By Martin Kelly, Editor, Travel Trends

Google has started rolling out Universal Search across its Australian and NZ sites, a move that is already having major SEO ramifications for online travel businesses, and is also encouraging consumers to post accommodation reviews on its own website.

Universal Search means that people who use the main Google search engine will potentially not just get text links but also maps, images, news and video results in response to their query.

Previously these had been segregated – that is, if you wanted an image you had to search the ‘Google Images’ vertical, or the ‘Google Video’ vertical etc.

Now they are increasingly aggregated in the main search page, and this is having a major impact on the natural and paid search results, especially for businesses.

For example, some travel businesses which have listed themselves on Google Maps via either the Google Local Business Centre or True Local are getting organic search precedence over their competitors.

A classic example is for the extremely popular search term ‘Sydney hotels’ – the target of intense paid search competition – where the top three natural results are for hotels marked on an adjacent map.

The map, as the only visual on the results page, immediately draws the eye away from everything else, including the paid ads.

In addition, the listing provides two links – one to the hotel’s site, the other to rich info actually housed on the Google site; things like images, contacts, reviews (consolidated from the likes of Trip Advisor) and so on.

Intriguingly, visitors to these pages are also asked if they’d like to add a review, including a star rating, using a Google service.

The same thing happens with ‘Melbourne hotels’ and you can also try ‘chemist Rose Bay’ to get the typical small business picture.

Looks like the game has changed for ever, and it has only just begun.

Google spokesman Rob Shilkin said there’s “no specific timetable” as to when the rollout will be complete.

Be ahead of the SEO race and take the lead with search engine marketing.

Travel Trends: November 1, 2007

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