Google Introduces A New Travel Update, But Will It Affect SEO?
Changes to Google’s destination search has got the travel industry in a spin, but does it really affect the way we do SEO?
It seems as though a week cannot pass by without another report about a major change at Google that has the potential to shake up the establishment. At first glance, the latest in a long line of such announcements looks set to hit a bunch of travel related sites right where it hurts most, in the pocket. But is that really going to be the case? Let’s take a closer look.
What Are The Changes?
Late in January 2016, Google announced changes to the way its mobile search interface would look with regard to travel information. Dubbed as Trip Planning, searchers looking for info on terms such as ‘where to go in Mexico’ or ‘Mexican destination’ will now be served with Google-controlled content rather than the standard organic results of old.
This is triggered by a knowledge-graph result that summarises relevant information into neat little boxes listed above the normal search results. The fear is that this new addition to the now four-year old knowledge-graph that everyone has grown used to will further demote organic placements whilst promoting sites that Google want to receive clicks – namely AdSense paid search material.
Will This Harm User Experience?
The jury is still out on this one, but the majority seem to be swaying towards an enhanced UX rather than an unwanted nuisance for those looking to make a straightforward search. For digital publishers, however, the response is likely to be a little different, but it’s not as much of an attack on the little man as it may first appear.
Who’ll Be Affected?
As we touched upon above, it’s likely to hurt the big players in the travel industry rather than the smaller travel blogs out there. Sites such as Lonely Planet, Yelp, Trip Advisor, huge news corporations and the larger travel sites are likely to be worst hit by these changes. These brands have totally dominated the destination search market for a long, long time, and this shake up is going to come as somewhat of a shock.
For those with smaller sites, however, the impact is likely to be minimal at worst. Think about it, if you’re not already ranking for top-tier keyword terms such as ‘where to go in Thailand’, what have you got to lose?
Travel companies and airlines may see a change in number of referrals coming from Google and this could hit profits. Some airlines and package holiday companies work very hard behind the scenes on complex digital marketing campaigns that help improve their search positions. This change has the potential to turn the industry on its head. In January 2014 we reported how one Google update saw Expedia dramatically lose traffic from Google. However, a drop of traffic from Google of around 25% was not enough to cause a major drop in revenue, and Expedia share prices continued to rise.
What Does This Mean For Google?
Naturally, Google is on to a winner with this move as more clicks on paid advertising means more money for the company. The change will also make Google’s other products more prominent too, pushing the likes of Google Maps and YouTube to the fore every time someone searches for these short-tail terms.
Until the changes have full rolled out we cannot really predict the long-term effects, but once again, Google is controlling how we obtain information from the Internet, and to some extent, who will win and who will lose.
Google aims to speed up mobile Internet access. How AMP websites speed up the loading of web pages to reflect increased mobile use of the Internet. The factors to be aware of when creating AMP pages.
Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is, as its name suggests, designed to improve web searches conducted on mobile devices by making pages load faster. With more and more people using their mobiles to access the Internet, Google wants to make sure the ‘mobile web experience’ is a good one.
Before the unveiling of AMP in October 2015, Google released a significant algorithm update focussing on a given website’s ‘mobile friendliness’ in terms of loading and rendering; this plays a large part in determining how high it ranks in search results. AMP takes this a step further for the search giant, and competes with other mobile web options such as Apple News and Facebook’s Instant Articles.
What is AMP?
AMP isn’t simply an app or business partnership in the way that Instant Articles or Apple News are; it’s a whole new way of creating web pages and effectively changes the mobile web. In effect, it is said to be changing the way the web is constructed by marginalising some technologies and advancing others.
The general aim is to remove the ‘slow’ parts of the overall HTML. The result (at least so far) is plainer looking web pages, and some critics say it’s like looking at web pages from over twelve years ago.
This has an implication for advertising as most ads are created from third party web tools.
AMP is open source so publishers don’t have to use it, but due to Google’s dominance in Internet search it’s likely that AMP pages will rank well (at least for mobile friendliness). Consequently, web designers creating sites where organic search is important could well find themselves compelled to create AMP versions of web pages.
Creating your AMP pages
Site templates to accommodate AMP restrictions will likely need rewriting, and multimedia will have to conform to certain criteria of height and widths amongst others using AMP specific tools. For example, when embedding a YouTube video, a specific AMP YouTube component has to be used.
You’ll also need to modify the original non-AMP version of your pages to allow Google and other technologies supporting AMP to detect the Amp version of the page.
Google have said that it won’t automatically rank AMP pages higher than non-AMP ones, but has made no secret of its policy of rewarding faster loading pages with potentially higher rankings.
Another way AMP loads pages faster is by Google caching them – they ‘serve’ the page to the searcher from their servers rather than the website host’s. This is optional; a website’s AMP pages don’t have to be cached by Google.
The effect on advertising
So far, only five advertising networks – four of which are owned by Google, AOL and Amazon – are supported, although any network can join. Presumably, so long as certain guidelines are met.
While faster page loading for an increasing part of web search – mobile – is a good thing, it’s argued that a technology company such as Google is taking yet more power from web publishers. The idea that it may be a case of having to follow a certain way is considered by some to be a throwback to the time when Microsoft dominated the browser market with Explorer.
AMP Is Now Live For News Stories
Accelerated mobile pages have now been launched in Google mobile search results for news items. Prepare for stage 2 by creating AMP pages for your own site.
Google has surprised the industry by launching AMP in its search results a day earlier than expected. Accelerated Mobile Pages are now visible in some of the news listings when conducting a mobile search. This means that if you go to Google Mobile and type in a popular news story that you’re searching for, then you will see a handful of headline suggestions and some will have AMP written next to them. This is the indicator for a page that is written in AMP.
Impatient Mobile Users
Google reports that 40% of mobile users will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. As the average mobile page takes 8 seconds, this is clearly a problem for the impatient mobile user of today and for site owners who are trying to attract their attention.
What Are Accelerated Mobile Pages?
The open source AMP project was designed by Google to counteract this problem. So far the search engine has gained backing from platforms such as Twitter and Pinterest, analytics tools providers and advertising networks. The purpose of AMP is to provide users with incredibly fast-loading mobile pages to enhance usability. The pages are designed using AMP which is a stripped down form of HTML.
AMP and Social Networks
Google has been working with social networks such as Twitter and Pinterest as it acknowledges the shift in the way users rely on these types of platforms to point them to interesting links. By conducting trials on social platforms Google has been able to see the benefit of how AMP will work in the user’s real world. The platforms have reported incredible success with Pinterest seeing AMP pages loading four times faster than a standard mobile page.
The rollout so far has been focussed on news related stories, as they are primarily pages which are for reading rather than using interactively. However, stage 2 of the AMP rollout is likely to be upon us soon, so it is best that businesses prepare themselves by creating some AMP pages for their site.
Ideally, a company should create an AMP version of every page on their existing site, although this may not always be workable. The best way to do this largely depends on the type of site that is running. Those with a CMS system such as WordPress would be advised to download a plugin to do the hard work for them. Others can consult the official AMP site which provides plenty of information on how to write the strict but lightweight AMP code and then validate it using Google Chrome. Essentially you can write a page and the tool will highlight any errors on the page which will prevent it from working correctly.
Business owners would be wise to start making the transition to AMP immediately. When Google does launch stage 2 of its rollout programme for AMP, those sites who are prepared will see the benefits from the outset.