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Travel Babble event: How Google’s algorithm update affects you

September 16, 2012

(Published in TTG 10.05.12)

Digital agency Fresh Eggheld a seminar to highlight the effects of Penguin – Google’s latest algorithm update – on the travel sector, as well as best practice for content marketing. Matthew Parsons reports

First Panda, now Penguin – according to SEO experts the travel sector should be wary of these seemingly harmless animals that lend their names to Google’s algorithm updates.


The warning came at the start of digital agency Fresh Egg’s inaugural “Travel Babble” seminar, held at London’s Market Place earlier this month in which panellists from Kuoni, Expedia, Tui and Lowcostholidays also discussed trends in online marketing (pictured below).

Bottom line

Fresh Egg’s director of search Richard Brooks warned that “Penguin”, which came out in April, was already “hitting people’s bottom line”.

“Google punished lazy search engine optimisation in the past. Penguin is completely different; it punishes those who are aggressive. The challenge now for us is to reign
in SEO,” he said.

As a result, travel firms must now avoid exact matches and “over-programming” when putting hyperlinks in their content. It’s also wise to avoid too many repetitions of your company’s name, or even repetitions of certain destinations or web pages within your website.

“Penguin is not a small or minor update. Don’t ignore it. Understand link equity. Seek to conform, don’t now try to do everything bigger and better,” Brooks added.

Another area to look at, if your company has slipped down the search results pages, is the use of the “rel-author” tags in links, which drag in your Google profile. This code can improve your rankings as Google knows to “trust” you.

Brooks also flagged up social network Google Plus as one to watch – despite its relatively small UK following compared with the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

“It’s more effective than Facebook,” he advised. “It’s proliferated by tech guys for now, but Google wants critical mass. You’ll get a richer snippet [search result] in the search rankings if you use it.

“Google may have to ditch it because it needs a lots of rich content providers to use it, but the engine will tweak rankings as long as it can afford to do so.”

The panel agreed it would be best to follow Google’s rules when it comes to Penguin and its penalties for excessive hyper-linking. “Do what Google wants us to do,” urged Martin MacDonald, director of inbound marketing for Expedia. “If you’re manipulating results, you’re going to get hurt.”

What they disagreed on, however, was how online travel agents should best market themselves and inspire users to book holidays.

Celebrity influence

MacDonald confessed that he once paid £6,500 for a single page of content when agents can now use Twitter to achieve the same. “And getting a B-list, or even a Z-list, celebrity to tweet for you is a lot cheaper than pay per click advertising,” he said. “Imagine if Bill Gates blogged he went to Tanzania, and you could get a link off that…”

Travel Babble seminar 2012

Blogger options

Sam Bird, head of SEO at Lowcost-holidays said that, aside from big names, travel brands should actively seek out bloggers.

“People want independent content, and not brochure-style writing. We have 5,000 destination pages; we’re trying to provide content that users can get excited about and engage with.”

He highlighted the importance of treating bloggers like VIPs, having made the mistake of sending one group to a below standard hotel and suffering the viral publicity.
Expedia’s MacDonald also suggested that writing “guest posts welcome” on your blog can be read as “desperate for content”. He ventured that SEO has killed the writing quality of 75% of online content, adding: “Bloggers should mimic the editorial quality of good journalism and always run copy past someone else before posting it.”

Adriano Comegna, SEO manager at Tui Travel, said he accepted content from bloggers, but added that using infographics as a tool to inspire visitors was an emerging trend for Tui’s websites.

Tech tricks of the trade

Future marketing

The panel was again split over the future of online marketing in travel. MacDonald said companies need to get users to market their brand for them. “There are so many things you can do to mechanise your site so people market you,” he said, citing Expedia’s recent Facebook-based “Find Yours” campaign that saw “hundreds of thousands of people” produce content.

He added video is the way forward, with hosting on your own website the best way to drive “tons of traffic”. Tui’s Camegno agreed video content should be a key focus, while Kuoni’s SEO manager Mark Flemming urged travel sellers to look at Pinterest and the success of Destinology in particular.

Flemming joked the smart money was on Google naming its next update “Porcupine”. It’s certain that whatever the name of the next wave of changes, it will likely be a prickly affair – and one which travel sellers should pay attention to as the rules for making it to page one of the search results get ever stricter.

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