Travel Portal Wars: The Big Five

Big Five

Following on from Brexit, the fall in the Pound Sterling and rise in inflation, prospective holiday makers across the UK now more than ever are searching for deals that represent the absolute best value for money.

With a huge amount of commission to be made for travel price comparison and affiliate websites, who in the big five is faring the best in the world of search?

Losers and Winners of the week

Kicking off with the initial analysis and the weekly update from Search Metrics doesn’t make for pleasant reading for TripAdvisor and TravelSupermarket.

Both have witnessed a drop in search visibility (search volume and ranking keywords position) of 20,312 and 13,557 points respectively. TripAdvisor now has a total SEO visibility score of 1,444,636 and 246,407 for TravelSupermarket.

On the other end of the spectrum, Lastminute.com is the winner of the week, up 9,763 points to a total SEO visibility score of 327,580.

Just taking a glance at these numbers, Trip Advisor is very much the king out of the five. Expedia and Kayak weren’t listed as a weekly loser or winner, but have a Search Metrics visibility score of 268,509 and 94,696: placing them in third and last place respectively.

Corroborating the data with SEMrush

When working in SEO, third-party tools like Search Metrics are highly useful to get a measurement of how your client’s site is performing in the SERP’s.

However, it is incredibly important not to take these values as matter of fact and to cross reference all data with other third party tools, such as SEMrush, as well as with the actual data available from Google Search Console and Analytics to get the full picture.

To underpin this point,  let’s look at the organic traffic graph for the big five below.

Organic Traffic SEMrush

Please note that TripAdvisor is on it’s own secondary axis (right) due to the sheer dominance of the site.

You’ll notice that the majority of search visibility scores from Search Metrics are supported by the Organic Traffic data from SEMrush: TravelSupermarket is falling away and Lastminute is on the march.

However, unlike the data from Search Metrics, TripAdvisor is up – albeit very marginally.

 

SEMrush data

As you can see, a relatively modest increase

Glancing at the other two from the big five, Kayak and Expedia are not witnessing as much growth as they’d like, still performing very well, but in comparison to their rivals, there is relative stagnation.

Keywords

Having looked through the Organic Traffic, let’s now move onto the keywords; arguably a more reliable way to examine how a site is performing in search.

Once again TripAdvisor has been placed on its own axis (right) due to its humongous size.

Keywords in the Top 20

As you can see above, there is strong positive growth for Kayak.co.uk, making serious inroads on lastminute.com. Should they continue at the rate of progress and within the next 6-8 months, we could see a new third place in the race for keyword dominance.

On the whole, there is top 20 keyword ranking improvements for all these travel portals, except for TravelSupermarket; down from 132, 870 rankings in December, to 130,190 rankings (so far) in April. Of course, over the past year, they are well up, but this downward trend that started in December will be of concern to the company.

But what does branded search data reveal?

As covered on the blog many times before, branded search is hugely important for companies as there is (typically) no direct competition. What is happening is people are opting to search for the site rather than type the full url into their browser, in order to save time.

When we talk about the customer journey, they are also further along the pipeline, as they know what site they want to visit first to find and buy the product or service they want.

Explained via an analogy, if I wanted to buy a rubber duck, and searched for ‘Amazon’ instead of ‘Rubber Duck’, I’m far more likely to buy a Rubber Duck from Amazon in the first instance than I am in the second.

For me to buy a rubber duck from Amazon in the second instance, is dependent upon A, Amazon being high enough in the SERP’s for me to click their link and B, myself not being tempted by the other ranking sites offering better prices and designs.

Amazon is probably a bad example when talking about ranking positions, as they typically dominate them, but you get the idea.

Ultimately the point is, travel comparison sites (which are basically marketplaces like Amazon), are in a much stronger position when prospective customers know their brand than when they don’t. You can control your brand identity and awareness (unless you are Pepsi or United Airlines) far easier than your site’s and competitor’s ranking positions in the ever changing and voltatile SERP’s.

It’s for this reason why you see so many of these travel portals advertising so heavily and with quirky, memorable themes: brand awareness is king.

Downloading the combined branded search volume data from SEMrush, we can see that TripAdvisor is once again the standout winner. This implies strong brand recognition and trust with the company.

Branded Search Volume, the big five

However, while these results are initially impressive, it is important to stress that for the purposes of this brief blog post, that only exact match branded search volumes were downloaded. Not everyone who searches for ‘TripAdvisor’ will enter their search this way.

In fact we can reasonably assume that a great proportion looking for the company would search, ‘Trip Advisor’ instead. This logic applies to Lastminute and TravelSupermarket as well.

Therefore, if we look at the branded search volumes for the company names with spaces, we get a completely different set of results.

Branded search volume with spaces

Branded Search Volume with spaces

As you can see, Lastminute gains a huge increase in branded search volume, shooting it up to first place. Being a popular phrase in the English Language, we can confidently assert that not everyone searching for ‘Last Minute Holidays’ are looking for reasonably priced and available at short notice holiday lets provided by the website Lastminute.com.

So in this respect, the above graph is a bit of a red herring – hence why we monitored branded search terms with no spaces originally.

However, what is apparent from this research, is the clear evidence that maintaining and increasing ranking positions that include the ‘last minute’ phrase is vital to the Lastminute brand identity and company profitability; as plenty of competitors are already targeting this lucrative phrase with PPC and organic search optimization:

PPC last minute

A couple of other notable findings from the branded search analysis: TripAdvisor slipping from first place to third, as well as TravelSupermarket maintaining a branded search volume very similar to its non-spaced spelling.

Wrapping it up

What we’ve learnt through the course of this very brief blog post is that the leading travel portal without a doubt is TripAdvisor. They rank for the most keywords, they pull in the most organic traffic and have a well recognised and trusted brand that earns them the largest amount of branded search volume each month.

However, the sector is still highly competitive, with Expedia and Lastminute close behind. While TravelSupermarket and Kayak have a bit work to do to catch up, with the right marketing and SEO strategy they’ll soon be up there.

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