By Marcus Tober, chief technology officer and founder, Searchmetrics
It is a well known fact that travel companies need to provide quality content on their sites if they want to rank well in searches. But how do search engines identify quality content? And how has this changed over time?
A good place to start is the algorithm behind Google’s search engine. Successive updates to this algorithm, culminating in the recent Panda 4.1, aim to refine results so that they match the intent of the search query and deliver the most comprehensive, accessible and well-written answer.
Essentially this means Google and other search engines are always looking for genuine quality content, and are increasingly smart at finding and dismissing pages that try to game the system. For example, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm restructure from last year enables it to better understand the meaning behind search queries as well as the semantics behind content.
Based on this, what should travel companies focus on if they want to produce content that search engines will recognise as high quality? Here are five key factors that we at Searchmetrics have identified.
Comprehensive, holistic content
In the past companies looked to rank highly for individual keywords. However search engines have changed. Content should not just be focused on optimising for single keywords – but should cover the topic comprehensively and be based on content clusters, individual subjects or topic areas based around keywords and a variety of related terms.
This change is because of the Hummingbird algorithm change and the move to semantic search, meaning Google is now much better at recognising the intent of searchers when they enter a search term. Companies therefore need to include content clusters in order to be more holistic and at the same time, make content more relevant for users with different search intentions.
A good way of doing this is to look at content in terms of proof terms and relevant terms, as both have a strong positive correlation with high Google rankings. For example, for a search term such as “Cyprus holiday” proof terms such as “beach” or “hotels” are words strongly related to the primary keyword and highly likely to appear at the same time. Relevant terms such as “exchange rate”, “villa” or “flights” are a bit more removed and form part of a sub-ordinate topic cluster, but are still important.
How easy it is to read copy
Google now considers how easy or difficult it is to read particular pages, as part of its aim of delivering usable results. To test this we used the Flesch readability scale, which analyses word and sentence length, to assess the legibility of content. The scale ranges from 0 – difficult, to 100 – easy.
We found that the average Flesch score for high ranking pages is 73/74. For reference, the scale states that content between 60-70 is easily understood by 13-15 year old students.
Therefore generally web content that aims to appeal to a non-specialist audience, such as holidaymakers, should be straightforward to read and understand in order to rank highly. Consequently, it is important to create content that fits the search intention and the needs of your specific targeted user group.
Longer form content
When Searchmetrics analysed the factors correlating with pages that ranked highly in Google back in 2012, we found a higher number of words on a page had a negative correlation. That changed last year, and the trend continued this year; our Ranking Factors study in 2014 found that the average length of a top ranking result is now around 975 words or 8,313 characters.
Obviously this is not just a question of writing more words. Search engines, and more importantly users, are looking for quality content that is relevant and contains content clusters, rather than unconnected, single keywords.
The importance of images
Photos and videos seem to be viewed favourably by Google as well as making a page more attractive to readers. On average, the top ten ranked sites in Google’s search results tend to have between 6-8 images on a page. Hence, ensuring your content has relevant, high quality images will help when it comes to ranking.
This may be even more important in the travel industry than in other sectors and shouldn’t be an issue for travel companies as strong images have always been a key part of appealing to potential buyers. The message is that users like images and are very likely to dwell on sites with image galleries, especially when it comes to travel-related topics.
Web sites that rank in the top 30 positions generally include less advertising than average according to our analysis. Our findings indicate that Adlinks and Google Adsense integrations both correlate negatively with good rankings. This continuing change reflects the desire from people to find and read holistic content, rather than be distracted by advertising.
In essence, our findings show that Google is getting better at identifying quality content and its succession of algorithm updates will continue to downgrade the appearance of poor and spammy pages in its results. If you want to achieve strong, long lasting search visibility for your travel site then you should make sure that producing a regular stream of high quality content for your target audiences is a key part of your strategy.