Free links from travel companies are now appearing dramatically higher in Google Search on desktop and mobile — but it isn’t because regulators have clamped down on the search engine or Google has reformed its advertising-tilted business practices.
The dearth of travel advertising because of the coronavirus pandemic has made Google’s pages look almost unrecognizable. For example, Google’s one-box of hotel search results, with its maps and reviews directing consumers right into Google’s own travel business, is now the highest search result in many cases.
With travel ads largely missing from Google Search, the silver lining is that organic links from the likes of Tripadvisor, Booking.com, and Expedia are newly visible right below the “fold” on desktop, and on the second page in Google results on mobile.
To appreciate the depth of Google’s changes in search, consider this screenshot from 2015 depicting a search for hotels in its headquarter city, Mountain View, California. The first three paid text ads on the left are from Expedia, Hotels.com, and Booking.com, and below that is the Google one-box of search results that take users into Google’s own travel pages. (Google discontinued the right-hand rail of ads in 2016.)
For travel companies dependent on search engine optimization, or maximizing their free links in Google, they are seeing their positions rise in Google’s search results. In this next screen grab of a search for hotels in Mountain View, California, performed Tuesday, you’ll see there are no paid advertisements at the top of page, which is now headed by boxed hotel listings leading into Google’s own travel business universe.
Beneath the Google one-box of search results are free search results from Tripadvisor, Hotels.com, and Booking.com, as seen in the next screenshot. Before the coronavirus outbreak, these free results might have been relegated to appearing in online travel purgatory, namely the third page or screen of results on desktop and mobile.