Hotels – Local Results go Crazy

by Paul Carpenter
Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency

Dave gave a presentation in ProSEO just 3 days ago in which he painted a gloomy future of Google moving into partnerships with certain providers and making use of their own muscle to start replacing traditional organic SERPs with something more within their control. A lot of people thought it was just “tin foil hat” stuff. But as Patrick and others have noticed… local is going mad today. Still trying to gauge everything, but it’s clear there are some big winners and perhaps we’re starting to see behind the curtain as to where Google is headed in a year or two.

Firstly, what do the new results look like?

What we’re seeing are as follows:

  • Map listings moved on top of the Adwords results. And I mean that literally: if you scroll down, the map comes with you and obscures the PPC!
  • Results in the inline SERPs are coming from the map. These aren’t the guys that were ranking before – they’re just being pulled out of the maps and given the organic spots
  • The results themselves are far, far richer than what we’re used to from Google. We’re seeing images, links to reviews, star ratings, a quoted review…

So OK, we’ve probably all seen this coming to some degree. But at the same time there’s something else happening (we think).

Much kudos to the guys at Laterooms for one thing. We see them at #1 for ‘hotels in manchester’, ‘hotels in leeds’, ‘hotels in ripon’. Pretty much everywhere we go… we see Laterooms.

In one sense, you kind of expect that – they’re a big name who rank #1 for ‘hotels’ outright so this could be a knock-on from the ‘contracted long tail’ thing we’ve also been sensing (search for “BMW anything” and the official BMW site comes up, even if you’re looking for parts that don’t exist.)

But then… this results on a search for “cheap hotels in Leeds”:

The main link itself doesn’t even go to a specific page – just Laterooms’ homepage. And a hotel in Manchester is pulled out into the listings, despite being fully 60 miles from Leeds. I guess that could just be an interface glitch but it’s notable that it’s something that again favours Laterooms.

Or, indeed this result: “hotels in manchester” brings back this:

Only the links goes here….

It’s fairly safe to say that ‘hotels’ is on lock down for Laterooms. Nice work by whoever’s responsible ;)

We’ve been wondering when – and if – Google will start to give more weight to sites that it can partner with in some way. Are Laterooms a feed partner? Obviously we don’t know, but taken in tandem with Google’s obvious decision to tie-in with a core set of sites  in this market it is suggestive of something more deliberate…

Where does it leave everyone else?

Dave’s first word was ‘ingenious’. Google are cutting out the directories and local listing results in favour of their own properties. They’re also giving a boost to the little guy. If you can get a local listing – hardly a big ‘if’ – then you can cut straight to the top of the SERPs. It’s a win-win, because PPC has started to spiral out of the reach of smaller businesses as huge brands bid on all keywords regardless. So the big players keep their PPC results and the little guys get a shot at page 1.

Then again, check this out (apologies, but I’ve no idea where I got the screenshot from – if someone knows I’ll give them the link! – UPDATE: it was Dave!)

That’s a paid advert within the local results.

But where does that leave sites like Simon Seeks or Holiday Check? They’re not bad sites by any means, but they’re suddenly standing outside the charmed circle that Google has drawn. Inside that circle is a mix of its own properties and approved partners like Qype, Yelp, TripAdvisor etc. And that ‘approved’ business is quite a biggy. It means that Google isn’t just an algorithm blindly crunching through quality and relevancy signals. It is becoming a direct arbiter in what sites are worthy to appear in the SERPs. The technical difference might be dull, but philosophically it’s a big leap.

Not merely individual sites are looking down the barrel of a gun, but whole business models that rely on organic search. Again, Google’s been doing this for years but this feels different.

Personal gripe #241

Oh – and while we’re at it: stop this Google. Please. I’m in the UK. On Google.co.uk. Whitby’s in Yorkshire, Soho’s in London. It’s not like it’s new

Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency
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