Some thoughts on the Google takeover of ITA and what it means for travel SEO
For those who didn’t know last week (July 1st 2010) Google formally announced their buyout of ITA software, a company who provide the technology which powers sites like Kayak.com and Farecompare.
I don’t usually post search news here but this story was of interest for me as I’m involved with a number of travel SEO projects.
Now Google buying out software companies barely makes the news these days it happens so often and at $700 million dollars they got a bargain with this one. But what do Google want with flight search technology?
Although plenty of people search for flights on Google the application of search data goes beyond the most obvious way they’ll integrate the technology – displaying fares and date search boxes in the SERPS when users search for stuff like ‘cheap flights to Spain’.
This software could be used across any number of search verticals. Hotel searches on Google maps could use the technology to display fares alongside results so if I’m in London and search for ‘hotels in new york’ on Google maps they display a link or a search box to the cheapest fare from London to New York.
It could be integrated with Adwords so airlines and travel agents could add live pricing to their Ads directly from the system.
What’s most likely though is that Google will just build their own comparison site and work direct with airlines on an affiliate basis to sell their tickets directly. The Google press release on ITA deal says:
The acquisition will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares and by driving more potential customers to airlines’ and online travel agencies’ websites. Google won’t be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers.
To me this implies Google is looking to sideswipe the comparison engines and drive traffic straight to airlines. Where does this leave the likes of Kayak, Travel Supermarket and cheapflights.co.uk?
Firstly I don’t think anythings going to be happening overnight but if I were them I’d be pretty nervous about the deal. These sites rely heavily on traffic from Google (from SEO and Adwords) making Google a dangerous competitor. Top rankings for flight related keywords will be devalued massively if Google lump a big search box at the top of the results page. Route based searches like ‘KL to Singapore flights’ will likely be the hardest hit because Google will not only be able to steal the top spot, they’ll also have the technology to make the other comparison engines irrelevant by answering the query right there on the results page.
If I were in the flight comparison business I think I’d be looking at ways to shift my SEO strategy away from the reliance on these goldmine keywords and focusing on related searches and the long tail with stuff like destination based content or events listings which Google is less likely to muscle in on. I’d also seriously consider a decent affiliate scheme for flight comparison, at the moment its difficult for affiliates to earn money on flights because the margins are so low. I used the cheapflight.co.uk affiliate program a while back and ended up switching it off because I was earning less than I was on Adsense.
What do you think of the deal?