Thursday, July 18, 2024

One founder’s bid to reduce dependence on Google amid drop in traffic – WiT

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Reeling from the drops in organic traffic his two websites, Travel.jp, a Japanese travel metasearch and guide site, and Trip101, a travel guide promoting unique stays and experiences, have sustained as a result of the updates made by Google search since the third quarter last year, Kei Shibata is reviewing business models for both businesses.

He estimated at least a 35% drop in traffic from Trip101 almost overnight. “It was shocking,” he said, “and there’s not much we can do about it immediately.”

Trip101 and Travel.jp are not alone of course. Last week, WiT ran an article quoting Stay22, the travel tech company that offers affiliate revenue generation opportunities for travel bloggers and media, that some travel bloggers immediately saw reductions of as much as 75% in their organic traffic.

It further quoted research from Digitaloft  that since the first HCU (Helpful Content Updates) rollout in August 2022, 78% of 671 travel websites they analysed have lost traffic.

Shibata said it was ironic that the updates were called “Helpful Content Updates”, and that Google said it was demoting all content pages that were not helpful.

“We are trying hard to help users who have a specific interest, for example, find hotels in Paris with views of Eiffel Tower. This is helpful, in my opinion, but this longtail content is being pushed down because Google feels we are doing too much optimization of the search intent. It’s not a fair game.

“No one can compete with Google, they are the most effective in user acquisition and everyone has to pay Google to generate meaningful traffic.”

 

Asked if it had been wise in the first place to build a business on top of somebody else’s business, which renders it vulnerable to factors beyond one’s own control, Shibata said, “Yes, we’ve been asking ourselves that – we have not done a great job of reducing dependence on Google – but at the same time, Google is like a public platform now, so different rules should apply, shouldn’t it?”

Recognising though that crying over spilt milk is a waste of time, Shibata is taking steps to to reduce dependence on Google and diversify his businesses.

With the consolidation in Japan’s online travel market – and accommodation now in the hands of just a few giants – the value of a metasearch model such as Travel.jp is limited at best, he acknowledged. “We need to diversify revenue sources such as going into B2B,” he said.

This was why it developed the partnership with chat giant LINE (LINE WORKS Corp.) to get into corporate travel with Travel.jp for Business. “We need to diversify traffic sources and review our business so that we can generate more repeat users instead of having to acquire new users each time. It’s easy to say but not easy to implement.”

One idea it is pursuing is becoming a travel agency, to become a point of purchase, he said.

“I can understand why Wego is building a booking model and is moving towards brand building and app traffic,” he said, referring to the Middle East-based travel metasearch model whose CEO Ross Veitch (in this article) said was developing a flight booking product as well as developing two new business units, an accommodation bed bank Wego Beds and a corporate travel arm in Wego Pro.

“It may not be the right model for us. Wego has one advantage in that the Middle East is one regional market, and it’s growing. Japan is a matured market with consolidated OTAs. But we are exploring niche ideas – corporate travel is one – and we can also experiment with themes. More people are travelling now by themes – such as I want to ski or dive or snowboard.”

With Trip101, he said, it will diversify traffic sources to other social platforms, use more video content and generate more expert tips and unique information. For example, it has created a network of local tour guides to connect these experts with travellers through its new service called Trip101 Tour Guides.

“It’s not going to change overnight, of course, but we have to start reviewing our business models, given the changes being made by Google and other tech trends that are happening that will change the way travellers search.”

Having been in the business for more than 20 years – Travel.jp was founded in January 2001 – Shibata said he’s seen lots of ups and downs, and this is yet another phase of disruption and consolidation. What’s different is the pace of change.

“The tech has changed so much faster and you have to ask yourself, how fast can you change? It’s not easy because your legacy business has some value, and you can’t just throw it away. So you have to try keep parts of that, and still do something new.”

He called it the classic innovator’s dilemma – how to protect your turf and grow for the future.

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