How Travel Companies Can Adapt to Google’s Increasing Influence

Google: you might have heard of it. The search engine giant, 20 years old this year, has become synonymous with the internet. The company is a household name around the world and even a verb.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact this single company has and continues to have on the travel industry. As consumer behaviour changes and bookings and research increasingly shift online, the gatekeepers hold all the power. Google is the gatekeeper. The door through which the majority of western travellers find their information, discover trips they want to go on and complete bookings.

Read more: Google Steps Up Presence in Online Travel Space

In turn, Google’s dominance has forced travel businesses to adapt. Websites are now tailored to meet Google’s everchanging SEO standards. Entire businesses are designed and adapted to suit Google’s framework and take advantage of its peculiarities.

Google has always indirectly influenced the way travel businesses operate. But things have moved on in the past year or so. The search engine giant has shifted its business model. You know the established drill: Most of Google’s revenue is through ad sales. Companies pay to get listed on Google and target certain search terms; Google charges a small fee each time they get found. There are plenty of businesses out there who bypass organic SEO and are happy to pay for easy traffic.

That translates as follows in the world of travel: Google makes plenty of money from travel companies, from hotels to ride-sharing platforms to OTAs. All have to fight for traffic. All are desperate to be at the top of search results for their chosen keywords and terms.

But now Google is becoming a travel agency too. The reason? Ad fees pale in comparison to referral fees. Platforms such as Skyscanner, Expedia and Kayak all aggregate search results and gain commission from completed purchases. So why shouldn’t Google do the same, particularly when it has control over the flow of traffic?

Read more: Searchmetrics Study: Travel Industry SEO & Ranking Factors

And now it appears as though Google has started to use its muscle when it comes to search results, a development that shouldn’t be of any surprise to travel industry watchers.

Google exerts further control over travel industry search results

According to a recent study from Searchmetrics, travellers searching online for flights, hotel rooms and other related products using Google are now faced with fewer “organic blue links” on the first page or results. Instead, that space is being taken up by the search giant’s own tools and services.

This is significant: the playing field is shifting. Google is using its power as a platform to boost the search returns of its own tools. Inadvertently, this means that travel companies with products to sell are further down the pecking order.

Searchmetrics’ study looked at thousands of U.S.-based queries as part of a wider, cross-vertical analysis. The aim was to find out the extent to which search results are changing as Google introduces more of its own tool and services on search engine results pages (SERPS).

And this is what they found…

On average, 8.8 blue links were shown by Google to travel-related queries, down from the traditional ten. Google-created content shown in SERPS varies between desktop and mobile devices, but overall there is an increasing number of different elements served up instead of travel content, the study found.

Chief technology officer and founder, Marcus Tober, says: “Getting onto Google’s first page for important search terms is a necessary goal for all travel brands, and the universal search elements offer an additional way of appearing there.

“Travel marketers need to understand which universal search integrations commonly appear for the keywords and topics their target customers are searching for and optimize their web content to increase the likelihood that Google will feature it.”

So why is this happening?

Searchmetrics disclosed that Google’s own elements, which include news, maps and the knowledge graph (facts and details about a product or destination) were featured in most travel industry search results.

This is the quantified likelihood of each individual element appearing on page one of a desktop search engine result:

  • Images – 18%
  • Videos – 6%
  • News – 20%
  • Maps – 17%
  • Adwords (top) – 15%
  • Adwords (bottom) – 9%
  • Knowledge graph – 65%

And here are the figures for mobile search results:

  • Images – 15%
  • Videos – 6%
  • News – 16%
  • Maps – 23%
  • Adwords (top) 32%
  • Adwords (bottom) – 7%
  • Knowledge graph – 22%

As we can see, the knowledge graph has become a recurring result for travel queries. The sources of that ‘knowledge’ are going to benefit hugely. So how can you become one?

Well, the study concludes that “As a brand, you need to be sure to have an up to date, active presence on these sites with good quality, relevant information. Information that is well structured, with headings and bullets is more likely to be used. Encourage reviews and ratings as they are often included in a company’s knowledge graph listings.”

But what else can companies do to push up the rankings or hold on to their place on page one?

The Threat of Google

As we’ve seen, it seems as though travel companies should be worried about how Google is displaying search results and the amount of real estate left on the front pages after a query has been plugged in. But are there ways to get around these new challenges and continue to drive traffic through search engines?

Of course there are. And we’ll come to those later. But right now would be a good time to think about some comments from travel industry leaders made at a recent EyeforTravel Europe. In particular, they were discussing the threat and impact of Google.

Attendees on the day were asked: what is the biggest threat to the industry right now?

Clearly, and as we have seen, one of the possible answers was the role of Google. However, it appears as though the rise of Google was way down the list of concerns of some delegates.

That outcome confused keynote speaker, chairman of Rome2Rio and former founder of Viator, Rod Cuthbert, who said: “With Google’s hotel product, they are now allowing hotels to advertise directly, and if a consumer chooses a particular property they can pay using Google Pay. So now they are [also] getting payment data, and they are at the top of funnel”.

In fact, Cuthbert has hopes that the European Commission will eventually get a grasp of Google’s anti-competitive behaviour in the travel industry.

A different view, however, came from Eurail CEO Brenda van Leeuwen who argued for the “need to play smart”. And that may well mean partnering with Google, and others like Skyscanner and Expedia, to put the rail industry on the map.

It might not be fair, but travel firms do need to keep on top of Google’s moves in search. So, if Google announces, as it did earlier this year, that sites which “follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing” will see significantly better results, then brands need to be on the ball.

google travel industry influence

Top Tips to Address Searchmentrics’ Google Research

So we know that the number of organic blue links that Google is placing on page one of travel industry search results has gone down from 10 to an average of 8.8 on mobile and desktop. We also know that the first results page is increasingly dominated by Google’s Knowledge Graphs, as well as images, apps and maps – anything which leads to a higher clickthrough rate for searchers.

So how can travel companies address their own websites and content to meet these shifting requirements?

1. Maps

First up: Maps. The Searchmetrics study found that 23% of travel search results include at least one map on mobile phones and 17% on desktops. More often than not, this map data comes from companies’ Google My Business pages.

So how can your travel business work with that statistic? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Consider creating posts to your website highlighting events or sales periods. Sometimes these show up on Google Maps, and you might generate some leads that way.
  • Get feedback and reviews! If you encourage customers to leave reviews about your travel service, these comments can make it more likely that Google will list your Google My Business page in maps.

2. Images

The most important thing to note here is the presence of images in travel search results. 18% of desktop travel searches include at least one images box. 15%  feature images on mobile.

So what should you do to make the most of this? Obviously, you want your images to be the ones that are featured. Which takes us back to an SEO basic principle: Use high-quality images and ensure that image file names, image titles and alt attributes include words that are relevant to the topics that are being displayed.

Google’s algorithms can’t identify images through pixels, so these references are your travel company’s chance to show how relevant they are to a particular search term.

3. AdWords

The harsh but siple truth about ranking in the top spot on Google is that you get what you pay for, to an extent. That’s why 32% of travel searches on mobiles include at least one AdWords’ ad at the top of the page, compared to 15% on desktops.

So when putting together Google Ad Words campaigns, try to find search terms to bid on that are neither highly competitive or irrelevant. You want words and phrases that suit your audience down to the ground.

After that, it’s a case of always working to improve your landing pages to make them as effective as possible. Aside from those details, you should also obviously have a big focus on coming up for organic search terms.

Holiday Pirates CEO David Armstrong recently shared a few insights at EyeforTravel Europe, as you can watch in the video below.

4. Knowledge Graphs

And now to Knowledge graphs, those pesky things that suddenly appear in 65% of travel search results on desktops, and 22% on mobile. Clearly, these represent an opportunity for travel brands to get right onto the first page of results.

Usually Google takes the information for the graph from sources such as Wikipedia. But the data can also come from an organisation’s own website or Google+ page. If it’s a business that’s been searched for, details from its Google MyBusiness listing, links to social channels and contact information will also be included.

So the obvious thing to do is to keep these updated for your travel business and play the Google game. If you’re hoping to provide the information for a specific knowledge graph, be sure to organise your content in a way that encourages Google to use it.

For example, your website pages should be well structured, with headings and bullet points and easy-to-read content.

5. News results

The last but not least factor you should consider is Google News, which aggregated breaking news stories from numerous sources around the web. When travel terms are searched on Google, the search engine displays news results 20% of the time on desktop and 16% of the time on mobile.

So what’s the message here? Well, getting on the first page of Google doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be killing ti with organic search terms or spending a fortune on Ad Words. Instead, travel businesses also have to realise that there’s an opportunity to be discovered purely through being in the news.

So get involved with travel publications and other news sources that offer travel advice, information and analysis. If you develop a positive relationship with key media players in your chosen niche, you could find your company hitting the first page of Google for your chosen search terms – inadvertently through news articles.

Helping You Build a Content-Driven Travel Marketplace

travel search terms seo

Here at Travelshift we build travel marketplaces that get noticed. Our marketplace software is proven, adaptable and has a bunch of features to help you quickly scale in your chosen niche and compete with the bigger players in no time.

Crucial to that process is our focus on building a content-driven platform. We provide our clients with all the tools they need to become not just a booking platform, but a hub for all things related to their niche: a newsroom, a blog, a social platform, a community of tour operators, local guides and travellers.

This means that you’re quickly building your Google ranking from day one with authentic, community-driven content that perpetuates sales and boosts your SEO.

As we’ve mentioned, Google is stepping further into the travel space and becoming its own OTA of sorts. This means that the competition is fiercer than ever for bookings and research. Particularly when Google could act in future as the gatekeeper to information and bookings.

However, as the large majority of Google’s revenue comes through search, it remains in the company’s interests to provide relevant results to travellers looking for inspiration and opportunities. For that reason, the foundation of Travelshift software – our ability to drive traffic and sales through the power of community building – is here to stay.

Want to find out more about how we can help you set up a travel marketplace in your chosen niche? Contact us today.


The Growing Influence of Voice Tech in the Travel Industry

Every once in a while a technology or format comes along that forces the travel industry to think again. The introduction of the internet and online commerce was one. Then came the dominance of search engines and the importance of SEO, combined with the rise of travellers searching, organising and booking through mobile devices.

Now it looks as though a new medium is slowly beginning to enter the industry: Voice search and voice tech in general. But is it really any different to typing a query into search engines like many of us do on a daily basis? And can voice functions come to our rescue when we need them? Today we’re going to explore the topic and see what influence, if any, the changing way that we search for information could have on the industry of travel.

This article is based on a report from EyeforTravel. Read the full document here. 

First up, let’s clarify what we mean by voice search and voice functions. The rise of smart home technology that’s always listening and the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets have changed our relationship with the internet. Back in the days of dial-up (pre-WiFi), getting online was a task that required time, patience and some level of technical understanding. Now access is everpresent and simple enough for anybody to achieve.

In recent years companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have become aware of and acted upon two different trends in technology. First is the increasing need for a convenient online experience, the fact that we want information at our fingertips whenever we need it. The second trend is the realisation that our voice – no matter how fast we can type – is still our most effective means of communication.

amazon alexa

Amazon’s Echo and the Alexa personal assistant offer a new way for people to search the internet.

As AI has become more sophisticated and computers have evolved the ability to recognise speech patterns, voice commands have taken centre stage. The ability to listen, understand and relay back relevant information is a new peak in home computing. It’s no surprise that the market for such devices is on an upward trajectory.

In 2015, Amazon launched the first ‘Echo’, a voice-responsive speaker for the home that sold almost 2 million units. Once Google entered the market with ‘Home’, sales grew to around 6.5 million in 2016. Products have evolved and new players have entered the fray, leading to industry analyst VoiceLabs to estimate a total of 33 million “voice first” home devices in use in homes globally in 2017.

Voice-first can be taken to mean devices specifically purchased for use with voice commands – not just smartphones and laptops with integrated assistants.

“We think that all search through desktop is dead.” – Fabrice Otaño, chief data officer, AccorHotels Group

So How Common is Voice Search?

Before we get into the specifics of voice search and its relationship with the travel industry, it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider how common this new technology actually is.

Some may see it as a gimmick. Others might use it every day. But how widespread is this adoption? To give you some idea, at the 2016 Google I/O conference, chief executive Sundar Pichai said 20% of queries Google received via mobile phones in the US were spoken, rather than typed. Apparently, Google was using this figure in workshops with British travel firms last year, so it can’t be far off.

Interestingly, in China, the adoption of voice searches is thought to be even higher, with hundreds of millions of users and queries per day.

Some projections – notably from Baidu’s Andrew Ng – state that 50 percent of all searches will involve either voice or images by 2020. Why might we speak instead of type? A joint Baidu, Stanford University and University of Washington study in 2016 found voice recognition to be better at producing text on a mobile device than punching words into its keyboard.

That definition of ‘better’ is mostly down to speed: It was three times quicker to say English words than type them and 2.8 times faster saying Mandarin than typing it.

But it was also down to the number of mistakes made. We often type mistakes by accident and rely on spell check assistants to fill in the gaps as we go. According to the same study, the rate of mistakes when using voice recognition to write English was a fifth lower.

It was nearly two-thirds lower with Mandarin, which is one obvious reason why the Chinese market is leading the way for voice search growth. Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, has invested heavily in speech recognition AI.

So how about some travel industry specific numbers?

According to Bing – the search engine that’s dwarfed by Google but still manages to carry out 9% of searches worldwide, including for Amazon Echo and Microsoft’s digital assistants – voice search for travel is still at an early stage.

In April 2017, Bing Ads claimed that the number of people in the UK using voice search to book hotels increased by a whopping 343% from the previous year. The number of people searching for flights using voice technology grew by 277%.

We don’t know the figures, just those percentages. While the growth seems huge, it may just reflect the fact that these statistics follow a standing start. Sure, more people are starting to use voice search technology. But more is more than 0; percentages don’t mean too much with a tech this new.

Starting from small: The rising use of voice search

It’s expected that digital advertisers will begin to pump more and more money into voice search results in the near future. But apart from offering targeted ads and bugging travellers about their next trip, how could this technology actually help the industry?

google pixel buds, travel and translation

First of all, there’s its practical use. As we all know, typing is not the most efficient means of communication that we have. Especially when we’re on the move or in a foreign country.

Times like that travellers need information, fast. That’s why voice search offers an ideal way to ease some of travel’s timeless annoyances. When you’re dragging your suitcase down the street on the other side of the world and it’s 40ºC, the ability to speak to a virtual assistant, make a booking or quickly get local information is invaluable. Voice search could soon be the ultimate in online convenience.

Sure, we’re not there yet. But we are not far from the technology making a big impact. Just consider Google Pixel Buds, smart headphones capable of translating in real time, among other things.

Problems in the pipeline

There are a few issues with voice search technology. The first is to do with privacy. How comfortable are we in having devices constantly listening in our homes and with us on our travels? Second, and as we discussed in our feature on Google’s Pixel Buds, there is also a fine line between convenience and authenticity.

One thing we know for sure is that today’s traveller is generally searching for an authentic experience. How do automated translation and an increased use of technology fit into that equation?

Third, and perhaps of most interest to smaller travel service providers: What about the obvious monopoly that a small number of players continue to have in the world of online search? How does this relate to voice search and voice results?

The biggest names in the space are Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple. According to EyeForTravel’s Tim Gunstone, the dominance of the big four in the voice search space could mean there’s trouble in store for travel firms.

“Google was the most amazing way to sell hotel rooms out there, they [travel companies] piled in and Google ratcheted up the price so it is no longer affordable,” he said. “The industry has developed strategies to cope with effectively a media monopoly currently, but this is going to happen with Amazon voice, and Google voice and all the other voices coming along. The monopoly aspect is the most worrying thing.”

The problem will arise for travel businesses when the big players in voice search start selling the chance to be listed in results. Fabrice Otaño, chief data officer in AccorHotels group, said “What we don’t know is how much we have to pay to be referenced by Google Home. If invents a new voice assistant and will pay three billion to be referenced, it’s the same battle as today but on a different channel.”

Many voice assistants partner with third parties to offer skills. These voice-powered apps could be a totally new battleground for travel companies in a few short years.

Voice search is a long way from the finished article

With good reason, there’s plenty of excitement about the potential of voice search technology. But it’s a long way from being an effective way to interact with the internet as effectively as we’d like. That’s mostly down to the still-limited ability of AI to understand natural language.

That also explains why the voice search engine experience will remain a lousy one for the near future. Sure, AI from Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft can’t yet give us the most coherent results based on a voice query. But that’s also because our speech isn’t always as concise as it needs to be. After all, do you ever read your google searches out loud? We tend to speak to search engines in a different way than we would say something out loud.

In time, search engines will get smarter about the results they feedback orally vs those that appear on-screen. Travel suppliers may also have to start developing search results that are optimized for listening. Nobody is really doing that yet, despite the obvious need for that technology looming on the horizon.

Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, says his company is starting to look at voice search. “You can’t go too broad,” he said, because – this is the feedback I’ve got more often than not – customers start asking it anything and everything and you just get a horrible user experience. And then your assistant on Alexa’s store gets bad ratings and quickly ruins your brand reputation.”

“The instructions that come with how we are going to communicate in AI with a virtual assistant have to be very specific and what you want them to achieve has to be quickly obtainable.”

For that reason, voice applications will likely start small. Asking for the total of your reward points is a great example. Or getting confirmation of a booking you have made.

Bill Keen, VP of mobile solutions & digital guest experience at the InterContinental Hotels Group, says that IHG actually trained the company’s Alexa virtual concierge by listening to calls that came into the customer call centre.

“Through voice listening tools they actually powered our initial Alexa implementation in the hotel rooms, where we actually had a repository of things that guests normally ask when they call the call centre desk and we could actually build it into [the device]. Voice is sexy again. I do believe that’s the next interface for us.”

We help you become relevant and stay that way, no matter the medium

travelshift software for maketplaces

Here at Travelshift we empower our partners by helping them build travel marketplaces that get results. We’re well aware that search engine results are dominated by the major OTAs. That’s why our platform provides all the tools you need to build a community of small service providers, content influencers and travellers. Together we can shake up your chosen niche.

Find out more by reading through our case study, or contact us today for more information.

This article is based on a report from EyeforTravel. Read the full document here

Google Pixel Buds, Travel & Real-time Translation

Here at Travelshift we like to keep our finger on the pulse of the latest trends and products in the world of technology, particularly if it’s clear they are going to have an impact on the way we travel. Few things define our travel experience like language. In many ways it’s central to culture, a passport of a sort, your ticket into the hearts and minds of the locals who call each destination home…

Translation has always been central to the travel experience

Bilingual dictionaries have been making travellers’ lives easier since Roman times. That might seem far-fetched, but since at least 2,000 years ago, a dictionary existed to help translate between Etruscan and Latin. And the Romans were not the only ones. The Tibetans and Medieval Jews were at it too.

Clearly we humans have not yet refined the process sufficiently enough because there is still a palpable (and deserved) buzz around Google’s latest iteration of real-time translation technology – the Pixel Bud, which goes on sale this November.

Wait, we hear you say, haven’t we been here before? Well, kind of. Ever since Douglas Adams ushered the idea forth in his seminal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the notion of real-time language translation has been on the radar for tech companies. Indeed, readers might already be familiar with the Bragi Dash Pro, Skype Translator or Fujitsu – earlier attempts to do the same thing as Google, but different. So how does Google’s latest gadget compare and what, if anything, might this mean for the casual traveller?

Introducing the Pixel Bud

First things first, what is the Pixel Bud and why should you care? According to Google’s blog, these really are earphones with a difference:

Pixel Buds bring Google smarts right to your ears, with answers and intel that would make James Bond jealous. Touch and hold the right earbud to ask your Assistant to play music, make a phone call, or get directions, all without pulling out your phone.”

The Pixel Buds weigh 14g, cost $159, and are semi-wireless (they connect to one another via a short cord). As a Google product, they are designed to pair automatically with your other devices via Bluetooth, but if you already own one of Google’s Pixel smartphones, the pairing becomes that much smoother.  They are very much designed to work in tandem with Google Assistant, presumably with the ultimate aim of eventually integrating and syncing one’s entire psycho-social-professional world with the Google-sphere. They come in a compact case, which doubles as their battery charging cocoon when they are not helping you organise your entire life – and the fully charged battery should last a healthy 5 hours, with the charging case storing an additional 19 hours before needing to re-juice. They look quite different from Apple’s truly wireless Airpods, but satisfyingly futuristic nonetheless. At the very least they demonstrate a clear trend amongst tech companies for this new type of hardware.

So far, so cool. But the bit we really care about is their much-feted capacity to instantaneously and accurately translate between 40 different languages on command. Practically, it works like this: whilst wearing the device, you hold down a button on the right earbud and inform Google Assistant of which language you would like to ‘speak.’ As you talk the Pixel phone’s speaker translates your words and plays them out loud. When your interlocutor replies, you immediately hear the translation through your earphones. You can watch them in action at Google’s launch here:

This is what we’ve all been waiting for…isn’t it?

Without a shadow of doubt, this is an exciting technology. The idea of carrying it around and using it to communicate in different languages is a breakthrough of sorts. Moreover, with the recent improvement in Google translate algorithms, it appears that it could genuinely provide a handy service for anybody who finds themselves out of their linguistic comfort zone.

This will be especially useful for translations between languages with different alphabets or complex phonetics; in other words, languages for which a bilingual dictionary is of limited value. Indeed, compared to a bilingual dictionary, the Pixel Buds appear to have numerous other advantages too. They can translate back and forth with equal efficacy; they model good pronunciation – and they are hands-free – not to mention being quicker to use. All in all, they have the makings of an appealing package for the modern traveller. But hold up there for one second. Before you place the Pixel Buds at the top of your packing list, there is another side. There is always another side.

As with any breakthrough technology, there are the predictable results and there are the unintended consequences. For one, as we all know, communication is only ever partly linguistic. How the buds fare with translating idiomatic expressions and culturally sensitive issues remains a one big unknown. Our favourite example illustrating the pitfalls of literal translation is the apocryphal story of a young politco in Brussels who faithfully translated from French, “en ces temps difficiles, il faut compter sur la sagesse normande”, into the semantically correct English. “in these difficult times, we must count on Norman Wisdom.” We speculate that the British comedian would have been flattered if not a little perplexed to discover how indispensable his talents were considered in times of continental political meltdown.  

Needless to say, a perfect semantic translation is not always the same as a perfect translation. So, linguistic and cultural relativism will continue to bedevil the unwary traveller, but ordering a pint of bia hoi on the streets of Saigon may just have gotten a fraction easier.

The second consideration: Do Google’s new buds actually offer anything radically different to what is already on offer by having the google translate app on your phone? Many people still remain ignorant that you can already use your phone camera to capture foreign text and have google translate convert it into your mother tongue simultaneously – or that you can already record live using your phone mic and use the app for real-time translation.

Instead of something radically new then, might this be more of a case of same-but-different? Perhaps, but certainly it also represents a pretty exciting development. The more important question for us is whether it can help enhance the travel experience, and the simple answer is: sure, why not? Anything that helps you to immerse in a new culture must be seen as an asset, right? Communication fosters relationships, and relationships are a way of getting deeper into the place you are visiting. Undoubtedly, the hands-down best way to immerse yourself culturally is to actually learn the language of course, but the Pixel Buds need not replace the need to learn and master other tongues. In fact, there is no reason why it can’t be used as a valuable learning aid too.

Something gained and something lost?

So how is the Pixel Bud set to redefine one’s travel experience? For all their usefulness, could this be one more thing that paradoxically makes travellers less self-sufficient? Imagine having yourself a wild time in rural Lapland, drinking salmon soup and chin-wagging with the locals – when suddenly the battery gives out or your connection goes down. With your single line of communication cut, you find yourself very much alone without so much as a syllable in common. That is of course, if the Pixel Bud can translate any of the indigenous Sami languages in the first place. To be sure, the 40 languages that Google can translate is a lot, but how far off the beaten track will it really take you?

Perhaps the biggest impact to consider, however, has nothing to do with the software inside the Pixel Buds themselves, but is the hardware itself. It is already getting harder and harder to leave the tech behind when travelling and really immerse oneself in a completely foreign, new environment, but with something that threatens to become so essential permanently nestled in your ears, it is going to be that much harder to simply be in a foreign place.

This new species of wearable tech we are being served is bordering on the line between wearability and insertability. In short, we are entering a phase of technology in which our devices are not necessarily designed to be taken out. Ever. They are a way of being able to be permanently on your phone without having to constantly take it out of your pocket. We think that this is probably the greatest consideration presented by the Pixel Buds, and one that travellers should think about deeply when weighing up the pros and cons of purchase.

Travellers will always search for ways to redefine and enhance their experience. The camera made the sketchpad obsolete; electronic money removed the need for travellers cheques; and aeroplanes made long distance land travel a choice rather than a necessity. Ultimately it all comes down to what kind of travelling interests you most. There is every gadget out there promising to ease your way, but you’d do well to remember that sometimes the obstacles are also what make the adventure worthwhile.

Harnessing technology to improve the travel experience

If there’s one thing we know about at Travelshift, it’s how to harness technology to improve the experience of travel service providers and their customers. Not only do we make travel agent’s lives easier by providing a comprehensive marketplace platform that removes the headaches from starting up in the travel industry. We also encourage our partners to build platforms founded on community-driven content.

This technique allows travellers to get to know a destination and its locals before they arrive, and has a huge impact on driving loyalty and repeat business in an industry not known for either.

Another technology we’ve harnessed is seamless localisation, an element of our marketplace platform which allows our partners to easily integrate products and services into new international markets.

It’s clear that Google’s latest innovation has the potential to make the travel experience even more seamless with real-time translation. There are positives and negatives to that, as we’ve discussed above. One thing we know for sure is that technology, when harnessed in the right way, can have a transformative impact on travellers and service providers.

Searchmetrics Study: Travel Industry SEO & Ranking Factors

The battle for search engine ranking is as fierce as it’s ever been. Particularly in the travel industry, where a handful of enormous operators tend to dominate most online travel searches. In fact, many of these operators are themselves becoming the keywords that are searched for. That’s not SEO, it’s just unfair!

So what can travel startups do in the face of such challenges? How can they gain traction and move up search engine rankings? Are there any industry-specific trends that travel hopefuls should be looking to jump on board of?

Travel Industry Search Ranking Factors

New research from Searchmetrics has brought to light some interesting (and no doubt significant) travel industry-specific search ranking factors. We expect that no matter what field you’re in, whether you’re a travel agent, airline, hotel chain or related brands, improving visibility in Google searches will be a priority.

So here’s a summary of Searchmetrics’ key findings…

  • Travel brands rank higher by giving searchers a highly browsable experience

In many ways, this is standard SEO practice. A ‘browsable experience’ is arguably just a fancy way of saying that it’s easy for browsers to move between content, from one page to another. So this will include easy to navigate menus and, we assume, plenty of internal links.

  • Travel brands rank higher by offering easy to gather and compare information

There’s be more detail on this below, but this key point encompasses the usefulness of a particular post or page. Customers are searching for a reason, after all. Easy to gather and compare is arguably referring to having a high quantity of content as well as high quality, as well as pointing out that how it’s formatted is significant.

For example, there are always plenty of list articles and ‘top X’ pieces towards the top of search engine rankings.

  • High ranking pages cover topics comprehensively, using more words and more large images, even if this means pages load a little slower.

This is interesting in one sense, because it suggests that page speed isn’t necessarily as important as it’s made out. Plenty of SEO posts will tell you that too many HQ images will impact upon your page loading speed and lower your ranking in Google search. Apparently not.

Read more: The Changing Trends of Travel Industry Marketing

Covering topics comprehensively, with more words, is again to emphasise the quantity point. People want information, and Google’s best way of gauging how informative an article is is to look at its length. There are obviously other factors, but the number of words will always be significant – they are the table upon which all the other SEO factors are served.

Now let’s get into the detail. The press release included a few interesting quotes from the team at Searchmetrics.

“Google now more accurately determines searchers’ intentions by analyzing the keywords and phrases they enter in the search box,” said Daniel Furch, Head of Content Marketing at Searchmetrics.

This isn’t really anything new, but we assume that the algorithms are getting smarter…. Ah, here we go…

“It knows the context of individual searches – including whether they relate to travel, retail, finance or other verticals – and ensures that results reflect the characteristics that meet the needs of searchers. For travel marketers, as for marketers in other verticals, this means they can no longer focus solely on generalized, universally applicable rules to drive the best search performance. They also have to take account of specific factors that are important in their specific vertical.”

So this suggests that Google is increasingly understanding context when you type something in. If you search for two related terms it may well point you in the direction of the missing link you’re looking for. So perhaps keyword stuffing is officially dead. Google will now pick up on synonyms, related phrases and words in the same lexicon?

The Searchmetrics team put plenty of time into the latest study. They carried out an analysis of the top 20 search results on for over 6,000 typical travel-related search terms. So these are terms like ‘airline tickets’, ‘vacation rentals’ and ‘budget rental car’.

The team then filtered the results to find the most commonly occurring elements that appear in these travel results. They took a closer look at how they differ from a separate, broader Google ranking factors study, which analyzed the results from 10,000 general, high search volume keywords that apply across all industries.

Read more: How Travel Startups can Compete with Established Marketplaces

5 Key SEO Points for Travel Industry Professionals

Below are five main points from the analysis. These are the things that travel sites should consider when planning their content and SEO strategy. As you can see from the infographic below, the top 5 ranking factors were word count, the number of internal links, number of images, overall content relevance and the number of bullets per list.

Make ‘browsability’ a priority

Travel-related pages that rank higher tend to be more browsable. Essentially this means that they included more internal links. These allow site visitors to easily navigate between relevant content and is basically the opposite of a high bounce rate.

People want to stay once they’ve arrived, which is a great sign for any search engine. This translates well to the travel industry (and makes a lot of sense) because travel searchers are likely to be keen to compare different views and options, and more generally just gather related information about an operator or destination.

So what about the figures? How important are these ranking factors? The study found that travel-related pages ranking in Google’s top 10 results have around 23% more internal links (compared with general results that rank in those positions within its broader ranking factors study).

The number of internal links on a travel page and how highly it ranks were also found to show a high positive mathematical correlation of +0.21. Or, the more internal links on the page, the higher it ranks.

But let’s not get carried away. Having a high number of links isn’t a silver bullet here. Sure, that helps travel pages to rank well, but the priority is to have an intelligent internal link structure, using the menu, sidebars and content – all in a way that guides visitors intuitively through the website.

“Travel-related brands need to ensure their web pages intelligently link to related content throughout their site, so searchers can easily find relevant content and background to help them compare and decide on their travel plans,” said Furch.

Intuitive browsing is especially important when you’re a traveller looking for information, bookings or last minute deals.

“This is not surprising as planning a vacation, for example, involves so many details – from flight times and luggage allowance to insurance, car-hire, and seasonal weather patterns. Searchers want to be able to find answers to all those questions as painlessly as possible.”

Include plenty of large images

As we mentioned above, page loading times hindered by big images didn’t seem to be a factor. In the world of travel the visuals are all important. That potentially explains why search results in the industry prioritised those with big images over those without.

Pages that rank in the top ten Google results for travel-related queries use around 38% more images over 200 pixels per page. Using more larger images can increase the file size and slow down page load times, and Searchmetrics’ analysis indicates that travel-related pages listed in the top ten results have a 40% larger file size and take almost 3 seconds longer to load (travel pages take 10.6 seconds to load on average, while the average across all industries is 7.8 seconds).

So the conclusion we get from this is that Google search is getting smarter. It now knows that travel industry searchers are keen to see higher quality images, not just a streamlined site that loads quickly.

Be comprehensive – Longer posts are good

Here at Travelshift, we’re no strangers to long, wordy posts (sorry). We do it because we like to be comprehensive, but also because we are well aware that long posts tend to rank better on Google searches.

Travel-related pages that rank higher tend to carry more text than other high ranking pages. In fact, Searchmetrics’ analysis indicates that travel results that make it into Google’s top ten results average over 2,500 words per page (yikes!), which is 57% more than in the company’s wider benchmark Google Ranking Factors study (the average across all industries is 1,633 words per page for results that rank in the top 10). This suggests travel marketers should be comfortable using longer copy to go through destinations and topics and in plenty of detail.

We don’t need to tell you that 2,500 words is a lot of content. The challenge for travel industry marketers is to produce copy that hits that word target without being repetitive, boring and uninformative. Challenge accepted.

Longer lists

This is a running theme that goes way beyond the travel industry. Google’s search ranking seems to favour posts that include lists. This is likely because they are deemed to be as informative as it gets. There’s no room for fluff with bullet points. Pages that rank in the top 10 results for travel-related searches have longer bullet point lists – nearly four more bullet points per list than pages in the general results published in the benchmark study. As with the need for longer copy and links pointing to related content, this finding suggests travel sites need to

Pages that rank in the top 10 results for travel-related searches have longer bullet point lists – nearly four more bullet points per list than pages in the general results published in the benchmark study. As with the need for longer copy and links pointing to related content, this finding suggests travel sites need to

As with the need for longer copy and links pointing to related content, this finding suggests travel sites need to prioritise satisfying searchers’ hunger for detailed information. After all, using bullet points makes it easier to assimilate details.  everything from hotel descriptions to holiday packages and car-hire terms.

Think about where in the travel industry you’ve seen bulleted lists before: hotel descriptions, holiday packages, room services, car-hire t&cs. They’re everywhere. If you can master them and tailor them to your niche, you’ll be on to a winner.

Don’t stuff keywords

For a long time in SEO, the aim of the game was to stuff as many keywords, over and over again, into your content as possible.

This largely led to hard-to-read web pages that were nowhere near as informative or entertaining as they should have been. It was also just an easy way for people to cheat the system, and for search engines to return results that were high in keywords but not high in relevancy. Thankfully, as we’ve seen, the system is getting smarter.

Travel pages that rank in the first two pages of Google use the searched-for keyword or phrase far less frequently in the text than other top-ranking pages. The study found that travel results included the searched keyword on the page around half as much as search results on the first two pages for general searches (travel pages in the study mention the keyword three times on average versus 7.4 times for general search results pages). Keyword matching is a simplistic, outdated SEO technique and it seems even less effective in travel, where brands need to be focusing on creating relevant, informative, comprehensive content that addresses the searchers’ needs.

So what’s the lesson here? Keyword matching is a simplistic, outdated SEO technique and it seems even less effective in travel, where brands need to be focusing on creating relevant, informative, comprehensive content that addresses the searchers’ needs.

seo search engine ranking in the travel industry

Looking further down the list of SEO factors

There are a few other important factors that we’d like to draw attention to. These are headings, external links and URLs. All of these can seem like such an afterthought when creating posts and pages for travel industry websites. Putting in headings can seem like such an afterthought, but wow – who knew!

We’re constantly guilty of overlooking the importance of headings especially. But this research shows that it really is the little things that make a big difference to rankings.

External links are another example. Used another article or post as inspiration, or have a page you’d like to share with readers? Do it!

Another important factor in travel industry ranking appears to be the length of the URL. Not too long, not too short, with no filler words – that should do the trick.