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2019's Google updates and what they mean for hotel websites

2019's Google updates and what they mean for hotel websites

Gaining traffic from Google searches is a key part of many hotels marketing strategies, but at times the results of your SEO efforts can seem a little unpredictable. Keeping an eye on best practices, and key updates to Google’s inner workings can be the key to understanding and bettering the SEO results for hotels.

Google’s Search Algorithm

Optimising for search engines involves a lot of different factors. To prioritise the results returned when a user searches, Google employes an algorithm - a set of different factors it takes into account to make this decision. While they very rarely reveal details of this algorithm, we do know broad principles to adhere to and what Google considers to be ranking factors.

Rely on broad principles & ranking factors

These broad principles are that Google wants to promote the highest quality, most relevant and trustworthy sites in their results. The factors they look at to determine this are many, including; your site’s security, content, speed, mobile-friendliness, backlinks, relation to other sites, and many many more. As Barry Shwartz, editor of Search Engine Land, put it, “Google recommends you make your site better.”.

Pay attention to algorithm updates

Google will at times update their algorithm with the aim of improving the accuracy and relevance of search results, and often to deter those who seek to gain from playing the system and using hacky tactics.

For the most part, Google officially announces these algorithm updates, and while the details are usually vague, if at all existent, the SEO industry quickly goes to work, attempting to reverse engineer and figure out what effect each update has had and understand any new principles behind it.

So it pays to compare these update announcements against your site’s ranking and traffic stats so you can look for patterns and adapt where you need to. If spikes or drops in your stats match up with the dates of announcements, you can delve in a little deeper, see why, and replicate successes and put countermeasures in place for losses. And don’t forget, good search rankings are all about awareness - helping new customers discover you, the first important step on the journey to making a booking.

What are 2019’s Google Algorithm Updates?

February 2019

Starting in February of this year Google released an unnamed update to their search algorithm, this saw some large variations in rankings for UK sites reported, though sites in other countries were affected too. Search Engine Roundtable reported that it the update may be related to “holidays and such”, so if you’re a holiday destination hotel it’s worth paying extra attention here.

March 2019 Core Update

While not related to your search results, this update marks a change in Google’s update naming - switching from naming updates things like Penguin and Panda, and starting to name them using the month and year, hence “March 2019 Core Update”.

The general buzz was that this update was a follow up to a previous update titled “Medic”. Medic was understood to be targeted at demoting low trust sites - particularly those that deal with health, medical and diet topics. Spa hotels, who may have health and wellbeing content on their website, should pay particular attention.

If you follow the principle of providing quality information through a safe and trustworthy website, you shouldn’t suffer negatively from this one.

April - May 2019 Indexing Bugs

Many sites may have seen some variations in their rankings at this time due to pages being incorrectly indexed or de-indexed. There’s little you can do about such rare occurrences, these bugs were dealt with over a number of days and rankings should have returned to normal after this, but being aware helps you explain such variations and means you don’t incorrectly place the blame or the glory in the wrong place.

June 2019 Core Update 

Continuing the more lacklustre naming convention for core algorithm updates, the June 2019 Core Update appeared to particularly affect large UK publishers with some gaining and some losing out. Again, there are rumours that this may also be related to 2018’s Medic update, so spa hotels, in particular, should watch this one. If your hotel is particularly reliant on PR from UK publishers this may have had a knock-on effect for you too.

June 2019’s Site Diversity Update

Many of Google’s updates are aimed at solving a specific problem. This update was aimed at refining results where one particular site was dominating the first page with multiple listings, which was limiting the user’s choice. This may pay off for some hotels where first page results for their establishment was dominated by OTAs with multiple listings.

Again, if you follow the principles of providing relevant content this update shouldn’t have affected you negatively.

September 2019 Core Update

Information on this update is a little vague, but the word is that this update is different to the rest of 2019’s core updates so far, which were largely about authority, safety and trust. There is some reason to believe that video content has received slightly higher priority as a result of this particular update. Some reported major drops in traffic and rankings, while others reported drops caused by June’s updates being reversed. Tie this up with your ranking and traffic data and see what effect, if any, this had on your SEO standing.

October 2019, Introducing Google BERT

October saw Google introduce a new technology called BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. BERT is an AI-based technology aimed to improve natural language processing. Its aim is to improve the accuracy and relevance of search results by better understanding the context, nuances and relationships between each word in a search query. And it’s a big deal, Google described it as the “single biggest change in the last five years; and one of the biggest since the beginning”.

The nuance of language is becoming more complex in relation to Google search results as more and more move from typing their request into Google toward speaking their question to their Amazon Echo, Siri or any other smartphone or smart speaker.

A good hotel website should answer your customer’s questions, this update is here to better connect those questions with your answers. One of Google’s guiding principles has been dubbed “searcher task accomplishment”, essentially people have a task or question in mind when they search. If your site can answer that question, or accomplish that task, in the quickest and most accurate way, Google will promote you in results.

The rest of 2019

2019 isn’t over just yet. While 2018 saw an update in November and little after this, there are no guarantees this year will play out in the same way. As the rest of the year plays out we’ll check back in and update this post, SEO authority, Moz, offer an excellent overview of every algorithm update if you want to dig a little deeper.

For now, keep an eye on your SEO results by tracking your rankings and traffic. If you do find a correlation between any of the aforementioned updates and your own data, use that information to adapt and improve and help more new customers discover your hotel.

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