May 31, 2023 · Jeremy Razook
Is Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) the end of organic search for hotels?
You may have heard that Google is developing a new, AI-powered search experience. The new search experience, which Google has dubbed the Search Generative Experience (SGE), incorporates AI capabilities and conversational functionality into the Google search results.
But will this be the doom of Google search and SEO for hotels as we know it?
After receiving access to Google SGE beta and doing some quick testing/searching, my initial reaction is no.
Let’s take a look at what’s new with Google SGE.
- Hotel local pack expansion
- SGE hotel search results don’t always match normal Google search results
- Featured snippets still serve alongside SGE
- People also ask queries still serve alongside SGE
- Navigational searches may not be as affected by SGE
- SGE always pulls multiple sources for its information and those sources sometimes feel like an odd choice
- Fewer paid search ads and Google hotel ads
Hotel local pack expansion
Hoteliers should already be familiar with Google’s three-pack. But with SGE comes what looks to be an expansion to the typical three-pack. For the search “myrtle beach hotels with indoor pool”, SGE returns a five-pack. Yes, a five-pack.
Similar to the three-pack, each option listed includes the name of the hotel, star rating and review count, amenity icons, pricing, and a map.
Each listing also includes a short snippet of text briefly describing the hotel. Image link cards are also present in the upper right corner that link to SGE’s information sources. The sources are a mix of OTAs, online publishers, and the hotels’ official websites.
After clicking on a property, whether in the listing to the left or via a pin in the map, the property’s Google Business Profile appears with all the information you would expect from a hotel Google profile.
Under the GHA section of the listings, sponsored ads were noticeably absent from all properties and only organic links (All options) were present. This could just be Google continuing to experiment with how to incorporate hotel price ads with SGE.
What’s also interesting is that while Google includes the five-pack in the SGE space it also keeps the three-pack we’re all accustomed to in the normal search space below SGE:
An Ask a follow up prompt is also present at the bottom of SGE. The question “do any of these hotels have water slides?” generated the following results:
This time, we were presented with a four-pack with similar features of the five-pack. Below the list, we could either ask another follow-up question or scroll to the normal Google search results for Do any of the hotels in Myrtle Beach with indoor pools have water slides. There was also a return to search button at the top left to return to the initial search.
Some hotel searches also didn’t result in a local pack listing despite there being a local pack in the normal search results. For example for the search “myrtle beach hotels” we instead get a list of hotels in Myrtle Beach with a brief description, a show more option, online sources to the right, and follow up prompts.
Unfortunately, none of the hotels in the SGE list were clickable. Instead, a user would have to click one of the image card links, ask a follow up, scroll down to the normal search results, or start a new search entirely to take any next steps.
Get an AI-powered overview
For some searches, like navigational searches, there are typically no initial SGE results. However, sometimes an option to generate an SGE result is available.
Selecting Generate gets us a surface-level overview of the property, along with Google reviews and images pulled from the property’s Google Business Profile.
However, the sources for the overview are an odd choice to say the least. Why SGE chose a website about buying and renting high rise condos and a website for a gated residential community as two of the leading information sources feels like an interesting choice.
Featured snippets are still present
It turns out, for now at least, featured snippets still appear in the Google search results below SGE:
Not only does the featured snippet remain, but in this instance the same website that holds the featured snippet position is also credited in SGE. Next to the Ask a follow up prompt are pre-generated prompts of related questions that are clearly being pulled from the People also ask space below the featured snippet.
After clicking a pre-generated prompt, the answer plus a list of sources were provided, along with Google’s normal search experience.
Fewer paid search ads (for now)
Similar to what we saw in the GHA space above, there were several times when making a hotel search that no paid search ads would be present.
This could be more testing on Google’s part and Google trying to figure out the best way to present paid search ads alongside SGE. We already know that Google plans to keep paid search ads very present with SGE which is something they also expressed during their Google I/O event.
Key takeaways and thoughts
There is still a long way to go for Google and SGE. Some answers feel clunky and don’t seem to provide a ton of additional value. Again, SGE is in beta, so there’s plenty of fine tuning for Google in the months ahead.
Having said that, there are potentially more opportunities for hoteliers to improve their online visibility with Google SGE. Expanded local packs, SGE plus featured snippets, prompt follow ups plus People also ask queries, and more organic links being present are just a few examples.
Navigational searches, which generally make up the most organic search traffic for hotel websites, also don’t seem to be affected too much. But with SGE sourcing it’s information from some very interesting sources, it may be a good time to really get your brand SEO in check.
But big questions still remain:
- How will hotel searchers feel about SGE?
- Will hotel searchers be compelled to use SGE to its fullest capabilities?
- Or will old habits win with searchers instead choosing a traditional search path?
- Is SGE for hotels any more valuable than Google’s current search results?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
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