are a key aspect of a website’s SEO.
Every landing page needs a unique heading structure, and you ideally want to fit target keyword phrases into each of these headings. This structure makes it easier for users to navigate a page, along with helping search engines to rank each page more easily, which will boost how well each page ranks.
To create a header structure, start with the page’s title (H1), which will usually contain the target keyword phrase. You can then use keyword research to find similar or related phrases that can be used as headings further down the page.
For example, a page might have the title ‘Luxury Family Safari Holidays’with subheadings including ‘Family Safaris in South Africa,’ ‘How to Book a Family Safari,’ and ‘What to Expect on a Safari Holiday.’
Title tags are an element of a webpage’s HTML that explains the title of the page and appears in the tab at the top of a screen when a website is loaded up on a browser (and on the search engine results page).
Not only do these need to be clear so that the user understands the purpose of the page, but they also impact a page’s SEO, so should contain the target keyword phrase.
Title tags also often contain the brand’s name and occasionally a key phrase that summarises the brand’s offering. To build on the previous example, the title tag might be ‘Luxury Family Safaris | South Africa Safari Holidays | M+J Safari Experiences.’
Finally, a meta description is another HTML element that summarizes the content of a page and, again, influences how well it ranks for its target phrase. Meta descriptions should be under 200 characters, so need to be carefully written to provide a concise description of a landing page and include relevant keyword phrases if possible.
An example might be ‘Witness a side of South Africa you’ve never seen before with a luxury family safari holiday from M+J Safari Experiences.’
A sitemap does what it says on the tin: it maps out where each of the landing pages is on your website and provides a navigation point that directs how to get to each of these.
No matter how you build a travel website, you should implement a sitemap to provide search engines with a way of quickly understanding what the website contains.
Without a sitemap, bots crawling your site to decide where to rank it on search engines will try and interpret your internal linking instead. This can impact your ranking, so it’s best to have a sitemap established in the early stages of building a travel website.
You also need to consider user experience when you’re building a sitemap.
Potential customers on a travel website are likely going to want to browse the experiences you have on offer, see pictures and videos of your service offering, read testimonials to gain social proof, and then look at how to book a trip.
You should design your website so that this journey is easy to follow, with internal links and calls to action (CTAs) guiding the user toward making a purchase.
Speaking of internal linking, whilst it’s not a substitute for a sitemap, it’s definitely not something that you should avoid.
Internally linking landing pages to one another helps to direct users to different pages and keep them on your site for longer, ideally moving them towards making a booking.
Having lots of internal links throughout your travel website also helps it to rank better, as it helps search engines to identify the key pages on a site.
It also helps new pages to start ranking for phrases faster by associating them with existing pages that are already ranking well.
It’s very straightforward to put internal links in the header and footer of a landing page. But if you really want to reap the benefits of this approach, you should include internal linking in the content on each landing page as well.
Consider the anchor text that you’re adding the link to each time; it needs to be related to the page that it’s linking to, otherwise, the link will be seen as spammy.
It’s not just written content that needs to be optimized.
Travel websites tend to have lots of images on them, but the size of these can affect how quickly a landing page loads, which in turn can affect how well it ranks.
You shouldn’t compromise on image quality, but you should resize and compress each image before it’s uploaded to save space.
Images can also be optimized by ensuring that they have a title and alt text that describes what the image contains. Images should be relevant to each landing page, so this alt text can be used to insert more keyword phrases – or at least phrases that are semantically similar.
Both can be useful, but both need to be chosen carefully so that your website’s SEO isn’t affected.
Plugins can be used to add a variety of exciting features to a travel website, but overuse will make it impossible to load a page in under a couple of seconds.
Consider the benefits of each plugin before you add them to your website, and regularly review these to ensure you’re still getting what you want.
A new travel website build is often a lengthy process that can come with a hefty price tag if you don’t know what you should be asking for.
The above advice should give you a clear set of guidelines of what to prioritize and avoid when it comes to designing a new website for your travel company, helping to ensure you’re left with a beautiful and functional site for your brand that ranks well on search engines and brings in plenty of business.