Google Instant: Location, speed and reliability issues for travel
Much is being said about the speed of Google Instant, the tech giant’s widely hyped upgrade to its core search product. But this is not the most important part for travel.
The post on the official Google Blog goes into some detail about the primary reason for doing Instant – saving the average searcher “two to five seconds per search”.
“That may not seem like a lot at first, but it adds up. With Google Instant, we estimate that we’ll save our users 11 hours with each passing second!”
It does this by throwing search results into the page in real-time, as the user types their query and tapping to into the existing Suggest tool, something many users are apparently already using a lot.
But an interesting and important element of Instant is its ability to tap into the location of the user.
The demo to the media in San Francisco today made great play of how a searcher can start typing in “weather” and the engine will automatically display forecasts for the home city of the user, presumably calculated either by IP address or the registered location on the user’s Google profile.
So perhaps this has interesting ramifications for how users will browse search results? Probably, to some extent.
But when applied to mobile, which Google confirms will happen with Android phones in a few months, then the idea of location search is worth examining.
This is, in some respects, not about the technology but about the expectations of the user. A mobile user will soon accept that searching on a mobile will automatically display results relevant to their location, something that destinations services need to consider carefully.
Why? And how can travel companies prepare for this, at least in terms of SEO? Well, as with so many enhancements made to search tools, quality of content from an indexing and identification perspective will need to be high.
If speed is now supposedly the issue, then the patience of user’s when faced with poor or useless descriptive text for indexable pages will also surely become a factor.
A final area to mention, inevitably, is around Google and plans specifically for travel as a result of its proposed acquisition of ITA Software.
Presuming, as most do, Google decides to use the ITA technology to produce some sort of super-enhanced travel search functionality within its core search engine, then some parts of the Google Instant programme become a major issue.
Speed and reliability in travel search, especially around flights, is an extremely difficult area to master. So, Google Instant, once plugged into whatever platform comes as a result of the ITA deal, might return airfares at an impressive fraction of a second, but what happens if those results are not up to scratch?
Simply put: it is difficult, if perhaps impossible, to deliver accurate real time results of the magnitude that Google would expect.
This is all down to caching of airline content (seats, availability, schedules), something which its proposed acquisition ITA still uses, alongside many of the others in the ecosystem.
So if a user searches for a fare that Google results say is available, but the system has not caught up with the correct availability of that fare on the source (the airline), then the user experience is going to be impaired, perhaps to a greater extent given that Google is now preaching the speed and wonderfulness of its search.
Once again, this comes back to the expectations of users. Speed may slowly becoming king in the mind of Google, but reliability of search results is still likely to remain what makes or breaks trust amongst consumers.
NB: And all this is before the industry gets its head around issues with keyword buying.
Kevin May is editor and a co-founder of Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution for nearly four years and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has also worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology and a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism.