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For years, tourism conferences have been featuring a speaker from Google’s Travel Team.
The idea behind inviting him or her — and it’s usually a rotating cast of representatives, with few exceptions — to speak is that destinations and their travel-industry members can hear directly from the mouth of The Big G (that’s Google, not God, whose all-powerfulness can’t guarantee you get on the first page of search results). The hope for attendees is that they can somehow unravel the giant SEO mystery and help elevate their search rankings so potential visitors can find them online.
Google’s basic answer: Good content and, of course, money. That’s not quite how they word it, though. Here’s how a frequent Google Travel speaker was listed on a conference brochure for South Dakota: “Google works one-on-one with destination marketers to understand the changing online landscape and develop integrated, measurable marketing strategies. [Google Speaker’s] expertise in managing and optimizing campaigns ranges from search engine marketing, to display networks, to video, social and Google TV Ads.”
So, this Google Travel speaker (a likable chap) might advise attendees to put up some great video and he’ll show a cool example or three of destinations that have done this and then he’ll show some cool graphs to help them understand who has watched it and how much time they spent watching and he’ll help you imagine how cool it would be if you could show your bosses all this amazing information.
But Google knows destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and other major players in the travel industry will spend money to create something nice, because their professional organization demands it. And once they’ve invested in that, it seems silly to just upload it and forget about it. They’ll want to make sure people see it. And that means paying to have it show up with various keywords or have it placed in key markets.
In other words, the travel industry’s biggest spenders will be paying Google to advertise this new content that Google just advised them to create. And because everyone is doing it, everyone will have to spend even more to get any noticeable effect, and in certain key markets or niche topics, the high-speed online ad pricing structure is such that travel companies will be bidding against each other (without realizing it) and driving the price up.
Sure, someone can create that unique video, like WestJet’s Christmas commercial (36 million views and counting), that goes viral. But for every one of those, there are thousands that don’t go much further than their paid placement.
And once that YouTube market starts getting saturated, Google has plenty of other options up their sleeve. They might suggest paid keywords for blogs or photos or social. It’s as if Google has become the Sylvester McMonkey McBean of the tourism industry.
Then up came McBean with a very sly wink.
And he said, “Things are not quite as bad as you think.
So you don’t know who’s who. That is perfectly true.
But come with me, friends. Do you know what I’ll do?
I’ll make you, again, the best Sneetches on the beaches.
And all it will cost you is ten dollars eaches.”
– Dr Seuss, The Sneetches
For the few who don’t recall the storyline, McBean eventually gets all the Sneetches running through his star-on and star-off machines, paying again and again for that elusive status advantage. At the end of the day, with all their discretional funds spent, McBean packs up and moves on to richer pastures.
Replace the Sneetches’ stars with SEO ranking and key online ad placement and suddenly this may feel like it’s hitting a little close to home.
Google has not just travel companies, but virtually every industry running in and out of their SEO/Keyword/Content machine. And they’re not just taking money each time. In some cases, they’re tapping into your content and the Big G will likely figure out how to earn some money off that as well.
There’s no question that the continually growing array of products Google offers are part of any company’s marketing equation, but it’s healthy to take a step back, see it for what it is, and try to ask what other things can be done — things you may have more control over (e.g. great customer service, innovative new product) — to improve your online presence.
Doug Lansky is the Destinations Editor for Skift, an author and travel writer who has been published in dozens of major publications from The Guardian to National Geographic Traveler, an advisor for destinations, and a keynote speaker at tourism conferences around the world. More at www.douglansky.com.