The web is literally awash with travel websites. Search on Google for 'discount air travel' and you will find over 32 million websites. Try 'cheap accommodation' and there are over 11 million sites competitive for your customer's dollar. So how do you make a travel website rank highly on Google and the other search engines.
Broadly speaking, strategy in this space is similar to many physical world markets. You have to choose between being universal and being focused. If you want to be universal, ie offer a site which provides airline tickets, hotel and car rental bookings anywhere on earth you have to remember that you are up against some pretty stiff competition. The number one ranked site on Google for 'discount air travel' is Expedia. It has over 5 million back links as measured by http://www.marketleap.com . The cost of overtaking these mega sites for popular terms like 'discount air travel' is prohibitive. You will never get there. So if you want to have a universal site you must focus on less popular search terms. Look for variants on the popular search terms and try to rank highly against less popular terms. There are still very large numbers of searches done each day on terms like 'discount plane tickets' and it will be much easier to rank against this kind of term. Indeed the # 1 ranked site on Google for this term is not even a home page: always a sign that this space is not too competitive. It also has a PageRank of only 4, which is not difficult to beat.
The focus strategy is easier to understand. Choose one market and optimize your website to rank highly only for that market. It's not hard to beat the top-ranked players if you are searching for 'Bed and Breakfast in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England'. Of course the problem here is that the value of ranking highly for this term is almost nil. You have to find the sweet spot of markets where a top-ranked position is valuable but yet the competition for this spot is not too intense.
Once you have chosen your target market and its associated target keywords, the challenge is to get your site to rank highly. I do not suggest in this article to go over the principles of search engine optimization, or SEO: there are innumerable articles which offer the latest thinking on this topic. However, a central part of all SEO strategies is linking: getting other sites to link to you. There is no substitute for the hard work of persuading other websites to link to yours, in return for a link from yours to them. Ideally you want to focus on a triangular link, where you link from one site and they link back to a different site – this will make your link less suspect in the eyes of the search engines.
Look for a Free Travel Links site such as this one, complete the form, put your link up to their site and they will link back to you within 24 hours. Repeat several hundred or several thousand times, wait a while and you will be pretty much assured of a high ranking on the search engines. Then sit back and count the money.