By Björn Darko, Director, Digital Strategies Group EMEA at Searchmetrics, the search and content optimisation platform.
Online travel marketing is changing rapidly. And one of the biggest areas of change is search. Here are two important questions you should be asking about your search strategy in 2020.
1. How are we going to embrace voice search?
Purchases made using smart speakers are predicted to jump from $2 billion to $40 billion by 2022. And travel is going to be a big part of that trend. For example, Turkish Airline, Sun Express, already has a skill on the Amazon Echo that allows consumers to book flights through the speaker in just a few minutes.
So, if you are building a voice search strategy where should you start?
Interestingly, if you ask Google assistant about flight and hotel information, most of what it reads out will be the same as the text that’s shown in the flights and accommodation widgets displayed in search results.
The information on flights, flight times, prices etc comes directly from the ITA flight information software which Google acquired in 2011. So, airlines cannot do much more than ensure they’re providing correct and up to date data to the ITA database.
Hotel information too is displayed in the widgets based on the search query (“hotels”, “hotel in London” etc.). Descriptions and summaries are created by Google’s internal team of writers and pulled into the widgets which then have a chance of appearing in voice results.
The information in search results widgets are also scraped from other websites – most notably Google My Business. It’s essential for Hotels to have a strong Google My Business listing with up to date room rates, images etc. Also, encourage guests to leave positive reviews and comments as that can have an impact on whether Google selects your listing. At the same time ensure good quality information on top online travel sites such as booking.com, kayak. etc. as Google may decide to use information from these sites in its hotel widgets – and also in voice results.
Another way to target voice content are the Featured Snippets boxes that Google displays when it senses that someone is looking for a specific answer to a question or some advice (such as “What to do in Singapore with kids”, “Travelling with dogs”, “What to do when you lose your passport” etc). Believe it or not, appearing in Featured Snippets increases your chances of being in voice search results. Google Home, for example, only reads out one answer to a question – and this is usually the result that features as a Featured Snippet in search results
You need to have a dedicated content strategy for creating ‘top of the funnel’ content to appear in Featured Snippets. Start by looking at typical questions that your customers might ask and answer them in articles and blogs on your site.
You also need to make the site easily accessible to Google which means having a well-structured website (Categorisation, URL Structure, Meta Information etc.) fast page speeds and make effective use of Structured Mark Ups, which helps Google to better understand important content on your website and connect it with other related entities.
2. What’s our approach to visual search?
62% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers want visual search capabilities – more than any other new technology. Humans are visual animals and the ability to search for products and services visually is very powerful – and that’s just as true for travel.
After all, why else would 40% of millennial travellers say they valued how Instagrammable their holiday appears to friends and family as the most important factor in choosing a destination.
A very obvious place to start building a visual search strategy is Google images. About two in five Google searches already results in images being shown to searchers. So, make sure you have a large web inventory of relevant, quality images on your site that are optimised to show up in Google image results.
The key is to ensure your SEO and digital marketing team creates detailed accurate metadata related to all your images. Using relevant descriptive language in alt tags, captions, and surrounding text, helps Google understand what the images show so they can be displayed in appropriate searches.
The natural next step would be to make it possible for travel searchers to upload their own photos – of potential holiday destinations or landmarks for example – and use those to search online. They could find local hotels, flights, things to do near those places for example.
EasyJet launched something approaching this with its Look&Book app recently. The app lets consumers find where an Instagram photo was taken and which flights they can book to get there.
But if you’re not ready to build your own visual search app just yet, then Google is already starting to enable something similar with its Google Lens app. The app’s image recognition technology helps it ‘recognise’ images captured through the phone lens – allowing it to find the same or similar images online, together with related text.
So, if you are a travel business, the more relevant images you have on your site, the greater the chance that some of them will be “matched” when someone uses Google Lens. If you’re a hotel for example, your strategy should include incorporating plenty of images of nearby landmarks, local tourist attractions and iconic views on your site together with appropriate articles and blogs.
In fact, Google lens is embracing a variety of new features to try and specifically appeal to tourists and travellers. For example, it recently introduced a facility that automatically translates text within images – which tourists could use to translate signs, menus, ticket information or any other text they might come up against on their travels.
In 2020 we’re definitely going to see further developments in both voice and visual search. If they aren’t already, you need to make sure they are an important part of the search strategy for your travel brand.