Over the past couple of years, marketers have seen Google slowly shift from answering search queries by showing the most relevant website results to self-hosting information and answers with the search engine results page (SERP). 93% of buying decisions start with an online search, so understanding what this shift means for the travel industry is critical in order to maintain the visibility required to get those important prospect and customer clicks.
What is happening?
Google is edging towards domination of the end-to-end traveller experience. Google Hotel Ads link up prospective customers with real-time availability and rates within Google Search, Maps and Assistant. You no longer need to visit third-party hotel websites to see aggregated hotel suggestions and pricing – it takes a simple search on the world’s most popular search engine to return all of the information you need.
The additions of hotel reviews, location information (including things to do nearby) and the ability to book without leaving Google’s interface give travellers all the information they need – quickly. This experience is also optimised for mobile, reflecting Google’s understanding that travellers’ touchpoints span many devices throughout the research and booking process.
Google has also turned its focus to flights. Search for ‘Manchester flights’ in Google and you’ll be faced with the functionality to search, compare and book. You’ll see your recent destinations listed, along with suggested trips from Manchester. Already booked your flight? Run a Google search for your airline and flight number, and you’ll see departure/arrival times, terminal information and real-time progress on flights between locations.
Not content with covering the transport and accommodation elements of travel, Google have also launched Google Trips, an app designed to help you ‘plan your day like magic’. The focus on making travel easy and automated is a disruptive force to be reckoned with. It uses your location to suggest things to see and do close by, pulls in reservation or confirmation data from your emails, and lets you quickly the things nearby that interest you. Another arrow to arm Google’s travel bow, making it increasingly difficult for travellers not to turn to Google for their travel needs.
Last but not least, Google is making the most of the reach provided by the one billion devices Google Assistant is now a feature on. They are introducing flight check in via Assistant for United Airlines flights in America. We predict that this feature will be rolled out to multiple countries and airlines soon.
What can brands do?
Feeling fear in the face of Google’s travel takeover is understandable. But it’s not all doom and gloom for brands. Travel is still new territory for Google; for many, it remains a giant entity that no one really knows much about. As a dedicated travel brand, you’ll have the advantage of brand awareness, travel experience, excellent customer service and, importantly, authenticity.
Infiltrate the SERPs with high-quality images – 18% of desktop travel searches include at least one images box, and 15% on mobile. Make sure you tag your files up with filenames, image titles and alt tags that feature words that link to the destination or topic in question. Google’s algorithms will rely on this text to read your images and know what they’re about.
Google News is another key space to target; news articles are displayed 20% of the time travel search terms are entered on desktop, and 16% on mobile. Develop relationships with travel publications and other travel-related news sources, as this could help you inadvertently enter the first page of the search results. A travel SEO agency can give you more guidance and expertise in this area, to make sure you’re got the best chances at featuring in search results.
Make a connection with travellers at the inspiration phase. Be the brand that sparks the wanderlust with aspirational and expert content. Invest time in collecting interest and behavioural data from your prospects to personalise their experience and show you understand them on an individual level. Reach out to influencers, partners or affiliates to extend your reach and presence, but ensure you form genuine and authentic relationships audiences will enjoy. This will also help you to drive direct visits and referrals from sites that aren’t the Google SERPs.
Keep abreast of Google’s updates and changes; read blogs, follow SEO thought leaders and experts for their opinions and insight, go to conferences and speak to your peers to see what’s working for them. Monitor what your competition is doing and do manual checks on the SERPs using travel keywords to see what’s changing. Keep producing as much quality travel content as you can. Be as useful and as helpful for travellers at every stage of their journey, so that you’re in a better position to claim any available SERP space. If you haven’t got the resource, invest in an experienced travel SEO agency.
It may feel like Google is dominating the travel industry at every turn. But while its ability to make the process easy for travellers from start to finish is undeniable, there is still plenty that can be done by travel businesses to combat the threat.