In all the time I’ve lived on this earth, I have never once heard someone say that they did not like to travel (or the idea of travelling, anyway). Except for my grandparents, of course.
It comes as no surprise, then, that travel blogs in Singapore have some of the biggest followings in the local blogosphere. A few of these even see millions of visitors per month.
Because of this, travel content has become a highly saturated niche. Those at the top tend to be independent travel bloggers who dominate the best keywords on page one of Google and hoard authoritative backlinks, leaving nothing but scraps for new entrants to the game.
Travel brands, in particular, find it especially hard to shake off their corporate image and gain credibility with their content marketing efforts. “Most people prefer reading something that is written by a blogger or personality instead,” says Beatrice Lee, Marketing Manager (Content), SEA at Klook. These come across as more authentic, she explains.
As such, I was impressed when I discovered that Klook’s blog is currently ranking for over 80,000 keywords today. As we would find out from Beatrice, this is the result of a constantly evolving content marketing strategy over the past three years – a cycle of experimenting, learning, and improving based on data.
In this exclusive interview, Beatrice shares the lessons her team learned while establishing Klook’s travel blog amongst the sea of independent bloggers.
How it all started
A platform for booking travel activities, Klook was founded in 2015, but the team only started to focus on their blog in 2016. That was also when Beatrice joined, adding to a total of five members in the team.
In those early days, she realized that there was a huge opportunity for them to get their foot in the proverbial door of the travel content world – amongst their competitors, there were few that paid any attention to content.
According to data from Ahrefs, some of Klook’s competitors included The Travel Intern, kkday, and Trazy. Traffic for these travel blogs only started picking up in early 2017, giving Klook roughly a one-year head start.
Thankfully, Beatrice’s boss believed in the effectiveness of content marketing, and gave the team the green light to experiment with it.
“We had to work very quickly to seize the first-mover advantage on content,” Beatrice recalls. At the same time, she adds that it was also important to identify which space in the industry they wanted to fill first.
The process, however, was not as straightforward as they thought it would be.
Round one: trendjacking
From the get-go, Beatrice and her team were clear that they didn’t want to “just churn content that was transactional […] or shove promo codes or activities down your throat.” They understood the need to steer clear of developing transactional relationships with potential customers.
So they tried to emulate the success that other travel blogs had. The team focused on producing reactive content – in other words, trendjacking – “trying very hard to be on the same level as other platforms out there.”
“We were rushing to capture the latest trends,” Beatrice recounts. For example, there was a lot of buzz surrounding 7-11 food items at that time, and the team wanted to hop on the bandwagon – even though it was not directly relevant to Klook at all.
“We tried to ride on the conversations surrounding the topic to introduce Klook products […] and then spun off a series of 7-11 articles in different destinations,” she explains.
Yet, it was unsustainable. The team ploughed a lot of time and effort into keeping abreast with ever-changing trends and churning out post after post. And at the end of the day, these pieces of content did not produce a substantial return on investment (ROI).
Round two: influencer features
The team decided to give partnerships with key opinion leaders (KOLs) – more fondly known as influencers – a shot.
Again, this tactic didn’t produce the desired results for Klook.
Whenever they tried to take a KOL’s content and put it on their blog, and vice versa, Beatrice observed that it “diluted the KOL’s brand and also diluted what Klook stood for.”
“It’s better to keep their content on their own platforms, while we focus on doing what people know Klook’s content to be.”
It was then that the team decided to reevaluate its strategy. Clearly, they were trying to occupy the wrong space in the industry.
Instead of going for the sensational, they had to build credibility through educational content with a longer term impact.
Standing out with informative and educational content
To do this, the team decided to focus their blogs on covering the how while other blogs out there were covering the what.
In other words, instead of just describing the destinations – which many travel blogs were doing – Klook will do the legwork for travellers and dig into what they need to know to make the most of their trip there.
For instance, most articles about Mount Fuji that you’ll find after a brief Google search tend to be about how pretty the place is, describing the sights and sounds there, explains Beatrice. “That’s the what,” she says.
A Klook blog post would focus instead on informing readers how to get up there, what the price points are, and any other important information they need to visit and enjoy the place.
“It is no longer about just trying to sell you the destination,” Beatrice adds. “By creating informational and educational content, we show that we are genuinely invested in you as a traveller.”
And when readers have information readily and accessible, it “builds credibility in being an authority of travel with customers.”
Repackaging blog posts for relevance
With this content strategy in mind, Beatrice and her team immediately began to build their library of content in earnest. “We had to create a lot of content at the beginning. And it had to be original pieces as we didn’t want to overlap with what had already been done,” Beatrice recounts.
In order to be truly helpful, the content they produced also had to be relevant to the audience they targeted.
Seasonality, for example, has a heavy influence on the topics they write about. Published articles on cherry blossom, for instance, need to be refreshed for key destinations like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and even Thailand.
At a certain point, Beatrice realized that they didn’t need to focus on producing more content, and instead repackage them for relevance and to suit different target segments.
As such, the team also began to localise some of their most successful pieces. “Once we had the base set of content, it’s about ‘nuancing’ that for specific locales,” Beatrice explains. “It’s impossible to just apply a blanket approach to all of the different locales.”
The team would “constantly keep [their] eyes and ears to the ground” to ensure their blog posts featured traveller habits unique to each locale. And not just through hearsay – they take a data-driven approach to this by checking in with “external and internal sources including social media, Google Trends, and best performing products on Klook.”
For example, Beatrice’s team pinpointed a major roadblock for young travellers: visa applications. Upon identifying that, they focused efforts on producing simple, bite-sized articles to help the everyday traveller with their paperwork.
One of the blog posts in this series – a guide to applying for a US visa for Filipinos – ended up ranking for over 3,000 keywords. Quite a feat!
The team also has weekly team huddles to talk through topic ideas and run through learnings from the past week.
Producing bigger and better content
It took some time, but with this content strategy, the Klook blog finally began to see the fruits of success in 2019, with a spike in organic traffic that lasted across the year:
To be specific: they saw over a 200% increase in blog traffic across all their markets in Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
Months of hard work and experimentation were finally paying off.
Yet, Beatrice wasn’t content to sit back and cruise along. The only constant, she notes, is change, adding that they “can’t just rely on something we thought of two years ago and expect it to work this year.”
As such, Klook’s content team continues to keep their eyes on the numbers and identify fresh topic ideas for blog posts week after week.
And in late 2019, they had another huge hit: Klook’s study on Unpacking Solo Travel.
Having noted the growing popularity of solo travel, Beatrice and her team got to work and published a study and infographic on it. In addition they also spun off a number of blog posts on the topic from the initial study, such as this one.
Because it revealed new insights, facts, and figures into this growing trend, the study also garnered a good number of media mentions from across the region, such as AsiaOne, Washington Business Journal, Mashable Southeast Asia, and Skift too.
Content amplification that goes the distance
To Beatrice, content marketing isn’t just about churning out articles for the blog. She believes strongly in finding ways to amplify content created for the blog and getting it to the desired audience.
As such, Klook’s social strategy clearly supports the team’s objective of driving organic traffic. Indeed, Beatrice shares that social media – primarily Facebook and Instagram – provides some of their strongest channels for content amplification.
But it doesn’t stop there. Beatrice explains that when creating social media posts, it’s important to retain the essence of the blog post on which they are based.
“Let’s say I’m writing a useful article on tips for travelling solo to India for the first time,” she explains. “To simply post it on social as a link just won’t cut it.”
Instead, she works closely with the social team to figure out what the best format for amplification would be. “What would draw out the visual elements of the article: putting it out as a Facebook album, or doing a carousel infographic to support the article?” Beatrice continues.
Amplification isn’t limited to online channels either. Recently, Beatrice and her team made a bold move in turning some of their existing content into an offline guide.
The detailed guide was then used for Klook’s travel fest in Singapore and replicated across the different countries in Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Others might see it as ‘taking a step back’, especially for a digital-first platform like Klook. But to Beatrice and her team, the gamble opened up a whole new channel that they could now figure out how to leverage.
It was successful in reaching out to first-time Klook users. People found it useful in understanding how they can use Klook to travel, which eventually resulted in a lot of conversions.
It’s not a one-man show
Every time we touch on the success of Klook’s blog, Beatrice is quick to remind me that it wasn’t just because of her.
She attributes it to having a boss who is very open to new ideas, who recognised the importance of content. Without that, it would have been nearly impossible to sell travel with content.
Beatrice also chalked up their successes to her great team. She describes her talented content team as “more than just good writers.” They’re also able to recognize the importance of good SEO practices, and focus on hearing what the data has to say in their approach to content marketing.
With regards to spotting the right talent, Beatrice has this to say:
“We don’t want people who can just write. We want people who can be thinking [and] multi-faceted individuals who can use all of these different info points to create something that is robust and solid.”
“Fail fast, fail cheap”
That’s what Beatrice’s boss says often.
And considering the Klook blog’s route to success, it comes as no surprise at all. Every failure the team faced led to further optimization. The emphasis, says Beatrice, needs to be on constantly experimenting and trying new things boldly.
In her words: “put the customers first and situate yourselves in their shoes. As a customer, what would you want from a brand? How will you develop your strategy around them?”
You might not get it right on the first try, Beatrice adds. “But if we hadn’t made some of the mistakes we had, we wouldn’t be where we are today either,” Beatrice laughs.