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How to Dominate the SERPS

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How to Dominate the SERPS

7 SEO Lessons from Tripadvisor, the World’s Biggest Travel Site

Technology changes, but people stay the same. People love to talk about themselves, and so do brands. Tripadvisor’s SEO strategy brilliantly uses people’s vanity to secure tens of thousands of DOFOLLOW links and outrank the very brands linking to them.

At first, their strategy looks like manipulative SEO. DOFOLLOW links far exceed NOFOLLOW links, and many links come from sitewide or footer links. But looking deeper reveals Tripadvisor’s cunning strategy.

Through highly imaginative embeddable content, widgets, and badges, tens of thousands of sites build links for them. Some even apply for permission to link to them. That’s an SEO coup.

In this case study you will learn many imaginative and accessible ways to adapt Tripadvisor’s best SEO strategies for your own purposes.

- Enjoy & Learn!
Christoph C. Cemper

Bonus: You can download this Case Study in PDF, ePub, and Kindle format for easy offline reading. Get the eBook Download for a Tweet

Table of Contents

Update

Luc, VP of Search Engine Optimization at TripAdvisor has contributed some comments to this post:

  1. Links in TripAdvisor widgets can be removed or nofollowed – placement of widgets is voluntary.
  2. TripAdvisor no longer links widgets with rich anchor text and disavowed links from old widgets which contained rich anchor text when Google updated their widget guidelines.

Great to have some insight from the company and very interesting and notable that they are proactively disavowing links that are no longer within the Google Webmaster guidelines – more confirmation that Webmasters need to manage the risk of their link profile and take action against links that no longer conform to the changing landscape.

Thanks to Luc for getting in touch.

Introduction

TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel site, with the sole purpose of helping travelers to plan their perfect trip. TripAdvisor provides a portal where travelers can share their experiences and access a wide variety of travel information, as well as booking tools.

TripAdvisor branded sites make up the largest travel community in the world, reaching more than 260 million unique monthly visitors in 2013, with more than 150 million reviews covering over 3.7 million accommodations, restaurants, and attractions.

Tripadvisor Homepage

This tutorial looks at some of the tactics that have made Tripadvisor one of most successful travel companies in the world and tries to find lessons in how they have managed to dominate the SERPS.

Before we look deeper, let’s get an idea of the scale of Tripadvisor.com’s reach in the SERPS.

Search Visibility

The search visibility for Tripadvisor is really off the charts massive!

Tripadvisor USA Search Visibility Graph

The world visibility score of Tripadvisor.com is 1.65 million with current standing of 1.3 million in the USA. To put that in perspective, in the US they are outperforming many other popular websites such as Ebay.com, Expedia.com, and Instagram.com in terms of the SearchMetrics SERP visibility index.

Alexa tracks the site as the 197th most visited site in the world:

Tripadvisor Alexa Rank

Lesson One – Anchor Text – It’s All About the Brand

Anchor text wordcloud

Images without anchor text make up the highest number of anchor text links. This is likely coming from advertising banners. That aside, there are no obvious commercial keywords in high concentration here. The tag cloud is dominated by a highly diverse array of ‘brand’ terms.

Here’s the anchor text breakdown that illustrates this point further – terms above 0.5% concentration:

Anchor text breakdown

Not a “money” anchor text link in sight!

Key Takeway: You don’t need money anchor text to be a dominant force in the SERPs.

Success comes from building a brand with high domain authority achieved through volume of links. This then allows you to rank for any term you optimize onsite for.

Lesson Two – Site Wide Links Still Matter

The highest proportions of Tripadvisor.com’s links are coming from “Link Lists and “Footer” links.

Link location graph

This is interesting because these types of links have traditionally been associated with more manipulative “SEO” tactics.

Time and time again, when you look at the big “authority” websites on the Internet, they have a high portion of sites linking with run of site links. Tripadvisor is no exception here, 24% of links are in the footer and 18% are in the head or the side bar.

My belief is that overall link volume is still a significantly weighted signal for Google and this is something the big brands use to their advantage.

Lesson Three – ‘DoFollow’ at all costs; ‘Natural’ Looking Link Status Doesn’t Matter

Wait for it… 96% of Tripadvisor’s links are “Dofollow”!

Link status

That is a crazily high amount that you simply would not expect to see with a site that is talked about all over the web.

This is a pattern I would normally associate with aggressive link acquisition strategies because it’s more natural for sites that are not in control of their link status to have a reasonable degree of “nofollow” links.

You would think that this “unnatural” signal to Google would be penalized but evidently not. Proportion of dofollow to nofollow is in my view NOT a critical factor that Google’s SPAM algorithms consider or else clearly Tripadvisor would be flagged as being a bit too ‘proactive’.

Lesson Four – Deep links Rock!

Deep link ratio is an indicator of a websites ability to rank internal pages and more often than not correlates with good long-tail visibility; basically, the higher your deep link ratio the better.

93% of Tripadvisor’s links go to deep pages!

Deep link ratio

Look at the most of the authoritative sites on the web and you will see that they have only a small portion of links actually pointing at their homepage. This is usually the total opposite to what you will see if you analyze a heavily “SEO’d” website.

Inexperienced Webmasters usually get obsessed with building all links to the homepage, however, this is the total opposite to what a strong healthy website actually looks like.

By having only a few links pointing at your inner pages, you are basically saying to Google that your inner pages do not deserve to rank – this large bias towards the homepage is a classic signal of a manipulative link graph so be like the big boys and get links to each and every page of your website – as Tripadvisor shows us – this is the mark of a quality website!

Lesson Five – Make it impossibly easy for users to embed your content (…and of course, links)

Without question, Tripadvisor.com’s biggest focus for link building is widgets.

“More than 105,000 unique domains worldwide are using TripAdvisor widgets.” (Tripadvisor.com, 2014)

What is a widget?

In Tripadvisor’s own words:

“A widget is a small snippet of code provided by TripAdvisor that can be installed within any HTML-based web page. It can display static images that let you show off your TripAdvisor status. It can also pull in “live” content such as TripAdvisor reviews – without the site owner ever having to make updates.

There are two categories of widgets available for free through TripAdvisor: widgets for businesses and widgets for destinations.”

The company has taken every possible opportunity to persuade users to embed widgets. The admirable thing is the way they have come up with so many imaginative and innovative ways to repurpose their content on partner sites, which has had a profound affect on their SEO success.

All embeddable content is promoted through their own “widget center” that provides a valuable and easy-to-participate resource for partners:

Widget center

Every widget contains at least one link back to the main site. Tripadvisor have been clever to make sure these links never contain “money anchor text”. Instead, they link to deep pages such as hotels own profile pages.

This is more than just a clever way of building a diverse network of links. It also serves well to drive clicks back to Tripadvisor’s own site and strengthen their brand awareness.

The “widget center” to make the process of installing a widget as straight forward as possible and you can get widgets in 21 different languages so there’s really no barrier to their link acquisition.

Tripadvisor are effectively in control their link graph and as a result dominate the SERPS.

Here’s some more examples of content and widgets that Tripadvisor currently offer for free for listed accommodations, attractions and restaurants:

Rated on TripAdvisor Badges: These badges come in three varieties – Featured, Rated, or Recommended on TripAdvisor – depending on traveller ratings and reviews. The widget will update daily to reflect changes to your rating and review count.

Rated on badge

Review Snippet Widget: display your TripAdvisor rating, recent review snippets, and more on your own website in a variety of styles.

Review snippet widget

“Bravo!” Badges: Available for businesses that have been received a minimum number of excellent reviews.

Bravo badge

What’s Nearby? Widgets: Shows nearby businesses that may be of interest to your customers, such as restaurants near your hotel, or places to stay near your attraction.

Whats nearby widget

Write-A-Review Widgets: Invite visitors to begin reviewing your business right on your website.

  • Full Review Form – Allow travellers to write a review of your business — without leaving the website:

Full review form

  • Large Review – Lets visitors start their review on your site before sending them to TripAdvisor.

Large review widget

  • Medium Review Widget – Directs visitors to TripAdvisor to write a review about your property.

Medium Review Widget

  • Small Review – Small widget to encourage guest reviews.

Small review widget

Award Badges: If you have been awarded the Certificate of Excellence or the Traveller’s Choice award, share your achievement on your own website.

tripadvisor award badge

Logo Button Widget: Available in two sizes and colors, the Logo Button allows your business or destination to easily link to its TripAdvisor page.

19-logo-button-widget-tripadvisor

Linking Widgets: One widget shows visitors where to read reviews of your business or destination; the other invites them to write their own. These widgets are smaller and can easily fit on most web pages.

  • Virtual Sticker

Tell visitors to your website that you’ve been reviewed on TripAdvisor.

tripadvisor virtual sticker

  • TripAdvisor Widget

Encourage visitors to read reviews of your business on TripAdvisor

21-reviewed-on-tripadvisor-widget

Rave Review Widgets: Create a scrolling showcase for your most recent excellent review.

rave reviews widget

Tripadvisor’s latest innovation is their ‘GreenLeader’ Widgets.

Playing on consumer conscience, Tripadvisor have invented another strategy of flattery to get hotels to shout about (and link to) Tripadvisor:

“Show the world you’re a TripAdvisor GreenLeader!”

Adding an “application process” makes the accolade seem all that more desirable…

All hotels and B&Bs must apply and be accepted into the TripAdvisor GreenLeaders Program and qualify as a GreenLeader or GreenPartner.

  • GreenLeaders have achieved one of four levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The higher the level, the greater the impact of a property’s green practices.
  • GreenPartners have met the program’s minimum requirements including having a towel and linen re-use program, using energy-efficient light bulbs, tracking energy usage, recycling, and educating staff and guests on green practices.

Undoubtedly, the “green leaders” program may serve other business objectives but as an SEO technique it has to be said that this tactic is genius! The widgets and awards cleverly tap into humans own Narcissism, their own innate desire to be seen as important. Not only does this work for the individual but it transcends to businesses as well.

The result:

Businesses now even lodge applications in order to be ‘allowed’ to link back to Tripadvisor!

Example Green Leader Widget:

greenleaders widget

The really clever thing about Tripadvisor’s widget strategy is that they have lulled hotels, restaurants and attractions into a sense of security with flattery.

The widgets go under the guise that they help you strengthen your own brand name through association with Tripadvisor and they help you boast about your own hotels credentials or customer service record but you are first and foremost strengthening Tripadvisor’s relevance for your brand terms, creating a direct competitor in the SERPS.

As a result, Tripadvisor listings outrank many smaller hotels own sites due to the massive domain authority of the TA site.

The widget strategy has been in place for a long time but the approach has developed over time to be less obviously manipulative for SEO. That doesn’t hide the fact that there are 10,000’s of widgets still out there in existence passing ‘dofollow’ text links back to Tripadvisor many using old techniques that in todays SEO landscape most would consider “unnatural”.

Here’s an example of a legacy widget that is no longer used by Tripadvisor but are still helping them dominate search.

Travel Map Embed With Location Links -

http://www.geocities.co.jp/SilkRoad/6226/

travel map links

These types of “list” style text links are no longer used but thousands still exist on sites.

Remember:

We saw that the highest proportion of links pointing at Tripadvisor comes from “link lists”.

I also noticed that Tripadvisor have removed the “powered by” link on their widgets to a more muted and concealed link within the widget itself.

This is clearly a strategic move to reduce the footprint of the widget links.

powered by tripadvisor

Their latest strategy offers maximum diversity and mitigates risk for over-optimization of anchor text because the link text changes with every widget, depending on the type of widget you chose for your site and also the destination hotel, restaurant or attraction you want to promote.

Tripadvisor have taken embeddable content to the next level, with logos, forms, reviews, badges, maps, and widgets they have unprecedented reach into the market both terms of getting in front of potential visitors to their site and also in terms of links helping to boost their authority in the SERPS.

Lesson Six – Extend your reach with Apps

Following a similar model as the widget outreach strategy, Tripadvisor also used a photo “slideshow” app as a way to place text links onto partner sites.

This app was an exceptionally clever strategy since it managed to increase the sites reach way beyond partner hotels, restaurants and attractions.

It was designed in such a way to appeal to the travellers themselves.

The idea was that people want to share their travels with others by creating a fun and memorable video of their holiday photos. The strategy worked very well and to this day there are thousands or slideshows embedded on blogs, websites and social profiles promoting the Tripadvisor brand.

As an SEO strategy, this approach has been discontinued but in times gone by the slide shows embedded a host of links back to Tripadvisor at the foot of the slideshow.

Here’s an example from – www.luxorstables.com:

tripwow example one

Another from http://finnguitars.nl/:

tripwow example two

You can see from the green highlighter, these are all ‘dofollow’ links.

Thousands of these links still exist.

The links are far too in your face to still be in use today – Tripadvisor are too clever for that.

The strategy is no longer in use but for Tripadvisor the advantage has already been banked.

Though this is a strategy Tripadvisor have moved away from, there are variations of this technique that could be used effectively today if you use your imagination and execute intelligently.

The underlying psychological principle here is the same as the badges and the widgets.

Ultimately, what TripAdvisor do is not to focus on pushing their business directly but to empower users to promote themselves instead, Tripadvisor just happen to get in on the action ‘by-proxy’. Once you understand that people care about themselves more than they care about anything else, it becomes easier to market to them and to influence them. In this case TripAdvisor have provided a slideshow app that let’s you boast about where you have traveled and to show off your experiences and pictures.

Dale Carnegie summed it up best in his book, How to win friends and influence people:

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

Lesson Seven – Innovate and be at the Cutting Edge of Your Market

As we have already seen, one of the key strengths of Tripadvisor is to move with the times. They are an exceptionally innovative company at the forefront of their industry.

Tripadvisor are now extending the widget concept into Social Networks. This could be a prudent and innovative move, given that most people predict a shift towards social signals impact Search in the coming years.

TripAdvisor App for Facebook Pages

Encourages Facebook Pages owners to share TripAdvisor ratings and reviews with their Facebook fans.

Through Tripadvisor’s App for Facebook pages it is now possible to share Tripadvisor content with your Facebook audience, the App displays:

  • Review Snippets
  • Candid Traveller Photos
  • Traveller’s Choice Awards
  • Certificate of Excellence awards

And of course, the App has an a few embedded links to drive traffic back to the main Tripadvisor site.

At this point in time, these links can’t be spidered by search engine crawlers and I would say have no SEO gain at this present time. However, this App is part of a wider holistic approach to brand marketing that encapsulates the “be everywhere” approach that Tripadvisor are so good at.

Tripadvisor’s App is the 8th most used on Facebook according to AppData’s Facebook Apps Leaderboard (August, 2014).

Example of TripAdvisor App for Facebook Pages:

tripadvisor facebook page app

Tripadvisor for Facebook – User App

With 10million active monthly users, Tripadvisor have successfully built an audience of Facebook users who interact with the site directly from within Facebook. Their App aimed solely at users allows people to add reviews, rate hotels, restaurants and attractions and tag places they have visited.

This data is fed back into the main site and strengthens Tripadvisor’s grip on the travel sector as the leading source of reviews and travel guides; this has a ‘halo effect’ on search.

Tripwow Facebook App

Users clearly love the photo sharing aspect of Tripwow and although the strategy has been disbanded for search, Tripadvisor has created a Facebook App to engage users with the brand on social media through rich media experiences. This again strengthens brand awareness and user loyalty.

How the App looks now on Facebook:

tripwow facebook app

Conclusion

Tripadvisor is the undisputed goliath of the travel industry. They are a company that I really like and admire. Strategically, their ingenuity and ability to be forward thinking is unsurpassed.

Like any great dominant alpha, many new hungry lions would like to see the site toppled but for me, I take my hat off to the company and think it is down to competitors to match them and rise to the challenge and if you can’t beat them… you may as well emulate them. Clearly, their approach is one that works; Google has rewarded the Tripadvisor network handsomely so there is much to learn from this constantly evolving SERP beast.

Tripadvisor’s brand positioning is such that they are perceived to be the people’s champion for hotels, restaurants and attractions existing to provide an outlet to promote your business and help you reach a bigger audience.

There success has stemmed from putting reviews and rewards at the center their strategy, which has established trust with users and partners. They have then leveraged this brand strength for SEO gain.

The impressive thing is the number of innovative ways they have devised to entice businesses to partner with them, which in turn has grown their link profile exponentially.

Tripadvisor are thinking to the future and trying to recycle visits from social networks, this is a move that is sure to pay dividends in the future and maintain their position as the site to beat.

Fundamentally, Tripadvisor’s success in search comes down to an ability to “win friends and influence people”, which at it’s core boils down to a well-proven truth, people can’t help but want to boast and shout about themselves so by empowering them to show-off with badges and awards you can ride on their back and get exposure (and links) for yourself.

SEO Rocks Badge Experiment

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SEO Rocks

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Here’s the code for the SEO Rocks badge:

This case study was written by Derek Devlin, Head of Search at Made by Crunch and proud user of Link Research Tools and Link Detox.

A word from Christoph C. Cemper

Certified LRT ProfessionalCertified LRT Xpert

It’s easy to think that people are smarter and more savvy because we’re more advanced. But we’re not. Tripadvisor knows this and used it to their advantage. It’s so simple but effective.

For a truly killer SEO strategy, think of ways you can satisfy people’s deepest, most basic needs. If you can, brands will also be asking permission to link to you in exchange for your content.

Made By Crunch is a Certified LRT Agency. This certification allows Made By Crunch to receive consulting leads from us free of charge.

Our goal is to provide our user community and clients with quality service and knowledge. Our Certified LRT Professionals and Xperts are key to achieving this goal.

I look forward to Derek’s future work and I personally recommend working with him whenever you get the opportunity.

Certified LRT Xpert Derek Devlin

We know that 302 redirects can hurt a site, what about NoFollow links? We’re running some research and need your input. Thanks!

This case study was created using our Superhero Plan. The Superhero plan allows you to perform professional SEO and backlink analysis for your own or your competitor’s sites. We updated our Link Detox Genesis to 1.1 to help you Recover from your penalties, protect from future penalties, and build new strong links even better.

Google Penguin 3.0 launched

Derek Devlin

Derek Devlin is an expert in SEM, Conversion Optimization and Web Analytics and now consults for some of the biggest sites on the web as the Head of Search at Made By Crunch.

Made by Crunch are the team behind BacklinkSurgeon.com, a dedicated service for Google Penalty Removal. We are a specialist team of website auditors currently working with fortune 500 companies, as well as small to medium businesses.

Follow Derek on Twitter, Circle him on Google Plus or visit his blog: www.derekdevlin.com.

Derek Devlin

19 Comments

  1. @ireneblan November 19, 2014

    7 SEO lessons from tripadvisor http://t.co/Rvlq1P3WUt

    reply
  2. @veilleduseo September 4, 2014

    7 #seo Lessons on How to Dominate the SERPs http://t.co/HqaXP6VzGa

    reply
  3. @NathanLumpkin September 4, 2014

    7 SEO Lessons on How to Dominate the SERPs – http://t.co/sbzDM3Il5b #SEOrocks @NathanLumpkin

    reply
  4. @meltduplooy September 3, 2014

    How to Dominate the SERPS http://t.co/dlcYJETfL5 via @cemper #in

    reply
  5. @esther_checa September 3, 2014

    Algunos buenos apuntes de la estrategia de LB de Tripadvisor -> How to Dominate the SERPS http://t.co/lCFQVB9Dbr vía @cemper

    reply
  6. @hsiama September 3, 2014

    How to Dominate the SERPS http://t.co/I4LihJbGT0 via @cemper

    reply
  7. @joegill88 September 3, 2014

    How to Dominate the SERPS #SEO http://t.co/ANtOQK0y4d via @cemper

    reply
  8. Michael Vittori September 3, 2014

    A perfect analysis of Tripadvisor’s success, I absolutely agree with the “ability to win friends and influence people” as the biggest reason of this explosion.
    Tripadvisor has only one “shortcoming”, the increasing of fake reviews. I heard a lot of complaints from my customers (hoteliers), but this is another issue.

    reply
  9. @SEOTipsnTricks September 3, 2014

    7 SEO lessons from Tripadvisor http://t.co/dH0RiNIu5q

    reply
  10. @stonereuning September 2, 2014

    SEO Strategy – TripAdvisor – Link Building : http://t.co/ypNrXfMUhK

    reply
  11. @luisangelec September 2, 2014

    How to Dominate the SERPS: 7 #SEO Lessons from Tripadvisor, the World’s Biggest Travel Site by @DerDevlin & @cemper http://t.co/d6kuxDxgrI

    reply
  12. @nakulgoyal September 2, 2014

    How to Dominate the SERPS http://t.co/gnCd4oQpz2 via @cemper, @DerDevlin

    reply
  13. Luc September 2, 2014

    Just want to make a few points:
    1) As Derek points out, hotels voluntarily use our widgets as a badge of honor. They are very proud of their TripAdvisor ratings.

    2) Links in our widgets can be removed or nofollowed. While it may have been true some time ago that the widgets disabled themselves if the link was changed, that hasn’t been the case for at least a year.

    3) We no longer link our widgets with rich anchor text and have disavowed links from old widgets which contained rich anchor text when Google updated their widget guidelines.

    Luc from TripAdvisor

    reply
    • Christoph C. Cemper September 2, 2014

      Hi Luc,

      thanks for the clarification and insights.

      It certainly makes sense from my point of view
      to play it safe and disavow the money keyword links from widgets, also for a big player.

      Best, Christoph

      reply
    • Derek Devlin September 2, 2014

      Hi Luc,

      Your points are much appreciated and they have been noted – I’ll make the appropriate amends.

      More confirmation that you guys are at the cutting edge and moving with the times so thanks for the insight and your contribution.

      Derek.

      reply
  14. @JimWatson9 September 2, 2014

    How to Dominate the SERPS http://t.co/VfWlgkn9eC via @cemper

    reply
  15. @MerchanJavier September 2, 2014

    7 #SEO Lessons on How to Dominate the SERPs form Tripadvisors http://t.co/YkIxnmTIOy

    reply
  16. @PageRankSEO September 2, 2014

    7 SEO Lessons from Tripadvisor, the World’s Biggest Travel Site /by @DerDevlin via @lnkresearchtool http://t.co/sHjumz0T8x #seo #serps

    reply
  17. @imwithnizamkhan September 2, 2014

    RT @seonational: How to Dominate the SERPS – http://t.co/pTdg9mLU6B

    reply

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