Travel brands have need told they need to act now to protect themselves from the encroachment of Google in the sector.
The warning comes from SEO specialist and blogger Martin MacDonald and former Expedia Affiliate Network inbound marketing director in a new report on the travel sector from Linkdex.
In a section of the Travel 360 report entitled Educating the Expedia Affiliate Network, MacDonald notes the dominant position Google has in the market.
He claims Google has not yet “fully committed” to changing the travel market, but that products like Hotel Finder and the as-yet under the radar Transit Trip Planner threaten to do so.
This is laying down increasing challenges to the established metasearch engines in the sector such as Kayak and Trivago, says MacDonald, who predicts they will find it increasingly hard to compete with the search giant’s scale.
But as well as directly targeting travel with its own products, Google is also having a massive impact in terms of changes to its search algorithm.
The most significant change has been the crackdown on duplicate content with its Penguin and Panda algorithm updates and this has already seen a number of businesses go to the wall.
Meanwhile, those that have survived have been forced to contemplate producing their own unique content for all the products they sell.
MacDonald said that this is no mean feat for an industry that has been focused on the “minimum effort and expenditure possible in order to create a website that is ROI positive”.
Travel firms looking to make sure their content is useful and answers the questions the users want, and therefore be considered valuable by Google, need to spend $10 to $20 per page, says MacDonald.
“It can be a very positive thing for the industry. In providing an exceptional consumer experience, customers build loyalty with a brand and may return year after year to book a holiday – that is a concept that the travel industry as a whole has undervalued for a long time,” he said.
Firms were advices to build a brand which customers will be loyal to through finding a niche, cultivating a strong social media presence and personalising the offering to the customer.
Examples MacDonald cites include Hipmunk, bringfido.com, despeghar.com and TripAdvisor for its approach to personalisation through incentivising traffic to long in so that valuable data can be collected.
He concludes: “At the moment, far too many companies consider SEO, or PPC, or social media, as different things.
“Branding is something which has to be constant. Implementing tactics rather than strategies is a shortsighted view, and it’s something that will probably get backwards-looking CMO’s (chief marketing offices) fired over the next decade.
“Brands need to take an overall look of the marketplace, encourage customers to communicate with the brand, and tailor the brand message across every single medium.
Google, who have traditionally distanced themselves from travel industry verticals, are now encroaching on the market in a number of areas.
“Travel brands need to prepare and get ahead of the curve to meet competition from the search giant. Travel brands need to dramatically improve their content offering in order to remain relevant after recent changes to the search engine algorithm.”