TWO leading Australian online travel experts have rejected emotional claims that the launch of Google Hotel Finder spells the death of search engine optimisation – or ‘free’ Google listings – for the hotel, OTA and accommodation industries.

The basis of these claims is that by squeezing Google Hotel Finder paid search box into the initial results page, Google has pushed all organic hotel or OTA listings ‘below the fold’: ie everything the consumer immediately sees is paid advertising.

But Georg Ruebensal, Managing Director of Expedia Australia, said: “We have not seen an impact on SEO at this stage, either for domestic or international searches. Travel SEO has been pronounced dead a couple of times before but it hasn’t happened. There’s still a lot of opportunity to invest in SEO.”

Screen grab - Google Hotel Finder

Mr Ruebensal says the most likely impact will be to increase paid search rates because Google has reduced the number of paid ads at the top of the page from three or four to just two to make room for Hotel Finder.

“The top spots are the place to be from an SEM perspective and (reducing inventory) simply increases competition and drives up the cost per click,” he says.

Kate Gamble,  Director of SEO, Social Media and Digital Content Strategy at Bruce Clay Australia, which oversees search for the Toga Hospitality and Best Western accommodation brands, has seen no impact on SEO conversion at this early stage of the Google Hotel Finder rollout.

“It’s not really going to change SEO,” she says. “I think evidence from previous Google changes tells us that, for a period of time, some users get distracted but then revert back to their original behavior.” By that she means scrolling down the first page of results to find a natural result that suits their search.

And the reality is that the days when natural results appeared well above the fold are ancient history in web terms. In fact, there are now more natural results on the first Google results page than ever before – up to 29 or 30 for some searches, with organic accounting for roughly 60% and paid 40% – plus a map.

“It is getting very crowded on the front page,” Mr Ruebensal says.

In the golden olden days, it was all text and there may have been 10 organic listings. But it was easier to get seen because there was so much less competition. Search was only being seriously deployed by a savvy few. The rest were yet to catch on.

Now everyone is doing and the competition is cut-throat. Search isn’t fun or easy any more – just a very expensive necessity.

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