I recently spoke with Diego Puglisi, search marketing manager for Thomas Cook Airlines, to find out more about this topic, specifically related to his own experience of working with influencers. 

Here’s what he said.

Econsultancy: First, could you explain how working with social influencers can positively impact SEO?

Diego Puglisi: SEO has changed drastically in the last five years – I think that’s what makes our profession one of the most exciting in the digital marketing sphere. 

Over this time, SEOs have had to find ways to adapt to various changes in order to retain competitiveness in the space, and influencer marketing has become one of the most natural directions to take. 

In the ‘dark ages’, brands used bloggers extensively, but in a rather unilateral and short-sighted way. Now, this relationship actually tends to have very little SEO in it – instead working in conjunction with social media, PR and the over-arching brand. 

With “mentions” becoming a potential ranking factor, links have lost importance, also making influencer marketing effective for more than just SEO. Moving away from an obsessive attention to link-building has been refreshing for us in the industry. It is now less isolated, with SEO in general becoming an integral part of an organic strategy, and one which also touches on other areas of our business.

E: Do you think influencers are more important or effective for travel brands compared to other industries?

DP: I believe that influencers are just as important to travel as they are in any other vertical. 

However, I do think influencers can be even more effective in niches where communication is vital to engage and excite the audience. Here is where the travel industry utilises the true power of influencers – by capitalising on their ability to tell a story and promote a real experience.

E: How does Thomas Cook Airlines typically collaborate with influencers?

DP: Influencer marketing has become an integrated part of our over-arching marketing strategy. We have and continue to invest in influencers when it comes to the promotion of key destinations, new route launches, and brand sponsorships (such as Manchester and Brighton Pride). 

Lastly, we also typically collaborate when there is a new product to be promoted or one that would benefit from a review, such as James Martin’s new in-flight menu.

E: How do you go about choosing which influencers to work with, and how do you usually reach out to them?

DP: Due to the high organisational complexity when working with influencers, identifying the right influencer is absolutely the key. Over the years, we have constantly refined our research and scoring approach. First, we tend to assess whether their audience is one we also need to target. To do this, we analyse their followers using tools, but we also directly speak to the influencer to ensure we are on the same page.

We also look at the influencer’s style – whether this suits our brand, our specific style of communication as well as our marketing objectives.

We then look at the number of followers they have – but that alone is not enough. We understand the phenomenon of un-organic likes and followers, hence why we also look at engagement in the form of likes, shares and the types of comments they commonly receive on their posts.

Last but not least, we evaluate influencers based on SEO metrics attached to their website, which often involves Domain Authority (Moz), Citation Flow and Trust Flow (MajesticSEO).

E: Is there a typical structure you follow to build influencer relationships – i.e. in terms of compensation or payment?

DP: Being a travel brand, we tend to take influencers on trips with us or offer to send them to a particular location they are keen to go to. This, together with any tailor-made and unique experiences we can offer them, generally compensates for the partnership. 

That being said, we make use of paid collaborations less frequently, mainly for specific high-tier campaigns or when we address to exclusive brand ambassadors. 

E: Do you always create the content yourself or do you rely on influencers to do this?

DP: It’s been a mix so far. We think that influencers should feel free to express their opinions according to their own style – this of course makes any campaign far more authentic. However, we tend to amplify content by ensuring that the tone of the brand also shines through. 

E: How do you measure the results of a campaign?

DP: The KPIs we set for our campaigns are a mix of social media engagement in the form of likes and shares, backlinks and mentions.

We also measure rank changes from an SEO point of view as well as direct traffic to the site from the influencer’s content.

E: How do you ensure there is a good balance between authenticity and high authority?

DP: Authenticity is a hard one to assess. How the influencer engages with his or her audience (in terms of replying to comments, likes and shares) could be an indicator, as well as the way content and opinions are expressed in the first place. 

Of course, if it’s clear an influencer is only interested in monetary gain, especially if it’s above and beyond the respect of their own audience, this is always a sign that it’s not the best fit, regardless of authority.

Further reading:

For more on SEO marketing, you can also download the SEO Best Practice Guide.