“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”Wayne Gretzky
Ice hockey and a travel blog are certainly quite different, but this sentiment rings true for so many things in life. From the ice rink to the internet, this is a story of how our SEO firm took the famous words of Wayne Gretzky and turned them into tens of thousands of website views.
Case Study Overview
Our SEO firm for hotels was responsible for producing keywords for Barceló’s Pin & Travel blog for many months. The blog posts were written by an external firm for various markets, and in various languages.
Our task of generating keywords was one link in the chain, but ultimately we found that the end results were falling short of expectations on the blog itself. Producing engaging content, which is also optimized for search engines, is not an easy task.
While we do not consider ourselves the next Shakespeare or Hemingway, we felt there was an opportunity to produce a blog post internally, from start to finish, which was user friendly and optimized for search engines.
We ultimately decided on the topic of safety in Cancun, did all of the keyword research and topic research internally, wrote a post which answered searcher intent, and then engaged in corresponding link building and visibility campaigns.
The results were astonishing! From appearing as the Featured Snippet in Google and Bing, receiving nearly 6 million impressions and over 200,000 clicks in just 15 months, and being the blog’s most successful post ever, we were able to show that a well-written article coupled with search engine optimization can produce incredible results.
Case Study Background Information
While the overview skims the surface of what this blog case study covers, now it is time to dig deeper into the situation and cover the foundation of the study.
Who is the client?
Barceló Hotels & Resorts boasts more than 250 hotels in 22 countries and is one of the most recognizable hotel chains in the world. With over 85 years of experience in the travel sector, we are proud to have worked with them and admire their commitment to excellence in tourism.
Our role with Barceló Hotels & Resorts
Beyond our primary SEO tasks of improving visibility in SERPs and boosting CTR to ultimately generate more bookings, we also worked closely with their popular travel blog. Pin and Travel develops monthly travel-related content in numerous languages for destinations where Barceló has hotels or resorts.
With regards to their travel blog, we would receive a document on a monthly basis which outlined the upcoming month’s blog post topics in various languages. Our role was to generate one primary keyword and several supporting keywords, in each language, based on the broad description of the topic provided to us.
Using our keyword research process, we would complete the monthly task and return the document with the keywords included to our client. This document was then passed along to an external agency which was responsible for producing the content and including the keywords within the text.
Recognizing a disconnect and opportunity
We were more than happy to form part of the blogging process, and our ability as an SEO agency was certainly utilized when it came to generating keywords. However, we recognized that many of the blog posts which we supplied keywords for were performing very poorly.
We quickly recognized several problems we felt lead to the underperformance of the blog posts:
- A break in the chain – We were not responsible for selecting topics, and ultimately did not write the content. While supplying the keywords was important, we recognized that having so many people involved in one blog post was not proving successful.
- Various languages – While we were happy to provide keywords in various languages such as Italian, French and German, they are not our native language, and thus it makes finding truly useful keywords much more difficult.
- Optimized content for SERPs – Writing engaging content is without a doubt important when it comes to SEO, but we found that the content being produced was not optimal for SERPs. Headings did not contain keywords, the length was generally short, and many times the content did not correlate with the searcher’s intent.
- Link building – Producing great content is just one pillar of the overall SEO strategy. We often found that little to no link building was done once the post was published. Beyond blasting each post across their social media networks, which is certainly important for gaining traffic, true link building was not undertaken in order to create relevance and strength in search engines.
As an SEO agency we quickly realized there was a magnificent opportunity here to develop a blog post for Pin and Travel from start to finish. By no means are we experts in blogging, but the platform to produce a test piece of content was magnificent as the blog itself boasted a very respectable domain authority.
It was at this point that we presented the idea to Barceló with regards to producing a piece of content for the blog, which we controlled from start to finish, in order to see if we could “crack the code” with regards to producing a truly successful piece of content.
The Process: What did we do?
While we had to do a bit of convincing to Barceló in order to carry out our test, we were ultimately given the green light to move ahead with the project as long as they were able to review the content before it was published.
Now it was down to us to generate a piece of content which took into consideration all aspects of SEO while at the same time complying with the Pin and Travel brand. Here is a breakdown of exactly how we developed our piece of content:
Finding a great topic to write about was our first order of business, and these are the things we kept in mind when researching topics:
- Evergreen – we needed something which was relevant now and would continue to be relevant in the future
- Location – the topic had to be tied to a destination which Barceló has hotels or resorts
- Interesting – in order to draw readers in you need a topic which is truly interesting
- Useful – the reader ultimately needed to solve a problem or gather useful information from our post (i.e. searcher intent was accomplished)
Conclusion: We quickly came across the topic of “safety in Cancun” as recent news had highlighted violence in Cancun and people were clearly hesitant of travelling there. With Spring Break quickly approaching and Barceló home to two hotels in Cancun, it was clear we had found the perfect topic.
The task of sourcing keywords for the blog was familiar to us, but now we had a chance to dig deeper and uncover numerous keywords that may be useful in the writing of this post. Using tools such as SEMrush, Google Keyword Planner, Answer The Public, extracting keywords from existing posts, and much more, we were able to generate this initial list of powerful keywords:
Blog post length
While there is no exact science, many SEO experts conclude that blog posts should be at least 1,500 to 2,000 words, if not longer. Studies have shown there is a correlation between word count and ranking in SERPs.
We continually found that many of Pin and Travel’s posts were well under the ideal word count, many never even reaching 1,000 words.
Our primary aim was to generate a piece of content that was useful to the searcher, but also abided by the latest findings for word count and rankings. Ultimately, our blog reached roughly 3,500 words.
An important aspect of on-page SEO is the use of the headings (i.e. H1, H2, H3, etc.). We found in many cases that blog posts on Pin and Travel had failed to add important keywords to headings, properly use the heading construct, or had simply not used headings at all.
Within the process of creating a blog outline, and then writing the post itself, we wanted to ensure that important keywords were used in headings. We were very careful not to force keywords into headings where it did not make sense, as SERPs are very adamant about creating a useful and enjoyable user experience.
Below you will find all the headers used in the post, and highlighted in green are some of the main keywords we wanted to target.
While meta tags are not technically used by SERPs, they still form part of their algorithm, and are by all means incredibly important for the user. Being the searchers first point of contact with your website, meta tags are a way to draw the searcher in and create a desired action.
We discovered that many of the meta tags found on Pin and Travel happened to be automatically generated, much longer than the visible length in SERPs, and generally not enticing to searchers.
While SERPs such as Google are known to change constraints for meta tags without warning, the general conclusion from SEO experts at the time of writing the post was to stick with meta titles of roughly 60 characters and meta descriptions of 160 characters or less.
Throughout the life of the blog we continually updated and changed the meta tags based on the evolution of events, dates, and other user-based factors. Certainly not one of the most important focuses for SEO, but this tactic is a handy tip for SEO agencies to utilize.
Link building is a crucial part of successful SEO, and we noticed that many of the Pin and Travel posts didn’t undertake any form of link building beyond basic social media exposure and sometimes an internal link.
Understanding the importance of link building, we developed an elaborate plan to slowly begin building links. We utilized basic promotion techniques such as social media, forum websites such as Reddit and Quora, Google+, Google Posts, and other avenues to create exposure and drive the initial flurry of traffic. While there is not a direct correlation between social media and SEO, there most certainly is an indirect correlation that can have a big impact on SEO.
However, beyond those methods we ensured that the post capitalized on internal links first and foremost. We then set out on a link building campaign which included contacting the sources we used as references within our own post. These were quick wins to either ask for a link or a social media share.
We finally worked closely with renowned SEO and link building agency Page One Power. With their expertise in link building we were able to acquire links from reputable sites which enabled our post to succeed well beyond even our initial predictions. Overall we accumulated nearly 150 links from the post, and it continues to grow.
Those responsible for the blog at Barceló did include one or two posts per month which were to be updated, however, we noticed that the updated posts didn’t do much to enhance the initial version in terms of search engine optimization.
To ensure our post remained evergreen and useful to the user, we continually updated the post. Updates included the meta tags, refreshing content relative to recent events, and altering dates to ensure the most up to date content and keywords (i.e. 2019 to 2020).
We found this to be very helpful and continued to build on the success of the post. While our efforts have since been shifted elsewhere, another update opportunity would have been COVID-19 and its impact on Cancun and Riviera Maya.
Presentation of Findings
As this blog post was a test for us, once the post was published we immediately began tracking data to follow its progress. Beyond the likes of Google Search Console, Google Analytics, SEMrush and other tracking tools, we developed a Data Studio Report which compiled all of our analysis into one location.
By no means will we cover all the data available, but we will present some of the most astonishing pieces of data we found during the process in order to elaborate on the success (or failure) of this post.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a tool which is focused on the search engine and gives insights into a site’s (or page’s) presence within Google. It offers a great visual of how a site is performing and where traffic is coming from.
Our analysis always started with the entire Pin and Travel blog as that allowed us to gauge our success based on what already existed, followed by the specifics of our blog post. The results found below are for a 16 month period from June 30th, 2020.
**Please note that we performed a 301 redirect of the URL slug from /is-cancun-safe-2019/ to /is-cancun-safe/ meaning that we need to combine the results from the two URLs to find the correct value.
**It is also important to note that we have covered the Search Console Data as it is not available to the public and we want to respect the privacy of our client.
As is seen, our post received the most number of clicks, as well as the second-highest number of impressions when looking at the entire Pin and Travel blog (all languages).
When looking at just the English version of the blog, we received the most number of clicks and the most number of impressions by a staggering amount.
Returning to the entire blog (all languages), within the top 10 queries our blog produced three of the top 10. You could argue that “cancun” is also receiving clicks from other blog posts, which it likely is, but this query was not receiving this quantity of clicks or impressions before our post was published.
Now looking at just the English version of the blog and its performance in the US, our post is responsible for all 10 of the top 10 queries. Another impressive finding is that almost all of these 10 queries rank amongst the top two positions in Google.
Now let’s hone in and take a closer look at the specific performance of our blog post.
It is hard to see in the image, but our post was published on March 11th, 2019, yet took roughly a month to start gaining traction within Google. Removing several large spikes based on presumed events which happened in Cancun, our post hovered between 400 – 1,000 daily clicks and between 12,000 – 22,000 daily impressions.
Not all that surprising, but our post received the most clicks and impressions in the United States, followed by Canada and the United Kingdom. Our post was written primarily for the American market, so that was reassuring to see.
We were happy to discover that our target keyword (“is cancun safe”) turned out to be the keyword with the most clicks. It ultimately shows our blog completed the searcher’s intent of finding out whether or not Cancun truly is safe or not.
As mobile comprises the majority of searches in today’s world, it’s no surprise that mobile clicks and impressions more than doubled those of desktop and tablet devices combined.
The biggest surprise for us was the number of “AMP article” clicks we received. This was greatly aided by the fact that we had many keywords which ranked as the Featured Snippet on mobile devices.
SEMrush Keyword Tracking
SEMrush is an SEO tool used for keyword research, tracking keywords, analyzing competition, running SEO audits, looking for backlink opportunities and much more. While we also utilized SEMrush for our keyword research, in this section we will focus on tracking keywords via SEMrush.
Taken from our personal metrics spreadsheet, here you can see the height of keyword rankings for specific keywords we choose to track in SEMrush, and then all ranking keywords for the post.
At one point we were personally tracking over 130 keywords, meaning there were roughly 130 keywords we wanted to rank for in some fashion. We realize as an SEO agency we should really focus on roughly 3-5 keywords per post, which we did, but there were many other long-tail keywords which offered great opportunities and for that reason we tracked so many.
With regards to the keywords we tracked, the maximum number of keywords that we witnessed ranking in the top three spots was 101, while another 26 keywords ranked on the first page.
SEMrush also tracks all the keywords a URL ranks for, and at the height of tracking the post we were able to rank for over 4,800 keywords, 220 of which ranked in the top three positions in SERPs, with another 250 ranking on the first page.
The importance of ranking in the top three is highlighted by the fact that the CTR for the first spot is over 31%, for the second position it is nearly 25% and the third position is around 19%. As you fall further down the page the CTR rapidly decreases, showing the importance of ranking high up on SERPs.
Building backlinks is an incredibly important pillar when it comes to search engine optimization. While previously mentioned, we did extensive backlink building on our own, but we also utilized the custom link building services from Page One Power.
Backlinks, in simple terms, show a “vote of confidence.” It is one site saying they trust your content enough to link to it, and thus enhancing the validity and reliability of your page.
Linkbuilding does not happen overnight, but it pays huge dividends in the long run. Our page, for example, was able to produce nearly 150 backlinks over the course of roughly 15 months. Take a look below at the backlink stats produced by SEMrush.
Backlink data for /is-cancun-safe-2019/
Backlink data for /is-cancun-safe/
Other impressive findings
SERPs such as Google are not only updating algorithms frequently, but they also add new features to try and improve the user experience. Some of these features include Featured Snippets, People Also Ask, Related Searches and so much more.
One of the first things we noticed was the success our images were having in Google. There are certain tactics you can use to help images rank in SERPs such as optimizing the ALT text and Image Title, ensuring the image is relevant to the user, and verifying that any text within the image can be read properly by the search engine bot
As you can see, at the height of the post we had over 430 keywords ranking for our images, with some 200 daily clicks. This was in large part due to the image optimization we did to ensure the images had plenty of visibility within SERPs, including in the Featured Snippets as you will see below.
Another feature which was not only impressive, but also vital in the success of our post, were Featured Snippets.
Featured Snippets appear at the top of organic search results and aim to answer the searcher’s question immediately. We found that some of our keywords generated Featured Snippets on both desktop and mobile searches. In Bing, our post occupied two of the top three results.
Being the first article found makes a huge difference in terms of impressions and click-through rates. It shows that the search engine trusts our content and verifies that our content provides the answer the searcher is looking for.
Optimizing for FAQs and People Also Ask questions is another opportunity for you to give yourself an advantage in SERPs. We did just that with our blog post on safety in Cancun, and as you can see below it proved effective!
All of these results are due in large part to our efforts of optimizing our blog for SERPs and ensuring the content was accurate, useful, and easy to navigate for searchers.
As this blog post was an initial test for us, we really didn’t develop any concrete KPIs as we had nothing to measure it on besides existing Pin and Travel posts. Our primary goal was to prove that quality search engine optimization is vital when creating a piece of blog content.
While success can be measured in numerous forms, and can certainly be considered subjective, we are happy with the results produced. While having been previously discussed, a few of our accomplishments include:
- Most number of clicks in the Pin and Travel blog
- Second highest number of impressions in the Pin and Travel blog
- Nearly 150 backlinks
- Ranking for over 4,800 keywords
- Placing 220 keywords in the top 3 positions in Google
- Placing nearly 500 keywords on the first page of Google
- Nearly 200 daily clicks for images
- Positioning in Featured Snippets
- Appearing in People Also Ask
While our SEO efforts have shifted elsewhere and we no longer update the blog post, the content continues to thrive. This process was hopefully as useful for us as it was for Barceló and their Pin and Travel blog.
Here are a few things we learned along the way:
- Finding an evergreen topic is essential
- Keyword research is vital to a successful blog post
- Optimizing Headers and Images is very important
- Extensive link building is crucial for long term success
- Continual updating of content is necessary for a post to remain relevant
- Blog length did prove to be important
- Adjusting and updating meta tags is necessary
This list is by no means all-inclusive, nor does it display anything extraordinary from what SEO bloggers already know, but it does show that when these tactics are truly put to the test the results are quite astounding.
Upon completion of the project we didn’t want this post to be a one-off. We felt it was a great opportunity to dig deeper and build off the success we were able to accomplish. Beyond the experience of generating a successful blog post, we realized that more content ideas could be born from the concept of safety:
- Is Cancun safe for _________________? (i.e. women, families, spring breakers, etc.)
- Is ________________ safe? (i.e. Madrid, Paris, Dubai, New York City, etc.)
With regards to travel, safety is generally a topic highly searched by travellers. This opens the door for future blog posts related to this topic. In fact, we generated a blog post for another client regarding safety in Punta Cana which turned out to be incredibly successful as well!