Everything You Need to Know to Get Started
Written By: Tom Ogg
The questions about travel agency websites continually surface when travel agents are considering their online presentation. Newer agents are always asking, “Where can I get a website?” or even “Do I need a website?”
Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter answer for these questions because everyone asking the question may have a unique business concept, value proposition and expectation of the results they seek from their investment.
So let’s take a look at what you should consider long before even thinking about your web
What Do You Want From Your Travel Agency Website?
This is always the first question I pose when someone is asking where they can get a website. If you think about it, this is the most logical first question and virtually every time it is asked, the answer is “what do you mean?” Long before starting to look for a website provider you should clearly understand exactly what you want your website to do for your business. Here are just some examples of what a website might do for an agency.
Booking Website: Most agencies feel that their specific value proposition lies in their knowledge and experience and because of this, do not wish to relegate an online contact to a booking site. The ability for an experienced travel agent to influence a consumer with their in-depth knowledge of a product, itinerary or destination is an important element for converting communications into sales. But that said, many agents want to offer their clients the opportunity to research and book their travel needs on their website making booking websites attractive to agents.
Develop an Online Presence: Many travel agencies want to have a website just to show potential and existing clients that they have an online presence and this may, or may not be a good strategy. Just having a small website with your contact information and agency profile on it will not do much to impress visitors, especially if they are online savvy. And, if you web presence website is dated or otherwise not impressive, it can possibly hurt your efforts rather than help them.
However, having a small website that connects with your social media, reviews and other online profiles can be a great way to show the depth of your online activity and strength of your
Special Group or Tour: If your travel agency is focused on selling special groups then creating a website focused on each specific group makes a ton of sense. Listing complete itineraries, group details, optional events, tours and activities, a social community for group members, payment tracking, group updates and many other things can make a group or tour much more satisfying for group members. This type of website can be very effective at convincing potential members to join the group because they can see just how effective your agency is at dealing with all aspects for the group.
Landing Page Website: Landing pages are great for selling items, gaining email addresses, getting subscribers to your newsletter and so on. A Landing Page website is a simple one-page site that has a very specific purpose and that is to create a lead or a sale from a click. They are usually used in PPC advertising campaigns, email marketing and direct advertising.
Travel Blog Website: Many agents want to maintain a travel blog as a way to share their knowledge and experience with potential new clients. If you have an exotic niche and love to write, consider starting a travel blog on your passion. Blogs are loved by search engines because of their unique content and keyword focus.
Keyword Niche Website: If you are looking to generate new client leads from your website then it must be keyword driven and focused on a special niche. The idea is to have your website respond to keywords that define what you do in a way that search engines will give web pages high SERPs (Search Engine Ranking Placement) so that consumers can find you using keyword searches. This is the kind of website that most agents are imagining when they ask the question “where can I get a website?”
However, building and maintaining an effective Keyword Niche website requires quite a bit of diligence and understanding of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in order to achieve success.
Community Website: While Facebook Groups is used by many agents to create discussion and social groups focused on a myriad of topics, stand alone community websites are many times a much better solution. First of all, Facebook’s reach to your group members continues to decline and there is common belief that Facebook will soon start charging a group Administrator to reach their group members much in the same way that they have started charging those with business pages to reach their followers.
Running your own social community is both inexpensive and robust. Depending on your agency’s niche and following, starting a community website might just be the way to go.
While there are many other types of websites, these are the main kinds of websites that travel agencies will use.
Buying the Right Travel Agency Website Domain Name
Today, when you are thinking about building a website, the most important thing to consider is the domain name that you are going to use. One of the most important considerations is the type of website that you are going to develop and how people are going to find it.
Travel agents may be developing a local site to serve their client base and their referrals in which case using the agency name as a url makes total sense. For a niche keyword site that might be dependent on search engines for traffic a niche keyword url would be the most advantageous. A community site either on a local, regional or national scale again, a keyword url might be the most advantageous. In each case the domain name must perfectly define the website’s value proposition, be easy to remember and be easily found by the search engines.
Defining the purpose of your site is critical to getting the right domain name. Understanding how you are going to market the site is also quite important. As an example, let’s say that you want to build a site to market cruises in the San Diego County area using Google AdWords to market in the 920 and 921 zip codes only. SanDiegoCruiseExpert.com or SanDiegoCruiseSpecialist.com might be excellent choices for your domain name.
For the most part, the best domain names may already be taken and may be actively for sale, or possibly the owner is open to an offer. Each domain name is a unique, one-of-a-kind name and may be well worth thousands of dollars in potential organic traffic.
Travel Agency Website Branding and Overall Image
Here are considerations for selecting the right domain name for your site.
Start With Keywords: Once you have defined the specific objective of your site, use Google’s Keyword Tool to identify the most attractive keywords that you might use in a domain name. As an example, I used the above domain names and found that there were an average of 33,100 local monthly searches using the keywords “San Diego Cruises” and 40,500 local searches for “San Diego Vacation”. Finding this out, I might change my url to SanDiegoVacationCruises.com to cash in on over 70,000 local searches where I might be able to gain a high local ranking in the search engines and my AdWords campaign will be highly focused.
.com is King: In every instance, you should only use a .com extension for your domain name. The only time you would use a different extension is if you couldn’t care less about command line traffic, branding or you have such a unique concept that people will find you no matter what. Craigslist.org is an excellent example of that.
Make it Memorable: Your domain name should be easy to remember. Let’s say that you are putting a website up to sell travel insurance as an adjunct to your travel site. To capture the interest of search engines the url “TravelInsuranceAgency.com” would be an ideal domain name in all respects. If you specialize in selling Disney Cruises then a url such as “MickeysCruise.com” would be an excellent choice. While Disney has stringent control over their registered brands, this skirts the issue, is very memorable and entertaining.
Keep It Short and To the Point: Your domain name should be no more than three words, with two words even better. It should shout the very essence of your value proposition. Avoid words that do not add to your keyword search or memorable characteristics such as The, My, Your and such. Also, be sure that your domain name is easy to keyboard. Avoid hyphenated keyword urls and always opt for the keyword domain names that are connected without hyphens.
Make Sure it Defines Your Business: TomtheTravelAgent.com really doesn’t tell anyone anything other than Tom is a travel agent. HawaiiReviews.com tells you everything about what will reside at the website. Also, avoid abbreviations. Tom4Travel.com, TomforTvl.com, Tom4Travels.com are all not going to work because TomforTravel.com is the default url that folks will enter to find you if that is your url. When folks find your website, make sure that it is highly relevant to your url. If HawaiiReviews.com’s landing page is for discount airfares, then there is a complete disconnect between the visitor’s expectations and the actual content that resides upon the site.
Be Sure That Your Email Addresses Sell: RequestaQuoteatTravelInsuranceAgency.com pretty much says it all. Your domain name opens up a huge opportunity for you to market several niches that you might serve. AMASpecialist@RiverBoatsandBarges.com pretty much says it all. Use Email addresses to both market your site and motivate people to take action.
Buying Your Domain Name: Unfortunately, just about all of the two and three word domain names are already taken. However, there are millions of domain names being held by speculators that are for sale. And, getting the perfect domain name is quite worth the investment. Visit sedo.com to gain a perspective of how the market works for quality domain names.
To Register or Purchase: It is very difficult to simply register a quality domain name at this point and the ones that you may register may simply be too long to be effective. While long-tail keyword domain names are excellent for keyword driven landing pages, they do not have the qualities that make your site seem important.
OK, now that we have explored the various kinds of websites and how to select your domain name let’s take a look at the functions your website should offer visitors. Each element has pluses and minuses from a visitor experience perspective, so a good amount of time should be spent understanding the elements you will use and how they will add to your objective for having your website.
What Should a Travel Agency Website Include?
Travel is a topic that is perfect for the web and may utilize all aspects of web design and interactivity. Because of this, planning your website for the optimum design that will affect the results you are seeking. Never lose sight of your objective and always ask yourself “how is this element going to help achieve the website’s objective.” Here is a look at the more common elements. Each design element is intended to accomplish a specific goal. It’s up to you to know what your goals are, then use that information to make informed decisions about each page on your site.
Video: Video is a very exciting element that is also very useful for travel agency websites. Nothing can motivate consumers more than an effective video. The best videos are ones that you have developed yourself. It is well worth the investment to learn video editing programs and also learning how to shoot quality content for your travel agency website. If you use supplier video on your website make sure that the supplier has allowed you to use it. Just because there may be embed code where the video is stored, doesn’t indicate that the supplier is agreeing to let anyone use the video.
Photographs: “An image is worth 1,000 words” is true when it comes to travel agency websites. And, since a photo can be so powerful, you should carefully choose the images that you use on your website. Ideally, you would use photos that you have taken yourself that promotes your specific value proposition. Always make sure that you have the copyrights to use the photo to avoid potential lawsuits. Taking your own is the ideal solution as is using one of the stock photo sites out there that give you a printable licenses once you purchase the photo. Never just grab a photo that you find using images searches of Google or other sites as they will not carry authority to use the image. Also, only use photos that enhance yourspecific value proposition rather than are visually satisfying.
Graphics: Graphics can be especially motivating when they are relevant to the central theme of your website. Creating specific graphics has never been easier. Even if you are not a graphics design artist, there are hundreds of sites on the Internet that will connect you with talented graphic designers who can create wonderful graphics for a very small amount of money. While fiverr.com comes to mind for reasonably priced custom graphics, there are literally thousands of sites and graphic providers.
Consumer Downloads: One motivating way to engage potential new clients is by offering downloadable ebooks, white papers, flip page books and magazines or other interactive content. If you see using complimentary content on your travel agency website as being part of your overall strategy then you should plan on what downloadable or online structure that you will use. Many entrepreneurs will use Adobe Acrobat to create downloadable .pdfs, but there are many other choices each with their own unique value proposition.
Reviews: Reviews are an excellent way to engage consumers who share their personal experiences with your visitors. However, your niche should be specialized enough to make your collection of reviews unique and something that doesn’t compete with the large and established review sites such as yelp.com. Let’s say you specialize in fishing trips to Mexico and want to have visitors post reviews on your site. Posting their fishing experiences by venue might be a great way to develop great content that is not available anywhere else on the web.
Unique Content: Publishing unique content on your website is cornerstone to getting search engines to notice you. Unique content is content developed by you, or someone you have hired and is one-of-a-kind. Let’s say you specialize in selling a specific destination, activity or other niche, your content should be engaging to the reader and also be completely unique to your website alone. Search engines do not care for content that is duplicated anywhere else on the web.
Other Features: There are any number of features that you may include on your travel agency website and might include, but not be limited to, Hotel and Resort recommendations and reviews, transfer options, sightseeing options, guides to museums, galleries, churches, restaurants, unique attractions, maps, on your own options and just about any travel related subject that you can think of. Remember that the function of the website should be focused on the outcome that you are seeking and every element and feature should be consistent with achieving that objective.
We have discussed the various types of travel agent websites, selecting the perfect domain name for your site and the various elements and features you may wish to reside in your travel agency website, so let’s answer the question “What Can I Get a Travel Agency Website.”
Where Can I Get a Travel Agency Booking Website?
There are several ways to negotiate a booking site depending on your circumstances. Generally they are available with your private branding, yet the provider takes care of maintaining keeping the content current and up-to-date.
Remember to make sure that having a booking website is consistent with your overall value proposition. If you are an expert on a particular niche of travel, it is quite likely that you do not want to relegate a client to a generic booking engine, but would rather that they reach out to you personally so that you can share your expertise and turn the contact into a sale. That said, here is how to find the perfect travel agency booking website for your business.
Host Agencies: While just one of the benefits realized by using a host agency, booking websites are available at a number of host agencies. Visit www.FindaHostTravelAgency.com and simply click on “Click Here to Start Your Search” and then select the “Is a Website Building Tool Available” and enter “yes”. When this is done click on the red “Filter” button and well over 80 host agencies that offer booking websites are revealed. By evaluating each host agencies’ value proposition you will find the perfect one for you.
Passport Online: Passport Online offers NexCite2 a robust fully designed website program including travel offers from nearly 100 leading leisure suppliers (preferenced for your preferred supplier options) social media integration, dozens of pages of destination content, electronic marketing tools, and agent DNA to provide profile information about you and your agents. It is mobile friendly. NexCite2 offers the major ocean and river cruise lines’ content as well as tour wholesalers, vacation packagers and key resorts and all calls to action always lead directly back to your agency. Nexcite2 for Hosts allows you to empower your agents with their own digital presence with a “cloned” site that reflects your host agency branding and supplier preferences and their individual identity. Also, if you are integrating your online marketing with Facebook, Passport Online’s ESP will allow you to post engaging content daily (or as often as you would wish to your Facebook Business page. Visit Passport Online at http://www.passportonlineinc.com
Online Agency: Operating third party travel agency websites for over 20 years, Online Agency boasts over 3,000 active users for their sites. Visit them at www.onlineagency.com
Voyager Travel Agency Websites and Social Media Manager: Voyager offers competitive pricing for both social media management and travel agency websites. Voyager sites are visually stimulating and offers an easy-to-use user interface. Visit them at www.voyagerwebsites.com
Agent Studio: This is another third party travel agency website supplier. While not as robust as Nexcite2, Agent Studio is used by a good number of travel agents as their primary site. Visit Agent Studio at www.agentstudio.com.
VacationLabs: While not really a third party booking website, Vacation Labs offers robust travel industry websites for both travel agencies and travel suppliers. It is perfect for niche oriented websites and VacationLabs also offers web hosting and support. Visit them at www.VacationLabs.com.
Where Can I Get a Travel Agency Online Presence or Other Website?
There are hundreds of websites that allow you to build your own site using their tools. Depending on what you want to create there are some sites that seem especially viable for travel agency websites. While this list is intended to give the reader enough sites to check out, it is by no means complete, but you should find the right tool for your needs in this list.
All of these sites are “build your own” rather than being a third party booking website. They offer the user an intuitive and easy-to-use interface that does not require any understanding of code whatsoever. In most cases you can build a website quickly and easily. Note that many of these sites offer “Free” websites, but they come with ads served from the host’s website. These “Free” sites are simply not consistent for the purpose of a travel agency website.
Also, while these are great for those with no or little experience at building websites they are also appropriate if you want to create a special group, landing page or any other travel agency website. They allow you complete control over the content in your site.
Here Are the Top Ten Travel Agency Website Builders
AtlasRepublic.com: Offers a robust travel agency / tour operator website specific web building tool. From content development to measurement and tracking tools, Atlas Republic is a great choice to build your website. Note that this company is owned by a travel agent. Contact www.atlasrepublic.com for more information and pricing.
Wix.com: Wix is an easy-to-use website creation tool that allows you to create your business website quickly and efficiently. Wix offers several plans for websites which start at $13 per month. Visit wix.com for more information.
Weebly.com: This is a great tool for building travel websites. Weebly also offers domain name registration, web hosting and just about everything else that you may need to get your online presence website up and running. Weebly’s programs start at $12 per month. Visit www.Weebly.com.
WebFlow.com: This site offers over 100+ web templates, web hosting and just about everything you will need to launch a formidable online presence. They offer programs from $12 (personal website) to $36 (for a business website). Visit Webflow at www.Webflow.com.
Mobirise.com: If your client base is using smartphones to access your content, then Mobirise may be the right tool for you. It is a downloadable tool that allows you to create websites that are totally mobile friendly. It features an easy-to-use interface that is quite intuitive. There is no charge to download the tool for Windows and Mac. Visit www.mobirise.com.
Squarespace.com: An easy to use website building tool that will accommodate e-commerce, as well. The cost is between $12 to $40 per month. Squarespace offers a good number of travel and tourism templates that you can use for a very professional look and feel. Visit www.Squarespace.com.
GoDaddy.com: Everyone knows about GoDaddy and as you would expect, they do offer a web building tool and hosting. “GoCentral Web Builder” is the name of their tool and is very easy to use. While pricing to use the tool and host a site with GoDaddy is relatively inexpensive, there are several better options in my opinion. Visit www.GoDaddy.com.
1 & 1 IONOS.com: Offers a website building tool comparable to GoDaddy’s. They have hundreds of predesigned web templates to choose from and can also host WordPress sites if that is the direction that you are heading. While IONOS offers several different plans, they are all inexpensive. Visit www.ionos.com.
Vevs.com: While not particularly a general website creation tool, Vevs offers turn key websites for the marketing of rental properties. This would be an excellent choice if you are interested in diving into the “Shared Economy” by promoting vacation rentals by private owners to consumers. The cost starts at $8 per month for up to 5 properties and goes up to $83 per month for up to 250 properties. There are also “canned” business sites available. Visit vevs.com for more information.
WebsiteBuilder.com: Here is a tool that you can build websites with for free. Their business platform costs $14 per month and you can upgrade the free site to the business platform once it is everything you want. Visit WebsiteBuilder.com for more information.
10 Additional Website Builders
tilda.com: Easy to use drag and drop website builder.
webflow.com: A great site for developing modern business websites.
bookmark.com: Here is another excellent website builder that can easily churn out a wonderful travel agency website.
ucraft.com: Create beautiful websites with absolutely no coding,
site123.com: Super easy to build a travel agency website using this tool.
webnode.com: Easy to use and completely free to build your website.
jimdo.com: With a “Travel Blog” template ready to go, if you are looking for a blog, check this one out.
pagecloud.com: With several Travel and Tourism web templates to start with, pagecloud offers an easy-to-do tool for creating engaging travel agency websites.
uKit.com: Has over 350 web templates including several travel templates.
webstarts.com: This free cloud based tool allows users much more access to the underlying code and is a great choice for those that know and understand CSS and HTML coding. However no coding is needed to create sites with Webstarts.
strikingly.com: Here is another quality “no coding, no design experience” website builder.
As you can see there are many solutions for building website that meet the needs of travel agents. In Part 2 of this article we will explore the more sophisticated kinds of travel agency websites that will use SEO to gain organic (free) traffic based on consumer search with