Analysis: How airline websites fare in the SEO battle

Analysis: How airline websites fare in the SEO battle

Homepage image via Shutterstock

By Darren Sheffield, head of SEO at The Media Image

As the online marketplace within travel and flights continues to become more saturated, there is an increasing reliance on maintaining and growing your organic traffic to reduce advertising costs.

For the big airlines this will always be one of the most cost effective online channels due to the fact they have so much historical authority built up from their existence as an airline carrying masses of passengers every year.

We’ve taken the following 10 airlines based on UK site traffic to analyse and compare organic performance using a set of industry leading tools:

• Ryanair.com
• easyJet.com
• Britishairways.com
• KLM.com
• Emirates.com
• Virgin-Atlantic.com
• Flybe.com
• Jet2.com
• Monarch.co.uk
• Thomascookairlines.com

Search engine optimisation visibility

Using SearchMetrics Visibility KPI, we can look at the aggregate amount of traffic a website is likely to drive via organic search. Three factors are considered on a per-keyword basis: search volume, position, dynamic click through rate (CTR):

Search Volume
The greater the number of searches, the more visible a keyword is

Position
The greater the position, the more visible a keyword is

Dynamic CTR
Every results page displays results differently. Some have a ton of maps, images, news and pay per click results, while others are more standardised. Search Metrics factor this as well as the type of keyword – brand, informational, navigational – to determine the likelihood of a click at a given position

Add up all the visibility numbers for a domain’s keywords and you get the SEO Visibility KPI.

UK Visibility 1

UK visibility score shows easyJet is some way out in front, with BA and Monarch also scoring very highly.

There is then another big gap to the rest of the comparison set. Ryanair lost a significant amount of visibility in March 2014 and this was widely reported as a technical issue, they have yet to fully recover from this.

Mobile-V-Desktop-Visibility-2

This chart shows the airline’s mobile visibility compared to desktop (positive numbers being good). The recent Google mobile update highlighted the fact that searches made from desktop and mobile will return different results, and sites with a better mobile technical and usability setup will appear higher than those without.

Surprisingly the top four sites all have worse mobile scores than desktop, meaning that their mobile setup is not optimal. The rest of the pack score well here, and all are most likely taking search traffic from the top four due to a better setup.

Global-Visibility-V-UK-3

Using the same style of chart we are now looking at an airline’s visibility on a global scale versus its visibility in the UK.

High percentage numbers here show that the airline’s site is visible in many more countries than just the UK. The score here does not necessarily reflect how good a site’s international setup is, as the score will be higher simply by operating a site in another country.

Some nine out of ten sites are .coms, with Monarch the one .co.uk which focuses on UK traffic only. The big scores come from Ryanair, Emirates and KLM, with around a 300% increase from UK to Global visibility.

Authority

Domain Authority is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. It’s calculated using over 40 signals, including linking root domains and total number of links.

Global-Visibility-V-UK-4

The two UK specific airlines rank lowest here, but that would be expected due to the fact it’s mainly UK sites that link to them. The fact Monarch is ranking third for UK visibility shows that you don’t need a huge global domain to compete.

In addition, easyJet despite having less authority than Ryanair ranks better for visibility in the UK and globally.

Trust flow is a relatively new metric, also from Majestic, and one which we at The Media Image (TMI) use more and more in our analysis of sites. This metric predicts how trustworthy a domain is based on how trustworthy the sites are that link to it.

Trust-Flow-Comparison-5

The big take away from this is how badly BA scores here, ranking 8th of the 10 airlines we analysed. With it being number one in our analysis for global search visibility this is definitely something to be concerned about.

It infers that the inbound links are less trustworthy. This does not necessarily mean they are risky, but just that they are comparatively lower quality compared to the other airlines.

Number of referring domains

The number and authority of unique domains linking to an airline will play a big role in how that airline performs in the SERPs. We’ve looked at data from Ahrefs the main tool we rely on as an agency for inbound link data.

All tools that report on number of links and domains do so based on their own crawl of the web. This does mean that this data can be out of date slightly so we also then run another scan of the domains using Kerboo, this then removes any inactive domains (from this data roughly 85% of all domains were still active.)

Ahref-Domains-Kerboo-active-6

Ryanair is leading the way, which is in line with domain authority. Once again, despite the lack of linking domains Monarch’s UK visibility shows that a site can still perform very well.

Link analysis

There has been a huge increase in Google related updates such as Penguin, and manual penalties for unnatural or low quality or spam links over the last few years. One of the hardest hit industries was and will continue to be the travel vertical.

Kerboo (formerly LinkRisk) is a great tool we now rely on at TMI for evaluating a site’s link profile and how at risk that site is from being penalised. Kerboo crawls a site’s inbound links and gathers 120 different signals to assess each link.

These include factors such as exact match anchors, foreign domains, type of link (forum, signature etc) as well as many others. A score of 500 is neutral, higher than 500 and risk is increasing.

Audit-Score-7

Of all the sites analysed KLM has the least risk by a significant margin, and Jet2.com has the highest risk, coming in just above easyJet.

Anything above 600 is normally a cause for concern and if they haven’t don’t so already Jet2.com need to be analysing and paying attention to some of the sites linking to them to remove this risk.

Bad-links-8

Kerboo also categorises links into a number of labels, two of concern are “bad links” and “suspect links.” Bad links are normally ones that we can be fairly confident need removing, whereas suspect links are ones we would manually check to confirm if they are good or bad.

Numbers around 10% for bad links are relatively low, however many of these sites are above 25%. All of these ‘bad links’ should be analysed, and almost every airline analysed needs to be focusing attention to this area.

Summary

The analysis here is a top level view across the metrics we here at TMI value as the most important, however much of this requires a far more indepth analysis to really understand what’s driving these scores.

As you’d expect these sites all carry high authority due to their sheer size and volume of customers they service. However there is a huge difference between the most successful and least successful in driving organic traffic to their sites.

There is certainly for 4 or 5 of these airlines analysed a great opportunity to drive a significant more volume of organic traffic at much lower acquisition costs than other digital channels.

Darren Sheffield is head of SEO at The Media Image, and has over 15 years of experience in online, with a lot of that working in the travel industry with both big and small sites. Feel free to get in contact with him on Twitter or Linkedin.

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