Poor little specialist operator. All dressed up but nobody will know.

There was an interesting statistical juxtaposition yesterday that made sober reading for hundreds of excellent specialist travel providers (tour operators and travel agencies) in the UK, and for travel consumers searching for the very expertise they have to offer.

Firstly, in his leader column in yesterday's Travel Trade Gazette (TTG, weekly trade newspaper for travel agents and the travel industry) Graham Donoghue, head of new media at travel giant TUI, recounts how he has been learning in recent weeks all about the 'Big Daddy' update at Google and how it has "had a negative impact on some of my sites".

(At this point, wearing a torn singlet and carrying a machine gun, I lean out of a broken window at the Nakatomi Building and shout: "Welcome to the party, pal!")

He warns travel companies to check their rankings and points out this is important because search engines are "the number one entry point for around 70% of the people in this country (UK) who buy travel online".

Move on to a new survey reported on BBC Online.

Conducted by Jupiter research in the US, it shows that most people using a search engine expect to find what they are looking for on the first page of results, and will only go through three pages before giving up.

Gosh! Would never have guessed.....NOT!

But it also found that while 62% of the 2,369 people surveyed clicked on a result on the first page, four years ago that percentage was 48%. Consumers are getting lazier.

Gosh! That, I didn't know... really!

Some 90% of consumers clicked on a link in the first three pages. That's up from 81% in 2002.

In other words, if you are a travel provider not listed in the first three pages - by default, 10 to a page, that's 30 listings - your chances of being found by a consumer (70% of online purchasers, remember, according to Graham Donoghue) are slim and getting worse.

Ok. Try a little experiment. Take Google. Seventy-five percent of searches in the UK are made on Google according to the latest research (Websidestory Inc, 24 March 06), so Google handles 52% of all searches made by travel consumers in the UK. Search for "tour operators to XXX" inserting a destination of your choice. Now, of the top thirty listings, how many are genuine candidates?

According to research conducted at the Université de Provence in France earlier this year, search results on Google manage an average relevancy of 46%. So, it's not even thirty listings at the top. 54% of them are likely to be irrelevant... A travel provider (let's hope it's a good one!) has to be one of the top 14 relevant listings in their niche.... to even be noticed online.

There was one chink of light among these gloomy stats. According to the same Jupiter Research survey, 41% of consumers changed engines or their search term if they did not find what they were searching for on the first page. Let's hope THAT figure grows.


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