By Charles Duncombe director of Holidays Please
I remember once saying to someone “I get £500,000 business a month from Google for free….. it’s brilliant!”
It was in the halcyon days where you could get to the top of the search engines just by writing about the destination you wanted and within a few weeks Google was sending you customers with their wallets open. “Thanks Google, I’ll be off on my yacht now and see you same time next month with my next destination.”
However things have got a little bit harder since then. Search engine gurus are actually having to start to break sweat to produce results. With rising Google adwords costs, more budgets have been diverted towards SEO, which therefore becomes a more competitive bun fight over a finite source of traffic.
Google is now moving the goalposts and giving less and less exposure to organic, free search results.
The result is that it is now easy to spend as much money on SEO as it is with PPC, and many costs are less visible (staff cost, management time, opportunity cost if time spent elsewhere etc..). Free traffic no longer exists.
To make matters worse, Google is now moving the goalposts and giving less and less exposure to organic, free search results. It wasn’t too long ago when organic results were at the top of the results and adwords adverts were consigned to the right hand column of your screen. Then over time the top 1-3 PPC results moved above the organic results and now it’s usually 4 PPC results at the top.
Then organic results got pushed even further down the page with local results, social media posts, Google Maps and YouTube videos. This is particularly relevant in travel which is obviously has destination orientated results and so it gets a lot of map/local and video injected into the search results.
The sample screenshot below shows that when you search for the Burj Al Arab hotel there is only one organic search result that appears “above the fold” of the page. And that organic search result is for the hotel itself and so what chance do third party agents and operators have?
With over 95% of people not scrolling down “below the fold” you would be forgiven for asking whether it’s worth bothering to go for those organic positions?
When Google is faced with the choice of showing a relevant money-making result or a relevant non-money making result, which one is it going to give more exposure to?
SEO experts will come back and say “Well there is always the long tail”. To the uninitiated the “long tail” refers to customers typing in longer search phrases in the search engine. These search phrases are less competitive, will have less PPC adverts showing and therefore will give more breathing space for the organic results.
However as costs rise, the PPC professionals are also chasing the long tail and are drafting more and more adverts towards it. And when Google is faced with the choice of showing a relevant money-making result or a relevant non-money making result, which one is it going to give more exposure to?
One saving grace is that the travel market has a huge number of search phrases to go after, so there is still a certain amount of hay to make while the sun starts to set. However, be prepared to sail towards that sunset on a yacht that perhaps resembles a bit more of a pedalo than before.