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    • SGE
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    Expert interview: The future of the travel industry – Google’s SGE in focus

    The ongoing development of artificial intelligence has been an active part of our working world for a while now and is still fundamentally changing it today. However, the potential of AI extends far beyond everyday office life. Particularly in online marketing, where search engines play a central role, artificial intelligence and new technologies could drastically alter user behaviour, changing how we behave online. The introduction of Google’s Search Generative Experience marks the dawn of a new era not only for the tech industry, but also for the hotel industry too.

    Franziska Dau, our in-house SEO expert and Senior Manager, has analysed the impact of Google SGE on the travel and hotel industry, revealing how AI-based search queries could influence the behaviour of travellers. Based on her findings, we asked her a few questions to take a closer look at the challenges and opportunities that the SGE brings with it.

    Google’s Search Generative Experience has been on everyone’s SEO minds for several months now – and the travel industry is not exempt from effects of the SGE. The question is, how exactly will the introduction of the SGE impact search results for the travel industry – especially in the hotel sector?

    Franziska: The Search Generative Experience will certainly have a major impact on search results in the travel industry, especially in the hotel sector. The SGE, if it is generated automatically, will push traditional search results further down the page, meaning that users may have to scroll down to view them. In addition, the SGE will provide “customised” answers in future – even for very specific search queries. This means that users may no longer feel the need to visit a website if the SGE result already answers the question well. For example, if I ask for “five hiking trails in southern Italy” and the SGE suggests five suitable routes, I may not even need to click through to a website to finish my search. This and other search phrases are good examples of the much feared “zero click searches” – a search that does not lead to a click. Another aspect of the SGE that could lead to such searches is the integrated conversation mode. This enables interaction with the SGE, allowing users to ask any number of follow-up questions on a topic. For example, users can search for “cheap hotels in Paris” and specify the SGE result with follow-up questions, like “can you show me cheap hotels in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower?”. This is clearly advantageous in comparison to traditional Google Search.

    We know that Google is the clear market leader among search engines. The introduction of the SGE could lead to a drop in click-through rates across all sectors and therefore less traffic from organic searches. We are deep in this issue and have seen that SGE results are changing almost daily, as Google carries out intensive testing to discover the potential impacts of the technology. In terms of what this means for the travel industry, the SGE could fundamentally change the way users search for hotels and other travel offers. It is up to businesses to adapt to these changes and capitalise on the new opportunities (and face the challenges) that the SGE brings. The SGE is currently still in the test phase, with the beta version already available in over 120 markets, including the USA. In the USA, the SGE has been available since the end of April for users who have not signed up for the beta version. According to Google, this only affects a small percentage of users, but it is clear that the development of the SGE is progressing. It remains unclear when the SGE will be introduced in Germany.

    The SGE will change the way Google is used and information is searched for in the future. What challenges could this pose for online marketers in the hotel industry as SGE usage increases?

    Franziska: There will be some challenges in the future, but also plenty of new opportunities. One of the main problems I see is the possible decline in organic traffic. Since users will get answers to their search queries directly on the results page with the SGE, the incentive to click on websites below the search results will be reduced. In addition, once the SGE snippet is triggered, the SGE will take up most of the visible area onscreen above the fold. This could be a further obstacle for users to access organic search results, as they would have to scroll down to find them. Of course, we will have to wait and see how this new display will affect user behaviour in practice.  

    Should user behaviour change as predicted, resulting in an increase in zero click searches, businesses will need to adapt their marketing strategies to counteract it. In my opinion, the SGE will not only impact the work of SEOs, but rather have a holistic impact on the world of online marketers. As such, new methods and strategies must be devised to compensate for any traffic losses.

    Online marketers in the hotel industry must also expect that the SGE may favour established brands as sources for SGE content. These include, for example, Expedia, or Tripadvisor. This could lead to smaller or less well-known hotel companies having to develop strategies to be referenced as a source in the SGE. One way, for example, could be to ensure that they are listed on Tripadvisor. Google uses training data for their AI results and Tripadvisor content is very likely part of this data.

    Another idea for small hotel businesses to stay ahead of the SGE is to set up a good local SEO strategy. The Google Local Pack is becoming a relevant format in the SGE for location-based searches. If you want to be listed in the Local Pack, you will need such things as good user reviews and a well-maintained Google Business Profile. For “info travel content”, including searches like “can I go on holiday to Iceland in winter”, you will need things like content that includes advice of ‘real’ people who have already visited Iceland. Without human ‘expert’ content specialising in a particular niche, travel sites will have little chance of an SGE result. 

    The SGE changes search in the search engine holistically. The search behaviour of users will result in fewer clicks and less traffic. What measures can companies take to counteract this development? 

    Franziska: The zero-click search queries already mentioned should undoubtedly lead to a decline in organic traffic. We have already observed similar trends with the introduction of featured snippets. When users receive answers directly on the search results page, they are unlikely to actively make use of organic search and click on a website result. These zero-click search queries are therefore a challenge that companies must face. In short, this means that companies need to rethink their strategic measures, for example with expert content or local optimisation – if it makes sense for the company’s focus.

    Optimisation for local search queries is one way of increasing the chances of being displayed in the Google Local Pack. For local search queries, the Local Pack will play a central role in the SGE and organic search alike. A good local SEO strategy includes the creation of location-specific landing pages including NAP data (name, address, telephone number) and a focus on online reviews and reputation management. Investing in local public relations and building local citations and links are also crucial.

    In addition to optimising and adapting SEO measures and content, it is also important to consider your other marketing channels. For example, if I were to lose traffic due to changes in the search engine and a change in search behaviour, I could perhaps take measures in other channels to maintain overall traffic, via social media or other inbound channels. With the SGE at hand, a one-channel marketing strategy is no longer the most effective choice.

    The search results will change with the introduction of the SGE, including the search results page itself. The conventional rankings will also change. How exactly do the top rankings in the organic Google search differ from the top rankings in the SGE and what factors play a role in this?

    One important finding is that a top ranking in Google’s organic search does not automatically lead to a top position in the SGE. Our analysis has shown that domains that rank in the top 3 Google organic search results are not guaranteed to be represented in the top carousel of the SGE. This illustrates that the algorithms and criteria for ranking in the SGE differ from those of organic search. We assume here that there will be different types of display or results in the search engine for different search queries. For example, that niche questions will probably only be answered superficially in the SGE, or that the SGE will definitely refer to the cited external sources. For more generic search queries such as “What is the weather like in Mallorca in June”, the SGE will provide a suitable answer in a matter of seconds. 

    We have also noticed that the SGE prominently incorporates videos and images. Websites should therefore focus on high-quality product images and, if product images are relevant to traffic, avoid stock images wherever possible. Overall, it is clear that the SGE heralds a new era in search technology and is changing the traditional SEO landscape and therefore the whole of digital marketing. Companies should develop an SGE strategy early that is tailored to the specific requirements and characteristics of this new search format in order to maximise their visibility and relevance in search results and compensate for any traffic losses via other channels.

    Sarah Weingarten

    Sarah is Expert Lead for Content Marketing and has been working at Peak Ace since 2020. She has been working in content marketing for over 8 years and loves to work strategically and creatively on new projects.