“Second place is the first loser.” –Dale Earnhardt, American Racing Legend (1951-2001)
We all admire Google. Alphabet, its newfangled parent company, trades places with Apple as the world’s most valuable corporation, with a market value that exceeds half a trillion dollars. Google has its paws into literally everything.
While much is made of their self-driving car, Google Glass and other audacious new devices or applications, Google is also hard at work refining its core business – internet search. And this refinement has but one primary goal. However much the company espouses its noble goal of helping people find just about anything on the web, it is accountable to its shareholders and they want to see revenues which in Google’s case means Adwords.
Ever get unsolicited email guaranteeing your website to rank first or on the first page in a Google search? I am sure that we all have seen these and that we know the value of having our brand’s site appear ‘above the fold’ (that is, what’s visible without scrolling down) for the critical search terms our guests are utilizing. Somehow, through a magic genie or other programming wizardry, these companies claim that you will appear at the top. I am sceptical.
Never fear. Google is brilliant. They are well aware of these charlatan offers along with the other innumerable approaches taken by website owners to improve their SEO. As little as 24 months ago, Google’s search engine format supported two columns of information – the right-hand side was what they called sponsored links, leaving the left-hand side for organic search results. About 16-18 months ago, Google abbreviated the naming of their sponsored links to ‘Ads’, and inserting them to the uppermost positions on the previously organic (left) side of the page.
Roughly six months ago, Google eliminated its right-hand side entries. Ads now form the first positions of the ‘only’ column of results, that being on the left with other Google services occupying the right. A quick look on almost any monitor will reveal that pretty much the entire first half of page results on any Google search is taken up by advertisement positions. That’s not surprising, given that Google makes no money from organic, unpaid search, and accordingly has little interest from a stockholder’s perspective in prioritizing these free listings over paid participants.
In many ways, organic SEO has been given its two weeks notice.
Search for your property with your own brand name and you’ll quickly see that the first positions are taken up by OTAs with a variety of other paid ad spots targeting your customers. Your site? Even though technically it should be first, it’s likely way down the page, following Expedia, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor and many other heavy bidding Google Adwords contributors. As a result, even when a potential guest is searching for you, they might not be able to find your site. A sad state of affairs indeed!
While we are still talking about only the first page of Google results, the title of this article implies something a tad more existential. When it comes to travel research and using Google for hotel reservations, does any customer even bother navigating to the second page of a search query? Why would they? If a property’s vanity site can’t be found on the first page and near the top, Google’s algorithm is insinuating that this hotel probably isn’t what this particular guest is looking for. Moreover, if the branded website can’t be found on the first page, then a user can click through to an OTA listing page to quickly get what they want.
First page, second or even third, corrective action is essential in all cases. Even if you have a limited budget for Adwords, your immediate responsibility is to ensure that your site ranks at the top every single time that someone enters your property’s name into Google. Even if that means sinking tens of thousands of dollars per month into Google, you have no choice but to fork over the funds to your marketing team to accomplish this objective because it’s your title at stake. The OTAs and review sites may have the resources to outbid you on regional or citywide keyword searches, but you must not allow them to dominate your own brand name.
I started this article with a short quote by my favorite race car driver. Listen to him, as this is a fear I now have. When it comes to user search behavior, until someone is conducting research for a college thesis paper, there is no second page. People want the quickest result possible – no scrolling, no additional load times. Discuss this issue with your website team, your SEO expert, your revenue manager and your Adwords controller – get them all together as a unified effort is necessary to ensure that your website is safe and secure above the fold.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in eHotelier on May 25, 2016).