News + Insights
Google Update: Impact On Hospitality
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In Google’s 2023 IO, the company announced a wave of updates to their platforms, with particular emphasis on the integration of AI and user generated content into search engine results. These updates have the potential to profoundly change the way we as users use Google and engage with content.
The first fundamental shift in experience is the newly announced Perspectives tab, which aims to turn search into a more social experience by sourcing content from social networks and forums. This is a marked change in approach and one that seems to be driven by Google's recent 'Helpful Content' update which favours first-hand experience but that could also be said to contradict the historic Google ideal of authority in search. With the growing trend, particularly in younger users, of turning to social media (and TikTok in particular) to look for information, Google is integrating user generated content from forums, video platforms and social media into the previously text heavy world of search. The stated intention is to provide these types of sources when a user may benefit from the experiences of others, and in hospitality where word of mouth, reviews and user generated content are all key sources of inspiration and recommendation we can easily see how Perspectives may influence the user journey.
Historically, authority in search had come from the weight of brand names, reviews and SEO-friendly work such as backlinks, whereas under the Perspectives tab it is entirely the first-hand experience of the content creator and how useful end users find the information which will give authority. The greater integration of non-text formats within Search taps into one growing area of focus for hospitality and that is the use of video, particularly vertical formats, to provide timely informational content about properties across social channels.
Ultimately however the greater prevalence of video as a go-to source for research and inspiration for travellers will be influenced by one factor which will always remain relevant for hoteliers and that is guest experience. In favouring user generated content within the context of search, Google is providing a platform for real people to provide their reviews to an audience of billions. Getting the guest experience right may be more important than ever.
In addition, Google announced their long awaited integration of AI into the search engine results page on Google. In their words, the aim is to ‘take more of the work out of searching’, by using AI to power Google’s response to users. Surfacing information from across the web into a conversational answer, the idea is that this initial response will prompt users to continue their research whether through dedicated links which evidence where the AI model sourced its information from or by engaging with prompts to question the model further.
Examples so far have focused on eCommerce, providing a response which combines assistance through AI, top products and further questions alongside sponsored product listings but it is easy to see how this could apply in hospitality.
Users historically visit 38 sites before making a decision on travel, with Google being the primary gateway to finding information about locations, flights, hotels and experiences. In integrating generative AI into search, Google is enabling users to conduct this research conversationally, prompted to discover more through snapshots gathered by AI from around the web.
This could have a profound impact on the types of content which is being surfaced, but chimes with recent updates from Google which focus more on how results should provide useful information to end users. In 2022, Google launched their ‘helpful content’ update, encouraging websites to focus on ‘people first content’ that makes users feel ‘they’ve had a satisfying experience’. Prompts within the AI powered search experience are phrased as questions, which leaves us as marketers with an even greater focus on responding to users needs.
In December 2022, Google updated their content quality guidelines to add in Experience (alongside Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) as a marker for site quality, meaning first-hand or life experience with a topic. Communicating to your audience this experience appears likely to be a key way to ensure your content is both used to influence AI language models but also linked to as an authoritative source for that AI. Providing helpful content on things such as hotel features and amenities, or your neighbourhood and nearby experiences may help to surface this content within the new search landscape.