Leveraging Google’s Destination Content Landscape to Increase Reach & Relevance as a Destination Organization

By: Nate Huff, Senior Vice President at Miles Partnership

In July, Google and Miles Partnership presented on the Google destination organization content initiative at Destination International’s Annual Conference. Since then, there has been considerable industry discussion around how this program works and what destinations stand to gain by proactively developing a strategy to maximize their reach and relevance within Google’s expansive ecosystem.

How We Got Here

It’s no secret that driving organic visitation to destination websites has become increasingly challenging. And with many destination organizations using website traffic as a topline benchmark for digital marketing success, this trend has placed considerable pressure on digital advertising. At the same time, destinations are facing constant pressure to create – and show – value for industry partners in the form of referrals and website exposure.

There are multiple factors contributing to the decline in organic traffic growth for destination sites. As mobile and voice search have exploded, major search engines are morphing into “answer engines,” with the objective of providing enough information within the search engine results page (SERP) to satisfy the user’s query. In fact, Moz CEO Randy Fishkin reported last year that close to 40% of all Google searches do not result in a website visit at all.

In order to provide those quick answers, the physical real estate of the SERP also continues to evolve, with more of the initial page dedicated to carousels and cards featuring collections of aggregated content scraped by the search provider versus a list of websites. This means there are less individual websites appearing on the first page of results, which naturally results in fewer clicks.

However, that doesn’t mean consumers are less interested in consuming digital content. There are close to 4.4 billion searches every day. Many of those searches are related to travel and, in a recent study of one user’s four months of travel planning, Google tracked more than 7,000 total digital touchpoints along that consumer’s journey, including 530 searches and 1,400 image views. We know the destination organization plays a role in that journey (Destination Analysts State of the American Traveler recently noted that 40% of consumers touch at least one DMO product during that process) but we also know the vast majority of these digital touchpoints are happening outside our owned channels.

Hundreds of millions of these touchpoints happen within Google, which is focused on creating the best travel consumer experience possible within its environment. This is why Google is inviting destinations into the DMO Content Program to contribute to the content experience consumers have within its travel products. In short, Google has the reach and destinations have the local expertise and content.     

What We Need To Do

Through utilizing the free features of Google’s platform such as Maps, Google My Business (GMB) and Images, destinations can contribute content that populates across the various SERP features and travel products, including Google’s increasingly prolific Travel Guides (part of the Destinations ecosystem) and the mobile-centric Trips app. All of these contributions are measurable and can be significant in terms of reach. Google has also developed an online method for whitelisted destination organizations to submit inaccuracies to the Google maps team and is creating additional how-to guides that will be available to destination organizations.

For destinations looking for help navigating the Google landscape, including understanding how their destination is being presented, educating their stakeholders and maximizing the impact of their content contributions, Miles Partnership is offering a turn-key program based off of its experience in this area.   

This program involves two key phases, the first being an exhaustive audit of how the destination and its industry partners are represented across the entire spectrum of travel-related Google platforms and products. This phase also includes industry education and a prioritized action plan for creating measurable improvements to the destination’s reach and quality of content within Google’s ecosystem.

The second phase is an in-market activation that can include various industry/community events, hands-on training and additional content production from our team in the market.

Why Its Critical Destination Organizations Participate

This initiative is not focused on increasing destination organization website visits, though it certainly won’t decrease them. It is about maximizing the reach and quality of engagements the destination can influence across Google’s vast travel audience.

This initiative does not replace the destination organization website, either. In the same way a retailer maintains a brick and mortar store to present an optimized brand experience, Destinations continue to drive significant value through their owned websites. Like the physical storefront, destination organization websites (should) provide a rich, engaging experience that leads to a high rate or conversion and proven ROI.

However, as marketers we need to accept – and embrace – the fact that just because someone doesn’t make it into our physical store doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in our product. Almost every major retail brand sells its products through Amazon. Google and Microsoft buy ads for their software and hardware products on each other’s platforms because all of these marketers recognize finding as many of the right customers possible is more important than where they find them.

And from the perspective of creating new value, destination organizations have a huge opportunity to help their partners better market themselves, and by extension, the destination. Based on Miles’ initial work with a handful of destinations, we’ve found that close to 40% of travel-related businesses have incomplete profiles on Google, and even those that are technically complete often lack compelling photos, 360s and other content that helps sell the destination. By participating in this program, destination organizations have the opportunity to become experts at marketing their tourism product through Google and extend that expertise to partners.

Many destinations rely on members for financial support, and almost all destinations invest significant money into content development and distribution (including through Google’s ad products). It is essential that our industry takes advantage of any major opportunity to extend its measurable reach – especially when we are talking about an audience as large as Google’s.

Whether your organization chooses to explore this opportunity on your own or work with a partner like Miles, what matters is that our industry embraces the chance to best tell its story to new audiences – wherever they might be found.  

About Nate Huff:

Nate Huff is a Senior Vice President at Miles Partnership. Nate works with destinations and travel brands to craft content-driven strategies that generate measurable results. His clients include San Francisco Travel, Destination DC, Visit St. Pete & Clearwater, Explore Branson, Macy’s and Brand USA, where he leads a team of 30 dedicated to helping Brand USA develop and execute partner marketing programs that drive international consumer engagement and conversion. He is currently leading Miles Partnership’s efforts supporting Google’s destination content initiative, which was unveiled at Destination International’s 2017 Annual Conference.