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With fewer companies today linking to relevant content, it is worth closely evaluating how Facebook and Twitter can impact a travel company’s search engine ranking. And what about Google+? Is this really the future?

When it comes to what impact social media is having on your search engine ranking, numerous questions arise that can throw up pretty interesting answers. For instance, should one focus on the number of Tweets on a trending topic to catch the eye of search engines or should one be considering the importance of interactions on Google+? At the same time, travel companies shouldn’t forget that search engines evolve quickly. Changes in algorithms or competition for keywords are an ongoing battle for travel companies, and there is no room for complacency.

Here EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to Adrian Land, head of inbound marketing at My Destination, who thinks brands cannot ignore Google+ in the bid to boost search engine rankings via social media.

EFT: A lot is being said about the growing role of social media in social engine rankings. Can you elaborate?

AL: All search engines need to give their users the most relevant and accurate results. A good experience means repeat users, increased market share and therefore future profits.

With so many new pages and domains being published every day, it is getting increasingly difficult to judge the value of these pages. So, as you would expect, the criteria to judge quality and relevance changes over time and therefore has to evolve.  If you also combine this with the idea of ever increasing personalisation and real-time information requests, things like social media are going to play a part in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) that you see.

Consider this: Google [and other engines] generally use three types of information to make judgements. These are:

-          on-page relevance,

-          authority/status; and

-          links 

Back in the day, links were considered votes for your content, but these have been abused and people don’t link as much as they used to. On the rare occasion they do, it may be for reward or even no-followed to avoid the fear of a penalty. So, the engines need to find a new way to judge importance. That is now why social media has become an essential part of the mix.

EFT: Tell us about some of the developments that outline the role being played by social media in search engine rankings today?  

AL: The various search engines have shared some information about their relationship between social media and their rankings, but nothing definitive.

I would predict that your online profiles can be scored like an ‘authority rank’, if you will. This can be at a company or a person level and this score will affect the relevance of your content to an answer.

Real-time answers, news, Google’s one-box integrations including their newly tested ‘things to do’ sliders means that knowledge is more important than just lists of places to find answers. A new development such as ‘Twitter cards’ are adding more meta-data to enable more precise interruption of what you are sharing.

Authorship will be a big theme in 2013 and beyond.

EFT: What do you recommend to travel companies for sharpening their rankings via social media initiatives?

AL: I would say the following:

1. Become an ‘authority’ in your topic. Be the expert that other authorities follow, cite, mention etcetera. Just like in ‘Page Rank’ for link value, think in terms of quality and not just quantity of followers.

2. Think engagement. This gives clues and evidence that you are a valuable person or company to be associated with. You should think comments, re-shares and citations.

3. Consider what social media platforms you use and for what reason. Facebook is for sharing, community and engagement (but, not fully open to Google). Twitter is for mostly broadcasting and is available to all the major engines. Google Plus (G+), of course, as it’s Google’s own. G+ is kind of okay for broadcasting and commenting, but not too many people outside of travel or technical marketers are using it regularly. Other platforms should be a 2nd tier decision. However, watch out for Tumblr if a Yahoo audience is important to you.

EFT: Can you talk about Google specifically in this context?

AL: Google Plus (G+) will become more and more important; it is the future. If you have a blog or another site where multiple people contribute, then think about having an ‘authorship’ strategy.

Ensure that you use the author profiles to link out to their G+ profile, with the correct author attributes. You also need to bi-directionally link from their G+ profile to your own domain.  You should also associate your company’s G+ profile with your site using the publisher link attribute. That way you claim your own content and show the relationship between your contributors and your site.

This will be good for rankings; you should get your authors information in a larger rich snippet. And if someone has stolen your content, you are claiming it back and therefore achieving all the value you deserve.

EFT: What sort of immediate benefits can travel companies experience from such optimisation?

AL: Put simply: traffic from higher personalised rankings. You may also achieve better CTR (Click Through Rates) from the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Consumers expect social media from any serious online player. You may get an improvement in perception due to your new openness or humour or communications. But, be careful, you may open a customer service can of worms!

EFT: What are the major challenges in having a better understanding of the role being played by social media in this arena?

AL: Analytics and meaningful metrics. Not many organisations have clear social media objectives. Most people have a ‘must-be-on-there’ approach and then feel their way into it slowly. By doing this, however, measuring success is hard.

There are only a handful of tools on the market that can assist you and the definitions are not standardised yet. That means that they can be questioned by others including people who are threatened by this new discipline.

Some of these tools are free and some are subscription based. These can give standalone metrics and some can assist with multi-touch attribution. But how to measure the commercial value of being added to a circle or have a post re-tweeted is still in its infancy.

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