NB: This is a viewpoint by Matthew Barker of I&I Travel Media.
Another day, another search engine optimization (SEO) wobble. In late January, Google released a major re-design of its mobile search interface for trip planning.
With this change, searches on Google for various destination keywords, such as “where to go in Thailand” or “Thailand destinations”, trigger a knowledge-graph result that leads users into a rabbit hole of Google-controlled content and travel-planning tools.
The move further de-prioritizes once-sacrosanct “organic” placements, causing yet another SEO wrinkle for travel marketers.
Google’s mobile trip planner
The interface looks like this:
Users can filter destination results by “interests”, such as architecture, beach, culture, fishing, and Scuba diving.
From there, users can dig deeper into whatever location or point of interest piques their interest.
For instance, doing a mobile search on “where to go in thailand” leads to a horizontal carousel of Thai destinations, with the capital city on top. It pulls a representative airfare by pulling the nearest major airport geo-located to your phone for sample upcoming travel dates — along with benchmark lodging costs.
Clicking on the Bangkok “location card” leads to incredibly long and detailed information. The card links users to other points of interest, maps, info on climate and when to travel, and YouTube videos — all hosted exclusively on Google-controlled digital properties.
Most importantly – for Google, at least – is the prominent “Plan a trip on Google” section, which allows users to book flights and hotels and find restaurants, again all via Google’s pay-to-play platforms. (Still a bit rough around the edges but I bet that major OTA and metasearch brands that advertise on Google won’t be thrilled…)
It doesn’t take a Sherlock to figure this out. Google makes more money when people stay on its properties and click on its ads. And these knowledge graph results are presumably a highly effective way of retaining users and channeling them towards ads and paid listings on hotel and flight search.