Interview Transcript

How have you seen SEO and SEM evolve, since your EasyToBook days, versus as your time at Google, in 2012? How has that landscape evolved?

In 2008, SEM was still pre-Google Travel. I worked for a hotel reservation website, so that’s why I relate to pre-Google Travel and post-Google Travel, because pre-Google Travel, when you were advertising, Google was searching your own page, 10 blue links and some ads around it. That was Google. It was all keyword based, so you determined what the keywords were that you wanted to advertise on. You were manually, sometimes with the help of a bid tool, just putting in the cost per click, the base that you want to make, how much you want to pay per click. Slowly, there was an introduction of fee-based marketing, so you could actually connect your own database of hotels to Google, so you were automatically advertising all the names of the hotels. Hotel queries, so the amount of people that were searching for travel, on Google, they were growing through the roof. Double digits, easily. That was the SEM landscape.

Then the SEO landscape, in 2008, it was still very, very rewarding to do sponsored posts, to do guest posts. It was about creating a lot of result pages, offering a lot of pages of your website. In travel, I’ll give you an example, when you go to a website, you have to enter your search query – where you want to go, when, arrival date, departure date, how many people – and then you search. The page that then comes, is actually a dynamic page. It’s not indexed by Google.

So what we did back then was, we created a lot of these result pages statically, as well. For instance, in Amsterdam, we had a page that was around a certain point of interest. This page would be indexed to Google; we would create a static page out of it. We would do that with lots of points of interest. We would also do that with, for instance, family-friendly hotels. We would make a filter on it and create a static page out of it. Creating all of these static pages, was already valuable. But not many people were doing this. Booking was one of the first to do this. They were so fast to pick up in hotel reservations, because many of the old-school websites, they still wanted you to go through the home page and just make your search there and then they’d take you wherever you want. But Booking said, every page below, every page that you can reach in our website, we just make it indexable for Google and make sure that whenever people are looking for it on Google, they would find that page.

That was the state in 2008. How has it evolved in the past decade? Google bought ITA, a huge software company in flights, so they indexed all of the flights, globally. This was the core of Google Travel. It was the core to create Google Flights. It was the core to Google’s strategy, to go beyond the 10 blue links, because they saw that people actually didn’t want to see 10 blue links, when they were searching for a travel query. Whether it was a flight or a hotel, it wasn’t the right answer. Unless they’re right, they were being caught up by companies that did offer something more than 10 blue links. They had to change their strategy, in order to keep their relevance and dominance in the travel vertical. I think they did this very smartly.

Nowadays, I would say, especially in flights and hotels, probably 50% of the advertising spend is on the metasearch products, by Google. That’s a huge difference. It’s the same, by the way, for shopping. Google Shopping, also at least 50% of the clicks that are landing there, rather than on one of the conventional Google Ads.

The search engine result page does not only contain those Hotel Ads, but they also have a knowledge panel, the panel on the right, that when you look for a hotel, for instance, shows a lot more information about the hotel, with reviews, but also hotel ads. You have map integration, so you also get maps on the search engine result page but also, if you are in Google Maps, you get HotelFinder. So it’s cross-pollination of these products; if you run ads, they are not only on the search engine result page, but also on Maps, they are on the knowledge pane, even in Google Voice, the Google Assistant, they can even end up there, so that’s a big difference.

In the old days, you were bidding manually on a CPC. In today’s world, you can work with a plethora of bidding agents, but Google also has their own smart bidding tool. Some sceptics say you hand the key to the castle to Google or you just give them your wallet. Effectively, what’s happened is, you hand your wallet, but you say, you can only spend to this target that I have set for you. It might be, I want a maximum amount of conversions, for this budget. Or it might be, I want to pay maximum of this cost, for acquisition. In another case, you could say, I want to optimize towards my return on ad spends, so ROAS. Google goes and finds users that they think might be eligible to buy your product, within those boundaries.

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