The usual suspects in travel and hospitality are the most successful at leading the Google search game, but more than half of the total market share is still up for grabs.
Conductor, an organic search and content marketing company, tracked nearly 45,000 search terms that consumers used to find products, services and information in the first six months of 2018 to produce its Travel & Hospitality Market Leaders report.
The report identifies brands that consistently rank in the top organic spots in the United States for high volume and relevant searches for information or products.
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For the overall category of search across flights, hotels, cruises and other travel categories, TripAdvisor now leads, having surpassed Expedia in the fourth quarter of 2017.
But even at the top, TripAdvisor only owns 9% of the searches. Expedia is second with 8%, followed by Kayak and Hotels.com with 6% each. More than half - 56% - of the market share is not consistently held by one brand, which creates valuable opportunities for smaller suppliers to dominate search at the local level.
“For specific focused searches, there is a heavy degree of local competition going on,” says Christine Schrader, content marketing manager at Conductor.
“They aren’t fighting over the keyword ‘hotel,’ for example. That’s going to be owned by the big guys, the major chains. But they might be fighting over smaller things - when you are looking for a discount hotel in New York or a specific attraction in a specific place.”
The customer journey
TripAdvisor also leads search performance for travelers in the early stages of planning, garnering 9% of all organic searches, as travelers look for reviews, information and inspiration.
Over the years, the brand has built trust with its users that its reviews are accurate, and that has allowed them to curate those reviews into search-friendly content that directly answers common questions being asked on Google.
“You’ll see people asking questions in the TripAdvisor community, and then they [TripAdvisor] actually behind the scenes compiles these into search-friendly data that is localized, specific and based on real queries from real people within the community itself answering it. So they’ve been able to leverage it a lot more than a lot of these other review sites have been able to,” Schrader says.
For travelers in the middle part of their trip planning, as they compare destinations and properties and ask questions, U.S. News’ Travel site leads in search with 14%. In the late stage, Cheapflights.com has passed Expedia to take the top spot with 14%.
Cheapflights.com has also jumped ahead for flight-related search. It was in fourth place in December 2017 but now sits at first, with 13%, followed by Kayak (11%) and Expedia (9%).
Schrader credits Cheapflights.com’s success to a strong content strategy that is based on providing useful information on its blog, such as a detailed guide to different airline classes that ranks first for queries such as “flight classes,” “airline classes” and long-tail keywords like “What are the different flight classes?”
Articles such as this allow the brand to capture the attention of travelers early in their planning, creating a relationship that pays off in the long run.
“If you provide something of value, something that fixes a problem or teaches them something and you aren’t asking anything in return, that sets up the brand as customer-first, and I’ll trust them with a later-stage purchase much more easily than I might otherwise,” she says.
For hotels, Hotels.com remains at the top with 18%, but TripAdvisor is catching up. Conductor found TripAdvisor has expanded its market share of the hotel category by 6% since 2017 to now own 17% of the searches. Expedia comes in third at 11%.
In the category of attractions , TripAdvisor leads (10%), followed by Planetware (8%), VacationIdea and U.S. News (both at 6%). And for cruises, Cruise Critic (11%) is at the top followed by Norwegian (10%) and Carnival (9%).
While Google displays a variety of types of search results, including images, news, videos and “answer boxes” - information pulled from one of the first 10 organic results - in travel and hospitality, the majority of the top results are local results, which are geotagged and link back to the business’ website.
“You’ll see a lot of the smaller players jostling in those local results,” Schrader says.
“The smaller players are able to get very specific for Google about that local thing. These queries are localized to one market, to one place, to one set of searches. These are really important because … Google’s algorithm decides what kind of content are people really looking for - what are they clicking on. It takes that into account and serves them more of that.”
Conductor reports hotel reservations and airline tickets are the most frequently purchased items on mobile after clothing. Analyzing two large markets, New York and Los Angeles, the study found Expedia, TripAdvisor and Kayak lead mobile searches.
“Even more than the marketing community as a whole, for travel in particular you are talking about really driving people along the sales funnel as they are doing these things on phones and tablets,” Schrader says.
She says Conductor will continue to explore this category of search now that Google is shifting to mobile-first indexing.
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