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Marketeers, Google and Bing are forgetting to make use of the snow

21 December 2010 BY

It’s snowing out there. There is no denying it. Take a look at my garden and you know that a big part of Europe is having some issues when it comes to the weather. Many parts are covered in snow which leads in some cases to panic. Trains stop working, traffic is jamming and flights are being canceled. In Norway they are used to this Lisa told me and they look at us with some pity, but here we are all a bit confused. How do we handle this?

And believe it or not, the weather is even influencing the way we search. Looking at search trends in the past few weeks you can see that the weather is keeping us busy. It’s another proof of how a marketeer should always look at what is going on around him or her and act on it. The same goes for the search engines. Google and Bing for example, they must be noticing something is going on. Right? Well, it doesn’t seem to be that way. Both marketeers as the search engines are not using the snow the way they could be using it to actually grab that “user intent” they’re always talking about.

Search and online behavior

Let’s first take a look at how we behave online. It’s always fun to look at some of the changes you see in online behavior when something ‘big’ happens. With major airports in the UK closing down because of the snow Hitwise saw an increase to the Heathrow website with no less than 167%. Every airport website got a lot more traffic. Not surprisingly the travel industry got a lot of attention online. Between Friday 17 December and Saturday 18 December that industry saw an increase of traffic by 31.1%.

Traffic spiked for news, travel and weather this weekend which is not strange. If we look at how we searched the trend is the same. Looking at the UK we saw that the train was most searched for in the past week. The trains in the UK are mainly cancelled or suspended. “Snow” and “traffic” were the second and third most searched for terms in this list. If you only look at Google insights you would think that Scotland had the most problems in traffic and flights, followed by Wales because the search volume on these terms were the highest in these regions.

In the Netherlands we saw the most increase in searches for “snow” and “traffic” and “train” where in Germany for example “train” was the least searched for. Maybe they have their trains sorted out better or they are just more used to this kind of weather.

You can see that in western Europe we are not used to this with the big increases in searches. The same words but than in Norwegian give us a complete different view: there train is the highest searched for term, but the graphic for the interest over time is completely different from those in other European countries:

What do the search engines do?

So it is clear that in the countries where the snow is falling down in big amounts and especially in those who are not used to that traffic and searches on these topics increase. But how do we handle that traffic? How do the search engines handle the traffic?

I’ve tried out a few simple searches in Bing.co.uk and Google.co.uk: “flights heathrow” and “trains London” to see what kind of results I would get back. Would the search engines understand my intent?

First “flights heathrow”. With both search engines claiming they are aiming for user intent and trying to serve the user as quickly and as good as possible you would expect that I would very quickly be able to see what is going on at Heathrow.

At Google I get served a page where Heathrowairport.com is top ranked (after ads for BA and Flybmi that is). There I can click on sitelinks to arrivals, departures and timetables, which could be useful. Clickin on these sitelinks however doesn’t give me the right information directly. I would have to search on the Heathrow site again.

Also, I might just want the ‘quick’ news, what is going on at Heathrow, are flights leaving or not? Personally I would expect the “News for” section to be higher on the page. I have to scroll down to actually see the latest news on the topic.

Scrolling down on the rest of the page I get a lot of “cheapflights” offers, but that is not what I’m looking for at this point. To be very honest, it is not a page which makes me very happy and gives me the latest info right away.

Maybe Bing can do better? I’m afraid not. Bing puts three ads on top, all to cheap flight offerings an below it is also Heathrowairport.com which pops up, but without sitelinks and with a url which is screamingly bad…

Bing doesn’t even give me any news on the status of the flights on Heathrow. This is a page which I would move away from quickly. It is mostly about ‘cheap flights’. Not what I was looking for at all. What happened to the user intent here Bing?

Search for "Flights Heathrow" on GoogleSearch for "Flights Heathrow" on Bing

Maybe a search for “trains London” will give us more. At Google we get the map on the right hand side, and the nationalrail website as first result, which makes sense. Again the sitelinks can help us navigate quicker and again however the “news” is tucked away relatively low. Even though I can find the latest information quickly I still expected more from Google

On this search Bing does what I expected: it puts the news on top, after all, it is a ‘hot’ item at the moment. Below that we see national rail and then it goes back to the cheap train tickets again. But I would say Bing won this one, but only just slightly.

What strikes is that you have so much irrelevant information on the result pages. For most of the search marketers out there this will not come as a surprise, but the many searchers out there who are not looking at the changes Google and Bing make this is something which affects their behavior. They will not find what they are looking for.

Search for "trains London" on GoogleSearch for "trains London" on Bing

Marketers: be more creative!

There is one other thing which is notable. The ads on the side of the searches. Where is the creativity of the marketers? There are only ads for cheap flights and cheap train tickets. Or in some cases hardly even ads at all. Why are the marketeers not making use of this?

Give the visitor what they want, build a page with all the latest info and you will catch all those visitors looking for that information. And then offer them alternatives or offer those stranded a nice meal for example.

The travel industry really is missing out here. There are loads of options to get the attention of those stranded, looking for information or looking for alternatives. And the travel industry is not doing that, all they are doing is selling cheap flights.

As a marketeer you can really make use of what is going on in ‘the real world’. That is what is close to the people and numbers show that is what people want and are searching for. I’ve noticed before that when something happens to few marketeers actually make use of the situation. While there are plenty of chances…

AUTHORED BY:
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Bas van den Beld is a speaker, trainer and online marketing strategist. Bas is the founder of Stateofdigital.com. -- You can hire Bas to speak, train or consult.
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