Over the last week Google has managed to scare the entire travel industry and some SEOs as it switched on its Hotel Finder globally, it’s been hanging around for a while but has taken centre stage in the evolution of Google.
I first noticed the change on the 17th November when I was researching if I should buy and develop the domain LondonHotels.net.au. The screenshot below shows why I decided that there would be just too much investment required to make the project work just on investment in SEO so I didn’t buy it.
The concerning factor is how far the organic results are pushed down the page when Google Hotel Finder module is show. Even Google Local results now suffer as now only the top 6 of 10 local places results are shown on a desktop search.
So it’s not just organic results that are suffering its local businesses that are going to be impacted by Google’s Hotel finder product. The travel industry appears happy to see that the Hotel/Flight platform is advancing slowly but Jeremy Wertheimer the VP of Google Travel said “Things are moving pretty well”.
Most people have only noticed so far that Google Hotel Finder for geographic searches that includes the keyword hotel. I looked across the other variations that people might use to see when it shows ranked by traffic estimates:
- london hotels – Shows Hotel Finder
- london hostels – No
- london accommodation – No
- london rooms – No
- london inn – No
- london motels – Shows Hotel Finder
- london lodging – Shows Hotel Finder
- london resorts – No
It’s likely that they might expand their Hotel Finder to include some of the other phrases above. I’m surprised to see outside of targeting top traffic term “london hotels” they are also showing it for low traffic terms “london motels” and “london lodging”.
For any of the traditional travel aggregators ranking organically in top 5 results such as Expedia, Wotif or TripAdvisor this might be a significant cut to revenue. There is already a move to start consolidation of the travel industry such as Priceline.com purchasing KAYAK for $1.8 billion earlier this month.
How to Compete?
There has been some discussion started over on webmaster world about the change and how people see it might change their booking behaviours. The early insight seems to be going back to the core idea of relying on Google for all your traffic is never a good idea. Also the key message taken from the thread is your website should be about providing a quality website experience and focus on retaining customers.
Expand Traffic & Audience
The first obviously solution is to consider how you can expand your long tail traffic beyond “london hotels” and look to websites like Travellers Point who run both a large Travel Blog and a Travel Forum. This allows you to build a community and a brand which will reduce the number of potential lost sales to Google Hotel Finder as people will prefer to deal with a trusted provider they have an existing experience with.
Build an API
If you don’t have the time/resources to build out a travel community or blog, you can always follow travel companies like Rome2Rio. They built a technology platform that has a robust Travel Search API that other travel sites can use, which reduces the dependence on Google for all your traffic.
A good API is the best way to get noticed by bigger players and other partners will help drive more traffic/bookings via your platform, and allows for scalable growth that doesn’t depend on Google traffic.
Change Target Keywords
This is the one statement that will get the biggest WTF response but even if you are in the top 3 or even top 10 for some of these search terms you might need to re-evaluate your target terms.
For my own hotel affiliate website why would I try and butt heads with Google and pour money down the drain around the keyword “Hong Kong Hotels” when I can allocate resources to target more conversion focused location/brand terms such as “Excelsior Hotel Hong Kong“.
The cut and run in a different direction strategy is a tough one to swallow if you know how much traffic you could be getting and now have to reduce your expectations as your target niche phrases as your budget just doesn’t support targeting the entire vertical anymore.
Expand your Online Partners
Which of your suppliers could you build a better online partnership with so that you could better promote your products and both get more exposure in Google and referral traffic? If you are a hotel that has not yet been impacted by Google Hotel Finder you should be looking at how to grow your audience outside of Google now before it’s too late.
One example is Hostelling International San Francisco Downtown Hostel provides some amazing free organic soap to guests from a local SF based company but there is no mention of their supplier on their website.
The opportunity is their toiletry supplier will likely have a blog that could feature a guest blog post by HI SF Downtown Hostel staff on how much the guests appreciate their organic products.
There is no reason to stop there as there are dozens of tour operators that are recommended by the hostel staff that could feature articles from their staff on when is best to visit San Francisco and why this tour is the must do when you are in town. Travel operators need to start to think outside the box on what you can offer potential partners that will benefit both parties and reduce the long term reliance on Google organic traffic.
What’s next from Google?
Seeing how Google is focused on travel I see Travel Insurance but there are some more delicate issues that Google is finding as they expand their insurance products beyond Car. The other hint of where Google is going appears to be towards more investment in indoor maps of popular attractions along with virtual tours of properties.
Lower Margins May Speed Change
Travel Margins generated by Hotel aggregators are always fairly small compared to other products so it will be interesting to see how many players shift their SEO resources to adjust to Google Hotel Finder into content marketing, social media or PPC over the next few months.
There are only a handful of large travel affiliates that can compete with Google but as Google expands their travel suite they may slowly cause some hard choices to be made on which area of investment provides the best ROI.