How a Small Travel Blog Gained Topical Authority: A Case Study

I have to admit that I didn’t start with keyword research. Firstly, because I was just writing about my travel experiences and didn’t think a lot about SEO. And secondly, I wasn’t very experienced back then. I was still a civil engineer and was just starting to get to know the SEO industry.

After a year of blogging with little traffic, I decided to finally conduct keyword research — something I probably should have done from the outset.

But it wasn’t easy. Thanks to COVID-19, nobody was searching for travel-related terms. So, the search volume in most SEO tools was down to zero. Many keywords were also missing, with the only exception being “travel restrictions in XYZ.”

As an SEO manager, I had to think twice: Can I rely on this data? Is this search volume and keyword set representative of the future? Because there will come a time when we travel again.

I decided to use the keywords to generate a topic idea that I could tackle. But not heavily rely on certain keywords and their actual search volume.

That’s when I found the topic of Interrail. One of my first big trips was traveling Europe with Interrail, so the topic perfectly matched my past travels. And I could still remember all the struggles we went through back then.

Interrail is a way to travel around Europe with a single train ticket, but it can be more complex than it sounds. Every country has different rules; some trains require extra reservations, and you need to ensure that a train goes from point A to point B, all while trying to decipher various different languages.

Since my blog didn’t have a high Domain Authority, my strategy was to start with long-tail keywords, where there would be less competition.

The first article I wanted to write was about routes you could take in Italy with Interrail. It would cover about five different possible plans for exploring Italy by train. The main keyword for this article was “Interrail-Routen Italien” (German), which translates to “Interrail routes Italy”.

It didn’t take long to analyze the SERPs to find the main problems I’d face:

With every keyword around Interrail, the first few results were pages from the company Interrail itself (the main brand). Then, there were some general websites about traveling around Europe by train. After that, there were some well-established travel blogs that specifically focused on Interrail.

Every site had a much higher Domain Authority than mine did. My blog had a Domain Authority of around 2. Or even less. I hadn’t done any link building and was just starting to get my blog on the main blog directories in Austria and Germany, such as Trusted Blogs and Blogheim.

Interrail is a well-established brand and website with a Domain Authority of 66. The main websites ranking for the terms had a Domain Authority of 30-40. Which sounds little, but in German-speaking countries, that’s the standard for well-established sites.

On top of competing with high authority websites, when I looked at the keyword “Interrail-Routen Italien,” I didn’t resonate with any of the top-ranking pages. I was in love with my idea of offering five possible routes for anyone who wanted to travel to Italy by train, but I knew it was risky if no one ranked for a keyword like that.

I thought that maybe my idea was too niche or maybe the search intent wasn’t what I expected. Maybe I should stick to what was working instead of putting a lot of time and effort into something that might not pay off.

I’m not sure what I would have recommended to a client at that time, maybe to play it safe. But I am my own worst client, so I went for it anyway.

It turned out to be a great decision and the breakthrough my travel blog needed. It also changed my approach to SEO forever.

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