Google’s machine learning is helping big travel brands appear top of search results as it deems them more relevant and trusted, a new study suggests.
Searchmetrics’ annual study of the top 20 results for 10,000 key words in Google searches also found that traditional techniques for travel firms to rank highly in Google search results – such as search engine optimization (SEO) and high use of key words – are becoming less effective.
Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics’ founder and chief technology officer, said: “Google revealed last year that it is turning to sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine-learning techniques, such as its RankBrain system, to help it better understand the real intention behind the words that searchers enter in the search box and make its results more relevant.
“And with the help of user signals such as how often certain results are clicked and how long people spend there, the search engine gets a sense of how well searchers’ questions are answered; allowing it to continually refine and improve relevance.”
Tober says the most relevant content depends on the user intention.
He added: “A searcher who types ‘things to remember for my beach holiday’ into the search box is most likely looking for a short list for example; someone who types ‘height Mont Blanc’ wants a single piece of information, while a query like ‘nice beach Mallorca’ is most likely wanting a series of images and a ‘how to pack a suitcase’ query might be best served with video content. Our research suggests Google is getting better at interpreting user intent to show the most relevant content.”
The research found high-ranking pages tend to be judges as more relevant to the search query – which Tober says indicated that Google gives it a rankings boost rather than boosting pages which contain more of the keywords in a search.
Searchmetrics has this year introduced a new Content Relevance score, which assesses the semantic relationship between the words entered in search queries and the content shown in results; in effect, it measures how closely they are related. It excludes simple keyword matches.
It found Google places the ‘more relevant’ content higher in the search results – barring positions one and two, which “tend to be reserved for top brand websites”.
The word count on the top ranking results has continued to increase, but the number of keywords contained in the content has gone down this year.
The length of time people spend per page has increased, which Tober says shows Google is providing the right results more often. Bounce rate has also increased for the top 20 results – usually interpreted as a sign that people are not finding the right answers – but Tober says coupled with increased time per page this means people are finding the right solution more often.
Following the results, Tober issued advice for travel marketers and SEO professionals.
He said: “Since Google is becoming much more sophisticated about how it interprets search intent and relevance, you also need to work harder and smarter at understanding and delivering on these areas in content you put on your websites. You need to use data-driven insights to analyse exactly what searchers are looking for when they type specific queries in the search box and make sure your content answers all their questions clearly and comprehensively in the most straightforward way – and you need to do it better than your competitors.”