The OED surmises that the word “algorithm” may come from the Greek word to “find”, which is why it is often used for processes that learn and discover. And with more than 3.5 billion searches a day, Google’s algorithm for search helps us “find” our next destination, answers logistics questions about traveling and inspires us to explore our world. And while Google’s core updates can seem like a monolithic force tinkering with our destinations’ site traffic and digital goals, the updates have actual human beings (called Search Quality raters) whose primary responsibility is to ensure that Google is helping real people. This in turn, forces us to create compelling content that is for real travelers.
The human relationship with technology is always evolving, but the rise of voice recognition has led us to treat our mobile devices as companions. It’s estimated that voice will comprise 50% of all search terms in 2020 and Google is focusing on semantic search, in which it looks for context and intent rather than just a keyword. And people (humans that is) do not voice search by keyword; they ask a question that is related to a specific time, place and context. Where is the best pizza near me? Will it rain tomorrow? What are the best family-friendly places in Chicago? These are specific questions that have a finite amount of results – and if your site has the answers to the questions people are asking, you get ranked more highly in search. With more than 90% of Millennials conducting “near me” searches, focusing on semantics rather than individual keywords will yield better results.
The increase of long-tail keywords (estimated at about 70% of searches) shows that people are being specific in their searches, which gives Google more context to return an accurate search result. The Google algorithm updates in 2019 have focused on improving the interpretation of complex long-tail search queries, as well as favoring trust and expertise, elevating content quality. The last update of 2019 (November) positively impacted travel sites in the US, as Google continued tweaking its BERT algorithm, which focuses on machine learning of natural language and the nuance of context.
In addition to context, Google’s algorithms rely heavily on search intent, which means that you need to consider the impetus behind the search heavily in your content. There are, generally speaking four categories of search intent: informational (what is the best time to visit New Orleans), navigational (top ten restaurants in New Orleans), commercial investigation (Jazz Fest vs. Mardi Gras) and transactional (book flight to New Orleans). These roughly correlate to vacation planning stages, so it is critical in your content strategy to develop content that is relevant to those decision-making phases, thus giving you a higher ranking for all different types of intent.
While the technical aspects of SEO remain necessary, quality content planning and development will help ride the wave of Google core updates. Go beyond keywords to questions people ask and the needs that are driving their travel questions to structure and inform your destination content. Keep thinking of website traffic as actual human beings who are truly seeking their next great vacation.