Travel Agency Websites: What are Your Options and the Pros and Cons?
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One of the things we’re frequently asked is about travel agency websites. As in, how in the world do I create a website for my travel agency? We totally get that you’re a travel agent—which doesn’t have a lot in common with a web developer—and your time is best spent selling and researching travel, not different travel agent website programs.
Your first question is likely, “What kind of website should I get for my travel agency?”. As always, we here at HAR want to help you make an informed decision so before we can answer that question (hint: there is no one-size fits all answer), we need to go over the reasons why you might want a travel agency website and the options available.
What to expect in this article:
- Purposes of a website
- Types of website options
- Pros and cons
- What other agents are saying about their travel agency websites
- Tips for getting your website set up
And it’s not just the HAR perspective here. We’ve asked oodles of agents what they like and dislike about their travel agency websites. We share their thoughts at the end of the article!
What are you Looking for in Your Travel Agency Website?
Your answer to this question will be one of the biggest factors in finding the right website for you.
There are lots of reasons why you might want a travel agency website but we’re going to focus in on the top 5. You’ll likely have more than one reason so as you go through the list, I recommend ranking them in order of importance to help you decide on your best travel agency website option later on.
Top 5 Reasons Your Travel Agency Should Get a Website (listed in no particular order)
1. Online presence/legitimize your travel agency I don’t know about you but one of the first things I do when I learn about a new business is to “Google” them. Check out their website, see if they have reviews and maybe even check their social media pages. If I search a company and find nothing on them, I’m a bit hesitant. I recognize my bias here and that this is a clear sign I am a Millennial but according to a Forbes article nearly half of U.S adults said they Googled someone before doing business and 56% found something that solidified their decision to do business with the person. 1
2. Introduce Yourself and Build Your Brand Let’s face it, you’re not trying to be another online travel agency (OTA) like Booking.com. You’re selling yourself on being a personalized small business owner so use your website to tell potential clients about you. Who you are, what you do, what you specialize in and what you can offer them. Let them get to know about you and your company so they want to call you for your next trip! Just a fun fact to brighten your day: Americans' confidence in small businesses is more than 3 times that of big businesses! 2
3. Show Products You Offer and Your In-Depth Knowledge Perhaps you put groups or specific tours together. Your website is a fantastic place to showcase current or past itineraries. Showcasing your specialty and what you offer travelers.
4. Allow Clients to Research With pre-loaded content on your site your clients can research destinations, suppliers, ships and different types of trips on their own before (or after) contacting you.
5. Sell Products If you have booking engines on your site, you’re allowing clients to book their own travel on their own 24/7 without having to contact you.
Now that you have an idea of what you want your website to do for your travel agency, we can get into the different travel agency websites that are out there ... and who they’d be a best fit for!
SEO for Travel Agency Websites
This is not an SEO article!
SEO is constantly changing and there are loads of SEO experts that follow those trends – I am not one of them! But it is such an important piece to building a website (and something we’re so often asked about) that I wanted to do a basic overview.
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. People are often super intimidated when they hear talk of SEO but at its core it is quite simple: you are trying to optimize your web pages so the search engine ‘bots’ or ‘spiders’ can understand what type of content you are offering and therefore produce quality and accurate results to the people searching.
It gets a bit overwhelming because there are a myriad of different ways to help search engines better understand your pages. Along with that, the algorithms that search engines use to understand pages are constantly evolving.
But don’t despair! There are a lot of basic things you can do to your travel agency website that doesn't require you to be an SEO Wizard. To give you a good starting point for your SEO foundation, here are a few important (and easy!) things you can do to increase your ranking with search engines.
Write original quality content
Search engines are getting better and better at figuring out what your page is about and if the content on your page is quality/helpful. If a search engine finds the same content (verbatim) as another page, it may not know the original source, who gets the biggest SEO benefit. Duplicate content is an area that can harm you if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Tip: Here’s a great read on duplicate content: https://moz.com/learn/seo/duplicate-content
“Unique, relevant content provides value to users and distinguishes your site from other affiliates, making it more likely to rank well in Google search results.” -Google Answers
Find the best keywords for your page topic
First things first. What’s a keyword? This is the word/phrase you’re going after. Ask yourself what would someone type into the search engines if they wanted to find the answers I’m giving on this specific page?
Our keyword for this page is “travel agency websites” because it’s about all things travel agency websites! How did we decide on that keyword phrase? By using a nifty keyword tool.
Once you’ve decided on your keyword, make sure it shows up multiple times on the page. If you’re going for “Minneapolis destination wedding travel agent” or “Disney travel agent”, that phrase should have a decent keyword density on that page.
Tip: Be careful not to throw out keywords left and right that don’t help your content. Not only will it lower the quality of the content for your site visitors but you could get penalized.
Should include the topic of your page using some of your keywords. We research the keywords for our blog topics for every article before coming up with the title of the blog AND the URL.
Descriptive URLs with clear hierarchical structure
For example: www.yourwebsite.com/destination-weddings/best-Jamaica-resorts The URL should include the topic of your page and keywords. Take a look at our URL on this page. Remember that our keyword is “travel agency websites”. Neat, huh?
Alt image descriptions
Your alt image description helps make your site more accessible for users with visual disabilities by allowing screen readers a text description of your image. And since search engine bots don’t have eyes (yet), this helps search engines understand what the photos are of and what they pertain to. An alt image description should have the topic of the page (if applicable) as well as anything else that is pertinent to the image.
Use header tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.)
Header tags help the search engine “read” a page and find out what’s important. Not putting in header tags is the equivalent of trying to read a textbook without any chapters or section titles. In other words, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on.
You should only have one h1 tag, which is typically the title of your page. See the title at the top of this page? Do you notice how we have sections that help break up the article? Those are our header tags!
Tip: For design, headers are usually somewhat different from each other in size, color, font decoration (italics, bold), or fonts (beware you don’t get too crazy with the differences though). HAR’s structure looks like this:
Interlink your travel agency website pages
You want both your visitors and search engine bots to easily find content on your site. You can do that by interlinking to other pages. You’ll notice in our articles, we have a lot of interlinking because we refer back to topics we’ve written about already. It helps you find helpful and relevant content and shows the search engines that we have lots of other quality pages!
If you’re writing a blog post for your travel agency website—there’s our keyword again!—and it’s title is “Top 5 Things NOT to Forget When Traveling with Toddlers”, don’t forget to link to that blog post showcasing your FAM trip to a resort that’s great for families with toddlers!
Last minute notes:
- The biggest factor in how well your page will do is the content of your site and the effort you put into your SEO, not what website platform you choose. The idea that only travel agency websites built on WordPress will rank well is quite incorrect.
- Search engines don’t rank your entire site as one, each page is ranked individually. This is why if you search a keyword, you might see a page on ABC.com first but if you search a slightly different keyword, the first result might be a page from 123.com.
Getting your site to rank high in the search engines takes leg-work on your part, no way around it. When you're shopping around for travel agency websites and you see the claim “search engine optimized”, it is really just a marketing term that means you are able to edit areas that can benefit your SEO. And since there are a myriad of things that contribute to the SEO of your site, it is pretty ambiguous and can mean different things for different sites. The takeaway is that there is no single website platform to ensure you get first page of search results—it's more than just the website platform you're on.
If you want to dive more deeply into the world of SEO here are a few resources we recommend. They aren't specific to travel agency websites but they'll give you a sound understanding of the different terms and best practices:
Third Party Travel Agency Websites
Costs: Usually different tiers, can range from free to $70/month
Um, first off, did you notice what we did? This is a new section—Third Party Travel Agency Websites—and that comes with its very own header tag, an h2! It’s important to have your keyword phrase in the h1 (the really big title at the top of the page) and in at least one of the h2s.
Look at the h2 above, “Third Party Travel Agency Websites”. Now scroll up a little bit. Do you see the h2 above this one and how it also contained our keyword, “travel agency websites”? As you browse, keep a look out for these things and you’ll see that really high ranking sites not only have in-depth, helpful content, but they follow SEO best practices and make sense. If our sections aren’t about the keyword, you won’t see the keyword in that section’s header.
Alright, back to the regular program. Let’s learn about third party travel agency websites, shall we? 🙂
We took a look at our host agency database and about 65% of hosts offer some sort of website program to their agents. Most of the time when a host agency offers a consumer-facing website program for travel agents, it is offered through third party travel agency website programs like the ones above.
Best for agents who:
- Want their clients to be able to research and book travel on their websites.
- Want to have a “hands-off” website with little to no set-up or maintenance.
- Don’t need/want control over all aspects of the site (including all the nitty gritty for SEO fanatics) but still want an online presence.
Design: Third party travel agency websites usually have multiple design templates you can choose from. The amount of design flexibility you have will depend on the platform. Some allow you the ability to add your logo and maybe choose a general color scheme but you won’t be able to customize or change much else. Others have more design options with drag n' drop features similar to the website builders we'll go over next.
Content: The biggest benefit of third party travel agency websites is the content! They are pre-filled with detailed content on destinations, suppliers, ships, trip types, etc. that your clients will be able to search through and read. They also commonly have supplier specials and news feeds that are automatically updated. You will need to customize the sections of your site that are specific to your agency, like your about us page or your meet the team page. If you don’t want to write content, you can always hire a content writer.
Backend: Because there is limited editing of the website layout, you are typically just editing the text for a page. The more advanced options are drag n' drop style. I would say the learning curve is pretty easy for both types.
SEO: While the pre-filled content on the third party travel agency websites is the biggest benefit, it can also be a curse for the SEO. As we mentioned above, duplicate content from cookie-cutter sites is often seen as a negative. Search engines don’t want someone to search a term and pull up 100’s of travel agent sites that all have basically the same content.
“Pure affiliate sites consisting of content that appears in many other places on the web are highly unlikely to perform well in Google search results and may be negatively perceived by search engines.” -Google Answers
That being said, if you just want to have a website to direct people to and don’t want to hassle with trying to rank with search engines, these sites more than get the job done!
- Pre-designed templates
- Pre-filled content
- Booking engine(s)
- Automatically updated
- Auto-fed specials and news
- Higher tiered plans often have a social media helper tool
- Limited in what you can edit (although some programs offer a more customized feel for an additional cost)
- Typically poor SEO ranking
- For online booking engines, it can open you up to fraud if someone uses a fraudulent card to book travel on your website (verify with the program who would be responsible)
- Typically not able to brand more than your logo
Website Builders (Build Your Own Travel Agency Website)
Ease of use: Easy
Costs: Free to ~$30/month
There are a lot of great programs out there that allow you to easily build your own professional looking website with no coding knowledge necessary.
Best for agents who:
- Want to personalize their travel agency website with their own structure and content
- Don’t mind putting in the work themselves to create a website for their travel agency
Design: Website builders have loads of different designs that you are able to customize with different colors, images and layouts. Wix even has specific travel agency website templates! You’re easily able to change it and make it your own so your site doesn’t look like a ‘cookie-cutter’ site.
Content: Travel agency website built with website builders like Wix and SquareSpace will require that you write your own content, create your own pages and structure it accordingly. The templates usually have layouts with dummy text to give you an idea of a typical website layout with what type of information a page can hold but it isn’t usable content. If you don’t want to write content, you can pay extra for a content writer.
Backend: These sites are typically drag n’ drop meaning you drag, say, a text box where you want it and ‘drop’ it. And voila! You have a text box where you want it! They’re built to make it easy for people with no coding knowledge to create nice looking websites. I would say the learning curve is pretty low when it comes to editing your website.
SEO: This is an area where website builders have really advanced over the last few years. There is still a stigma around website builders and bad SEO that arose from their early days but rest assured, you are able to have a successful, ranking travel agency website on a website builder platform. The SEO edits we mention above are doable with most website builders. WebsiteToolTester.com has a super helpful chart that shows the specific SEO capabilities of the different website builders.
- Relatively easy to use
- Professionally designed templates
- Cost effective
- Good ability to edit many SEO aspects
- Requires time and effort
- Need to write your own content
- Need to update specials, etc.
Content Management Systems (CMS)
Ease of use: Medium to hard
Costs: Programs are free but you’ll need to pay for hosting your CMS ~$10/month. Other potential costs could be premium plug-ins and hiring a developer.
For hosting, we recommend BlueHost, GoDaddy, or WP Engine (save 20% on monthly plans | 4 months FREE on annual plans using this link).
No doubt about it, CMS’s are another popular way to build travel agency websites on the cheap. There is a lot more flexibility with CMS . . . but with that comes more complexity. If you frustrate easily and friends would never call you technologically inclined, this is not the option for you! While you don’t need to know coding to get a CMS site off the ground, to get a site to look like the professional sites you see, you will most likely need a little developer help.
Best for agents who:
- Want to personalize their website with their own structure and content
- Know a bit of coding or want to learn some
- Don’t mind spending time learning the CMS backend
Design: With the three CMS’s we mentioned above, you have access to loads of templates. WordPress has a variety of travel agency website templates/themes. You can search through included templates or ones designed by other people. Some are for free, otherwise you have to pay for. Once you have your template, you are able to really customize it to your look (coding often times required) and add plug-in (costs vary, many free) to give your site additional functionality.
Content: For travel agency websites build with CMSs, you will need to write your own content, create your own pages and structure it accordingly. Some themes will have dummy text and structure that you can copy over to help you start but the content won’t be usable. If you don’t want to write content, you can pay extra for a content writer.
Backend: The biggest drawback to using a CMS for travel agency websites is that the backend is much more complicated and ‘less pretty’ to use. There is a much steeper learning curve than the other travel agency website options we mentioned and to get the best results, you often need to know how to code a bit or hire a developer. When you’re editing a page in a CMS, you’re not really sure what the design aspect will look like until you preview or publish your page.
SEO: Since everything is so flexible and customizable, you have the ability to make those SEO edits we mention above and then some. Remember, simply having a CMS like WordPress doesn’t make your site rank high in the search engines, it is the work you put in to cultivating your SEO on the site.
- 1000’s of templates
- Can be very cost effective
- Good ability to edit many SEO aspects
- Lots of flexibility in what your site can look like and what features it has
- Higher learning curve
- Requires time and effort
- Need to write your own content
- Need to update
- Some plug-ins and themes cost extra
- Knowledge of coding is beneficial to really take advantage of the CMS flexibility
- You can really screw it up if you don’t know what you’re doing
Hire a Developer to Create Your Travel Agency Website
Ease of use: Easy
Costs: Costs vary widely but this is by far the most expensive option. Expect $500 up to $1,000’s of dollars for a full website build.
When it comes to hiring a developer, you have lots of options. You may have started your site using one of the methods above and just need a little help or some tweaks that you want to hire someone to do. On the other hand, you might want to have someone build your travel agency website from the ground up and not have to worry about it.
Best for agents who:
- Don’t want to have to ever ‘touch’ their website
- Have a specific design or functionality they want
- Have a larger budget
Design: Since you’re working with a developer, you can sketch up the way you want your site and your developer should be able to deliver. If you’re not sure what you want it to look like, you might have to pay extra for design services. A quick way to save money is to to research other websites and take screenshots or notes on what you like about those sites. Maybe it was the color, the font, the style.
Content: With developer-built travel agency websites, you will need to write your own content, create your own pages and structure it accordingly but the developer should be able to help with best practices for page structures. If you don’t want to write content, you can pay extra for a content writer.
Backend: Depending on where and how your developer sets up your site and what level of access you want, you may or may not go into the backend of your travel agency website. Typically speaking, if you hired a developer, you’ll likely use them for any updates as well. Expect to pay for their time when you have update or change requests.
SEO: You’ll want to check your developers credentials to see if they have experience designing websites with SEO in mind or if they work with an SEO expert to make sure your site is in tip-top shape. Don’t forget that much of the SEO legwork is in the page’s content.
- Customized to your exact design wants
- Can add specific features
- Minimal work on your part
- Will likely need to work through developer for updates and change
What Agents are Saying
We polled our 7-Day Set Up Facebook Support Group—which is agents that are just starting their agency—about what type of travel agency websites they went with for their travel agency. The vast majority of those that said they built their own using a website builder like Wix or SquareSpace. Another thing to note, they didn’t allow clients to book on their site.
We also asked agents on Steph’s Facebook page what travel agency website programs agents were using, which is a mix of both new and experienced agents. Here’s what they had to say:
Other (Important) Website Purchases to Keep in Mind
A domain is your website address. Ours is www.HostAgencyReviews.com
Cost: Depending on your name, a domain costs about $10-$15. Just an FYI, you technically don’t own the domain, you’re renting it so don’t let it lapse or someone could take your domain! You may also want to consider buying the .org or the plural of your domain.
Your domain should not be confused with your website. After you purchase your domain, there won’t be anything at the address until you purchase and link your website. Most places that sell domains also offer their own website building program but we recommend sticking to the travel agency website options we went over in this article.
Popular places to purchase domains:
Tip: Not sure on your domain? Read our article on choosing a travel agency name for tips and promo codes!
All the files of your site have to be stored somewhere! Your hosting provider has that space for you. When you use a website builder like Wix, Weebly or SquareSpace they host your website for you. If you use a CMS like WordPress, you will need to find a hosting company to store your CMS. Many CMSs offer their own hosting as well.
Cost depends on how much space you need but for a typical website, expect to pay <$10/month. But like domain pricing, it often goes up to about $15-20/month after the first year. You can move hosts at any time.
Popular Hosting Providers:
BlueHost, GoDaddy, or WP Engine (save 20% on monthly plans | 4 months free on annual plans using this link). WP Engine is the premium, white-glove host, meaning top website speeds, amazing support . . . and it has premium pricing as a result.
Costs for custom emails are about $5/month.
You can typically get custom emails through the company you purchase your domain with. If you’re interested in using G Suite through Google to get your custom email, we have some 20% promo codes for new users! Pop us a note in the comments and we’ll send you over a code!
Popular Custom Email Providers:
Tips for Travel Agency Websites – No Matter Which Kind You Get!
- Contact info: It seems basic but I’ve visited a lot of travel agent websites and have not been able to find a phone number or email anywhere! Contact forms are great too but having an actual number or email people can reach you is much more personalized.
- Branding: Putting your logo up in the header is a great start but you can go even further. Trying incorporating your logos colors around your site. Notice how our h2 is orange like the word bubble in our logo and our link colors are the green of “agency” in the logo? This ties your site and hopefully any print material you have (business cards, advertisements, etc.) together and makes everything more cohesive and therefore memorable.
- Connect everything: For maximum impact, all of your marketing and advertising pieces should be connected. Your travel agency website should link to your social media accounts and list your email. Your social media accounts should have your contact details and link to your website. Your business cards and advertisements should you’re your website and contact details. Make sure they know who you are, where to contact you and how to find out more about you!
- Email Sign-Up: Even if you’re not planning on sending out newsletters anytime soon, put an email sign-up form on your website. This way when you are ready to send out newsletters or maybe you have a one off announcement, you have the emails of potential clients ready and waiting! We use MailChimp and love it. The best part about it? It's free if you have less than 2,000 subscribers on your list!
Creating a website is a fantastic way to showcase you and your travel agency to the world. It is an easy way for potential clients to learn more about you and what you offer. Hopefully we’ve made the process of travel agency websites and all that comes with it, less daunting and more accessible for you first-time website builders!
After you get your travel agency website up and running, you might like our $100 Travel Agency Marketing Plan [+ Video] for more ideas on getting your name out there!
I’d love to hear your experiences with different travel agency website programs – leave a comment below with what type of website you have and how you’re liking it!