Content architecture is the real winner for natural search

Pi Datametrics SEO platform
Over the last 6 months Google has finally started to clamp down on the commodity trading practice of link networks to gain better positions in organic search. As a result those sites who relied on these activities for natural search visibility are dropping out of the search rankings or engaged in industrial grade disavow activities. With some of the top players in the travel sector registering link volumes over 12 million per site, I hope for their sake they are confident these were naturally acquired. What has followed is an uncomfortable silence at the SEO and media agencies, you know who you are.

It is understandable as many invested in this area can apply a media buying concept to the link network process and most importantly avoid dealing with IT departments, Web Development teams and Content Writers.

Get the inside lineThat all said something more important is evident in the data. The data (from our own technology) shows us that this practice of acquiring 100,000s of links was only ever achieving shallow, short term wins. The idea of picking trophy terms with dizzying Google Adword volumes and then targeting links actually diverted from the real opportunity. The opportunity of creating high quality content.

So, outside of links, why are some leading travel sites so far ahead of the others?

We decided to do some onsite analysis on the usage of content within the travel sector by comparing two of the bigger players who are renowned for their high quality search positions. The following chart from our SEO platform Pi Datametrics toolset shows the aggregated scores for both Sky Scanner and Travel Supermarket in Google UK across multiple global flight destination search terms.

Chart I: Visibility Index: SkyScanner – Global Flight Destination Search Terms, Google UK

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Skyscanner, Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence – chart 1

At a glance we can see that Sky Scanner has an almost perfect score in performance consistently across all global search terms groups. This level of visibility across a large volume of search terms indicates that this site is doing something that Google UK thinks is highly relevant on a number of terms.

Chart II: Visibility Index: Travel Supermarket – Global Flight Destination Search Terms, Google UK

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Travelsupermarket, Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

If we look across to Travel Supermarket we can see a more disjointed performance with greater volatility leading to substantially lower scores across the volumes.

What does the intelligence reveal?

From the thousands of results we could look at I’ve chosen three specific search terms to conduct a more detailed diagnostic exercise between Travel Supermarket and Sky Scanner. The terms are: 1) Cheap Flights (trophy term), 2) Flights to Rome (destination term), and 3) London Gatwick flights (airport specific term)

Search Term 1) Flights to Rome, Sky Scanner v Travel Supermarket

Below, the line chart plots the daily results for Travel Supermarket and Sky Scanner on the term “flights to Rome” in Google UK from mid Jan 2014 – Feb 2014. Below the line chart we can see a content and page diagnostics screen shot for each of the sites returning URLs. In this instance Sky Scanner wins for backlink volumes, social shares and on-page optimisation. The relationship between these elements and the contrasting positions is clear and as a result the conversion for Sky Scanner on the term “flights to Rome” will be significantly greater than what Travel Supermarket will receive.

Chart III: Position Explorer: Travel Supermarket v Sky Scanner, Flights to Rome, Google UK

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Position Explorer – Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

Chart IV: Content Diagnostic chart: Travel Supermarket v Sky Scanner, Flights to Rome

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Content Diagnostics – Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

Search Term “London Gatwick Flights” – Big backlink volumes don’t fix relevance

Returning the same intelligence but this time with the term “London Gatwick flights” we can see a similar contrast in results. Skyscanner returns a very well themed page but with a fraction of the backlinks, 138 vs travel supermarkets page of 32,028. In this case TravelSupermarket with positions bouncing 80 and 100+ won’t be seeing any conversion for these search themes, which again is in stark contrast to Skyscanner who is again showing strong stable positions.

Chart V: Position Explorer: Travel Supermarket v Sky Scanner, London Gatwick Flights, Google UK

The line chart plots the daily results for Travelsupermarket and Skyscanner on the term "flights to Rome" in Google UK from mid Jan 2014 - Feb 2014. Below the line chart we see a content and page diagnostics piece for each sites returning URL. In this instance Skyscanner wins for backlink volumes, social shares and on-page optimisation. The relationship between these elements and the contrasting positions is clear and as a result the conversion for Skyscanner on this term could be as much as double the conversion for Travelsupermarket.

Position Explorer – Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

Chart VI: Content Diagnostic chart: Travel Supermarket v Sky Scanner, London Gatwick Flights

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On-Page score based on “London Gatwick” theme
Content Diagnostics – Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

Content Diagnostics – Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

Search Terms 3) “Cheap Flights” – What about the trophy terms?

Taking another look but this time using the big trophy term “cheap flights”, we reveal more of the same evidence supporting relevant well themed accessible content. While the content theme score for Skyscanner is 100% it is without doubt that good natural acquired backlinks on this theme will be playing a significant role in positioning.

Chart VII: Position Explorer: Travel Supermarket v Sky Scanner, Cheap Flights UK, Google UK

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Cheap Flights – Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

Chart VIII: Content Diagnostic chart: Travel Supermarket v Sky Scanner, Cheap Flights UK

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Cheap Flights Content Diagnostics – Pi Datametrics – Travel Sector Intelligence

What happens when you scale successful best practice?

We have seen three search term examples where the relevance of the page and content wins and as you can imagine, regarding the evidence, this is just the tip of iceberg. With Sky Scanner’s practice for relevant well themed pages across the flights landscape they are well in charge. Most importantly this is not something new, it is not a new strategy to emerge out of the link network clamp down panic, it has always been the case.

If anyone wants to compete I suggest a good long look at Sky Scanner as a winning example of how to build relevant, well themed, accessible content.

If you are a user and fancy looking somewhere else for this evidence have a look at how well Easyjet are doing for Holiday – Destination based themes, it’s the same compelling story.

Pi Datametrics – Flights project, Data Used

Intelligence used: Approximately 1000 key global flight/destination search terms. Measured daily over a 12 month period from february 2013 to february 2014. This data along with many other travel related projects is available to Pi Datametrics users. Want your own access to our SEO platform? Call 0203 371 3936 or click here and request a demo. With access you can measure any number of sites and pages across all our content and visibility metrics.

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