Yesterday in Part 1 we took a close look at some of the recent changes and acquisitions that have positioned Google to become the next big player in travel marketing. Today, we take a speculative look into the future to determine what it really means, and what we can do to secure our success in Google search through this uncertain transition.
The Slippery Road Forward
Google entering the travel industry will certainly create challenges for everyone in the space. According an article in the New York Times, it may even lead to anti-trust lawsuits or inquiries from the congressional antitrust committees, but until all that drama plays out in the distance future, travel related businesses need to start positioning themselves for some major changes in online travel search including the following:
- Loss of market share to aggregators in the short term – According to the Aymia SEO Travel Industry Review 2012, “The battle is being won hands-down by the travel aggregators and price comparison websites in the UK and US, whilst long-established brands [both for hotels and airlines] wobble on the ropes.”
- More crowded travel SERPs in the long run – More paid advertisements and especially Google travel promotions will start to crowd out organic search results in the above-the-fold (ATF) space of Google SERPs, pushing organic search results lower down the page and diminishing the descriptive content available to searchers. Read about Google’s Carousel and how it affects the SERP.
- Paying for placement – Hotels and airlines may eventually find themselves facing the prospect of brokering paid relationships with Google in the future just to be a leader or even included in their growing dominance of travel content that displays on SERPs.
Will Google Eventually Own the Travel Space?
While Google is without a doubt positioning itself to be a major player in online travel, they don’t actually own airlines and hotels, at least not yet. Furthermore, Google has proven to be quite astute in its approach to new business ventures. While the company is not new to the accusations of engaging in business practices that competitors and online publishers sometimes feel violate anti-trust regulations, they have been quite successful in defending those practices in lawsuits, especially in the US. Whether Google opts to keep pushing those boundaries or take a less aggressive approach in the future, only time will tell. From the trail of algorithm changes, new travel promotion features, and asset acquisitions, the safe bet would be on some serious boundary pushing, at least in the highly-competitive travel space.
So what is the independent hotel or even the well-established travel brand to do? At Valet Interactive, we have put together a short-term plan that will continue to evolve as changes take place.
Our strategy and tactics include:
- Diversifying marketing strategy by combining SEO with PPC and other marketing channels to ensure balance and diversify opportunities to find and engage with travelers.
- Implementing a local strategy by claiming top local listings (Google+ Local, Yahoo, Bing Maps, etc.) with consistent contact information both on-site and in the local listings and directory citations to build trust. Read about Google+ Pages & Google Carousel in this Valet Interactive article by Scott Davis.
- Updating and managing social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc) to improve branding efforts and engagement.
- Participating in reputation management efforts through PR activities, BBB listings, social media channel feedback, OTA and travel review sites, and setting Google alerts for the business’s name.
- Creating PPC advertising campaigns that work in conjunction with organic traffic keyword strategies and promote timely travel-related events.
As the whole travel/search situation evolves, additional strategies will be implemented and existing strategies updated. As long as hotels and other travel service companies continue to provide valuable services and information to travelers, they will have a place at the online marketing table.
The key will be in monitoring changes in online travel search and developing tactics that are ready to implement when the time is right.
by: Lauretta Shokler
Director of Search Strategy
Valet Interactive a division of Worldwide Revenue Solutions