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Imagine a world without Google. With the tech giant having been around since 1998 and since become synonymous with the internet, it’s certainly hard to imagine. Why is this even a point of conversation, and what makes this relevant for tour operators?

How Did We Get to This Point?

The Australian Government is in the process of introducing a law that would have tech giants pay for any news that appears in search or is shared on their platforms.  Legally, this would mean that Google (as well as other platforms such as Facebook) would be forced into commercial agreements with every news organization in Australia. This means that Google would have to pay them to show their news in its search results pages as well as when sharing links to the content(opens in a new tab). And in response to Google’s regional director, Mel Silva, stated, “If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” so should this law be passed by the Australian Parliament, Google would likely depart from serving that country with its search functionality.

In other words, should this situation not be resolved, this could mean an Australia without Google Search, which for many means an unimaginable future. While France also had its own issues with Google, that case has since been settled,(opens in a new tab) other countries are also re-evaluating their relationship (opens in a new tab)and the overwhelming dominance that Google holds. But as a tour operator who is heavily dependent on search results on Google, how can you even consider this possible outcome and the consequences?

Before going into the alternatives and effects, let’s think about how possible it is that Google follows through with Silva’s comment. Google has actually been largely unavailable in mainland China since 2010 due to issues surrounding the censorship of search results, so it’s not unheard of for them to leave a country due to local laws. Relatively, Australia is a much smaller market than China, so it’s not impossible to think that Google could go through with leaving should they be pushed to it.

Should Google leave, what are the alternatives?

Other Search Engines

Google owns roughly 90-95% market share in most countries, so it would seem like there aren’t great alternatives, but Bing(opens in a new tab) and Yahoo(opens in a new tab) are the next best search engines. For people focused on privacy, search engines like DuckDuckGo(opens in a new tab) could become more prevalent in the market of search engines. It’s important to note that at this time these would be the next best alternatives, but they would certainly be affected by this law. Unlike Google, however, they have not threatened to pull back service should the law go through. All three of those alternatives also offer pay per click ads like Google, so not only would they be organic search alternatives, but paid search as well.

Changes in Search Functionality

Another possible alternative would be for Google to just offer search functionality, but not locally catered to Australia. For example, Google could offer New Zealand search results to Australian customers. On a large scale, if an Australian visitor were to look for something like tours in Europe, there would be little to no difference. The only largely noticeable difference would be in local search results (more on this for Australian tour operators in a bit). Also, Australian users could perhaps just begin using Virtual Private Networks (VPN)(opens in a new tab) to virtually change their location, which would also affect local search results above all else. For example, if I am currently in Melbourne, and I search for ‘outdoor tours’, I would likely get search results specifically from Melbourne. On the flipside, let’s say I am in Europe, planning a trip to Melbourne, so I search ‘Melbourne outdoor tours’ and I would likely get the same results. When using a VPN, users would have to specifically look for tours in whichever Australian location they wanted to travel to.

As for the effects of Google leaving, it really depends on a key factor that is currently ambiguous in this situation. While Silva mentions that Google Search will be made unavailable, there is no explicit mention of Google’s other services in the equation. At this moment, it seems up to speculation of whether other services like Gmail, YouTube, Chrome, or Drive will be included in any form of withdrawal. Of course, there are alternatives for those as well, but for the people in Australia who use those services, it may be harder to transfer over to new services, whereas only losing Google as a search engine would not require heavy changes to systems of how people work on a daily basis.

So, as a tour operator, how does this affect you?

There are really three categories of effects for tour operators in relation to Google’s possible departure from Australia.

  1. Tour Operators outside Australia
  2. Australian Tour Operators
  3. Operators In General

Tour Operators Outside of Australia

For operators outside Australia, there is one important thing you need to know when considering if you need to change anything about your digital strategy. Do you get a significant number of customers from Australia? Does your site or social media presence see a lot of traffic from Australia, and moreover, does that traffic convert well into sales? Should you find that your operation does get a significant amount of traffic or conversions from Australian traffic, you would also be affected by Google’s departure. All the traffic coming to you from Google, whether organic or paid is now going to be coming from a new search engine. While other search engines have the same overall goal as Google – which is bringing the most relevant results to their searchers – the ways of reaching that goal may be a little bit different. For example, Google may have more weight on testimonials when ranking in comparison to Bing or Yahoo. Most SEO best practices will likely transfer over, but there may be other opportunities to increase in rankings should a new search engine become dominant in the Australian market. Again, this is really only something to worry about if you see a good amount of traffic to your site coming from Australian users.

Australian Tour Operators

If you are an operator in Australia, the effects will obviously be more blatant. As mentioned earlier, local search would be affected on a larger scale, because if your operation sees a lot of international traffic (other than China) you will still show up in Google results across oceans. Especially now with the growth of local travel this could make a huge difference in your search results. Google’s algorithms regarding local search are far better than the competition, as they pull from Google My Business, Google Maps, and even Yelp among other things to deliver the most relevant local results. When it comes to other search engines, anything you’ve done to increase your local relevance outside of content will likely lose its power. For example, your Google My Business profile will now hold no weight in rankings. If you have a bunch of content on the site describing your location, though, you should still see good local rankings, but perhaps on a more competitive spectrum since it is easier to edit the content rather than optimizing a Google My Business profile. Directly compared to Bing, Google places better weight on those outside factors when it comes to ranking, whereas Bing still largely follows the policy of ‘content is king.’ If most of your traffic comes from a blog, you may be in the clear, but businesses who have invested in writing great metadata, using correct schemas, and optimizing a Google My Business profile instead of blogging will likely need to make some changes.

Tour Operators In General

Operators both outside and inside of Australia will see some similar effects. For starters, having a mobile-optimized site will have less weight in search results. Google operates on a policy of mobile first indexing, meaning they index the mobile version of your site first when deciding how it should rank. If your site is not mobile optimized, it will affect rankings. Bing, on the other hand, uses a composite indexing system that looks at both desktop and mobile performance when determining ranking, so having a site optimized for the majority of your device traffic is your best bet. Another difference is that both popular voice assistants Alexa and Cortana use Bing, so should you have to focus your keywords a little bit differently, think about what people would search with their voice rather than typing.

 

These differences are really just the tip of the iceberg, and depending on whether Google decides to pull out other services than just its Search, there could be even more effects. Whether you are an operator located in or outside of Australia, this is certainly an interesting topic to follow as it develops. There will likely be more instances of similar laws in other countries in the future, and should Google set a precedent of dropping service, tour operators should be prepared to deal with a Google departure and the consequences this will have for their businesses.


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