500 Reasons the Travel Search Industry is About to Explode

Search marketing agency iCrossing just released a 13-page report, the Search 500 Index: Travel, on how twelve Fortune 500 companies within the travel sector fare in natural search results. The summary of their findings? Overall, the Fortune 500 companies are “doing an adequate job achieving natural search visibility”, but there is significant room for improvement.

Interestingly, the troubled airline companies are doing a better job of natural search optimization than hotel/resort companies. Well, that’s good news, maybe now they can focus on providing better customer service in-flight and dealing with ground delays in a more effective manner.

The study finds that Fortune 500 companies with a larger network of travel Web sites and distinct domains did not necessarily fare better than those with smaller operations. That’s even better news for those outside of the Fortune 500, and indicates further that quality is more important than quantity within the travel sector.

I am perhaps more surprised that the study shows hotel/resort companies are not performing as well, despite having a larger presence of geo-targeted micro-sites to promote individual properties. However, the report does focus on key competitive terms, rather than investigate the impact of the long tail, and the results indicate that there is significant opportunity to employ a more comprehensive and localized strategy, but within a single domain strategy.

As part of the methodology for the study, iCrossing focuses on a set of 110 non-branded keywords, which broadly encompass several segments of the travel industry: agencies, airlines, vacation, hotel, resort and ancillary travel information. They also compare the following elements:

  • Number of pages indexed by major search engines
  • Number of inbound links (focus on power of .edu/.gov links)
  • Age of domain
  • PageRank

The study finds that the most visible Web sites are online travel agencies, which refer to the major aggregators such as Orbitz or Cheaptickets, and not your local travel agent. Within the Top 100 organic results, 63 are major online travel agency sites, 14 are travel information sites, and 10 hotel/resort/cruise sites, six airline companies and three vacation home rental sites. The remainder of the results are general information sites, ranking almost solely on the power of their network, and less targeted to the consumer.

An intriguing point that is briefly discussed, is the lack of originality in Web design, site architecture and content development within the travel industry. The major industry players seem to have a penchant for copying each other, even if the technology is flawed. This results in similar site structures and other elements that are considered to be negative factors in search, such as using difficult content management systems, or creating nearly duplicate content, since they draw from similar databases. The cruise industry is particularly guilty in this area, and they do not perform well as a group in the study overall.

This suggests to me, that in spite of the age and size of more established brands and domains, there are still major opportunities awaiting those who engage in developing new, search engine friendly technology, scalable across a wide range of travel content, to succeed in driving consumer traffic via search.

The study also cites a particularly interesting growth prediction by eMarketer, noting that U.S. customers alone spent $79 billion on online travel last year, and that is expected to increase to $146 billion by 2010.

If you play in the travel space, the report is definitely an interesting read, and may offer some additional insight into how you should target your search marketing efforts, particularly if you are not a Fortune 500 company. Given the rapid growth of the industry, if you maximize your efforts in search marketing now, your company could find itself climbing that corporate ladder.

Find out more about improving natural and paid search campaigns at the first SES: Travel event. The event, to be held in Seattle, Washington, July 26-27, will focus on search marketing trends and tactics for the travel industry.

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