Is travel ready for the Google Page Rank overhaul?

As predicted, search is changing.  In fact, search has changed more in the last six months than anytime since the introduction of Google Adsense.

We have seen Google Instant, Google Places, Google Preview, Google with metasearch and pricing, Google dedicated search for blogs and updates and, now, even a Google Chrome operating system.

In my previous post on changes in search I covered the significance of the changes and impact from Google instant.  In particular the future it alluded to where multi-destinational and multi-dimensional search will support the consumer need for answers to open ended questions.

In this post I will look at the Google Places (best described here) and the obvious and less obvious clues it gives to the future of search.  The obvious impact is the change in SEO and search marketing in general driven by the reduction in the number of first page organic search results spots available to online intermediaries and all but nullified the primacy of TripAdvisor as the number one page on the internet for a hotel (and started a war).

However it is the changes under the page from Google Places that signal a true revolution in how search results will be determined. For the first time (that I know of) Google has changed (with Google Places) the measured authority in its page rank.  Thereby changing forever the elements that determine search results and the flow of traffic from search engines to destinations sites.

Under the tradditional (and patented) Google page rank algorithm, rank and thus SEO success was based on the number and quality of inbound links, architecture of the site (ability to be indexed) and the freshness/uniqueness of the content. Crudely the more links and the better the rank of each link, the higher the rank of a site.

Google Places changes this by introducing a new variable. The number and quality of reviews (picture below) for a property are now factors in the page rank for travel searches.

Reviews can be seen as distributed commentary, content and referrals for a web page. By using this as a measure of authority, Google is saving that content and commentary is now up there with links as the currency of search result rankings.

page rank change

I predict that there are more changes to come in search authority and ranking algorithms.  I have been tracking commentary, rumours, start ups and innuendo in the search space.

From this I have identified six emerging (and overlapping) authority criteria that are certain to play a role in search (if not already).

1. The tastegraph

The use of likes, votes and preferences to help draw users toward content or destinations drawn from matching the tastes or likes of the user to others that like the same or similar.

Examples of this are across the web from the like button itself (Facebook) to StumbleUpon, Digg, Google’s own search results voting and content specific sites like

2. The sociograph

The recommendations and preferences of people selected by the user as being trusted source of information or advice drive or bias search results.

Where the tastegraph links people and recommendations based on historical behaviour and community links regardless of the relationship between people, the sociograph is above the history of the relationship rather than the behaviour;

3. The memegraph (emerging word)

Where the echoes, community commentary or spread across the internet of a story, idea or meme drives authority and ranking.  This includes re-tweets, forum discussions, review positing, link submissions and more.

It says that to “link” to a piece of content is no longer the only way to “vote” or vouch for that piece of content as being interesting, valuable or of note.  This will also introduce the notion of authority among tweeters and commentators (see the expertgraph);

4. The expertgraph (new word)

Biasing based on the views of experts. The traditional/old web said that an expert could be determined by the authority of their destination.

A website attracted links and authority because of the content of its writers.  This in turn became the destination for those experts to be found and engaged with.

But in the new web, more and more content creators of note (experts) are publishing material and views in places other than on stand alone websites.  They are on twitter, in forums, building pages on other sites, submitting reviews etc ( and Flyertalk are great examples of places to find experts that don’t have their own sites as a location).

New methods will merge for measuring and tracking the authority of a content creator off a website and collating that content or prioritising that content on an aggregated page (much like a Google Places page).

An interview by Danny Sullivan (story here on the Daily SEO blog) has both Bing and Google staff confirming that social user authority (or expertise) is being looked at or used;

5. The contextgraph (new word)

This one comes from Google’s search Queen Marissa Myer. Myer at LeWeb (care of TechCrunch) said that the future would be in “contextual discovery”.

This is where information is pushed to people based on their search patterns and behaviour.   It also takes in the most valuable piece of “new” information in web search – customer location.

6. Genomegraph (new word)

Like Pandora has done for music and Triporati and others for travel – breaking down a piece content or a whole content area into core (or genetic level) elements.  Then relating those elements to each other to link and relate content to other content as a means of driving discovery.

[NB: See an article I wrote on Triporati and Pandora]

Google Places has shown that these (and others?) are now in the mix as influencers in future page rank algorithms.

Not all of these will last as measures of authority (or carry the same weight) but if you are in the search business (and if you are in online travel then you are in the search business) then you need to be aware of these trends and determining how important they will be in your future SEO plans.

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Tim Hughes

About the Writer :: Tim Hughes

Tim Hughes is an online travel industry executive who has been blogging since June 2006 at the Business of Online Travel (the BOOT).

The BOOT covers analysis of online travel industry trends, consumer and company behaviour and broader online/web activity of interest to online travel companies (with a bias towards Tim’s home markets of Asia and Australasia and with the odd post on consuming and loving travel thrown in).

In late-2010 the BOOT clocked its 1,000th post, 200,000th visitor and 300,000th page view.In his work life he is the CEO of Getaway Lounge - a premium travel deal site based in Australia.

Tim has worked for both Orbtitz and Expedia. Prior to the travel industry Tim was a commercial lawyer and venture capitalist. Tim’s views are his alone and not necessarily the views of Getaway Lounge or any of its investors.



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  1. Jeremy Head

    Insightful piece, Thanks Tim. I’m struck by the Expert bit (I would be as a travel writer). Will Google give more credence to a review on trip advisor written by a travel writer than by ‘just another traveller’? Will the travel writer’s hotel write up of the future actually be a review on Trip Advisor? I was struck by how much more ‘valuable’ (in my eyes anyway) a review of my guidebook to Seville was by a travel writer (whom I didn’t really know) than one by just another reader when looking at the site yesterday. It was very compelling. Interesting times.

    • Tim

      Jeremy – thanks. I think Google will give more credence to one review over another. I think they will find a away in the algorithm to give authority to a writer/content creator regardless of where the content is written. At present authority is tied to a location (a website). In the future it could be assigned/tied to a person regardless of where their content is creatd

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  4. Charlie

    Hi Tim,

    Good article – I think that Google will continue to add more and more to the social aspects of their search algorithm. A while back a friend of mine noted music-related results based on things that his peer group had liked. A strange concept – given that I may ask a specific friend for an opinion on books, but find their taste in music subnormal 🙂

    But, this, and other factors such as face/location recognition in image search will lead to a very new search experience over the next few years.

    The big question is how this will affect the balance of power – will niche expert site with a lot of social/meme traction outweigh a more generalist mainstream site? Will we see Google follow implicit trust over mainstream pagerank?

    The real fun will be watching people try to game the system – we’re bound to see some social Google-bombing going on.

    • Tim

      Charlie – thanks for the comment. The balance of power question is an easy one. We saw Alta Vista go from number one to dust under the power of Google. Can Facebook do the same? Or can we expect a death of a thousand cuts from low expert sites? Great questions

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  6. Alistair


    That is already happening, if you choose to join your Google Account to other social networks – have a read of Google Social Search.

    What is missing from this is a way for Google to join the dots between you, your social graph and their social graph on services that aren’t necessarily linked directly.

    Consider the scenario where you’re searching for hotels in Paris & your following Intercontinental in Twitter who have properties in Paris. Google Social Search says that if their Twitter profile is linked correctly, you’ll likely see results from their website – fantastic. What you need to take that to the next level is content from your friends, that posted it onto other sites (such as TripAdvisor or who have stayed in Paris and recommended a particular hotel. If they’ve recommended an IHG & you’re following IHG, then it is surely a strong signal to Google that you’d be interested in staying at an IHG again that your friend has recommended.

    The challenge of course is that their isn’t a single sign on system on the internet yet. If OpenID really gains speed in the near future & people join/link their OpenID accounts to various other social graphs, the power of this is going to be in the palm of Google’s hand – just begging to provide you personal recommendations from friends, who have stayed in hotels in Paris (not just IHG).


    • ram

      thanks Alistair. The thing with Google Social search has not had the traction like Google buzz..Somehow the winner take it all works in this paradigm. I feel the facebook connect is really the open id..the only problem is that they dont talk to each other FB and Google word.

      Joe..didnt realize that Google login is higher than Facebook but does Google still know the social graph like Facebook does..not yet. Currently what can be natural allies are competing..

      • Joe Buhler

        That was a surprise to many, yes. Google doesn’t know the social graph as FB does and realizes this as a threat to them, hence the effort wit social search. Interesting to watch how this battle ensues.

      • Joe Buhler

        Here is an article related to this topic of Google trying very hard to get into the social space.

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  9. ram

    this is excellent piece Tim. Also important piece. If you look at all the Graph’s you mention – Meme, social, context,taste etc – the real platform with that information and insight is Facebook which hasnt really played in the travel planning process yet. Suppose Google and Facebook feed of each other that would be powerful. So actually the fact they are now adversaries which is harming customer choice and potential to solve big problems in travel or any other industry. If you can do a search query on Google with your facebook connect account that will be the paradigm shift

    • Tim

      agreed – Facebook’s biggest advertising challenge (and the challenge for all social media advertising) is how do you (politely) insert yourself or an advertisement into a conversation between people in a social media environment. So when one user asks the other “where should i go this weekend” on facebook – finding a way to put an advert in the answer

      • ram

        my point is to invert the paradigm..why cant you put the facebook profile and insight into the google search result. So in that way you don’t clutter the facebook experience but leverage the taste, social graph, meme graph etc in the search result to make it relavent and personalized

      • Joe Buhler

        That problem is what gives Google the edge when it comes to advertising results. Their efforts to social search is intended to keep them ahead of Facebook in this regard. I tweeted yesterday a chart showing Google Login the clear leader over Facebook Connect. This is encouraging in this context for them in their battle to dominate social search going forward.

  10. Martin Collings

    Tim, I enjoyed it at Phocuswright when you gave a few of us an early version of your thinking on this topic, and it is great to see how that has developed into the thought provoking piece here.

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  12. Karl

    Its hard not to believe that our social activities are not factors of Google’s algorithm, since the way we search and use the internet to find information is so broad – however I also believe that like page rank these elements mentioned, particularly socially based (such as reviews and likes etc) are open to wide scale manipulation and therefore can draw authority and relevance from results (from a human perspective). Social is a different kind of optimisation and its important to understand the difference between social optimisation and search optimisation. If you are an online realtor then chances are you are incorporating many of these features mentioned in this post naturally as well as maintaining good relevant on page content.



    • Tim

      Karl – spot on. Each new element introduced into the page rank will open up a series of new gaming techniques

  13. Jonathan Alford

    very nice article, Tim.

  14. Andrew Shotland

    Great piece Tim. In some ways, I don’t think the recent Place SERPs update was such a radical shift. A lot of the criteria you have mentioned have already been in place in Google Places/Maps rankings for some time. The big change is that now they are even more prominent in the main SERPs and non-local-business sites such as spammers and directories (aka “online intermediaries”) that ranked for queries that led to considerable scanning of the SERPs probably took a hit, but as far as I can see those non-local sites that ranked well (#1 or #2) for queries with local intent, still do. And those sites that generate useful content (aka reviews) actually saw there presence in the GOOG Place SERPs increase – according to Carter Maslan of GOOG there was a 400% increase in “click targets” on the SERPs. So those sites that ranked say #4 or below probably lost their rankings, but chances are they weren’t getting much traffic for those queries except for those mentioned above.

    I am sure there are some sites that took a hit from this change, but across the national/local directory sites that I follow equaling several hundred million search referrals/month I have seen zero change in GOOG referrals since the launch of the new Place SERPs in October.

    Of course this is not a one-time change, and I am sure there will be many curve balls coming our way over the next year, so as you say it couldn’t hurt to be aware of these trends and to figure out your SEO plans accordingly.

    • Tim

      Andrew – great comments. Thanks for sharing stats on click rates on the new pages

  15. Kristina

    This is great development! Rankings should not be solely based on created or engineered links and rather first and foremost be dictated by the sociograph and tastegraph.

    For novice net users, the search results are often disappointing. The websites redirected to are not guaranteed of the quality and reliability but rather that of tags.

    Kudos to google for the development! I’d rather have top results of websites that are useful and highly recommended by users or searchers.

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