SEO Expert Recommended How to Stay Relevant During Unprecedented Times
Written by Jennyfer Espiritu, Journalist
2020 was a pivotal year for the hospitality and tourism industry because of COVID-19. By the end of the first quarter of 2020, the World Health Organization effectively declared a pandemic outbreak, initiating the government to impose stay-at-home orders, advising against non-essential foreign and domestic travel. Within a month, travel became all but impossible. As a result, the global industry worth $1.8 trillion came to a halt, disrupting the livelihood of over 300 million people, including small and large travel publishers.
It was difficult for publishers focused on travel to create relevant content when people weren't prepared to get out and risk their health and safety. Yet, despite the unprecedented challenges, smaller publishers like Local Adventurer, Be My Travel Muse, and MarcoFeng.com saw massive growth, amassing altogether over 10 million views in organic search in 2021 alone. The willingness of the teams to adapt to the current situation was central to their breakthrough. According to founder Hailun (Marco) Feng, when COVID-19 hit, they shifted their focus from travel to home content that surged in search demand. And much of the content was based on reviews, surveys and polls, and independent sources, giving the site the advantage of maintaining and producing travel content even when it is almost impossible to travel.
In 2021, the newcomer also launched a faceted navigation that lets readers search destinations and guides using filters like "best time to visit," "located in," "great for," "cost," and "visa and vaccination requirement," acting as a one-stop-shop for trip planning. While such a feature is common in eCommerce, this is the first time it has been used in publishing, offering readers a brand-new way to find and consume content. Also, during the pandemic, when infections and policies change frequently and uniformly, this offers publishers more flexibility in presenting information timely without much manual input. Feng says, "this feature will continue to be fine-tuned to return better results."
While many sites have started covering pandemic-related news, Feng recommends finding the right angle to stay on-brand. Unless it is a health site, avoid topics that concern too much about people's life and wealth. Google's algorithm imposes strict rules to rank websites in the YMYL (your money, your life) category, and you risk losing rankings to cover such content without the right expertise. "In early 2020, we removed all of our insurance and health-related content from the site, which didn't perform at all, resulting in a small uptick in organic traffic. A reference section is also added to the bottom of each article to signal our authority to Google."
Another recommendation from Feng is to regularly review content to ensure information is accurate so that readers can get the same experience as they would pre-pandemic. For instance, this piece was losing organic visibility as it wasn't updated to reflect local health and safety guidelines for restaurants but saw a jump in rankings after the update. If you don't have the resources to do so or do it quickly, an alternative is to add an announcement bar to your site to remind readers to check with the venue before making reservations.
While all of these may sound simple, Feng revealed that it takes a lot of effort, involving 15 to 25 hours of researching, editing, fact-checking, and adding references and visuals for each piece. Also, to remain competitive as a newcomer, they've created unique formats like grouping long-form content by geographies, types, and genres or using a transparent grading system to rank recommended venues on best-ofs.
Hailun (Marco) Feng