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Why Airbnb is Better at SEO Than You

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And how you can close the gap with your own SEO initiatives.

During my time working on Airbnb Experiences, I focused on demand levers to maximize bookings. Because many of these experiences surround high-intent terms (i.e. Surfing) that lent themselves naturally to search, my mind went to SEO. I wanted to see how I could leverage SEO based on Airbnb’s existing tools to maximize our Experiences’ discovery. 

I also studied in depth how Airbnb built its SEO systems and how I could improve upon the programs to upsell Experiences.  

Is Airbnb amazing at SEO because of extraordinary budgets, manpower, and expertise in SEO? Partially. But far less so than people might expect. The company excels at SEO because of a specific methodology.     

In a phrase – they succeed at what I call “Product-Led SEO.”

The Methodology

Airbnb is now such a brand name that it’s evolved into a verb and effectively bypassed Google – people go directly to the site or its apps to search for accommodations.  

Despite Airbnb now developing a significant portion of its traffic from direct visits, it still gets 12.4M organic traffic sessions a month (according to Ahrefs). But very little of that comes inbound to traditional content pages. Not that Airbnb doesn’t have content on its site – it just pales in comparison to what really drives SEO traffic: its product and aggregated resource pages.

Product Pages:

airbnb-product-page

Instead of relying heavily on article content, many marketplace companies like Airbnb rely on their product pages to surface in organic search results.  

Airbnb’s product pages (example: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22244237) are highly optimized for SEO: images, structured data, etc., are all in place. But when it comes to its product pages, there are three major factors that allow Airbnb to shine in SEO (and are likely the most important ranking factors).

1. Highly optimized title tags honed through extensive experimentation

Airbnb initially borrowed from Pinterest regarding its knack for experimentation, which consisted of splitting pages into two variants to study on-page changes – mostly around title tags. Tracking the difference between the organic search sessions for one variant vs. a control group was a great way to test on-page changes and their effectiveness on the SEO channel.  

2. User-generated content

Airbnb’s reviews and listings are all effective ways to leverage its Hosts and Guests for content.  These all help with rankings, and backlinks come naturally due to Hosts’ incentivization to share their listings far and wide.  

Airbnb has the added benefit of unique and shareable listings, enabling them to rack up backlinks naturally – we know, of course, that guests share Airbnb listings they love. Airbnb receives backlink shares naturally from both sides of its marketplace, and they have the incentives in place to keep that machine running.

3. Internal linking

Those recommendations at the bottom of the listing pages for Airbnb don’t just help with upsells: they’re a powerful signal to Google that these linked pages are valuable and should be surfaced higher in Google’s rankings. By having a “web of internal links,” these pages receive thousands of internal links. These links may be an even more critical ranking signal than backlinks.

Not every company site lends itself to creating product pages as extensive as Airbnb’s, but you can tap into its methodology and apply it to your high-value SEO pages. Constant testing, iteration, and optimization will undoubtedly pull you ahead of the pack.  

Another way to take advantage of product-led SEO, even without this type of product page template, is to create pages that emulate them and provide a resource to your customers.   

Aggregated content pages:

airbnb-aggregated-content-page

These are unique pages that Airbnb spun up and were some of my favorites to run with when upselling Airbnb Experiences.      

These pages are not made up of Airbnb inventory (either Homes or Experiences) but are explicitly designed with SEO in mind. Airbnb attempted to rank for the term “Things to do in {City}” for every major market where it operated. Here is an example: https://www.airbnb.com/s/San-Francisco–CA/things-to-do.    

These pages are exclusively made up of third-party content, with a list of the most amazing things to do in a major city. For each event or activity, Airbnb created individual pages with user-generated reviews added on top: https://www.airbnb.com/things-to-do/places/26039?location=San%20Francisco%2C%20CA.

airbnb-haight-ashbury.png

These pages are clearly valuable to Airbnb’s audience, and they garner multiple repeat visits.  They are also looked upon fondly by the company – the pages are content-rich and fit the intent for “things to do” perfectly.

These pages – which focus exclusively on providing value to visitors, increasing on-page time, and eventually raising its importance in Google’s eyes – weren’t initially used as sales vessels. It was only later that they were used for upselling experiences that fit various aspects of the pages. 

Other Examples  

Other companies make good use of product-led initiatives to supercharge SEO. Here are just a few:  

  • ClassPass created profile pages for every single gym or studio in markets they wanted to target (whether that gym or studio was a ClassPass partner or not). Potential partner gyms could “take over” their profiles, and people with ClassPass subscriptions could indicate which gyms or studios they wanted to see on ClassPass. These also perform very well for SEO. 
  • The Bankrate Mortgage calculator is legendary for the amount of organic search traffic it generates (several million sessions a month). This simple tool fits a specific need for its customer base and receives a lot of backlinks.  
  • Zillow and Redfin rank at the top for simple address searches (which get many millions of monthly hits) using their product pages.

There are many ways to take advantage of this methodology to ensure you’re driving customers cheaply and efficiently while also providing lasting value.  

Thinking of seriously exploring this area and investing in your long-term SEO growth? Product-led projects are a great way to get started. I’m at work developing these types of bespoke projects with a roster of clients for my company, Format Agency. Curious and want to chat? Feel free to reach out in my DMs any time.   

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Interested in chatting about SEO? Reach out to me on Twitter Instagram  or LinkedIn.  

Or, do you have a growth problem? Format Agency is your content-as-a-service solution for growth using content and SEO.  Reach out for a free audit and make sure you’re crushing whatever project you’re working on.     

Also, if you’re interested in getting a more hands on approach from me on how to build companies, both at scale and just starting out, reach out to michael@formatagency.co to discuss advisory services.

Check out more awesome content at the blog.

By Michael S

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