No question now that Google is the world’s most important travel company. A storm of publicity follows every single thing its does.The latest controversy is the rise and rise of Google Places, which is having a big impact on website traffic. Here’s how you can cope.

Use Google Places, don’t complain about it. Sure, Google Places has thrown the web travel world into a whirl but do something about it. Get yourself a free map listing and take it from there. Optimise the hell out of it. If you haven’t twigged that Maps (core of Google Places) has been on the rise for the past 18 months, certain to dominate organic search, then you’ve been living in cave. You should take this as a signal that more attention has to be paid to world around you. Get out more, read more, educate yourself, attend conferences, talk with people, get out of that rut. Change is the only constant.

Always put your business first. That’s what Google does, continually placing its business needs ahead of everything else. Why not? Business is about making money, something many believe these latest changes are designed to do by driving more traffic to Google properties or paid links, for which growth rates have been declining. Then in the Google order comes consumers (“We built Google for users, not websites,” Google told the Wall Street Journal recently). Somewhere after that are its paid search customers. To put it another way – never ever rely on Google. 

Diversify advertising spend. Or as granny used to say, never put all your eggs in one basket. It’s basic business maxim but one which many online companies – some of them huge – have ignored, focussing everything on the web. TripAdvisor is a good example, its visitor growth is predicated on search engine visibility, something that is no longer guaranteed. Its Google traffic has fallen 10% since Google Places was launched. Who’s fault is that? Other big websites are in a similar predicament, having spent years living off Google they must now start spending marketing dollars elsewhere.

Build brand. I believe that you can’t build brand by relying only on Google, which naturally says otherwise. In my opinion, building a genuine brand comes by marketing through different mediums, in different ways, though based around a simple core concept, a tagline, a look, a feel. But the omnipitence of Google has made a lot of businesses lazy. For many, marketing consists of employing a bunch of maths geeks to crunch numbers, flunkies to build links  and others to optimise copy. No magazines, newspapers, TV, banner advertising, direct mail etc. Just search engine ads responding directly to a query, back to a landing/booking page and, hopefully, a transaction. But no relationship with the brand.

Wean your business off search adddiction. The irony is that spending money in other mediums to build brand cuts your search marketing costs and dependance on paid search, as Webjet has demonstrated in the Australian market. Webjet made a commitment years ago to billboard, television and cable advertising while maintaining a significant search spend with a strong focus on optimisation. The ads are cheesy but they work, driving traffic direct to its website and also encouraging consumers to key in ‘Webjet’ to the Google search box. And this is one area you can rely on Google, a brand search will always return the brand. This has allowed Webjet to significantly reduce it search spend but most importanty lessen its vulnerability to the whims of Google.

Decide if you’re a website or a business. If you’ve made the correct choice, and ticked the business box, start acting like one.

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