Fortune 500 travel companies just "adequate" in search

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Digital marketing agency iCrossing released its "Search 500 Index: Travel," which found that Fortune 500 travel companies in general have adequate natural search visibility on the major search engines, based on 110 travel-related keywords that iCrossing has determined online searchers are most likely to use.

However, the study did find that there is room for improvement within certain segments of the travel industry.

"It is important for companies to have a presence in organic search results because online performance is dramatically improved if the keywords purchased by paid search are also ranked in natural search," said Jorie Waterman Hutchings, senior director of search analytics at iCrossing.

"In a way, the concept conveyed through this is elementary, like a lot of core search concepts, in that the more visible you are for something, the more intuitively a user will trust that you have highly relevant information and services," she said.

The potential for success increases when a company is visible in both paid and natural search.

The study found that revenue amount was proportionate with visibility among the Fortune 500. There is plenty of room for improvement, however, as the Fortune 500 were not the companies that are highly visible for the keyword set analyzed.

In addition, airlines are outpacing hotel/resort companies in natural search visibility - this is especially important given the current group of Fortune 500 firms," Ms. Hutchings said.

Online travel agencies are doing best in the natural search rankings. Of the top 100 highest-ranking sites in this industry, 63 were online travel agencies. None are currently in the Fortune 500.

"Natural search is a whole lot cheaper once you have attained the visibility that you want; granted, getting there can be an investment, but it is worth the fight in the long term," Ms. Hutchings said. "Quality, not quantity, was important to the results. Fortune 500 travel companies with many distinct domains did not necessarily do better than those with fewer domains for this keyword set."

These findings suggest that companies should re-evaluate their competitive sets based on the accessibility of information available through natural search.

Also, when considering a partnership with or buying media on the sites of relevant online companies, make sure those companies have an effective natural search visibility strategy. In addition, remember that a few focused and well-designed Web sites may work more effectively than multiple scattered Web sites. Conduct in-depth, search-based competitive analyses to derive as many insights as possible from the strategies and tactics of industry leaders. Do not simply copy the traditional industry leaders, especially if they use flawed technology. Instead, make sure any online strategies adopted are search-friendly.

"In light of Google's switch to universal search, your natural search presence has just gotten significantly more important," Ms. Hutchings said. "In natural search results you have the opportunity to be visible for lots more than text: videos, maps, images, news, etc. Google has frankly just made natural search listings much more compelling than paid search listings if you are ranking for the type of content that users are looking for in the medium they want to view it in. It always comes back to the fact that content is king."

ICrossing said the more useful and interesting content is, the more successful the Web site will be. Fresh and interesting content brings repeat visitors and increases the potential for other users and Web site owners to share the content with their visitors, groups or friends.

"This is becoming increasingly important as the Web is evolving into a participation-based social network," Ms. Hutchings said. "Providing useful information such as articles, tutorials, opinions, videos, audio files and news about your products or services is vital to your Web site's overall success."

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