Google Takes on the Travel Industry, Part 1

Any business in the travel industry knows how competitive the landscape for online marketing is.  Search result pages are crowded with hotel brand sites, online travel agencies ads, local map listings, customer reviews, and more. Over the past 18 months, Google itself has even become a major presence in online travel search results. So, what is Google up to in the travel industry?

Google’s Shrinking Real Estate

Google’s search has been serving up travel results for a long time, but recent changes in the layout of their SERPs (search engine result page) as well as software and other acquisitions suggest a travel search evolution in the making at Google.

  1. The most recent change involved a test in the reduction of 7 organic results from the previous 10 on some result pages for some keywords. The 7 result display appears to be most common for keywords that have a strong authoritative site ranking for it: something that is common in the hotel and travel industry.  While this test means that websites will potentially have fewer opportunities to make the page 1 list, it also means that sites ranking well have an opportunity to truly stand out from the competition.
  2. Google is now experimenting with a “Tourist Attractions Bar” when certain keywords are searched such as this one for “things to do in dallas”:Google Tourist Attractoin Bar
  3. Over time Google has also allowed some brands to dominate the first page of search results, including many travel related searches.
  1. Also important to note is the loss of “above-the-fold” organic search results due to PPC ads, local Google map promotions, and Google’s hotel finder tool.  Check out the results of a search for the keyword ‘chicago hotels’:Search Engine Results Page, Top Fold Review

These recent and rapid changes by Google have certainly left the remaining real estate on travel related SERPs scarce, and something for sites optimizing for brand or high-level travel keywords to consider in their overall marketing and SEO strategy.

Google’s Growing Shopping Cart

Google also may be positioning itself to be a major online travel broker by making several major acquisitions in the travel space:

  • Google announced in May 2007 the acquisition of Panoramio. The site which allows users to upload geo-located photos and associate with them the physical location where the photo was taken was already well integrated with Google’s Maps and Google Earth at the time of the acquisition, so it seemed like a logical addition to the Google portfolio. However, this purchase, in hindsight, may prove to be the beginning of a much larger plan for Google.
  • In the summer of 2010, Google struck a $700 million deal to acquire ITA Software. The ITA software is the leading provider of flight data to airlines, travel agents, global distribution systems, flight comparison sites and technology companies such as Bing Travel, TripAdvisor, Orbitz, Kayak, Hotwire and CheapTickets.
  • This summer, Google also purchased Frommers deep database of information about hotels and sights covering over 4,000 destinations. While publishing new editions of the long-time travel guide favorites may prove too costly, Google could certainly use the content in the future to enhance the information they offer related to travel searches.
  • Ultimately the goal may be to integrate the content acquired from Frommer’s with Zagat’s extensive database of reviews of restaurants, hotels and nightclubs in cities around the world. Zagat was another $151 million purchase Google made in September of 2011.

The thought that Google has the potential to start dominating the travel space becomes clear when viewing these recent acquisitions as whole. Of course this doesn’t mean that businesses in the travel space will not have opportunities to win online. With all these acquisitions the greatest threat seems to be to the aggregators of travel information and online travel agencies.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll look at the slippery road forward and what Valet Interactive is doing to continue securing success for its clients.


by: Lauretta Shokler

Director of Search Strategy

Valet Interactive a division of Worldwide Revenue Solutions

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Lauretta Shokler

Lauretta Shokler is the Director of Inbound Marketing and Analytics at Valet Interactive. Her professional background includes over 13 years of experience in digital and affiliate marketing including specialties in web analytics and technical SEO. In her free time she enjoys reading, volunteering, working out and decorating cakes.