Most of us have probably had the experience of seeing either glazed, uncomprehending stares or looks of outright contempt when we mentioned the word “SEO.” As today’s guest post author Shannon O’Donnell explains, not only is SEO not a bad word, there’s a very important component of SEO that has nothing to do with manipulating search results and everything to do with content.


Introducing myself to new people in a business context is often tricky, because I never know which of my many hats to start with when someone asks me what I do for a living. Like many who attend TBEX, I am a travel blogger/writer/photographer but those are just single aspects of what I do … and they’re not even the most lucrative. I wrote a book. Again though, that’s not where I make the money that allows me to travel. No, the thing I hesitate to say is that I am an SEO and marketing consultant.

It’s not that I am ashamed of my work; I work hard and my clients all come away from a consult with dozens of ideas on how to make their sites better. The reason I hesitate is because of that one flash of incredulity that sparks in someone’s eyes when they hear the word SEO. Years ago, the word SEO equated in most cases to spammy link building, keyword stuffing, and poor quality sites. In the past several years, however, I think SEO has become a much more positive term, but it’s still not where it should be.

I’d like to start by noting that SEO is not a dirty word. In fact, without hesitation I can say that every single site on the internet benefits from someone at the ground level on the site having either natural SEO knowledge (which comes from those with a good head for marketing and a solid web designer), or having hired an SEO person to make sure the site is best optimized for its topic.

In our world, we all have the same topic: travel. That makes it tough to easily see how we are different from our peers and the other travel bloggers. Each blog is different, however, and within the broad travel topic are niches. And it’s within the niches that I want to focus, because this is where I see the most growth potential for both new and established travel bloggers. All bloggers should look to their specialized knowledge and then run with that niche knowledge.

At TBEX Europe this year in Girona, Spain, the SEO talk focused on a broad overview of each of the major SEO aspects. My co-presenter, Matt Kepnes, covered how to build strong backlinks and on-site optimization like having your headers, titles, and the meta data correctly optimized—these are all essential parts of taking care of your site in the long-term. This is the core basics of good SEO and many aspects are easy fixes, use your SEO plugin, and build natural backlinks. Beyond that though, let’s talk about an area people only vaguely connect to good SEO: great content. Content that makes your brand and your site shine for your unique specialized knowledge and that narrowly points to the topics and keywords you naturally talk about on your site.

What’s Your Niche, Specialized Knowledge?

As the travel blogger space crowds with more bloggers, more personalities, and more noise, it’s those bloggers who have differentiated themselves who are beyond the competition in many ways. If every travel blogger out there was looking to place first for the keyword “travel blog,” it would be a long and fruitless race … and everyone would be missing one of the core points of SEO:

SEO is not about choosing the most popular keywords, it’s about choosing the keywords that best describe what your site offers.

We’re not all alike, and many of our sites offer a specialized version of travel—this is where we as bloggers are able to really allow our sites to shine, and if they’re shining then there is a good chance Google and the search engines are paying attention, too. What about your style of travel, of photography, or even your travel philosophy makes you stand out from others? Are you a hula hooping travel blogger, connecting to the hula hoop communities all over the world? Or perhaps you’re a BMX biker and you travel with your bike in and out of countries and to festivals, events, and races all over the world. Your blog is different! You have specialized knowledge in both of these instances that someone else might need, even if they are not duplicating your trip.

This is what I mean by niche: what are you doing, thinking, learning about travel for which you can become a go-to source on the internet? Why would another blogger recommend your site and not their own? How is your information and story different?

How Can You Showcase Specialized Knowledge?

Your niche is important, because it then translates into what you should be writing about. If you have figured out some problem or obstacle to travel, or researched a certain topic or destination in a way you think others might enjoy, write about it. But then, take it a step further and build yourself cornerstone content around your niche.

Cornerstone content is one part of SEO every new and established blogger should have on their site. If you’re not sure what I mean by this term, Chris Garrett has a really great free e-book on the topic called Killer Flagship Content and I recommend you start right there with your brainstorming session.

The main idea behind cornerstone content is something that will last, something that is thorough, well researched, and very specific. Become the “go-to” person in the travel industry for your knowledge. In my earlier example, if you are the BMX biker, this could mean creating a page on your site that details out every single piece of knowledge you need to travel with a bike—carry-on requirements, whether you can bring your bike into every country, what the major BMX bike festivals are, and whether there bike laws in other countries a traveler should know about, etc. The idea is, if you had to do the research chances are someone else will too, and if they are searching in Google “how to travel with a bike” you want to make sure Google knows that you are an expert on that topic.

And how does Google know? Because you have an entire page full of resources and so full of information it’s a piece cornerstone of your site—you’re the guy who travels with a bike. If you as a site are that identifiable in the community, there is a good chance that you the search engines will notice it too.

It’s worth noting that none of this required search engine manipulation. Instead it’s using your knowledge to create cornerstone resources on your site, pages that become pillars of information on that topic. If you have a niche page like that, then you likely have it full of valuable keywords too. And that is good SEO. When you have pages about your niche, content and information about your specialized topic, then you are telling Google and the search engines “hey, this is what my site is about, so if you’d please send some people my way, that’d be great.”

And if it’s a strong resource, and on a good topic, then it will help people and Google will send people to it. Once you have those resource pages up, there are more SEO ways to support it (linking to it in your author bios in guest posts is the easiest way), but that is the start. That gets you on your way toward having a specific site, in a specific travel niche keyword.

This is the easy beginnings of strong SEO for your travel blog and hopefully it’s not even painful to write, but instead a bit of fun to create such a useful piece of pillar content for your site.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”Now it’s your turn!”]What’s your specialized knowledge? And if you have a cornerstone page, leave it in the comments so we can all have a look at the page![/stextbox]


Author Bio: Shannon O’Donnell is a travel writer, speaker, and SEO marketing consultant who lives mostly on the road, and occasionally in Florida. Her travel stories and photography are recorded on her travel blog A Little Adrift, she published her first book, The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook in October 2012, and she can be found on Twitter @ShannonRTW