A quick glance at the schedule of September’s TBEX conference in Girona is enough to see how seriously the travel blogging community is taking its role within the wider industry ecosystem. There is clearly plenty of appetite among the community for partnerships with the industry and, from my perspective as a web marketer working with numerous major travel brands, I can say there is huge interest coming from the other direction too.
Quite how those partnerships should take shape is still being determined, and I am working with several bloggers right now to help drive that process forward. One of the key areas of interest for my clients is the idea of blogger influence. This is particularly timely given the current buzz surrounding a recent Google initiative known as “AuthorRank.”
AuthorRank (AR) is a way for Google to determine the relative authority of an individual author, as opposed to the authority of a webpage. Search marketing has traditionally been concerned with improving the authority of webpages (often referred to as PageRank) but with AuthorRank we can start to think of the “ranking power” of individuals themselves.
You’ve probably already noticed Google’s new attention to authors in the search results:
The theory goes that Google could start to display authoritative writers more prominently in the search results, in the same way that it currently saves the top spots for the most authoritative webpages.
The technology behind AuthorRank dates back to a patent registered several years ago but it is only recently that Google has introduced a digital identity system to allow the attribution of specific pieces of content to individual authors: Google+ profiles.
By connecting your Google+ profile to the content that you publish across the web on multiple sites, you can now claim authorship of your work and allow Google to tie it all together into one single portfolio. The process of setting this up, either on your own site or on others, is very straightforward and full instructions are provided.
It is widely expected that Google will start to algorithmically analyze the “quality” of individual authors’ portfolios and use that analysis to create a picture of your personal authority. Although nothing is yet confirmed, it is assumed that the algorithm will include some or all of the following:
- The average authority (PageRank) of all the sites that you are published on.
- The volume of social interactions generated by your content.
- Your degree of activity on Google+, particularly the number of circles you are added to and your volume of participation.
- The number of comments, shares, links, etc. generated by your content.
- External sources of authority such as a Wikipedia page or frequent coverage & citations in other authoritative online media.
- Among many other factors…
Although it is still early days and AuthorRank is yet to be officially included in Google’s main ranking algorithm, this represents a potentially seismic shift for the world of search marketing, and something that could present many opportunities for creative bloggers and content creators.
What Does It Mean For Travel Bloggers?
Although the industry will quickly recognize and adopt this emerging technology, it is already clear that most brands will find it hard to build up their own AuthorRank in comparison to professional and semi-professional content creators who are able to devote much more time to writing and audience building.
This means that authoritative bloggers could find themselves with an attractive new service for well-paying clients. Online travel companies will covet your contributions to their site because of the added value that your personal authority can contribute to their brand and search rankings.
As a result, commissioning high quality content from influential and authoritative bloggers will become increasingly important to brands’ online marketing efforts, particularly because this kind of work will be more closely related to the bottom line – the all important Return on Investment (ROI).
The Bigger Picture
As someone who owns a travel marketing agency as well as a keen (but bad) travel writer, I am very excited by the potential for a much more constructive relationship between the travel industry and the blogging community.
For too long that relationship has been defined by crude, SEO-centric “monetization strategies” such as paid text links and sponsored posts that only cheapen your publication by extracting value while offering nothing of value to your audience.
But now we can look to a new type of genuine partnership where brands, who must increasingly see themselves as travel publications in their own right, will want to invest in your authority & audience and will pay good money to content creators who can make a meaningful contribution to their brand and marketing goals.
My company is talking to travel brands right now who are quickly waking up to this new reality. We are building entire campaigns around this new partnership model and we hope to see it flourish to the benefit of everyone involved.
If this all sounds like an attractive prospect for you and your blog, the following pointers might help you prepare and get an early start:
Register with Google Authorship: Connect all the content you want included on your online “portfolio.” Use this tool to check your content is properly verified. If it is, your name & profile picture will start to appear next to your content in the search results. You should also contact the editors of any other sites you’ve been published on and ask them to add the necessary links. But if you have old content that you’re not proud of, don’t connect it.
Focus on quality: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the quality of your output is paramount. Defining the word “quality” is tricky but loosely put you need to identify what your particular audience wants and then relentlessly strive to deliver it as well as is humanly possible. Don’t cut corners. Avoid space-filler content and articles that are thin and low on detail.
Pay attention to ROI: Marketers need to justify every penny spent to their clients and demonstrate how it has paid off. Look at your author stats in Google Webmaster Tools to prove how your verified content can improve Impressions and Click Through Rates. Be specific about your audience demographics and engagement rates.
And most importantly, grow your influence: This is where you can really come into your own as a travel blogger. Nurture your audience and carve out your authority to become a bona fide influencer in your chosen niche. Marketers and brands are hungry to partner with advocates that can demonstrate clear influence over specific audiences, so make this your #1 priority. Use your expertise to get quoted by other journalists & bloggers (registering with HARO is a good start), guest post on authoritative, relevant sites (connected to Google Authorship of course!) and methodically curate other content that your audience might find useful.
There is huge opportunity and appetite out there for creative, authoritative travel bloggers and I’m very excited to be involved. Good luck and safe travels!