Google Answering Questions in Autocomplete

Well this is something I haven’t seen before, Google answering questions in the autocomplete. 

 

 

I find it quite strange how Google is showing these types of answers from only typing in 3 characters. While the conversion calculator is very useful on Google, I wouldn’t have thought that it would be one of the top searches to warrant showing in the autocomplete. 

Has anyone else spotted this before or seen any similar examples of this in action? 

 

The Travel Industry Must Be Shaking in Their Boots

Why? Because of the latest news announced by Hotel Chatter in an article titled “Google Now Lets Us Virtually Stalk Hotels Without Ever Actually Visiting Them”

This is where you can now use the Google Street View technology to walk around inside hotels. That’s right, view the receptionists, view the lobby, view the restaurant and see what nice plants they have on display. 

 

 

When you enter street view within the hotel listed then you can take a good look around. Take a look at their lovely reception they have at Hotel Lucia;

 

 

After having a short walk around the lobby and reception area (which appears to have been bombed with fresh apples – they must have got a discount on these before the photo shoot!!), I decided I want to take a look around the hotel a little more so I go in the lift to floor 5;

 

 

Now lets take a look at one of their bedrooms in great detail;

 

 

Wow! A full 360 degree view of the bedrooms. You can clearly see what facilities they have in the rooms at a quick glance. Just awesome. 

As you would expect with this kind of new technology, nothing here is quite perfect initially and here is a lovely view of the tripod which took the photos where the algorithm hasn’t quite joined the pictures together in the most elegant way…

 

 

While this isn’t perfect at the moment, it is still leaps and bounds ahead of anything else in the travel industry and will likely be the case for quite some time to come. 

One thing to note is that this is still in its early days and has only been done on a small scale – yet. It will happen in the near future though. 

 

Where has all this come from?

Well actually Google has been interested in this area for quite some time. It was as early as 2010 when Google announced that they would be taking pictures of small local businesses in 30 cities around the world which would initially be for “Right now we’re focusing on businesses like restaurants, cafes, hotels, spas, salons, gyms, and retail stores”

Is this really a surprise that this has come about? I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner as the writing has been on the cards for a number of years now. 

 

Why this would worry the travel industry

Well certainly this isn’t much of a worry for the hotels involved in this scheme, it is great PR and brilliant for their guests. But this is extremely bad for the typical hotel aggregators that are around – and there are an awful lot of these around these days! This industry is full of aggregators and affiliates of affiliates of affiliates who ultimately sell all the same stock at the same prices and offer the same duplicated information about the hotels – where is the added value here? Martin MacDonald did a good post back in July about how affiliate marketing in travel shout be dead and how travel websites need to add real value to their real businesses. 

In reality, most travel aggregator websites simply don’t offer any more value than the next one. There is all the talk about ‘branding’ within the industry, but a brand is more than a nice colour scheme, logo and brand values. Branding is about actually making the website better, actually making the business better, making it stand out from the crowd, doing something uniquely different….e.g. what Google have gone and done. 

With travel accounting for such a large percentage of Google’s traffic / search queries then I am not surprised they are really pushing this area. The figure that springs to mind is that the travel industry accounts for around 10% of searches on Google – I can’t remember (or find!) where I read that figure so don’t quote that as gospel (hey, I may have made it up and convinced myself I read it somewhere! who knows). 

If you look at the recent work Google have done in the travel industry though;

  • Google Hotel finder launched
  • Google Flight Search launched 
  • Google bought Zaggat and integrated their reviews
  • Google bought Frommers and is working on integrating (no doubt!) this into their services
  • Google launches Street View for inside hotels

 

What is coming next? Well, if I were Google I would start to combine all of these wonderful products into one awesome ‘holiday’ tool which would allow me to easily pick & choose the right hotel based on  the great photos, user reviews and the interactive view of inside the hotel. This choice would be after I have chosen my perfect city to visit after reading the travel guide content provided from Frommers and then I would book a flight to the destination. – All at the click of a few buttons and under one large Google product. 

Then if I were Google, I would then put this awesome “Google Travel” tool at the top of the search results and begin to force it down peoples necks. And ultimately, this would be such as awesome tool that the other usual aggregators can’t compete with this.

What happens after that? Well, users then get used to this nice usability and extra functionality and begin to question why they are using their previous aggregator websites (the ones with the nice branding logo) when everything can be simply done via Google, so the consumer behavior begins to shift and the intermediaries are left wondering how the rug could have been pulled from under them so quickly.

 

What can be done?

Step up! (no, not the dance film). Step up as a business owner. Google has made a lot of strategic acquisitions over the past few years and has integrated those acquired technologies into new products and services. The writing is on the wall, Google is clear about where they are heading (regardless of the BS they spout out in official PR).

It is time to become the dominant player in the industry instead of letting Google walk all over a whole industry and potentially wiping out an awful lot of businesses over the next few years. It is going to take a lot of effort, an awful lot of effort to do this – but if little is done in the industry then don’t be surprised when Google finally screw everyone over. 

 

Google’s Anti-Competitive Social Search Results

This post is a bit of a rant so don’t read if you love and believe everything Google says….

It does get on my nerves sometimes how Google always bangs on about how everything it does is “good for the user”. Rubbish is what I say. When searching for “GoDaddy” yesterday I noticed another push towards Google’s own products again;

 

 

Yes there it is, more Google+ in your face. But it did get me wondering if the same was happening for Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts. Surely if Google honestly believed in providing things which are best for the user the same ‘latest post’ would also show for the other social networks? Well I certainly can’t see anything listed on that search results for anyone but Google’s own products for the generic “GoDaddy” search. 

So, how about I try a slightly different search query to try and ‘force’ Google to show this content, a search for “GoDaddy Facebook“;

 

 

What?!? Where? I see nothing! Surely if this is best for the user then Google would also show GoDaddy’s latest post on Facebook too? Something is smelling fishy here to me….

Ok, I’ll give Google the benefit of the doubt here and maybe Larry & Sergey just don’t like Mark Zuckerberg that much. After all, Mark has just become extremely wealthy and passed them on the ‘Scale of Super-rich-ness’, maybe Larry and Sergey are simply jealous? 

 

Larry Page’s Wealth

 

Sergey Brin’s Wealth

 

Mark Zuckerberg’s Wealth

 

 

How about Twitter and LinkedIn then, surely they display the same ‘latest post’ information if Google is really providing what is “best for the user”?

Search for “GoDaddy Twitter“;

 

 

Search for “GoDaddy LinkedIn“;

 

 

 

Nope, nothing at all for anything except Google’s own products. Anti-competitive? Or was their development team only half way through this project and decided to take a nice holiday for a few months until they can implement it for the other social networks? I wonder!?! 

No skin off my nose here as I don’t own any of those social networks if I did, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post if I did – instead I would probably be writing to the European Commission about how Google is abusing their power in the search market…..oh wait….looks like they already have

Seriously Google, this “good for the user” nonsense is not fooling anyone. 

 

< /rant>

 

Addition (23rd May 2012);

Spotted another example of how anti-competitive Google are….

Google+ being promoted

 

 

How this would look in a competitive world which is ‘best for the user’;

 

 

#wishfulthinking

 

 

Who Is Playing About At Google Webmaster Tools?

Someone is having a laugh at Google Webmaster Tools tonight!! When checking the dashboard of one of my accounts the language on the “Crawl Errors” section keeps randomly changing when I refresh the page. 

Here the page is in English (what my account it set up for!)

 

 

Then here is it in French

 

 

Then here is it in German

 

 

Then here it is in Spanish

 

 

And finally, here it is in Polish

 

 

All of the above is happening randomly and on its own when I am clicking back to the dashboard, I am not changing any language settings or anything like that and I only have English as my language settings on my browser. 

Whilst I would love to speak all of those languages, I can’t (maybe I should learn?). Maybe this is Google’s way of teaching the world new languages? On the other hand it could simply be a coding error on one of their latest code base updates. 

Certainly put a smile on my face tonight when looking around!! ha ha.  :-) 

Can we get this fixed though please Google :-) 

 

Google Showing Results By Reading Level

I spotted an additional feature on Google the other day which I have not spotted before, which is allowing a user to filter through the results by reading level as seen in the image below. 

To find this interesting feature, you need to search for your normal query (in my case, the frequent ‘London Hotels‘ query) then if you click on the ‘more search tools’ link on the left hand side, you will see the additional filters

Then click on the link from the expanded filters, ‘reading level’ as shown below

When you click through on this section, you get presented with the results shown in the first image where you can select the different results by reading level. To see this in action visit Google and give it a try. Google even provides a rough percentage guide to show what the quality of content each website is showing. 

Here are the links to the different reading levels for the London Hotels search query so you can have a play;

So whilst this verifies Google’s intent towards algorithmically scoring content based on how high quality it is, it is certainly nowhere near perfect. Here is one of the listings listed as ‘advanced reading level’, when in reality the only text content on the page is a list of destinations within London – which I wouldn’t exactly class as ‘advanced’. 

 

 

Either way, I am sure Google will get better with this part of their algorithm. How they actually determine what is at a basic/intermediate/advanced reading level, I am not quite sure. I imagine it would have to be query dependent, since an advanced reading level for someone searching for “Noddy” (is that still going?) would be a reading level of around 6-7 years old. Whereas someone searching for quantum physics, a ‘basic’ reading level would be extremely high for any normal people (I would dread to think what would be classed as an advanced reading level). 

Looking at the examples mentioned above, it doesn’t appear that the reading level is currently taking into account the search query. 

Noddy‘ search query results has 81% of the results which are at a basic reading level

Where as ‘Quantum Physics‘ search query results have 73% which are at an intermediate level and 22% which are at an advanced level. 

I guess you really need to be writing for your audience here, at whatever level required. Google will no doubt be using this in some way or another, possibly as a ranking factor (however they factor this in) or possibly not. The best course of action is to create great, useful content that is well written since this is what is going to cause people to naturally want to share your content with their friends. 

Get writing great content! 

 

 

Google Hotel Finder Showing In Search Results

Well, it was only a matter of time before this happened. Google have just started to test showing their Hotel Finder product at the very top of the search results, above the organic and above the paid listings – in the exact same way they do with the mortgage comparison tool. 

As you can see in the screenshot above, this is being tested on one of the top searched for phrases in the hotel booking industry which is never a good sign. Google has even included the options to filter by star rating of hotel. 

I spotted the above when searching for “London Hotels” on Google.com in Internet Explorer (I was testing something in it, honest, don’t look down on me for using it! :-p ) and I was not signed in to my Google account. 

Below is the exact same thing that Google has done in the mortgage industry, so it is not like this hasn’t been on the cards since they launched Hotel Finder back in late July.

 

Fortunately, Google hasn’t really fully tested the options yet as the ‘book’ button doesn’t actually do anything. The button currently just takes you through to this page, although I imagine when this gets fully rolled out that the ‘book’ button will take users straight through to their Hotel Finder product. That said, the main link does take a user through to the Hotel Finder product already. 

I posted a while ago about whether Google is turning into a hotel aggregator and about travel dates becoming more prominent within the search results. But more important questions need to be asked about the Google monopoly and what can be done against it.   

Just a quick full screenshot of everything above the fold now for a ‘London Hotels’ search, which is 100% Google products / ads. Shocking

The tests run by Google are usually around 5% of the search queries, although I have no doubt that Google will be ramping this figure up extremely fast. It is certainly a nice Xmas present from Google for the travel industry! But it could be worse I guess, they could have unleashed a Panda update again. 

 

 

Blocking Websites in Search Results When Bouncing

Google is moving more towards the personalised search results by having a prominent button to “block all {website} results” if a user clicks on a result then bounces out again. 

This is a nice feature for the user since if they don’t like either the brand or the look/feel of the site then they never have to go back. Although the button is in a very prominent position and can accidentally be clicked. When you do click on the “block all {website} results” the following message does show, which allows users to undo this if they have made a mistake. 

To manage all of your blocked sites, visit the Managed Block Sites page on Google where you can unblock any sites you have had a change of heart on. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Google is using some of this data towards their ranking algorithm, not directly but more as a guide as to show what websites people don’t like. Google used a similar method for confirming their Panda update was accurate back in February when they announced they checked the websites impacted by Panda with what websites users had blocked using a Google Chrome extension. 

It certainly puts more weight towards keeping people on your site for longer.For large blog websites such as Search Engine Land, who I imagine get a large proportion of their traffic from search, then this is going to show each time a user searches for a topic on Google  and lands on a blog which answers their query. Is that really a good thing? Not too sure, but we will see how this develops. 

One way to encourage people to view more content on the site is to have a section for ‘related content’ on the page, whether that is in the form of text links or images/videos. This is not just to avoid people blocking your website, but to genuinely help your website visitors. 

 

 

 

Google Showing Number of +1’s in Sponsored Adverts

Google is now showing the number of people who have +1’d a page in the sponsored listings. Below is a listing for Booking.com, an online travel agent for hotels, and you can see the number of people who have +1’d their page. 

I have previously been a little reluctant to add the Google +1 button in a prominent position, since there wasn’t any conclusive evidence to suggest how it would help. Google have always said that “+1’s help with rankings”, yet haven’t provided any evidence to suggest so. But with this new development, this additional space on the SERPs can only help with the click through rate, so it would be worth installing to see if this has any impact. 

It is interesting that not everyone is showing this data at the moment. It is possible that a website / page has to receive a critical amount of +1’s before Google will show the information within the sponsored listings, since it wouldn’t make you want to click on an advert if only 5 people had +1’d the page before. 

Another interesting item within the listings above are the seller reviews, which are reviews of the company itself not reviews of the products they sell. So again, always encourage more people reviewing you as a company as this will help with the click through rate.

The main sources of the company reviews are from the following websites;

Update: 31st October 2011

ReviewCentre.com did a useful post over on their blog which answers some of the common questions they get asked about this. Here are some useful bits from the blog post which explain a little more;

  • “For Google Product Search ratings to appear your business must have at least 30 unique seller reviews.”
  • “Reviews aren’t added to Google Product in real time” – ReviewCentre.com have noticed approximately a two month lag time prior to the reviews being shown. This is a very similar time period to how Rich Snippets show up in the search results once they have been implemented. 
  • There is no ‘deal’ with Google and it is simply Google crawling ReviewCentre’s content and matching this up at their end, which is why some strange results are often seen when Google doesn’t quite get it right. 

Google Best Guess Snippet in Search Results

Spotted an interesting snippet at the top of the Google search results yesterday when having a snoop around. The query was for “Who owns Expedia” and Google is showing me a ‘Best Guess’. This seems to be a test at the moment as I haven’t been able to spot any other queries where this shows, although Mark Rushworth spotted a this with a different query yesterday too, “BP Country”. 

Could this be a more towards more directly answering questions opposed to listing websites that could answer the question? Who knows, but thought I would share. 

 

Is Google Turning Into A Hotel Aggregator?

There has been a lot of developments over the past few years with Google in the travel industry and their actions are ones I have been closely watching. With Google Hotel Finder launching earlier this year it is interesting to see how Google is changing.

When searching for hotels online there are two main categories of searches

  • Destination searches such as London Hotels
  • Hotel name searches such as The Lowry Hotel

So if we have a look at each of these to see how Google is handling these now we may get an idea of what lies in store in the next year or so.

 

Destination Searches

Looking at the search term Manchester Hotels we can see that there are several important parts to this.

Here we can see several parts to this section which are

  • The link for “Places for hotels near Manchester” and “More results near Manchester”.
  • The travel dates are listed
  • A selection of individual hotel websites are listed
  • Different recommended search terms related to “Manchester Hotels”
  • Nearby locations

Lets take a look at each one of these and see how Google are handling this.

 

Places for hotels near Manchester

This is where the link goes to. 

As we can see above, there are what you would expect to see on any hotel aggregator website such as

  • Hotel name
  • Brief snippet of information (albeit a very poor snippet)
  • Link to show where the hotel is located on a map
  • Average rating of the hotel
  • Number of reviews of this hotel
  • Price of the hotel for today

When comparing this to some of the hotel aggregators, it seems Google has got a lot of the areas covered already. Hotel aggregators really need to step up in terms of innovation to ensure they are staying ahead of Google which is going to be quite a challenge.

 

Travel Dates Listed in SERPs

This is a great option for customers since this will automatically update the prices from various different hotel aggregators when the date is chosen.

 

Individual Hotels Listed

Again great for the user since this allows them to go direct to the hotel who may be able to deal with their queries better.

 

Related Search Terms and Nearby Locations

These ultimately send the user through the same process as above but with a more refined search.

 

Hotel Name Searches

Now if we have a look through the same process for hotel name searches to see how Google is handling these.

These listings within the SERPs are a first step towards integrating all of the universal search items into one nice area, which nicely takes up a large part of the results and is positioned prominently above everything else. Now for a user, this again does make sense to have the hotels listing first with other good content pulled together from various sources. My main issue with this though is that Google is notoriously bad at grouping things together like this and there is often a lot of errors with either images or reviews that are listed.

This listing has got all of the items that have been discussed but is just formatted in a nicer way. The interesting point will come when this switch is made from a listing like above to a similar listing like found on Google Hotel Finder as seen below

I have no doubt that this is on the cards for Google, it is just a matter of when they will do this or begin directing users towards their own Hotel Finder product.

 

How Much Can Google Reviews Be Trusted?

One item that Google has yet to work on though is the quality of the reviews left for hotels. Since there is no way of Google knowing if the person has actually stayed in the hotel and this is there hotel aggregators can stand out as they have the full booking details of the customer and know if they have stayed there. In addition hotel aggregators also have manual checking process in place to keep hotel reviews high quality.

As for how Google may overcome this issue, I am not sure yet. Although I imagine there will be some kind of information linked in with Google Plus in a very similar way of how Page Rank works. I.e. If the person leaving a review has an active Google Plus profile, lots of friends & followers and is also active on other Google products. This would be one way to class a reviewer as trustworthy or not. The same is on Twitter when it is obvious someone who has just began following you is a bot due to their statistics.

 

Is Google Going To Become a Competitor?

In a recent article from Marketing Week, apparently not.

 “We have no intention of entering the booking space” – Google

Although I am not convinced. There are a lot of options open to Google in this industry and it is an extremely lucrative area for them, so only time will tell exactly what they will do. One thing for certain is that the travel industry needs to step up their game to compete against Google.