Reading a post today on Yahoo filing a patent for “Identifying excessively reciprocal links among web entities” got me thinking about airlines and search engine optimization (SEO). The author of the blog post made the following comment:

reciprocal linking has a “negligible, if any” positive effect on SEO and point out that the biggest bang for your buck is achieved by getting others to link to you without giving a link in return.

I’ve heard stories of companies paying digital ad agencies or their SEO affiliates to engage in the practice of link building using reciprocity as the bait. I always assumed this must work, but as as it is not my area of specialization, I was surprised to read it is not neccessarily money well spent. If Google AdWords really increased in price 100% from 2007 to 2008, then no wonder airlines are looking at any way possible to boost their organic ranking. It must be tough for airlines that have made quite an effort to build decent landing pages to improve their search engine rankings to see the competition with a less informative landing page rank ahead of this. This is what I saw today when doing a Google search for “cheap flights madrid boston” and Spanair were the only airline appearing unpaid on the first page. I was surprised Iberia didn’t appear until page 4, especially as they have spent some time making very good landing pages. The result that did appear on page 4 of Google was actually a Dublin landing page!

A very nice page making use use of cached data (internal Iberia development) giving available prices over many months. Manually changing the URL to replace Dublin with Boston it would appear Iberia do not have a landing page for this city pair even though they fly directly to Boston from Madrid. I changed my Google query to “cheap flights madrid dublin” and sure enough Iberia were the top airline coming in at number 5; postioned after Cheapflights, Kelkoo, Skyscanner and eDreams. No idea how this page from e-Travel came in at number 6, especially as I had never heard of the company before, the page was of very little value, and the origin and destination were not even pre filled. But interesting at least in that e-Travel was the old name for the Amadeus department responsable for the e-Retail IBE back when it was called Planitgo.

With all the metasearch companies paying for prominence on Google (as well as having mostly good SEO), it makes me glad I don’t work in the arbitrage business of buying clicks for one price and selling them for a higher price; especially if the cost of incoming traffic really is increasing by 100% year on year. I doubt that such price rises for AdWords are sustainable with the economic downturn;  marketing budgets usually being one of the first to face the axe in any company’s spending review. But it does emphasise the need for airlines to look long and hard about how they are attracting customers to their websites, and how much they are paying for this. Now is the time to be cutting some good deals for traffic that has proven to convert into ticket sales.