RIP1
671 days ago
 

RIP search engine optimisation in the new world of Google Travel

NB: This is a guest article by Max Rayner, a partner at Hudson Crossing.

It’s not just Panda, Penguin and the other charmingly named Google search releases that have stuck the knife in – it’s Google’s helpful presentation of relevant information that’s killing travel SEO and SEM arbitrage.

For a great many years, travel suppliers have fought for browser “shelf space” in two ways above all: paying Google for ads, and investing in SEO efforts.

The Holy Grail for many has been to be in the top three natural search results, or if not then at least on the first page, perhaps supported by a cost effective ad placement on that same page.

Commercially, this has given rise to a veritable military-industrial complex of in-house SEO teams, consulting SEO advisers, and “friends of Matt Cutts” (Google’s high profile search guru) who could divine the likely impact of each prior and pending Google search release and give direction to the teeming masses, and wannabe first pagers.

[For the record, this writer once sat on a Google cafeteria chair where Cutts had sat moments before, which means... nothing]

On the shadier side, the SEO military-industrial complex also gave rise to content mills, cross-linking and anchor text boiler rooms and all the grayer aspects of SEO arms trading.

One of the most amusing outfits in this area promised great results in travel SEO and achieved this in part by blog posts about sex in Bali through the ages.

It appears that “sex”, “sex in Bali” and the like have a fair amount of searches going against them. By linking every reference to travel, cheap tickets and hotel rooms to “sex in Bali” with a travel supplier’s URLs, this had a positive SEO impact, however fleeting.

The party appears about to take a turn, though, and whether for the better it remains to be seen.

All the years of SEO work and millions of dollars hiring third world teenagers to feature your URL as the hot link under “cheap flights” or “best hotels” in various blogs are at some risk.

This, by the way, might explain why some travel distributors, referral and deal sites that are critically dependent on a mix of SEO and SEM are beginning to see a nasty inflection point in their arbitrage costs and overall economics.

“Evidence, my dear Watson!” you might exclaim, and you’d be right. Here are a couple of flight searches and what appears ABOVE THE FOLD of a fully extended browser on a 1,440 x 900 screen:

Maybe no one should want to go to Manchester, UK unless you’re a soccer (Ed: football!) fan, but behold, not a single line of old-school natural search results above the fold:

Giving the benefit of many doubts, let’s try other more likely routes such as NYC to Vegas, and behold, no old school natural search results above the fold:

Hoping this might be just a domestic phenomenon? Try LAX to London. You guessed it, no old school natural search above the fold:

Now to be fair, this does not happen in every route, and maybe the screen fold would be lower on Retina MacBook Pro.

And on behalf of our Google friends it would be fair to note that its “Sponsored” result” were arguably as informative as old school natural search results.

Still, we hear the bells and for whom they toll. As structured data with full semantics takes over Google pages, all those years, all those tears and all those fears (of Google discovering cheap travel to sex in Bali as anchor text for travel suppliers) seem to be fading out.

Or not, since arguably the value of good SEO work is now even greater. Knowing that so much of the first chunk of natural results gets shoved below the fold by Google ads and structured data, being among the first few is now not just bragging rights, but almost the whole game.

Take heart, “friends of Matt”, and fellow SEO aficionados: the clients that were investing to be somewhere on page one now need to invest even more to be above the screen fold.

Suppliers and marketing execs: if Google products take up the first several inches, wouldn’t you value even more being the few visible links above the fold in the right markets?

NB: This is a guest article by Max Rayner, a partner at Hudson Crossing.

 
 
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About the Writer :: Special Nodes

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  1. Thomas Crook

    This article prompted me to try a Google hotel search myself and the results were as bad as the author suggests. On a 1024 vertical pixel screen, the first organic results were not displayed until nearly a half page below the fold. In my indignation I was motivated to write a detailed blog post analyzing the reasons why:

    “Pursuing $$$, Google Pushes Organic Hotel Search Results Below the Fold | TCTReview”
    http://tct.re/UdHjSM

    A note to the hoteliers in comments above who see a grand conspiracy between Google and OTAs in this: the OTAs don’t like Google’s play here either. The OTAs have to pay substantial amounts to Google to get paid exposure above the fold that they would get for free if the organic results were not pushed below the fold. As I note in my blog post, Google wouldn’t be able to get away with this to the extent that they do if they didn’t have so much market power.

     
    • Robert Gilmour

      Great thoughts Thomas, and I must read your blog.

      My key point si that its a lose lose for hotels – their SEO becomes tougher and potentially more expensive overnight, as do their channel shift/cost of sale reduction efforts.

      I never doubted Google’s disdain of ‘suppliers’ – and to be honest their claims to be the customer’s champion is full of holes and insincerities. On balance up till now, they have been positive for hotels, not any more.

       
  2. Ibukun

    As you explained grey and shady practices is not working anymore. SEO is changing and has been for a while and as SEO practitioners we need to learn additional skills for each client and use creative techniques to get them noticed.

     
  3. anton

    for instance we’ve made a web-site based on travel|places info from open API of social services does it mean that all is lost toptraveltrends.com

     
  4. anton

    and what about tonns of web-sites with reviews, opinions etc….they receive a lot of traffic from search not due to links thus to content

     
  5. Max Rayner

    In partial response to some of the comments I might add that nothing in the original post should be interpreted as Luddism or a fondness for atavistic search patterns. Schema.org, RDF, OWL, Triples — all good, put me in coach!

    However, at some extreme level, the mixture of adverts and semantic Web expressions cross the line from organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful… to a presumption that the user intent is understood so completely that only one response or set of responses are relevant.

    Search serendipity (so important in travel) might be lost in the process, especially if as in the examples given the only visible responses are either ads or sponsored results. In Larry Smith’s terms those shown certainly fail to innovate beyond the dependency on time/place/price.

     
  6. Larry Smith

    @Gilmore, thank you for the compliment! but if you asked Gene Quinn or Timothy O’Neil-Dunne or anyone else who’s with me, you’d agree I’m not a politician. Regardless, to clarify:

    - Google/search are an opaque moving target with many public best practices that are generally not used by the travel industry. Use of Thematix schema.org tags are negligible.

    - Google owns their search interface and everything behind it (data collection, parsing, presentation) so we do it their way or the other way, if there is another way (sorry EU, 93% use Google).

    - Google Instant search limits the page view — btw driven by mobile — to 10 not 20 or 100 so being at the top or even on the page is impossible because of the algorithm — so yes I agree with you point there.

    - I have zero insights into any conspiracy involving the OTAs at the top and individual hotels at the botton. What I do believe is the staff, knowledge, testing, R&D at the any single OTA exceeds the total of all the top 10 revenue travel suppliers. The footprint and leverage have a higher yield, until the suppliers reallocate resources in this new environment.

    - Finally this is not a you win/I loose discussion for the industry, or vis Google, or this article, but one of innovating beyond the travel troika and sales dependency upon time/place/price.

     
  7. Larry Smith

    @ Gilmore said: impossible for 99.9% of travel businesses and pages in a sector for a key search to be on page 1.

    An often ignored fact is that Google Instant Search is enabled by default — and it only displays 10 results per page vs. up to 100 results if you set it manually with instant. (look at the gear icon for search preferences).

    Being on page 1 is imossible with this default change.

     
    • Robert Gilmour

      Larry, you’re a great politician – are you agreeing with me, or what? Not quite sure what you’re saying

      I always try to wear the joe public layman hat

       
  8. Robert Gilmour

    A blind man can see what’s happening here, re SEO, but now we seem to have strayed from the whole point of the article, which is an extremely serious one. We can pontificate all we like about semantic, algorithms &c – the fact is that for key destination searches in hotels/travel, it is almost impossible for 99.9% of travel businesses and pages in a sector for a key search to be on page 1, above or below the fold.

    Take Glasgow hotels, as an example there are 24.4 million results, so being in the top position organically is like winning the lottery!

    And the cost of outbidding the 3 sponsored advertiser links above the fold is prohibitive.

    And here’s another point – Google has pushed this HF live without having perfected its Google Price Ads feature, which is the minimum essential piece in the jigsaw to allow the independents in particular a fair crack at the whip in all this. So in the main, the ONLY BEST PRICES THAT ARE BEING RETURNED IN THE QUERIES ARE THE OTA’S NOTABLY BOOKING.COM, LASTMINUTE.COM AND LATEROOMS.COM – and who are the 3 top sponsored ad positions? – you’ve guessed right – booking.com, laterooms.com and lastminute.com

    You could be forgiven for thinking its a total stitch up. I searched for over 50 Glasgow hotels by every conceivable filter, including price, and have yet to find ONE that’s NOT RECOMMENDING an OTA price. How unfair is that to brand.com, and especially the smaller independent hotel which doesn’t have the marketing $$, sophisticated channel and revenue management software et al et al

    Google and its compatriots the OTA”s have just contrived, whether by accident or design to create the biggest channel shift tool in favour of the OTA’s ever created.

    I used to hold high positions in the UK hotel industry and ran some excellent well known hotels, I wouldn’t enter the industry again now for all the tea in China, its a mean and nasty marketplace, where the hotel is not in control of itself, and is also usually suffering from a degree of financial compression from banks which are squeezing the quality out of the property, and the fun out of running them – and all this as ‘customer expectations’ demand more and more quality, for less and less money.

    Perhaps the social media experts have a cure, they seem to think what they do is all that matters. A bank will never lend money to finance a social media marketing campaign right now in a month of Sundays. Try it and find out for yourself.

     
  9. Erik S

    The assumption on the article is that people do NOT have ad-blocking extensions on their Web Browser.
    I’d like to point out the fact that millions of people now have ad-blocking software that prevents the “sponsored” ads. I recently searched “hotels in Vegas” on Google and my results were significantly different than Mr. Rayner wrote about.

     
    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @erik k – interesting comment.

      I wonder how many Joe Public users have similar services though?

       
    • Hrush Bhatt

      I personally use AdBlock and it is permanently turned on. For a “las vegas hotels” search with AdBlock turned on I do not see any of the 3rd party ads in the right column or above the organic results, but somehow the Google Hotel Finder search widget is visible. Google has figured out how to serve this “Sponsored” placement even when AdBlock is turned on.

      That is my first point.

      My second point is that it is naive to think that in a world where the average person doesn’t know the difference between a search engine and a browser, that people using ad-blocking software are anything but a tiny minority.

       
  10. Larry Smith

    While much of Googles algorithms are opaque, as @Dan and @Steve have pointed out there are best practices and there are opportunities to take a leadership stance by selling (not telling) with these new tools.

    Back in August, in an article here in Tnooz, I suggested that it was: “Time for travel companies to say what they mean to Google”
    Read more at http://www.tnooz.com/2012/08/01/news/time-for-travel-companies-to-say-what-they-mean-to-google/#60946skYTyLiu135.99

    May we all continue to talk and inform, but let’s also do something about it, please.

     
    • Christopher Regan

      Indeed, Larry, it’s clearly the time to “do something” — for web publishers, be they in Hospitality, (X-type) e-Commerce, Automotive or other publishing/digital marketing verticals — to publish more effectively to these algorithms — Schema being the obvious example, since Yahoo, Google and Bing have made that next-step crystal clear…

       
  11. David Urmann

    One interesting thing is that the number of people actually searching for Las Vegas Hotels on Google has been declining for 5 years.

    http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=Las%20Vegas%20Hotels

    You will see the same trend with a lot of related travel terms. Is it because visitors are skipping search and going direct to the site? Does it speak to the quality of the results?

     
  12. RobertKCole

    Three issues at play, so here’s my 3 cents:

    1) SEO isn’t dead, it just changed. Panda & Penguin just helped haul out the trash. Ranking well is now much more about site design user behavior (as well as structured data) than scuzzy backlinks, cloaking, keyword stuffing or feeds from secondary/tertiary properties. Any travel site that was paying an SEO group big money to deliver SEO rankings using black-hat techniques pretty much got what they deserved when the loopholes used to game search rankings were closed.

    It’s similar to differentiating paid from earned media. People were confusing various SEO techniques as “earning” their rankings, when in reality, it was much closer to paying a group to game the organic algorithm.

    From personal experience relaunching two client sites in the non-apocalyptic post-Panda/Penguin world (without using any black-hat methods or aggressive promotional pushes) one can still attain high search engine placement & traffic:

    a) A niche romance travel site (75 days post-relaunch) – Unique Visitors up 59% and Pageviews up 98% & Bounce Rate down 6% year over year. Over the same period, Organic Search traffic is up 44% and the related Bounce Rate is down 9%. It is a better site that drives better visitor behavior. As a result, search rankings are improving. For a root keyword, the plural version now ranks #1 & the singular version #4. Some short-tail keyword terms are already ranking #1 & considering the site currently holds approx 10% of its planned content, the future for long-tail keyword domination looks good.

    b) A financial services site (180 days post-relaunch) where highly competitive keyword terms cost 5-10x more than travel industry keyword terms – Organic Search Visits up 72% and New Visits up 34% year over year. Now ranking on 1st page for 3 core keyword terms (including a #1.) Ranking higher than the likes of Chase, Worldpay & Square ain’t easy, but it is possible without reverting to black-hat tactics.

    To a greater extent, because of Panda/Penguin, quality now beats quantity more frequently. Point to Google for doing the right thing.

    2) Google Hotel Finder & Flight Search are product searches as opposed to information searches. Google does a massive amount of testing regarding the placement and formatting of product search results directed to its own properties as opposed to paid advertising and organic results. This is an area where Google needs to be careful – they can’t afford to alienate the users or the advertisers.

    Do a Google search for Coffee Makers. In 2010, the Sponsored results from Google Shopping were embedded in the organic results under the 2nd result card (see http://rockcheetah.com/images/google_coffee-2010.jpg) Now, the sponsored products, plus three brands have been nicely formatted into the upper right corner of the page. The same approach could work for the Google Hotel Finder query widget. Time will tell if it winds up there as well.

    When it comes to government oversight of search engines, Google may need to tread delicately with product search, as this is a primary area for search-related antitrust accusations. If Google aggressively pushes its monetization initiatives too far, they could potentially run the risk of being broken up a la the old AT&T, with product searches relegated to a separate company. There are many constituents who donate to political campaigns with the access and motivation to vilify Google for their own advantage.

    Similarly, lightening the shading used to visually differentiate advertising from organic results could also be a potential problem. Google always approaches the creepy line, but traditionally backs off before being declared evil.

    Don’t expect the map & local hotel listings to disappear – hotels are fighting to be included in that top 7 local map list – especially since the main Hotel Name links directly to the hotel website. A tradeoff exists with the review link going to the Google+ Local business page and the Price link going to the top bidding advertisers, but it appears Google has managed to reach SERP design equilibrium with hoteliers…

    3) The Fold. Yes, it’s great to be above the fold – something that has been important in advertising since the dawn of newspapers. However, with touchscreens, the fold is less important – a simple swipe takes the place of the well aimed point, click or drag of a mouse on a desktop. Not only is the fold in different places depending on the screen resolution & orientation, but it’s easier to scan up and down a SERP. That said, top listings will always get better click-through results.

    With the advent of personalized search results, it is progressively becoming more difficult to assess keyword ranking against a specific target segment or persona anyway. Structured data certainly helps move personalization forward as well by introducing the context of the search and content into the equation.

    The more Google can get the most relevant information presented to a specific user, the better for everyone. That may or may not wind up being a bunch of hotels listed by Google Hotel Finder. If Google gets smart enough to understand the context of the search and prior behavior to deliver a highly customized list of properties, then maybe it does belong there. In its current generic state, it probably does not.

    Google may need to be beaten back a bit from the creepy line, but they have not killed SEO. The rules have changed and now rely much more on having a quality website with engaging content than ever before. and those are the sites that should earn a position at the top of the search results page.

     
  13. Stuart McD

    The death of “SEM arbitrage” is no great loss.

     
  14. Anuj

    I wonder if its time to update a past article that addressed the “madness of search engine results in travel” with respect to accommodations with how Google now behaves? See: http://www.tnooz.com/2012/06/22/news/madness-of-search-engine-results-in-travel-the-bali-edition/#cr90rdcmww4odS4B.99

     
  15. Nico Crisafulli

    I’ve always thought that Google results are frustratingly limiting. Why should I believe that a site appearing page one of Google results is the best one for my needs? It’s a trap to think that the sites that “get” SEO are the ones that have the most relevant content. I’m constantly bouncing off Google-searched pages that come across as completely useless. Oh how it annoys me so.

    Anyway, should the people who buy ads/sponsored links on Google be persecuted as the part of the problem? As opposed to those feeding the “military-industrial complex of in-house SEO teams” who spend countless man-hours, payroll, etc to game the system? Why is looking at a page full of sponsored/paid results any better than ten links to Trip Advisor when searching for hotels in Athens?

    Okay, so Google is evolving to a more monitized model. I think a company budget to secure a page one SERP presence is hardly as bad as a page of relevant and useful content placed perpetually behind dozens of well-indexed pages that are of help to no one.

     
  16. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Well I hope you booked online if you did – then you did so via from another VaultPAD aided company. (And watch walking down the stairs – it can be tricky in winter!)

    Cheers!

     
  17. Durant Imboden

    The author has picked a fairly extreme example, but in any case, Google isn’t the best place to search for flights. OTAs and flight-search sites should be delighted that Google’s SERPs for searches like “flights from NYC to Manchester UK” are dominated by ads, because that encourages travelers to use the likes of Expedia, Orbitz or Kayak when they’re looking for air transportation.

    Google is much better as a search engine for traditional Web content. Search on “Manchester tourist information,” for example, and you’ll find a slew of useful organic results at the top of the SERP, starting with the official Visit Manchester site.

     
    • Max Rayner

      Durant, I know it might appear the Manchester example was cherry-picked… but truly I needed to go to Machester, UK and used Google because I love the “mother-ship” and thought it might help me find a non-stop I might not know of.

      Once I was surprised by the extreme results I then made sure to research three more examples of higher traffic destinations and to my surprise they had similar outcomes!

      From there the implications for the travel industry were obvious and the post wrote itself :)

       
  18. Jeremy Head

    Great post…
    Anyone thought about the user?Just wondered?
    Will they get hacked off with finding a page full of stuff from Google and no one else when they search and go search on Bing instead? They *might* if Google’s competitors started shouting loud enough about it.
    Google’s mission is officially to ‘organise the web’ – but if they just organise it the way they want to will that work in the long run?
    Maybe people are too lazy to question what the big G serves them up, but then again… one thing you can never be sure of with web/tech is how long your competitive advantage will last. Just ask Nokia.

     
    • Hayden Sutherland

      I agree, I can see a backlash coming against Google for taking over the ‘above the fold’ area on the SERPs with advertising.
      Not everyone has an uber-sized screen and not everyone wants what Google or its advertisiers want.
      I agree, there’s a balancing act between utility and monetization… but I think in this area (and just just the travel sector) Google has this wrong

       
    • Michael

      Wouldn’t it be great if people were to revolt against the machine….. seems to be a common theme playing out lately with the likes of Google and Facebook having such a stranglehold on the interwebs. Alas we humans are inherently habitual creatures…. and lazy ones at that…. so unfortunately I don’t see anyone running for the hills in the near future.

       
  19. Jimmy

    The fact is, Google is giving people what they want from a search. Organic SERPs for these terms are filled with nothing but spam adsense people, or dynamically created landing pages that don’t really give searchers EXACTLY what they are looking for, whereas the PPC landing pages give people something more similarly related to what they are searching.

    Also, I think companies would rather pay for the space and know exactly what they are going to get for their investment. I think all parties win in this case, except the little guy who is trying to get his small piece of the big pie….

     
    • Robert Gilmour

      Jimmy
      You’ve just said it, its not a level playing field, but we know that, it never will be. I totally disagree that the SERP results you refer to are all just spam &c, that’s nonsense and an insult to decent SEO experts. There are 2 winners out of this, Google (as you say they’ll probably make more as the bidding for PPC hots up), and the OTA’s who’ll win channel shift at the expense of the brand.com website. Joe public is further separated from brand.com website, are you telling me that’s exactly what the travel shopper wants, absolutely nothing of the kind. Why not give him/her the option to ‘view hotel website’ – then the travel shopper will get close to everything they need – no there’s not a cat’s chance in hell of that. Its naive to think that this is anything other than a commercial exercise for Google’s benefit, Google frankly doesn’t give a twopenny damn about the travel shopper.

      Bear in mind too that the OTA’s will be able to outbid most hotels, brands, independents, the lot, for the above the fold PPC ad positions, and on and on it goes. And they will continue to use hotel names without permission to outbid them on their own brand searches, a deplorable practice.

      Where your sentiments are valid is that hotels will lie back yet again and be walked all over by Google and the OTA’s – they’re hopelessly disorganised as an industry and hence powerless to do anything about it.

      Independent hotels will have to work harder than ever on their guest relations and retention strrategies, as control of their public profile and distribution – and ultimately destiny – becomes increasingly, if not totally, in the hands of others.

       
  20. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    @Ken – thanks for this – Manchester is a great place. We were so impressed with the culture, the talent and the place that we opened our first incubator/accelerator office in Manchester.

    As someone who was born and raised in the South of England – it has all the things that are great about England.

    Cheers and thanks for the shout out for Manchester. I doubt that Max has ever been near the place ;-)

     
    • Max Rayner

      Ken, Timothy,
      As a matter of fact I’m in Manchester, UK at this moment, and about to have a great dinner at Australasia (http://www.australasia.uk.com/). One of my former companies was headquartered nearby in Congleton and I retain fond memories of it.

      So not a slam against Manchester, UK in anyway… just wanting to be fair to our friends at Google and admitting in a tongue in cheek way that Manchester might not be the highest traffic destination in the Winter.

      More seriously, I would add in defense of ethical SEO practitioners that their work is crucial to make sure that consumers have a chance to notice high quality content that is engaging and responds to their search intent.

      Look for example at SEO experts such as Bruce Clay (with great body of work and a serious code of ethics presented at http://www.bruceclay.com/web_ethics.htm) and Neil Patel (with a great blog you can find at http://www.quicksprout.com/ and whose work is further described at http://neilpatel.com/).

      I would argue as I suggested at the end of the original post that SEO work which helps Google surface great content and enhances both semantic and search potential is worth a lot and perhaps especially so in travel.

       
  21. Steven Herron

    The evidence for providing structured data (a.k.a. semantic markup) is getting stronger and stronger. Is being on the first page of Google enough? Perhaps not. This article provides convincing logic for having the first organic listing in SERP which is more and more dependent on structured data, which HyperDisk has been executing for our clients since 2009. The real value lies in the fact that over 60% ignore sponsored results according to Google itself. Adding to it, organic position is sustainable and independent of budget which sponsored results are not.

     
  22. ken

    Off topic, but still need to make the point: I just got back from UK for first time and while planning my trip, many people said “don’t go to Manchester” but I did anyway as I’m a huge Smiths fan. Had a blast. People were great, art gallery is fabulous, and night life was awesome. Why the slam on Manchester?!?

    Ok, done venting.

     
  23. Robert Gilmour

    There is one other huge issue, the commerce one, I tried to find a Glasgow hotel which I could book direct on the Google list and couldn’t find one, so this GHF must be absolute manna from heaven for the OTA’s, and a total disaster for the small independent trying to cut the cost of sale. On the face of it, its a blatant channel shift tool, brand.com > OTA.com

     
  24. Dan Nedelko

    Sorry to break it to the author but structured data is a part of SEO which is fundamentally a subset of Information Architecture. Do the right thing from a product development, technology and communication point of view and you *will* be performing SEO.

    Sadly the world of travel has been slow to adapt to a changing technology market and as such look at Google as the driving force behind “screwing up” an industry that is evolving. The headline on this article screams of link baiting and is in many ways similar to the authors “sex in bali” comments, the good old “SEO is dead” mantra in the hopes of gaining traction and publicity.

     
  25. Hayden Sutherland

    Max
    This is not just a USA-based issue with the Google SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for flights, nor just in the travel sector.

    In my recent article I show how Google’s Hotel Finder pushes results off the screen
    http://press20.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/google-hotel-finder-pushes-results-off.html

    I’ve also had a similar experience with Google’s results for car insurance in the UK:
    http://press20.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/google-just-how-much-is-adverts.html

    It definitely seems like Google is focusing on serious monetization now, but at the expense of the organic results and potentially the SEO industry.

     
  26. Mike Putman

    Maybe users really want more than what Google is willing to show above the fold. As a user, whether it’s travel, retail goods or information, I naturally look away from the “sponsored links” to what the engine naturally matches me with. Over time, if people tend to scroll out of the fold, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google gave back some real estate.

     
  27. Pete Meyers

    You pretty much crushed it, Max.

    Google just isn’t a search engine any more, plain and simple. I’m not sure what sort of new breed to label them – and don’t think their changes make them “bad” per se – but relying on them to produce the same volume of SEO for high value pages (i.e., products / commerce rather than top 10 lists) will not work in this new era.

    Personally, I think the Panda / Penguin updates did improve search quality. But even #1 rankings deliver a fraction of the traffic compared to the pre-Places / ITA / Hotel Finder days of yesteryear.

     
  28. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Interesting proposition. Let me have a little meandering set of thoughts on the outcome.

    So you have to ask if SEO and SEM are even ethical in today’s marketplace, let alone efficient or natural. The consumer is thoroughly confused. But I sense a bigger problem for Google.

    At this stage its the “harder they come the harder they fall. Google has expressly signed consent agreements that essentially means it cannot discriminate against other users of ITA’s services. With the usual Google behaviour of favouring their own services over others (loads of documented examples) if they cross the line they are in breach of their DoJ agreement. (And yes Virginia there is still Christmas to come and someone will spill the beans if they do!). The catch? Google’s profits are driven by this process. Thus unless Google can find a way to break a Gordian knot, they will be unable to drive profit growth in (one of their largest revenue) sectors.

    Google’s manipulation of the algorithms given cute animal names (what’s next Tapir?) further reduces Trust in both the process and the results thus hurting everyone.

    Thanks to those lovely girls and boys in the Googleplex we have a further screwed up market in Travel. I am hopeful that the giant sucking sounds wont grow. However I have become somewhat immune to its Siren’s call.

    Cheers

     
 
 

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