The core principle behind the paid-for Business Listing service on TripAdvisor is that it gives a hotel the chance to officially put itself in front of a huge audience.
At the end of April 2010, almost 12,000 properties around the world had signed up to the service.
One element of a Business Listing (alongside be able to include a telephone number and email address on hotel pages) is a direct link to the hotel's website.
While this, hoteliers and TripAdvisor would hope, may drive some traffic to a property's website, those in the search community see it as having an added benefit - SEO.
Such a hope is even more important to search engine optimisers given that TripAdvisor has a page rank of 8/10. In other words: it carries a lot of Google juice.
Unfortunately, one digital marketing agency, US-based Screen Pilot, which has a number hotel clients including Noble House Hotels and Little Palm Island, took a look behind the scenes and surprised by what it found.
After analysing a number of New York hotel properties that have taken up the service the agency discovered the properties did not have any backlinks from the TripAdvisor Business Listings.
Examination of the source code revealed that the script on the TripAdvisor hotel pages did not allow any link to be indexed by search engines.
"As business owner you are still getting the traffic from people clicking on the link in your listing, but from an SEO standpoint you are not getting the link juice," the agency says.
"The moral of the story is this, be sure you know the full SEO benefit you are getting from purchasing a listing on any social travel related website, especially TripAdvisor.com, if that is something you think you’re getting. In their defense, we find nothing on their site that remotely even leads anyone to believe that there is SEO value in a Business Listing, it simply is assumed that because they are offering a 'link' to your property website, there is inherent link value associated with it."
TripAdvisor says in its current form the product is not intended to be an SEO tool. It adds:
"We are not an SEO agency. With Business Listings, we are providing direct traffic to hoteliers, inns and B&Bs from their listings page and now from several prominent pages on the TripAdvisor site as they can create a special offer for free as part of their Business Listings subscription."
ScreenPilot also points out that one way around the no-follow code rule (if the juice is important) could be to simply post a URL into a review, as they found a backlink to one of the New York hotels using this method.
It turns out that the link in question came from the French TripAdvisor site yet posting links on the .com or other TripAdvisor country sites is forbidden.
TripAdvisor says it is looking into the discrepancy.
When asked if Business Listings FAQs would be changed to let potential buyers that links are not indexable in search, TripAdvisopr says:
"Our FAQ is constantly evolving and we amend it from time to time with new information to anticipate questions our customers may have. Presently, we do not offer information on SEO, as the product is not intended to be an SEO tool."