Why Big Data is the New Frontier 1

There have been a few interesting posts over the past few days on eConsultancy and Tnooz about a recent study on the search market for travel in the United Kingdom. The original study has been carried out by Epiphany Search, an independant UK

based search agency.

They are a good read and I will be publishing some follow up studies over the coming few months using data that we are building here at ExpediaEAN. The Epiphany study aims to demonstrate which sites are “biggest”, in this case that is measured by appearing in the most queries using the searchmetrics dataset, and which are the most “important” using the SEOmoz Domain Authority metric.

These are ofcourse some of my specialist subjects, so I welcome any viewpoints on the topic that are offered. The original data is sound, but there are a few points I would like to put forward about the interpretation.
1) Scale

The searchmetrics dataset is indeed a fantastic research aid, for anybody that hasnt used it before, it’s a suite of SEO tools, including a visibility score based on rankings in the set of keywords that they monitor on the search engines. For wide scale reporting and index monitoring this kind of data is indispensable, and I have studied the sector coverage in depth for international and regional travel affiliates.

The issue that we had internally with using this as a primary dataset is that no matter how wide a coverage they monitor, drawing detailed market and vertical specific learnings is very difficult. In my tests many medium to large affiliates in the travel space have little to no data appearing in searchmetrics, as the granularity does not allow deep level analysis.

This is precisely why at ExpediaEAN we are building our own indexes to get around this issue, and it is something that we will be releasing more information on in the coming months.

2) Interpretation

The interpretation of the report isn’t something that Epiphany go into massive detail on within their report, rightly so – its a data study not a narrative. The eConsultancy post however does make a number of claims that I would like to look at in some further detail.

Src: Epiphany Search – click to magnify

The graphic featured below which compares Domain Authority (seomoz) vs. Organic Visibility (searchmetrics) is certainly interesting, and portrays the average downward trend in DA as sites have less visibility. This is pretty much an indisputable fact, as a good deal of the organic ranking algorithm is based on link equity, not something that is in doubt.

The problem in using this as the defacto reasoning for coverage however misses a large part of the whole point – unique and authoritative content on the topic matter.

Tripadvisor dominates the visibility charts, and so it should – the whole platform is based on content, which is both widespread and unique to the TripAdvisor site. As you know, TA has hundreds of thousands of pages of totally unique, quality text and images on pretty much every hotel on the planet, and some great social media connections.

Other quotes in the eConsultancy writeup include “There are a few exceptions – sites such as British Airways and Ryanair have high DA relative to their organic visibility.” and “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……..Skyscanner (56%) and Cheapflights (53%) have the highest percentage of keywords on page one.” the reasons for this are pretty simple.

British Airways, Ryanair (and pretty much the whole

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airline sector) do not operate content rich websites – nor do they have pages that cater to the travel longtail indexed.

British Airways have spectacularly little real content around destinations or travel that is unique to the site, as they do not try and capitalise on their high existing domain authority and trust metrics, rather using the existing traffic ecosystem from branded search and existing flight bookings to merchandise the other areas of their site including the hotels section. This offers up huge opportunity to the travel affiliate market, as if these domains really started to understand the value of the equity within the sites, they might just change tact and focus on traffic acquisition rather than just monetisation of existing customers.

SkyScanner and CheapFlights have a similar issue – while they appear far more times on the first page of search results, these are for a very small set of specific keywords that are being targeted with specific pages and linkbuilding. Neither of these two companies currently engage in the long tail of travel (granular destination info or hotel properties etc), so therefore are far more likely to appear on the first page with the “laser targeted” nature of their marketing.


The report itself is fantastic reading, and I fully recommend that you take

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a look at it if you are in any way involved in the travel industry, but we must remember that in this post panda/penguin world that content, social interaction, branding and many other factors are as important as the total amount of root links that a site has.

My fear is that aspiring travel marketers may interpret the report as “these companies have the most links, so have built the biggest business’s”, it is this kind of thinking that has lead many a brand

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into employing unethical search agencies to linkbuild on their behalves, resulting in a significant chance of long term penalties from the search engines for manipulative practices.

As usual, my recommendations to our affiliates are:

Concentrate on building great content – be unique, be genuine, have a unique selling point. Ask yourself, is there anything on my site that a consumer cant get anywhere else?
If the answer to that is “no” you need to rethink your online marketing strategy.


About Martin Macdonald

Martin is Inbound Marketing Director at Expedia EAN. In his career he has executed organic campaigns in industries from Gambling to Entertainment before moving to Travel. He is a regular speaker at conferences worldwide about inbound marketing, and regular writer and contributor to respected publications on the topic.

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One thought on “Why Big Data is the New Frontier

  • Andy Heaps

    Hey Martin, thanks for the post, and glad you (mostly) like the report.

    Just to follow up and clarify a couple of the points you made:

    Searchmetrics is fantastic at giving a top level overview of things like visibility, with confidence that the dataset behind it is comprehensive enough for this kind of analysis. Other reports we’ve read (and even some we did in our earlier days) look at, for example, the top 50 keywords in a sector and base all analysis on just those. I don’t think I need to go into detail about why that’s a flawed approach!

    Covering an entire sector like travel means there’s only so much depth I could go into, and as it sounds like you’re doing I’d always recommend that people do their own digging into keyword areas that are more specific to the individual business. As you pointed out the report is more of a commentary than a detailed analysis – for that reason! There is so much more to say about every metric / section covered in the report but it’d have been out of date by the time I would have finished it, never mind the fact that people would probably get bored after a while :)

    You raise a good point on on the link section – it was never intended to imply that quantity of links is an important / the most important metric. It was included more to show the scale of link building the top players are undertaking, and therefore show how serious a channel SEO must be to those companies. Of course you’re absolutely right about the focus needing to be on building great content to generate links that your competitors can’t (or would struggle to).

    That has become our central philosophy to off page SEO over the past few years, along with the ability to getting it in front of the ‘right’ people. Our online PR team is the fastest growing area of our search team because of this, and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

    The one thing I’d add to your recommendations is that before embarking on any kind of content marketing, understand what you’re trying to achieve. What does success look like for any given piece, what ‘link gap’ are you trying to close, and how well suited are your content ideas to achieving the acquisition of those links. Taking that a step further, what existing relationships can you utilise to help seed such pieces, what can you do as part of the research phase to increase the chance of acquiring certain links (offering exclusives to website owners / editors / industry journalists, getting expert comment from them pre-creation etc). Measuring and analysing success (or failure) is a crucial input for future work – I could ramble on all day about that but don’t want to hijack your post!

    Thanks again for the coverage (and the link :))