Why does Booking have so much less SEO than Expedia?

There’s a couple of answers, probably, for that. One is, I know for a fact, they spend a ton of time on the SEM side of things and that’s a major focus for them. They may have, over time, just realized that if Google is going to continue to push SEO down and down and down, is it worth my time to spend that amount of effort there? There’s no question that the more time you put into SEO, you can improve your results, but it is a constant battle, because Google changes their algorithm at least three or four times a year. You’re chasing it; you’re always chasing it. It’s very difficult to stay ahead of their changes on the algorithm side.

My guess is that they would have said, look, we’re not going to chase this. We’re going to go all in on the channels that we know work well for us and we’ll do our best to maintain, but we’re not going to go mad on SEO, anymore. Whereas Expedia, they do have a higher cost structure, as you mentioned earlier. They may have said, look, we’re going to spend a little bit more time on developing content and trying to drive more, cheaper SEO traffic. That could be part of it.

It’s interesting because, I think, a couple of quarters ago, Google changed their algorithm on the SEO side and it caused huge disruption in the industry and Booking almost said that one of their competitive advantages is spending on Google, to a certain extent. They spend so much and spend it so well, that it’s actually a bit of an advantage, which is paradoxical, in a way.

We were so in awe of what they were doing, on the SEM side, for the longest time, within Expedia. We were trying to learn as much as we could about what they were doing in SEM that was so successful. That’s their bread and butter.

What do they do, exactly? What do they do so well?

It goes back to this production line thing that I talked about. You’ve got to have the supply, in the right markets, when people are looking. Then it has to have the content that people are looking for. So Japanese customers going into Italy, they’re looking for different amenities than the rest of the world. They want heated toilet seats, for instance. They got the content exactly right. Then they said, we’re going into Venice; who are the first big set of customers that are going to be searching for hotels in Venice? It’s going to be the Italians. Let’s translate this thing, so no one could tell that it’s not Italian. They got it so right, that no Italian could tell any difference. Okay, we’re ready to go, let’s turn the spicket on for Italian. Then they said, what’s the next group? Okay, it’s probably Germans, so let’s do that process for Germans. They just went country by country.

They weren’t just buying traffic from Italy, into Venice or from Europe into Venice, they were buying traffic around the entire world, into Venice. They just got really, really good at it. They hired very smart, almost mathematicians, to run that business and just got really good at it. That was their core focus, from a marketing perspective. We were so envious that in a lot of markets in Europe, they had the number one brand awareness, without spending anything in TV. They got it because they were spending to the top of Google’s search results. They were always number one. They built their brand awareness from Google SEM. It’s just been core to their DNA and they’ve consistently continued to keep it up there.

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