Martin MacDonald is the SEO Strategy Director here at Expedia EAN. If you would like to get in contact with Martin, either leave a comment below or get in touch directly on twitter at @searchmartin.
Big news in the world of SEO today is the announcement by google that they have implemented a total of over 50 reasonable to major changes to the algorithm over the past month.
That in itself is nothing new, google have reported in the past that they make over 300 updates a year – what is unique on this occasion however is that they have named and explained the specific updates.
Lets look at a few and see how they may impact travel websites, particularly those of affiliates: (You can read the full list on google here: http://insidesearch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/search-quality-highlights-50-changes.html)
Better indexing of profile pages. [launch codename "Prof-2"] This change improves the comprehensiveness of public profile pages in our index from more than two-hundred social sites.
This update is potentially interesting in the medium to long term. Google are driving towards using more social signals in their rankings, and the recent addition of the rel=author markup is an interesting way for them to see who writes at different sites across the web.
By publicly announcing that they have “improved comprehension” of over 200 social sites most likely means two things: 1) that they will be widening the scope of rel=author to try and identify the provenance of links on social networks much more accurately, 2) spammy tactics such as registering hundreds of profiles for the sake of backlinks should become a thing of the past.
High-quality sites algorithm data update and freshness improvements. [launch codename “mm”, project codename "Panda"] Like many of the changes we make, aspects of our high-quality sites algorithm depend on processing that’s done offline and pushed on a periodic cycle. In the past month, we’ve pushed updated data for “Panda,” as we mentioned in a recent tweet. We’ve also made improvements to keep our database fresher overall.
This is a very interesting piece of information: specifically “aspects of our high quality sites algorithm” is a phrase that hasnt been heard before in context of the Panda updates. It has caused significant traffic movement within the travel industry already, and has forced
many site owners to focus on rebuilding site content to meet the new requirements to be a “quality site”.
Our advice is to continue down this path and try and maximise both the quality and quantity of unique content being offered on your site. Its important already, but will only get more so in future.
Better handling of queries with both navigational and local intent. [launch codename "ShieldsUp"] Some queries have both local intent and are very navigational (directed towards a particular website). This change improves the balance of results we show, and helps ensure you’ll find highly relevant navigational results or local results towards the top of the page as appropriate for your query.
This is particularly interesting to sites that target hotel name related search terms. These queries could inherently be defined as navigational with local intent, even if the searcher is not looking for a ‘specific’ hotels website, you can certainly see how it would appear that way to google.
Our advice on this subject is to maximise the amount of rich data and markup that you have on your hotels information pages. This should include at the very minimum a physical land address, preferably using the hcard markup,
but hopefully will include lots of other meta data including reviews, photos, coordinates, maps, and anything else that you can source data for.
More precise detection of old pages. [launch codename "oldn23", project codename “Freshness"] This change improves detection of stale pages in our index by relying on more relevant signals. As a result, fewer stale pages are shown to users.
This is particularly important to affiliates only using
the stock data or templates. As the data on these pages is unlikely to change regularly these pages could be defined as stale, resulting in less search traffic. There are a few simple workarounds that could be used to make the pages up to date, including the utilisation of related content pulled in from twitter or other social networks and displayed on the page. Another alternative might be to ensure that fresh reviews are posted on the main hotel page.
The sum up:
The algorithm these days is actually in a near constant state of flux – therefore worrying about specific updates on certain days is pretty much redundant. What you should be worrying about instead, is how to make your website better for traffic that you already have landing on the site.
Do you have a unique selling point? Is there a (real!) reason why people would be better off using your site against a competitors? Is your site as well designed and easy to navigate as it could be?
These are the questions that you should be asking, not how specific algorithm updates may or may not impact your business.