The way we all work with Google both as a business and a user changed forever toward the end of 2013 with the introduction of Google Semantic Search. It is not an algorithm update, but an entire overhaul. It is important that we understand the significance of the change and the impact of this semantic search for tourism and the way we have known it up until now.
Google search has changed from a system that could be ‘gamed’ by link building, keywords, and poor content that was stuffed with keywords, to a search engine that relies on semantics – i.e. the true meaning, relevance, and context of a search.
Google’s overarching philosophies have always been centered on the user experience and matching the search query to the most relevant web page. This is still what Google is all about. But the way we use search has evolved from being strictly desktop where we would sit at our desk and type the keywords into the search box to being a dynamic, mobile system that is with us all the time. We may ask our phone a question as we would a friend.
Google released the Hummingbird update for two major reasons: to improve user experience by providing intelligent answers to search queries and to increase its dominance as a search engine. A conversation, a sentence, a phrase, and context are now all being considered.
How does semantic search work?
Hummingbird represents a major shift in the ways a user search will be answered by initiating conversation with the searcher and by providing real answers to search queries rather than returning keyword-stuffed documents. According to Amit Singhal (senior VP and head of Google search), their aim is to create a search engine similar to the Star Trek computer that gives direct answers to users, effectively turning Google into everyone’s personal assistant.
The algorithm uses semantics to identify and prioritise pages with relevant content instead of simply counting backlinks and keywords when analysing web pages. One of the things Google did to effect this change, is to remove keyword reporting from Google Analytics.
It means that marketers should no longer focus solely on keywords to create content. This does not mean that you shouldn’t optimise your content with keywords (it is still important), but your content strategy should now be created to answer specific end-user questions, solve problems and provide useful, relevant information in a variety of outputs.
Google is all about mobile these days, providing the best user experience, based on things like your IP address, personal search history, location (where you are or where you are asking from), social media shares, and dialogue. This means that the search results will be different for everyone even though the same keyword is typed or spoken into the search box.
“The most important take out in all of this is that page 1 of Google is different for every search query, every device, and desktop. There is no longer the single holy grail metric of page 1 of Google for a keyword”
Information at your fingertips
One of the new features is the Google Now product. Google Now is fantastic for industries like travel and tourism and local businesses. Information follows you and your device wherever you go. The information is preloaded and follows you based on things like your geographic location, personal search history, your Google + account history/settings, and social media interests.
For example I was recently in the Yarra Valley, a food and wine region in the State of Victoria, Australia, experimenting with Google Now in the car. I searched for “best all-day breakfast”, driving into the food and wine town of Healesville. I didn’t mention Healesville, Google picked up my location. It delivered some nice information on cafes around my location, and a blog piece on the best 5 breakfasts in the Yarra Valley.
But what about serendipity? I don’t know what I don’t know.
Many people fear that the spontaneity of the search will disappear. But the Google knowledge graph feature gives you additional information in boxes on the search query page based on the contextual meaning and interpretation of your search query. It gives you information on topics on related items to your original query. For example, if you asked a search query about accommodation in Sydney, it may present information on tours of the Sydney Opera House, restaurants, and guided tours around Sydney.
In my Yarra Valley case, the knowledge graph carousel, presented a few wineries and attractions in the area, in case I might be interested in this as well – serendipity. Interestingly, many of the attractions presented were family-based activities, like the Healesville Sanctuary as I am generally searching for things to do with kids.
For the TRAVEL INDUSTRY, this is HUGE, the potential is HUGE.
So what do we do now?
You can make the most of semantic search by creating truly great original content, using social media (especially Google products in G+, Youtube), and by creating trust, influence, and authorship.
There is so much opportunity for everyone. In part 2 of this article, we will address specific tactics you can use and actions you can take now for 2014 to make the most of the semantic web and get in front of your customers
We have started a community for the travel and tourism industry on learning about Google+. Join us if you like, it is open to all tourism professionals.
Others Also Read…
Chatbots and the Travel & Tourism Industry
The Evolution of Tourism Marketing: Artificial Intelligence in Tourism
Building Digital Assets For Tourism Businesses And Destinations
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manikandan k says
Thank you for sharing this information on how semantic search will be this much useful for travel and tourism industry. It has some key positive impacts like the desired information can be found easily, high-quality content, quality search results, optimization of user value, rendering less importance to Keywords.
Carolyn Childs says
Thanks… Be sure to come back and let us know how applying it has worked for you
Dave Abrahams says
Very high quality article Bronwyn, your community should all read this closely. It reminds me of a seminar I was at with Tim Berners Lee (inventor of the www) last year where he reiterated his dream of a semantic web – ie one that thinks for itself and delivers content in context with what is required. We are certainly heading in that direction as you point out with the new Google algorithm developments.
The bit I like you pointing out is that we can all be part of this by becoming better online citizens and business people. Regular, authentic content produced by verifiable people and organisations will increasingly rise to the top.
The other less known strategy of supporting online advertising is that this all could be assisted by teams of people working together to sew a bigger story. For example a tourist body could help co-ordinate a rich regional content culture emerged in it’s region and then support co-ordinated online advertising.
Bronwyn White says
First, thanks for taking the time to read the article, I am glad it resonated. It would have been amazing to see Tim Berners Lee speak on this topic. You are right in the strategy. A good strategy will always support tourism bodies and provide direction and a path. Rich content can be a powerful tactic to showcase a regions best.
It was great to meet you on Thursday and I am sure we will cross paths again soon.
Michael Chorney says
Great article Bronny but you missed the double edged sword.
The semantic search is great but it in itself creates problems for certain types of business.
Whilst most accommodation businesses chase Localised/ transit trade the semantic is wonderful but in our instance (as an example) where we sell Romantic Getaways and have been attracting guests from around Australia and the world at large for some years it is now far more difficult to get that International exposure. This privilege seems to be reserved for the Big Players who carry many listings and invest heavily in Google AdWords. Upon analysis the sites are more often then not poor quality even by Google’s new rules. There is very little to no problem solving content on these sites and generally they are no ore than a supermarket of accommodation offers b region.
To prove the point we did an experiment once we got hit by a downgrade as a result of the Hummingbird update. We changed NOTHING on our website but we took out an extensive Google AdWords campaign – miraculously our organic search results popped back onto centre page one of Google Search. Further still it is obvious that Google have NOT killed “Key word search” as they say. This is blatantly obvious when considering Google Adwords as fully “Key word” driven.
Google is great and you praise their virtues correctly but the menacing element is that Google is now Monetising by forcing small business into ever bigger Adword spending if that business wants to play the BIG National field rather than the LOCAL field.
Bronwyn White says
You are right, Adwords is increasingly out of reach for many small businesses. This is something I also note. But semantic search allows us to be masters of our destinies a little by crafting creative content related and directly related to our businesses. Bron
Russell Perry says
Great article. It’s a changing online world and we all need to keep up. Thanks for sharing.
Your G+ community is a great idea as well. I just joined, thank you for the invite, and look forward to connecting with the industry. Our website is all about helping promote all areas and regions of Australia, particularly the “not so well known” areas, hopefully with input from locals.
Bronwyn White says
Hi Russel, happy to help and thanks for joining the community! Bronwyn
Olly Wheatcroft says
Great article Bronwyn. I think that the move to semantic search opens up the field for travel specialists who have valuable content and unique products. Although it makes it more difficult to determine how to optimise this content for semantic search terms we should see this as an opportunity to gain ground on the larger travel businesses who are all pushing the same stuff.
Bronwyn White says
Hi Olly. I am glad you liked the article. I agree, lots of opportunity – everyone has a chance to shine on the web now, the deepest pockets will not necessarily win. Bron
Sue Pascoe says
Very helpful info – thank you for sharing it!
Bronwyn White says
No problem Sue, happy to share. Bron