Search is dead. Long live search.

Advice on what to do your B&B website so customers can find it without actually having to use a compass.Travel marketing gurus have been predicting the demise – or, at any rate, the weakening influence – of Internet search for a long time now. They argue that the trend of customers finding accommodation through social media recommendations is on the rise, while the traditional method of typing a search term like “B&B in …” into Google is declining.

However, as the wonderfully named Max Starkov (of hotel marketing company HeBs Digital) points out, the true picture is mixed at best: “In spite of all the new and trendy digital marketing initiatives and formats that overwhelm hoteliers nowadays, the reliable old search engines generated over 55.6% of website revenue for (our) client portfolio consisting of thousands of hotel properties… Google in particular dominates hotel search; results provide deep and relevant information, the best mapping and directions, extensive customer reviews via Zagat’s acquisition and now provide real-time hotel availability and pricing via Google Hotel Finder. No other meta search or travel site comes even close to match the richness and relevancy of hotel information provided by Google.”

Unsurprisingly, given this view, Starkov goes on to emphasise the continued importance of Search Engine Optimisation: making sure that your site is full of the kind of rich, original, frequently renewed content that search engines love (as opposed to just stuffed with keywords.) He also tackles the argument, proposed by some, that fewer people are searching for hotels on Google. Looking at figures from Google Trends (a Google public site, which shows the overall popularity of search terms worldwide) he makes a convincing case that hotel search is only down proportionate to a huge increase in searches for everything else. As Google itself observes, “One keyword does not … represent a fair assessment of hotel search demand on Google as compared to any other search tool. To put it simply, growth in hotel searches may just be lower than that for other high-growth categories. Our internal data shows growth in search interest for hotels.”

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Starkov’s article focuses on the different rates of increase in hotel search across the three devices that people now use to search the internet: desktop, mobile and tablet:

“Google has reported different search dynamics across the three screens: desktop, mobile and tablet for some time now, but there was a noticeable and dramatic increase in hotel queries in the mobile and tablet channels in 2012:

  • Overall (desktop, mobile and tablet): +34%
  • Mobile devices: +120%
  • Tablet devices: +306%

For 2013, Google projects an overall 24% increase in hotel queries:

  • Desktop queries will be down by 4%
  • Mobile queries will be up by 68%
  • Tablet Queries will be up by 180%

Technology has enabled travel consumers to become increasingly mobile and desktop-independent.”

Having said this, however, Starkov concedes that most travellers aren’t yet comfortable, from a security point of view, with actually booking on a mobile device like an iPhone or Android: “Very few people are comfortable entering their credit card information into their iPhone in a public place. Very few hotel mobile websites provide an alternative to guaranteeing your booking without entering your credit card.”

In spite of his occasional fondness for marketing-ese, Max Starkov offers some really fascinating insights into how accommodation search is actually evolving and the points he makes are just as relevant to small independent properties like B&Bs as to big chains.

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