June 3, 2016
The quick answer to that is no, of course it isn’t. But, there are signs, some say, that if Google isn’t dying, it may at least be peaking. The world’s most valuable company needs to keep innovating to keep itself at the top and that, in part, is the problem. It may very well be innovating itself out of favour.
Google is still too big to be dismissed, but more and more businesses (big and small) are starting to question whether there are other options – which there are. The issue is, that in a world where “to Google” is a verb, it will be like turning an oil tanker with a pedalo to get the public to try alternative search engines.
A tour operator I spoke to recently asserted that pay-per-click (PPC) is the domain of the big boys as it’s so expensive. But that presupposes that a “search” is a generic action by a consumer and that every travel company wants, or is entitled to, a piece of that action. But in fact, he’s really only talking about ‘broad’ search terms such as ‘holiday in greece’ or ‘flights to new york’.
Many small businesses believe they need to compete with the biggest operators and OTAs and be at the top of every search result for the broadest of search terms. But when you think about it, that’s a mistake and an oddity. In pre-internet days a small business owner would never have thought he or she needed to compete in the same way as the big boys and on the same scale – for example by taking out full page ads in national newspapers or rolling out TV advertising campaigns – so why would he/she think they need to compete in that way on Google?
Small businesses need to be far more strategic – to compete on cheaper, ‘long-tail’ terms that are very relevant to their particular business and product. They should consider conversion rates rather than web traffic. In my last role, we made a conscious decision to do just that and traffic dropped by around 20%. However, our conversion rate improved markedly and we quickly increased enquiry levels to become the best-enquired brand in a global group. Best of all, our PPC spend decreased by around 25%.
The signs are that users are now typing in longer phrases that better demonstrate ‘intent’ – and Google is making big strides to interpret that intent in order to deliver much more relevant results. These very specific phrases will deliver lower, cheaper, but higher-quality traffic. The big guys just won’t be in that game as they need big volumes to make their models work, so the smaller business will have the competitive advantage.
Within the last few days Google has announced changes to AdWords that mean you can split your bids between device types. This means that, if you are a specialist tour operator which finds conversion from mobile traffic is far lower than it is for desktop or tablet traffic, you can chase keywords totally relevant for your product and also now tailored to each individual customer’s behaviour. Again, the bigger players may achieve higher conversion rates on mobile if they’re peddling simpler products such as flight-only or flight+hotel packages for example – but the smaller specialist can once more operate in a space in which it will be more competitive, as it’s far less likely that mobile would be the channel of choice for customers booking more complex or specialist product.
Another point is that, although the big guys are getting huge volumes of traffic, their conversion rates will be tiny – so they will be paying for vast numbers of clicks that yield little or nothing. Smaller firms should probably not be so quick to be jealous of what they haven’t got.
But, to return to my earlier point, even the bigger firms have started to question just where Google is headed, with ever-rising PPC costs and Google’s entry into various vertical markets, selling direct (or with assisted selling) to searchers from its results pages. The giant is also building a range of travel products – Flight Search, Hotel Finder and a new Destinations mobile service, plus an upcoming in-destination discovery tool – so is Google friend or foe?
Well, Google has two sides of course: paid-for search and organic search. The rise of content marketing and its importance in attracting organic traffic to your website can’t be understated. Get it right and Google suddenly becomes your friend, as its drive towards recognising intent needs as much relevant content as it can get to match each searcher with the best supplier for their intended need…and it will provide that match for free!
The wider Google family – YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Google+, etc – will also become more prevalent as search channels, and currently most of those are underutilised by the majority of companies. But it makes sense to take a look and ensure you’re represented in the best possible way across all of these channels – certainly those most relevant to your audience.
So there’s the rub: Google can still be a force for good. Former Travel Republic boss Kane Pirie was recently quoted as saying that most businesses are now focused on how to get around Google – but, until the verb changes, I’m not sure that’s the wisest of moves. Instead, use the momentum of the giant to your advantage, consider your competitive advantages, provide great content across multiple channels and pick your battles. There’s life in the beast yet.
Paul Bondsfield – June 2016