SalzburgerLand Tourismus, while looking for an effective content marketing strategy to hijack travelers, decided to build its own knowledge graph along with a new WordPress powered website. The Austrian regional tourism agency, after the first 6 months, has outperformed the competition: compared with 161 websites from the same industry and with a similar range of traffic, Salzburgerland.com had acquired 92.65% more usersvia organic search. Wanna know how? Follow me.
Building the digital pathways to bring travelers in SalzburgerLand
SalzburgerLand Tourismus (SLTG) is the agency responsible for marketing, development, and promotion of tourism in the region of Salzburg. Its main challenge is to attract and engage travelers from around the world, to meet their needs at the right time and to develop new travel products.
«The strategic orientation of SLT is to transport main topics and highlights matching the needs and requirements of different markets and channels. On that point we are forcing the use of visual components (pictures, videos, cinemagraphs) to create emotions and to engage guests. At the same time we endeavor to deliver relevant information to every single traveler.
Using WordLift (and WordLift Cloud) we are now able to structure our content, make it readable for machines to serve personal assistants like Alexa, Google Home or any other smart device – and to share it with our partners.»
Nowadays travelers, in most cases, begin their exploration from Google. The search engine has become the place where people from different countries browse for ideas and dream about their future travel experiences. They use Google to look for the dates, flights, and hotels that match their expectations. Ultimately, with Google evolving into the biggest online travel agency worldwide, it has become strategic to reach customers at the right time during their journey by promoting top-notch content with both paid and organic positioning.
We’ve been collaborating with SLTG since 2014 to grow their organic traffic and to implement an open linked data content marketing strategy. Salzburgerland.com is SLTG’s main online property and at the very center of a distributed network of online services (mobile websites, mobile apps, social media accounts and so on). The goal of the site has always been to attract world travelers from around the world with first-in-class engaging content.
As a background activity to focus on the needs of SLTG, we have been studying travelers’ behavior using regional open data on inquiries, bookings, and visits along with search intents. This analysis helped us define (and re-define) market segments, personas, and information needs for each target group.
After analyzing the core business targets, the team drafted a set of traveler marketing personas and moved ahead with:
Migrating to WordPress
Organizing existing and new content around different travelers
Creating an enterprise knowledge graph – a semantic database that describes all concepts that matter: these are the key building blocks of the information architecture of the new website.
#1 Migrating to WordPress: a strategic choice
Salzburgerland.com used to manage its content using an in-house developed Content Management System until they decided, back in 2016, to migrate to WordPress. There are several reasons for large organizations like SLTG to switch to an open source web CMS like WordPress:
Continuous update of the technology with a controlled ICT budget. Automattic and the community around WordPress are responsible for updating the core of the CMS. Clients, like SLTG, need to run constant testing on all new releases of the software but all the development is open source and available to anyone for free.
Increased flexibility in creating new content and a streamlined publishing workflow. This helps the editorial team focus on what really matters: great content that travelers want to read.
The wide range of plugins available for WordPress, while overwhelming at the beginning, and sometimes extremely confusing, helps lower the cost of new developments on large websites.
Improved performances when compared to other legacy systems, WordPress is fast (especially when combined with proper caching technologies and optimization tools).
#2 Organizing existing and new content around different travelers
Travelers from different countries have different information needs. Salzburgerland.com uses a multi-language website (and data) structure offering different content for each target group.
Tourists are provided with appropriate navigation paths each one starting with a particular landing page. Each landing page is an entity that corresponds to a specific geographical location, an area of interest, an organization or a type of travel experience.
#3 Creating an enterprise knowledge graph
The core of the new strategy for SLTG was not to revamp their website, but to create their own enterprise knowledge graph using linked data and semantic technologies. Organizations like SLTG integrate heterogeneous data from different sources and with a semantic database, all this data is made accessible to everyone.
The enterprise knowledge graph helps infer new relationships out of existing facts, giving context and meaning to editorial content. SLTG has been experimenting over the years with semantic technologies, to gain a competitive advantage, to support their internal business decisions and to create new applications and touch points for the travelers.
As the new portal was being designed the content has been semantically structured using WordLift to connect at best with their target audience (travelers from Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and more) and to share their knowledge with their partners.
Wondering about how to run a data-driven content marketing? Let’s talk about it.
What benefits come from building a knowledge graph?
With WordLift, SLTG has been able to:
Provide immediate access to travel information for both travelers and machines (including crawlers and chatbots) — on large properties, it’s simply impossible to manually add structured data.
Drive more traffic, from Google — this is true when compared to other travel websites and similar institutions in Austria and around Europe, thanks to an improved content architecture and to the semantic markup.
Engage with travelers meeting them exactly when they are dreaming about inspiring places to visit and while they are scouting for new updates and information on SalzburgLand.com.
Improve the UX providing a new enriched content model to help travelers discover Salzburg Land and its breathtaking sites.
Release an Open Linked Data infrastructure to make all the information published on the site available to third parties (Hotels, Travel Agencies, Booking Systems, and more) as open data.
On Salzburgerland.com WordLift entities are used as landing pages for different market segments: almost 2.500 entities in eight languages make up the starting vocabulary and perform as search magnets for organic traffic.
Salzburgerland.com Entities per language
To keep the good work up, editors are regularly creating new content around entities and adding new entities (based on the information that the semantic databases reveal to the marketing team).
The new Salzburgerland.com has been online since the end of January 2017. We have been able to look at the metrics and to benchmark the results against other travel websites (and yes, competition, especially in Austria in the sector of tourism, is extremely fierce 😉 ).
Between February 2017 and July 2017, the site has acquired via organic search 148.166 new users. When compared to other 161 online properties (using Google Analytics benchmarking tool) in Austria (with similar traffic) this is 92.65% more than anyone else. Salzburgerland.com, so far, has been really outperforming its competitors. 👏
Here is how linked data helps Google Assistant respond to an English speaking traveler about a series of event called “Bauernherbst” (the German word for Harvest Festival)
Salzburgerland.com’s enterprise knowledge graph is now available on open.salzbugerland.com. This dataset describes points of interest, main sites, events and any attraction for travelers in the region. Application developers and partners can now directly use data from the enterprise knowledge graph.
Using the data portal is possible to interact directly via the endpoint in SPARQL. Try it yourself, and look for the list of events grouped by town.
We’re now working on integrating other data sources into the graph to boost the SEO of all the websites in the SLTG network. Moreover, the team is working on reusing the data to create a new voice activated digital experience using Alexa and the Google Assistant.
Working with SLTG for us over these years has been a terrific experience and a lot of the enhancements in today’s product are the results of the fruitful collaboration between our startup and their digital marketing team. Besides being truly in love with this charming region of Austria we’re extremely grateful for all the support, brilliant insights and opportunities that SLTG has shared with us. 💙
How the semantic web (r)evolution is affecting the daily work of SEO specialists?
In this article, you are going to meet the English SEO Specialist Mark Bryce-Sharron and learn from his story why semantics is a game-changing science when applied to the optimization of websites and pages.
While Google is sharpening its semantic weapons with Hummingbird and RankBrain; the line between SEO, data analysis, and content organization is blurring. The Semantic web and schema.org markup are not new concepts for your average digital marketer, nowadays, however, having an understanding of both the theory and application is giving a selected few SEO agencies a competitive edge.
Meet Mark Bryce-Sharron
Founder and Director of the British digital agency Sussex SEO, Mark loves to keep his hands-on and his head learning. He manages clients’ search and social strategies, and he says about himself:
«SEO and social media fuel my passion for self-study as they present an endless exponential learning curve that few careers can match. I devote an average of one/two hours per day, monitoring industry data, IM forums and following case studies thus ensuring that I keep my skill set up to date so changes to such as Google’s Penguin update don’t cost my clients lost business.»
He founded his agency in 2006 with a very smart approach: instead of focusing on a range of keywords his clients should rank for, he works on developing a holistic digital strategy for each client to multiply the sources of traffic and maximize the brand exposure.
It’s a long path, instead of a bunch of tricks and easy patches, but – in the long run – it works, and it’s less sensitive to the latest algos from Mountain View.
We were curious to know the journey that brought Mark and his agency to a semantic approach and how it impacted the SEO operations for his clients.
3 signs and a plot twist
Back in 2014, Mark was already quite familiar with semantic strategies. Though, the enlightening comprehension of the great change that was coming forward was yet to come.
«We were kind of flying the big line at that point, and feeding the search engine what it wanted.» He says.
And how did you realize that something had changed forever in the SEO industry?
«At the beginning of this year (2017) something happened, I noticed a significant change in search results. No longer were web pages being displayed in order of relevance, rather the search engine was offering alternatives. The pattern was pretty easy to spot. Short tail keywords were returning results that offered the user a selection of choices e.g. cost, jobs, general information, legal information, and services. I had known this was coming but it honestly caught me by surprise.
«There had been rumblings that Hummingbird was the most significant update to Google’s core ranking algorithm back in 2014, three years later the penny really dropped for me. What suddenly became obvious was the search engine was now not simply attempting to present the user with results in order of relevance, it was attempting to calculate the user’s intent and provide answers. Where the search command did not supply enough information e.g. short tail keywords, the search engine would supply a montage of different types of results. As you narrow down your search criteria with more specific long tail or conversational queries the answer provided became more specific.
«Like many SEOs I’m self-taught and the way I learn is by testing and talking to other industry professionals (usually in the pub over a pint or several). Networking is key, if you don’t exchange Ideas with others your methodology stagnates. One particular drinking buddy (tentacle.ai) works with big data and artificial intelligence, armed with his laptop and a pint of craft beer he showed me an AI chatbot he was working on. As he explained its inner workings I was surprised to find we were using that same terminology e.g. parsers/classifier algorithms.
«Something clicked, Google was using AI. Rankbrain wasn’t just vapourware it was actively being used to serve improved search engine results.
«Another contact, Robert Adler (BOFU2U), had previously introduced to me to the concept of creating entities within a siteand semantic linking using anchor text and the schema.org sameAs attribute.
«At this point, I had an idea of the components required for a case study but needed a mechanism to deploy the code.
«My SEO plugin of choice is SEO Ultimate, it blows Yoast out of the water and contains a set of modules that allow users to inject code into pages. I was after something that could inject the same bit of code info multiple page headers. I reached out toJeffrey Smith, the founder of SEO Ultimate. He told me that he was partnering with WordLift to offer advanced semantic SEO to his clients and he lead me to your plugin. I took a look at what you guys were doing and yes, it blew my mind: so I took you for a test drive, WordLift provided everything I needed and everything I wanted. I’ve tried WordLift, after spending significant time on content to be sure the copy was good and it wasn’t duplicated, and – sure enough! – things started to move very positively.»
So, how are you using WordLift for your clients?
«There are a number of approaches.
Install and go.
Install, go and add unique content to vocabulary pages.
Plan a vocabulary by trawling the semantic web, seed existing website copy with your vocabulary (LSI keywords), Order content, install the plugin and replace the vocabulary with original content/create new entities within the plugin.
«A strong starting point is a vocabulary of 120 pages. My vocabulary pages start at 1000 words in length and include question, answers, statistics and I keep building them out.»
«Of course, I don’t just go through and take every single entity the NLP AI extracts, I pick things making some decisions based on common sense: is this entity relevant for my website? And that’s how I build my vocabulary.
«Now, if I just put WordLift on my side, and don’t add any extra copy to those vocabulary pages it still begins to move, but when we start to add links to the pages – that’s when it really started to get interesting.»
A smooth, gentle traffic uplift
Until today, Mark has used WordLift on 10 different websites of his clients. Quite a vantage point from where to see if the results that WordLift brings to traffic metrics are real, measurable, and repeatable.
«What I noticed is that when you deploy the plugin you get a steady very desirable growth. Depending on how you use the plugin it will depend the results you get: you do have to cope with strategic content research and content creation, to get the most out of it, and also you have to be aware that somehow Google changes, like RankBrain.
«Some people say RankBrain is just a machine learning algorithm, but I see that it is virtualizing some pieces of language of certain types of language: often phrases, or questions, or propositions, or answers… So the key thing you offer is semi-automatically generating schema.org markup, which has a very very smooth potential to website’s use and Google knows it, because Google is gently starting to push the next generation. With the coding, there is just the ability to remove any ambiguity from a piece of text and to help Google work less hard to calculate some meaning behind the text on the page. – I don’t use the word understands, because I don’t believe AI understands at this particular point in time… but it certainly does a very good job in processing the meaning.
«With WordLift what you see is a slow, gentle, constant climate. So it doesn’t happen overnight, it happens in the space of three months. It is like a gentle trigger.»
Wrap-up & lessons learned
When the semantic web meets AI the impact on the web is huge. Think about the effect of RankBrain on a single search, and multiply it for all the existing industries where SEO is relevant for business.
SEO Specialist can’t ignore those transformations – they have to stay on top of them and to find new techniques and reliable tools that really work.
If there is something that Mark’s story teaches us, is that in an ever-changing context, such as the web is, digital pros need to upgrade continually and to sharpen their weapons while the search engines are doing the same on a larger scale.
The vision of organizing content and creating – out of millions of web pages – a Giant Global Graph was groundbreaking. When Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s blogged about it back in 2007 it was clear that something was happening. Giant Global Graph (GGG) really was a definition that he introduced to clarify how a web of data was emerging from the web of documents.
«So the Net and the Web may both be shaped as something mathematicians call a Graph, but they are at different levels. The Net links computers, the Web links documents.
Now, people are making another mental move. There is realisation now, “It’s not the documents, it is the things they are about which are important“. Obvious, really.»
Later he continues:
«Then, when I book a flight it is the flight that interests me. Not the flight page on the travel site, or the flight page on the airline site, but the URI (issued by the airlines) of the flight itself. That’s what I will bookmark. And whichever device I use to look up the bookmark, phone or office wall, it will access a situation-appropriate view of an integration of everything I know about that flight from different sources. The task of booking and taking the flight will involve many interactions. And all throughout them, that task and the flight will be primary things in my awareness, the websites involved will be secondary things, and the network and the devices tertiary.»
I have been following this path in the last ten years — really. I actively played a role in the field of applied research to evaluate the impact of these technologies and to understand how, knowledge extraction, NLP and semantic technologies (now also called applied AI), could improve content management systems, publishing workflows, and content findability.
After these intense two days at SEMANTiCS 2017, the 13th European Conference on Semantics Systems in Amsterdam, I can finally see this whole vision becoming a reality. Knowledge graphs are not just crucial for the improvement of various machine learning and cognitive computing tasks, they are at the core of leading edge organizations like Electronic Art. They serve as complex content models to compete in today’s digital world.
Before incorporating WordLift as a startup we spent these last five years in harnessing the complexity of these technologies and I am proud now to hear esteemed managers at C-level, top notch consultants and even academics recognizingWordLift as a first mover in the digital marketing automation to cleverly use the entire stack of semantic technologies.
While there is a broad universe of computing challenges that are now interesting for the semantic web community and again large enterprises and institutions are undertaking significant investment to move from legacy databases to linked data infrastructures — imagine 100+ years of research documents being managed and produced by IET (The Institution of Engineering and Technology) becoming a giant graph, or scientific publishers of the size of Springer Nature, with their annual turnover of EUR 1.5 billion, moving to semantic graph databases — Semantic SEO is still in its infancy in this industry, and real five stars linked data publishing for websites (without astronomical budgets) is really only possible with WordLift.
The recent uptake of our product also means that we can finally experiment with these technologies by iterating on all kinds of enhancements and by measuring their immediate impact on a wide range of different websites.
In the Freeyork.org case that I presented at SEMANTiCS 2017, we had the unique opportunity to see how enriched articles performed against not enriched articles in terms of page views and sessions but also in terms of engagement metrics like average time spent on the page, session duration and number of pages visited per session. The results that we measured are impressive and not only important for the happy users of our service, but are paving the way for a completely new generation of AI-driven SEO tools powered by semantic technologies that combine knowledge extraction with high-quality graphs to help editors focus on their stories and let machines find the perfect audiences for it.
The key findings from the freeyork.org use case.
In this sense, @RamiaEl the editor in chief of @Tharawatmag, has probably written, a few days ago, one of the best reviews for our plugin.
If I have to look ahead, the challenges that we need to face with WordLift and within the emerging market sector of automated SEO really are twofold:
building the business infrastructure around the technology to help us scale (Aaron Bradley and Eamonn Glass from Electronic Arts have been very clear to this regard – Simplify, ScaleandStandardise)
improving the quality of the data that we use to structure content and the quality of the data that we generate and publish. The leading edge, when you’re creating intelligent content, as more people, will begin to use semantics, is going to be on the quality of the data. Machine learning here is a key player but, still, I haven’t seen many solutions where it has been effectively applied to data curation, cleaning, and interlinking.
I will probably blog more about the conference in the next few days and I am sure that all the ideas and the experiments that I have discussed, planned and evaluated in these two days are going to help inform the way AI powered SEO will evolve in the next few years.
Networking with like-minded people, visionaries and researchers from all over the world (along with cycling in a stormy weather at full speed) is absolutely a great way to spend my time and to keep on improving our product. 😉