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Google’s New Hotel Listings Have Lessons for Non-Hotels

Google’s has finally retired its “carousel” of hotel listings in search results, and the feature that replaces it has implications for businesses of all kinds, not just the hospitality industry.

For some time now, searching for accommodations—like “Atlanta hotels”—would bring not just the normal search results, but a horizontal slider of listings showing pictures, reviews and ratings (the carousel). Clicking on any of these would bring up an expanded listing in the knowledge panel on the right-hand side of the screen, including an option to instantly book a room at that property.

But this has all changed. Google has finally rolled out its replacement for the carousel, which looks quite different—and leans more heavily on the top-ranking websites.

atlanta-hotel-google-searchThe new look involves a “three-pack” of hotels, instead of the dozens that could show up in the slider. Clicking on any of these brings up a separate page with more information (not just a sidebar knowledge panel), further focusing attention on that one high-ranking result. In other words, getting featured in Google results is more exclusive than ever before.

There are some caveats:

  • Technically, it’s not just the three-pack that shows up. By clicking on a “more hotels” button beneath these, all the other results that would have been in the carousel show up. However, given that search users are hesitant to even scroll down the page, we can expect a relatively low click rate on that button.
  • The three-pack isn’t the only form of visibility. The paid ads on the sidebar are still there, and are arguably even more visible since there is no knowledge panel forcing them farther down the page.
  • The “book” pull-down has actually been replaced with an additional set of ads, allowing (for example) Expedia and Kayak to offer two different rates for the same stay.

atlanta-marriott-marquis-google-bookingDespite these backdoors to visibility, the new format makes one thing very clear: the top three spots are king. The listings that appear in the three-pack are organic search results, and only the three most relevant sites make the cut.

While this change is currently limited to hotels, there are two lessons for other types of businesses:

  1. Expect this format to spread. Google generally likes all its search results to look and work the same, and this change already brings hotels more in line with product and entertainment searches. There’s a good chance that restaurants, bars and clubs will get the three-pack treatment soon.
  2. No matter what your industry, aim for the top three search results or bust. Google has sent a signal that it places high trust in the top results under its algorithm, which now rewards content and value more than ever before. If it’s pulling the top three search results for this feature, other features will likely follow suit.

At EverSpark we know that seemingly minor changes like this can speak to substantial shifts in marketing. While many commentators have focused on the visual improvement the new three-pack offers, or the boost to usability, to the businesses themselves it means that the value of top rankings is higher than ever before. As Google’s confidence in its spam-resistant algorithm grows, that emphasis on top rankings will only become more pronounced.

How does your business rank for your top keywords? If Google featured only three websites from your niche, would yours be one of them? If not, you might be due for a free consultation on your SEO practices.