Time for travel companies to say what they mean to Google

Aug 01, 2012
[This article was originally published in Tnooz on August 1, 2012]

A year ago, GoogleBing (Microsoft) and Yahoo announced Schema.org: a taxonomy that would allow webpages to self-describe their content.

This, it was hoped, would help produce more accurate, specific and relevant search engine results.

Unfortunately, Schema.org does not support anything specific to hotels or other travel suppliers, so their ability to make the offerings explicit is very limited.

Schema.org was nevertheless great news because using even the existing mark-up worked to elevate search engine optimization and yield a positive ROI (case study here).

Last month, Google announced its semantically driven “knowledge graph” to provide answers rather than just page links.

For example, a search for “Miami Florida” produces a crisp summary about the city – its geography, population, points of interest and so on.

The knowledge graph, as Google describes it, deals in “things not strings” – Google is intent on “knowing” about the entity you’re searching for, rather than merely matching strings of letters to an index.

Thematix is of the opinion that, in many cases, pages marked up with Schema.org tags will show similar multimedia summaries in the knowledge graph.

Building upon these semantic activities, Good Relations recently announced an Accommodations Ontology that defines additional semantic tags for hotels and other lodging like camps and vacation homes.

At the OpenTravel Alliance conference in April 2012, Thematix shared An Open Letter to Hoteliers as a means of marshaling industry discussion and adoption of standard tags, connected to accepted XML schema published by the OpenTravel Alliance, as defined by the industry rather than uninformed outsiders.

Thematix has just published a first draft of proposed extensions to Schema.org and an associated OWL file to that it believes would meet common hotel industry needs.

These extensions permit hoteliers to go beyond the basics of being a generic “local business” to referencing hotel specifics such as a room, features, services, amenity, and room rates, thereby informing the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) in greater and more precise detail.

The ground is swelling and the industry is at another intersection of technology invading business merchandising and marketing practices.

Do we get on the playing field or watch from the sidelines?

It’s fairly clear that if hotels and other travel companies advocate for their definitions of important attributes, benefits and characteristics, the search and technology providers will follow.

Let’s engage. Time to test a pilot program or two. We’ve even made it easy.

If you’re a fire-ready-aim type, start at the Hotel Microdata Generator created by Zack Flannick that uses the Schema.org extensions proposed by Thematix. Fill out the form and paste it into a property page you’ve set-up with all the appropriate metrics and KPIs.

While Schema.org or any of the search giants do not formally recognize the new extensions, there is also little risk: what the search-bots don’t understand they will ignore.

Over time, when the volume hits some threshold, the search, SEO and technology companies will de facto accept these standards to the benefit of the industry.

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