Welcome back my friends to the SEO show that never ends.
Did you read read Part 1 of my SEO Millionaire series? If you haven't read it, stop right now. Read Part 1 first. Then answer the toughest question we've ever asked SEOs: of the big three travel sites -- Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity -- which one has a canonical issue?
Travelocity's canonical issue: the Web site exists at both http://travelocity.com and http://www.travelocity.com. Some people may say "big deal" with regard to canonical issues. After all, Google shows the same number of backlinks to Travelocity if you query either one with "www" or without "www".
Those of you who answered "Travelocity and Expedia," congratulations! (To check if we received your response, click here.) Reader response was terrific. Thanks to all the savvy SEOs who joined in the fun.
That said, after close examination I uncovered that Orbitz links back to its home page from interior pages with this URL: http://www.orbitz.com/App/Home. Like many large Web sites, Orbitz has session IDs for other links to the home page. So, technically, all three sites have some issues with canonicalization.
Thanks to reader Debbie Johnsen, I found Expedia uses a 302 redirect and not a 301 redirect to get visits from http://expedia.com redirected to http://www.expedia.com/default.asp. The Expedia site also exists at http://www.expedia.com.
After digging further, I discovered Travelocity uses a meta refresh (a method of instructing a Web browser to automatically refresh the current Web page after a given time interval). While this was popular "back in the day," now it's usually a practice SEOs avoid.
If you know why Travelocity uses a meta refresh, contact me. There may be a very good reason why.
Basic SEO recommendations always need to include "change the title tag, add links, write great content." All too often, companies overlook those components of an SEO strategy. Build a deep, informative Web site that the search engines will see an informative/authority resource for your industry.
The three Web sites in question:
Travelocity: 1,340,000 pages and 22,300 backlinks indexed in Yahoo. Keyword "travel" is in the URL and in the (home page) title tag: "Travel: Airfares, hotels, vacations, cruises, car rentals and more at Travelocity.com."
Expedia: 691,000 pages and 50,800 backlinks indexed in Yahoo. Title tag (home page): "Expedia Travel: Cheap Airfare, Hotels, Car Rental, Vacations & Cruises."
Orbitz: 1,530,000 pages and 5,800 backlinks indexed in Yahoo. Title tag (home page): "Orbitz: Cheap Travel, Flights, Hotels, Vacations, Car Rentals, Cruise, Activities."
Travelocity, ranking highest on Google for "travel" of the three, has a deep Web site, the keyword "travel" in the domain/URL, and is the first keyword in the title tag.
Expedia leads in the number of backlinks indexed. Many SEOs may tell you backlinks are the most important thing in SEO. Yet, Expedia typically ranks lower than Travelocity in the SERPs.
Perhaps if Expedia had more than 691,000 pages of quality content indexed and moved the main keyword ("travel") to the beginning of the title tag, they'd fare better. All else being equal (same number of pages indexed), if Expedia had a lot more quality backlinks, then Expedia could outrank Travelocity. Overcoming the keyword "travel" that Travelocity has in the URL might be virtually impossible to overcome, however.
Why Wikipedia Ranks High
Orbitz has 1,530,000 pages indexed, which is actually more than Travelocity. However, they're getting crushed because they have so few (5,800) quality backlinks. Building a deeper Web site with quality content can't be manipulated easily and search engines love to find factors or signals they can apply to their ranking algorithm.
Hard work must go into a proper SEO program and it's also why people should be mindful of SEO when they're beginning a redesign project.
SEO should be a large contributing partner to any redesign project, because a solid information architecture can drive results for your SEO efforts.
If you've ever wondered why Wikipedia keeps showing up in your search queries, now you know.
See for Yourself
If you think you're doing "everything possible" to get higher rankings in the search engines, but content/depth of your site is lacking, you know what you need to do to compete.
Test this theory for yourself. You can use the "site:nameofsite.com" query in Yahoo's search box (Yahoo's information is the most precise) to see how many pages you have indexed versus those who happen to rank for the keywords you'd like to be found for.