This means it is left to everyone else to try and figure it all out, asking whether the likely outcome is whether Google will “abuse” its already dominant position in search (at least in the vast majority of so-called developed countries) to a dizzying array of theories as to its motivation and strategy going forward around travel content.
On the one hand, buying an established travel guide publisher in the shape of the ex-Wiley¬†owned brand should give the search engine the opportunity to integrate other services (such as Places, Flight Search, Hotel Finder et al) into the Frommer’s pages.
Eyeballs on the content leads to more users of its other products, right?
Possibly, but that would require Frommer’s content to feature strongly in existing search engine results (SERPS).
Analysis carried out by UK-based search agency Greenlight for Tnooz paints a picture suggesting the acquisition of Frommer’s is not primarily driven by its existing performance in search.
Far from it, perhaps.
Using its Hydra platform, Greenlight ran a test on how well Frommer’s features for a range of search queries.
The data is currently only available for searches on Google UK, but nevertheless its content is usually written for an English speaking audience, regardless of whether it’s UK, Canada, US et al.
The Hydra system examined over 35,000 travel-related keywords to see how well Frommer’s SERPS visibility is on Google UK.
In short, it has next to zero visibility, according to the test, with just 0.01% of SERPS featuring Frommer’s content. For comparison purposes, the same test was run for¬†Lonely Planet, pretty much Frommer’s main rival on the guidebook front (and also owned by a another massive internet property in the shape of the BBC).
Hydra, once again, found what it describes as “very low visibility”, but LP fares better than Frommer’s with a 1.51% exposure in SERPS.
But while Lonely Planet ranks in the top ten for around 5,500 travel-related keywords, most of which are spread geographically in terms of query types, Frommer’s once again is performing less well as its top ten ranking only relates to 1,400 travel-related words, the majority of which are related to US content.
This evidence, such as it is just for Google UK at the moment, illustrates that Frommer’s existing content strategy is perhaps not why Google has decided to buy the company.
First of all, why does Frommer’s seemingly appear to be out of the loop when it comes to being a leading resource on the web for destination discovery-hungry consumers?
One possible reason that is not often disclosed (or realised) is that the guidebook brand did not put its latest content online – in other words, the fresh stuff from the guidebooks remains in printed form for quite a considerable amount of time, according to sources.
Some of the content on the site is, in fact, when compared to the material in the guidebooks, one or even two editions out of date.
It is, effectively, a “print first” publisher, meaning that users are less likely to find its web content valuable if it turns out to be inaccurate or out of date compared to what a consumer can pick up in the guidebook or, indeed, find elsewhere on the web. Thus the low rankings in SERPS.
Google is more than likely to change all that, if content is the primary play here, with guidebook material making its way immediately on to the web.
That, of course, is possibly the standalone strategy for the publisher – where it gets more interesting is the integration of that content with other services outside of the Frommer’s bubble.
Director of SEO at Greenlight, Adam Bunn, says:
“In the long term, Google can theoretically offer a self-contained travel service incorporating ratings and reviews, guides and flight search through its previous acquisition of ITA, threatening the travel aggregator business model.”
This is already starting to manifest in some ways, with rapidly evolving SERPS for destinations, including content from Google Places, Maps, etc.
And, more recently, a test which is slowly being rolled out in a number of countries around the world, where some search queries return a new feature at the top of the page.
In this example, a search for “vigeland park oslo” on Google.no sees the addition of a “Tourist Attractions” bar, sub-headed as ” Frequently mentioned on the web”.
This, Google says, is populated by tapping into its so-called Knowledge Graph – a process of finding images and content from around the web which are ranked by frequency of mentions elsewhere on the web and how often users are looking at the content.
It being a test, results are often quite random, with pics captured from Wikipedia on some occasions or from Google Images on others. Interestingly, the featured image is often not the leading one found in Google Images.
It’s a small change, of course, but an interesting picture (no pun intended) emerges when all the other apparent small changes that have taken place on Google in recent years are piled in together.
What Google appears to be doing, albeit slowly and carefully, is evolving into a travel platform, not JUST a lead generator through clicks on ads or metasearch via Flight Search and Hotel Finder.
Yes, of course, it all eventually boils down to generating leads for its commercial partners, but in a process that positions Google at multiple positions in the search, shop, buy and share cycle for travel consumers.
The acquisition of Frommer’s, with its original content alongside that of user review service Zagat last year, is just one part of a fascinating jigsaw puzzle.
NB: Hat-tip TravellersPoint for the tourist attractions top-bar test image.