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The online travel sector is highly competitive, and as a result its use of digital marketing has become highly sophisticated.

Consumers tend to do a lot of research into deals and destinations before making a booking, so an effective SEO strategy is vital for travel sites.

Epiphany has published a report that looks into the visibility of travel sites across Google’s paid and organic search results.

Visibility is defined and ranked by Searchmetrics' ‘paid visibility’ and ‘SEO visibility’ scores, and is based on: 

  • The number of times a domain appears in SERPS across a keyword set.
  • How well it ranks in those SERPS.
  • The competitiveness of the keyword.

It is an extremely comprehensive report, so here we just look at the organic search visibility, including keyword rankings, domain authority and link acquisition.

Organic search visibility

The report says that the vast nature of the travel sector lends itself to the long-tail of search.

With many millions of different keywords searched for every month, websites competing in this sector need to ensure they are as visible as possible for as many relevant keywords as possible.

The ‘number of organic keywords’ refers to the number of different keywords each domain was found for in Google’s top 100 organic results, and so acts as a measure of how well these sites have capitalised on the long-tail of search.

The list is too long to print in full (click here to see the full list), but the top five are TripAdvisor, Lastminute.com, TravelSupermarket, Thomson and LateRooms.

TripAdvisor.co.uk dominates the market in terms of the breadth of its keywords coverage, but the report suggests that raw numbers shouldn’t be considered in isolation.

For example, TravelSupermarket is the third most visible site but appears in fewer than half as many keywords as sixth placed Expedia.

It’s therefore likely that TravelSupermarket is either targeting keywords with higher search volumes, has higher rankings overall, or both.

Organic keyword ranking opportunities

Comparing the likes of Expedia to niche sites such as Jet2 isn’t a fair comparison, so the report also looks at how visible each site is for their target keywords.

This graph shows, of all relevant traffic driving keywords a website has some visibility for, the percentages that appear on page one to ten.

While TripAdvisor dominates overall organic visibility, 16% of its visible keywords appear on page two. In real terms, 16% equates to around 116,000 keywords.

An increase of a few positions onto page one for these keywords would result in a significant amount of additional traffic.

Skyscanner (56%) and Cheapflights (53%) have the highest percentage of keywords on page one.

The report suggests that this is likely the result of a targeted SEO campaign focusing on quality content creation and relevant link acquisition.

Domain authority

Using SEOmoz’s domain authority (DA) metric, this graph shows the DA of the most visible sites in the sector in order of organic search visibility ranking.

The DAs of the sites listed are generally very high, a reflection of how advanced the travel sector is when it comes to SEO.

The second point to note is that the trend is somewhat as expected, the sites with higher organic visibility generally having higher domain authority.

There are a few exceptions – sites such as British Airways and Ryanair have high DA relative to their organic visibility.

As they are primarily airlines, they won’t be targeting as many keywords as TripAdvisor but still achieve a high DA through high quality link building which allows them to rank well for more niche keywords.

Holiday Hypermarket has a low DA versus its visibility, suggesting that its SEO strategy is to build specific content and links that target a small set of keywords that generate large volumes of traffic.

New link acquisition

To achieve such high DA, the most visible travel sites are likely to be investing time in building high quality links.

This graph reveals how many new links each of the most visible websites acquired according to Majestic SEO. This is shown against the total number of links and relative DA.

The results show that TripAdvisor performs well in terms of new link acquisition, and the major airlines again perform well relative to their organic visibility ranking.

Being bigger, more established brands, these sites tend to gain natural coverage (and therefore links) on a regular basis, hence their relatively high rate of new link acquisition and total number of links.

The likes of Holiday Hypermarket and Teletext Holidays achieve high visibility despite building lower quantities of links and having small number of links overall. Therefore it is likely that these sites’ link acquisition strategies have a strong focus on quality over quantity.

David Moth

Published 19 June, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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