Case Study: Building Links in the Travel Industry

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Today’s post comes from Shawn Cohen of Standing Dog Interactive, a full service digital agency in Dallas, Texas.  

The travel and hospitality industry is inspiring to work in: you know you’re helping travelers reach their destination and once they get there, you are there to ensure that they will have the best time of their lives.


Case Study: Building Links in the Travel Industry

However, it’s a crowded digital space with a lot of limitations. Depending on the brand, content, budget, and time can all be tight restrictions on SEO link building campaigns. That means we have to think creatively about where to find reputable sites that will link to individual properties that have tiny SEO budgets, run of the mill content, and just a few hours of linking time per year.

Yes, that’s right—a few hours of linking time per year.

With these limitations in mind, we’re pulling back the curtain on how we’ve built thousands of reputable links for hundreds of hotel properties since the founders of our hospitality-oriented agency opened up shop nine years ago.

Case Study: Vacations by Marriott

First, though, we’d like to bring your attention to a case study of a more sophisticated travel and hospitality link building campaign we did for Vacations by Marriott, the official travel package program of Marriott International.

You would think that with a brand like Marriott as the vehicle of our link building efforts, links from authoritative media outlets would just pour in without us having to hardly lift a finger.

Not so.

In its industry, Vacations by Marriott is considered a travel packager, a concept that’s been around for quite a while now. But Marriott’s program has only been in existence for several years, while others that offer similar vacation package products have brand recognition dating back over a decade—think Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, to name a few.

Vacations by Marriott has key differentiating factors, but outreach is still tough considering the power of our competition.

Targeting Newspapers

Regardless, the links were still there as we looked around for them. Our biggest opportunity came when we realized that newspaper websites are always looking to showcase the best travel deals from around the web, usually on Friday mornings.

Being a travel package website, Vacations by Marriott was poised to reap powerful links from these newspaper websites.

Top links earned:

Effective Outreach

These links didn’t come easy, though. The average times we outreached to the same writer before they wrote about us was four. While we kept all of our outreach messages short, our most effective message was only 148 words long.

Subject line: Travel deals from Vacations by Marriott

Body: Good morning [first name],

I noticed you frequently write about travel, so I’d like to introduce you to a partner of ours, Vacations by Marriott, which is Marriott International’s official travel deal website.

 Vacations by Marriott sets itself apart from similar travel package websites by including all resort fees with the initial booking cost, leaving no surprises upon check out. We are the only place you can book a complete vacation with airfare and earn Marriott Rewards points.

Some of our current deals include:

Hawaii vacations: Hotel stay and airfare starting at just $865, a savings of up to 55%

Caribbean and Latin America vacations: save up to 30% at several tropical locations

Florida vacations: save up to 15% and get $25 daily credits for the family  

Thanks for letting me know how we can collaborate on spreading the word about these deals. I look forward to hearing back from you soon!


[SEO’s Name]

Incidentally, we noticed that many of the mentions were almost lifted verbatim from our outreach message, like this one in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (and notice the link to Kayak right above us—we really could run with the big dogs!).



Journalists often used language directly from the outreach message.

And in case you were wondering, yes—we’ll be hitting these sites up again as we have new and compelling deals to pitch. Just as long as we don’t break one of the cardinal rules of good outreach: Don’t be annoying.

Hotel Property Link Building

If you’re building links in the hospitality industry, you know that most individual hotels have a very small budget for SEO, especially select service hotels that don’t have extra amenities like a restaurant or spa. However, for the past decade, we’ve been tasked with building links to these properties’ webpages week in and week out. Here are some sets of websites we’ve found that present viable linking opportunities:

University Websites

EDU links are usually high on the link building priority list for businesses – hotels are no exception. While many companies often rely on sponsorships or expensive content for obtaining these links, small hotels (and even resorts) don’t have this luxury since there usually isn’t budget available.

So, we think travel—in every way, shape, and form it comes in.

Universities love it when parents and family members come to visit students and even arrange special weekends for this. Duh, everybody knows that! But what we also found is that universities like to make it easy for parents to book their stay close to the campus.

So if the hotel you’re building links for is within a mile or two of a college campus, there’s a strong likelihood that the school has a page like this one from the University of Chicago (DA 91):

Marriott2Many colleges have guides to nearby restaurants and hotels.

It’s convenient that this page lists hotels in downtown Chicago, which Google Maps says is about eight miles away. However, the property you’re building links for may not always have the privilege of trying to get a link on a page that mentions hotels in that wide of a radius. It’s worth a shot even if you’re a few miles from the campus, though.

Airport Websites

All major airports have websites (even though we rarely visit them for up to the minute flight info) and many have decent domain authority. Take a peek at the airport website that your hotel is close to and you might find a page like this one on the LAX website (DA 85):


Some airports list local hotels for travelers.

Really, any space where visitors from out of town resort to while traveling is fair game for link building efforts. The great thing, from what we can tell with these websites, is that they are meeting a real human need—they don’t just exist for search engines but are there for events that people are actually holding in the real world.

So, even when these websites don’t have much authority, we still view them as linking opportunities since they are being trafficked by potential visitors to the area the hotel is located in. As long as the websites themselves haven’t engaged in spammy link building (and the vast majority haven’t), we’ll ask them for a link.

This includes websites owned by funeral homes, limo services, event venues, and even theater companies, like this one far outside of Portland, Oregon (DA 34).


Find local listing opportunities in unexpected places, like a community theater.


Like all the link building we do, our outreach messages are to the point—usually totaling around 100 words. While the outreach message below didn’t net us a link, it did result in an accurate citation on a .gov website, which is just about the best thing a hotel can get besides a link.

Subject: Web Page Question


 My name is [SEO’s name] and I am working with the Marriott field marketing team on their online efforts. I visited your webpage [webpage URL] and was wondering if you might consider listing the Residence Inn Phoenix Desert View at Mayo Clinic since the hotel is not represented on your website, but it might be of interest to site visitors due to the hotel’s proximity to the sports complex.

 Here is some information about the hotel:

Residence Inn Phoenix Desert View at Mayo Clinic

5665 E. Mayo Boulevard

Phoenix, Arizona 85054


[hotel property link]

 If your site requires anything else, please let me know.

 Best regards,

[SEO’s name]

The linking opportunities we’ve mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg that any hotel can take advantage of regardless of its service level, list of amenities, and available budget.

Special thanks go to Juan Batres and Lindsey Jakubovic for making this post possible. Juan has been building links for hotels for years and is a master at finding linking opportunities for his clients. Lindsey’s persistence and finesse helped produce the results we achieved for Vacations by Marriott. I couldn’t ask to work with better teammates.

If you’d like to continue the conversation, feel free to contact me on Twitter.


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Shawn Cohen

Shawn Cohen works for Standing Dog Interactive, a full service digital agency in Dallas, Texas.

Disclaimer: The author's views are entirely their own, and don't necessarily reflect the opinions of BuzzStream.
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