Tuesday, 21 October 2008

XLent Rankings at least!


Without doubt, the XL crisis was the biggest story to hit the travel industry this year. The airline and package holiday operator was perhaps the most significant victim within this sector of the troubled market conditions.

As my former organisation competed in the same space, it was actually good news that XL went bust. One less competitor and additional capacity in the market meant that there was less of a requirement to squeeze the margin out of our prices.

Therefore, I was surprised to see that from an search engine marketing perspective, XL became more of a threat. As an example, if I search for "Florida Holidays" XL.com features ina higher position than
Virgin Holidays, an established operator that continues to sell Florida Holidays.

The fundamental principal of Google's pagerank formula actually benefits organisations that are experiencing high profile problems. Authoritative sites that are covering the XL news story naturally create links to the XL website. In a relatively short period of time the site has amassed nearly 15K inbound links. Even organisations with an extremely active link-building programme would struggle to grow their portfolio of natural inbound links so quickly.

This exposes one of the major flaws in Google's algorithm. Google fails to correctly interpret the context of the inbound links to XL. It can the recognise volume of links from authoritative sources but it fails to consider that they all paint a negative picture of the troubled organisation.

Google of course understand this problem. Ranking XL above Virgin for the term "Florida Holidays" does not help the consumer find what they are looking for therefore they may lose confidence in search as a research method.

The context of an inbound link is already acquired from the anchor text and the text that immediately surrounds it. Insights into the context can also be gained from the network of sites where the links are created. For instance, links
from consumer protection sites such as Watchdog can be interpreted as a negative.

The algorithm needs to work harder to understand the reason why the link was created. In order to do that, it needs to be able to understand the semantic nature of the original article. This is the one of the major premises behind the Web 3.0 concept and something that we will hear a lot more of in the coming years.

I am sure that XL will be back in one form or another. The reputation of the brand from an offline perspective is in tatters. But according to the algorithm, XL.com is a great site that is gathering inbound links from veritable sources. Therefore, whoever inherits the domain, inherits a large amount of link equity, that was not there prior to the collapse.

1 comment:

Brian Anderson said...

Hi Richard,

I'd agree with the fact that XL going bust is sending many links their way, but whether this is making them more competitive online is another matter.

Many of those linking to the XL site are using the URL or brand name as anchor text. This won't make them perform much better for generic terms such as 'Florida Holidays', as Google weights the specific anchor text as one of the most important components of a link. It's only a matter of time before XL slip down the rankings for these terms, as their linkbuilding strategy stagnates while others consistently build links to their own sites.

Just my two cents.

Brian

P.S, hope you're settling in nicely to the new role...