Monday, January 22, 2007

Expedia "Strikes a Deal with Tripadvisor"

Did not mean for the last few days to be so Expedia focused but the deals and stories are coming thick and fast. The latest announcement care of Australian TravelWeekly is that
Expedia Australia has struck a deal with travel community website Trip Advisor [sic] in a move to step up its user generated content and to improve conversion rates.
The natural inclination as an online travel blogger is to poke fun at TravelWeekly for not knowing, realising or checking to find out that Expedia owns TripAdvisor. Following this train I would make particular fun of this sentence in the report
No commercial terms for the deal have yet been finalised.
However there is actually a very serious side to the internal negotiations between the TripAdvisor site owners and each of the Expedia point of sale operators within the EXPE mothership. Kevin May at Travolution broke the European part of this story in October. There is probably a lot of internal ego and P&L ownership behind this. My guess is that this is driven by that fact TripAdvisor staff are measured with a stand alone P&L and want compensation/target reduction for any activity that potentially helps an Expedia Point of Sale (POS) owner obtain traffic that would normally go to TripAdvisor.

There is a bigger picture also for Expedia. Part of the power of user generated content is the natural search/SEO benefits that the unique content provides. TripAdvisor's strength in this area ensures that it is the top ten natural results for now very expensive key words like "Hotels in New York" or "...London" or "...Sydney". This ranking is maintained by the unique and "independent" nature of the content on TripAdvisor (white hat SEO marketing) and contrasts to the activities of other travel content/affiliate providers that build a seemingly unrelated series of websites based on the same content that link to each other to book rankings (black hat SEO marketing). Black hat SEO marketing can be very lucrative as it short cuts the need to build a huge library of content, links and relevance. However it is also very dangerous. When Google finds sites involved in black hat techniques it typically responds quickly and mercilessly by cutting off the sites involved. Therefore if an Expedia POS was simply to cut and paste TripAdvisor content it runs the risk of (in the best case) hurting the rankings of TripAdvisor or (in the worst case) causing both TripAdvisor and the POS from being banned from Google's natural results. I am sure Expedia is aware of this and that is why they are treading very softly (with just Australia and Canada announcing full deals) are promoting the illusion that it is an arms length commercial deal. Expedia needs to do this as the integration of UGC and booking functionality is the number one characteristic of Travel2.0. Expect Expedia Inc to continue to push this strategy but to do so very carefully.

UPDATE - Sydney Morning Herald has also picked up the story in a good PR piece for Arthur and team. However they too have not mentioned the common ownership of Expedia AU and TripAdvisor.

And finally to TravelWeekly, here is a link to all of the brands owned by Expedia Inc so that you can avoid a mistake like this one.

UPDATE 2 - This is a word for word quote from the print addition of Australian business publication BRW in their "Australia Online" addition dated Feb22 - April 4 (cant find an online version so you'll have to trust me).
"In January, Expedia signed a deal with Tripadvisor...The Expedia tie-in with Tripadvisor is another parthership in a sector that seems ripe for consolidation" (my emphasis)
This is the number 1 or number 2 business publication in Australia (depending on how you measure it against the Bulletin) and yet they fell hook, line and sinker for the notion that Expedia and Tripadvisor are separate companies. You'd be surprised how often I see in my search logs "who owns tripadvisor". I should be ranting about how badly this reflects on BRW, but instead, I am impressed by the great sell job Expedia is doing keeping these brands separate in the minds of the general public and "educated" media.


Travolution Blogger said...

You are right, Tim. It makes an awful lot of sense for Expedia to want the content, both commercially and in terms of SEO. i suspect any agreement goes right to the top of the Expedia Inc tree and would not be negotiated at local level.

[thanks for the hat tip]

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

I think you are overstating the issues around syndication of the TripAdvisor content on Expedia domains...

Syndicating content in itself is not a blackhat activity, and would not get either site banned from Google. Scraping content from other sites to build your own site and dynamically generating rubbish content for the purposes of displaying Google Adsense and affiliate links is blackhat. I think that is the kind of thing you are alluding to, but you couldn't put an Expedia/Tripadvisor content deal in the same category as that.

Google's alogrithms do however factor in duplicate content and will certainly discount second hand sources in search results, and possibly also the original source, although you will find endless debate on this point on the SEO forums.

If I were involved in this deal I'd would want to preserve TripAdvisors excellent position in organic SERPS, so would insist that all care is taken to ensure that syndicated content was not indexed on Expedia. This is easy to do (with robots.txt) and would preserve TripAdvisors authority in the search engines, but give Expedia the benefit of greater depth to their onsite content thus improving the 'stickiness' of the site and so their conversion rate. At the end of the day if someone finds their way to TripAdvisor and then wants to book flights TA is going to try and convert them to an Expedia sale anyway so what's the incentive to boost Expedia's search engine placement for the same keywords, especially if it was at the expense of the combined authority in Google.

BTW - While I am here, I am astounded that more isn't said about the fact that TripAdvisor is the ultimate Google Adsense machine...check out this page:

80% of the 'content' is Google powered ads and the rest of it is affiliate links or links to more TA pages with more ads. The CTR on their Adsense placements must be incredible.

Tim Hughes said...


Thanks for your great comments. I agree completely that syndication enough is not black hat and on the care that Expedia Inc needs to take in mixing TripAdvisor content on any Expedia POS

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Mickelodian said...

Tim, Did you mention that those Adsense adverts which are normally populated using Javascript and cary no SEO value are actually populated in html on tripadvisor .... with Googles help... no wonder they pop up number 1 for everything. They have really well optimised copy written by me and you... and heaps of optimised content with 'nofollows' set in the links.

Basically advertisers using Googles search network (not just content nestwork) are populating the tripadvisor site with keyword rich contnet as well as travelers.

Freddy @ IMWT said...

@ Mickelodian

Good Point, although I doubt that Adsense ads help tripadvisor's SEO.

The Reason Tripdavisor is ranking so well is the sheer quantity of content each city and each hotel has on their site.

This abundance of content is linkbait 101 and it works. Good content site get ranked very quickly. Wikipedia, CNN and other large content providers have been using this method long before SEO was a hot topic.