Search for the top things to do in a city, and Google will serve up its search results in a new format, with the main points of interest lining horizontally at the top. If you look at these results like a Google fan, you will note happily that this is Google’s way to “improve” search results “for the user,” to give users up front a comprehensive overview about a city’s main attractions. But if you look like an SEO, PR expert and even travel site owner, the true intentions of Google become apparent: you will never need another travel guide to plan your trips.
I searched for the top things to do in Bucharest, and Google served up a flawless list of the top attractions, lining up horizontally, right under the query box. Under these thumbnails, the usual knowledge graph follows, with travel websites like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, listing the top attractions in a different format – if you ever get to click on their results, that is.
And why would you? These sites are still “old-school” – the format they use to display the attractions, listed for a vertical scroll, is outdated, and “eats up” a lot of your time. Google’s horizontal thumbnail display is pure genius.
If you click on the images to find out more about one of the top attractions, Google leads you to a new search results page, which keeps the points of interest thumbnail band unchanged.
The search results will display first Wikipedia’s page about that specific attraction on the left, followed by the official site of the venue (if any), then other related sites. At the right, the picture of the venue, in thumbnail, near a thumbnail version of its location in the city on a Google map. Under these, a snippet from (again) Wikipedia’s description, followed by address, function, and a link to Google Local reviews.
Everything seems to be designed for the users – and if you wonder why Google is using Wikipedia so much, the answer is simple: because that is free content Google doesn’t need to “ask for permission” to scrap. But this is a different story.
Generally, the images that make the points of interest bar come from Wikipedia too, if they are not images from Google Earth or other sites. But the real problem is that, clicking on the image near the map will not take you to a page describing the venue, but to Google Image results, which is now tweaked to send less traffic to the site owning the image, and keep the user more engaged with Google Image results instead.
From a user’s perspective, all seems fair, but is it? As a site owner, you will see a significant decrease in hits, and all that content you worked so hard to put together, to present comprehensively to your target audiences, is rendered useless. Ask yourself this: why would any user scroll vertically to find your site, when all the top attractions are presented one click away, with beautiful imagery? Every image in the points of interest bar is a search button itself. It takes you to more Google search results, not to an official site presenting the venue. What, in theory, enhances Google searchers’ experience, is designed to kill competition, to eliminate travel guides one by one. Google has been eyeballing the travel industry for so long now – it was just a matter of time.
Google just buried the likes of Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, Nileguide, Virtual Tourist, Igougo and so on. They still can compete as apps, but the Google search results are no longer enough to drive traffic and readers.
Travel site owners should understand that SEO is no longer enough to be found. In fact, with this move, Google rendered SEO useless. What are you still optimizing for?