Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hands off my sponsored links

It seems the rather flaky issue of “brand protection” is becoming an important one for online travel companies as they battle in an increasingly competitive market.

Someone called in yesterday to ask if Travolution had heard of a rumour doing the rounds regarding a medium-sized tour operator and its request to Google for Trademark Protection.

Whether or not the company has recently filed for such a procedure could make for a small-ish news story in the coming weeks as we finish off our magazine.

Indeed, it is by no means the only travel company to have done so in recent months.

The interesting part to all this is that most internet users would probably not even notice the lengths websites are going to across the retail sector to protect themselves from what some argue is commercial sabotage, but in reality is simply a cunning use of marketing.

It works like this: a website persuades a search engine that it should be given Trademark Protection, which in turn means that only they – and close strategic partners – appear in the sponsored links on search engines such as Google or Yahoo!.

Type “First Choice” into Google [here] or Yahoo! [here] and, of course, there will be a heap of returns in the natural search results [646,000,000 on Google and 303,000,000 on Yahoo! this morning].

But there is no sign of a sponsored link from anyone else apart from First Choice or a partner.

This is also the case across the travel sector – such as British Airways, EasyJet, Thomas Cook or TUI.

It becomes rather quirky – and shows even smarter use of branding – if you type in “Lastminute.com”. Google returns only one result, Lastminute.com, due to the search engine’s URL rules and because the company’s brand name is in fact the full URL [as Brent Hoberman et al at LM Towers keep reminding us trade journalists].

There are, of course, interesting implications for this.

In looking to protect a company’s identity by cutting out other sponsored links, are travel websites in fact reducing the channels users have for reaching them, be it through an aggregator or price comparison site that features their products?

On the other hand some would argue, rather more controversially, that the direct sale is becoming the increasingly preferred option.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution


Heather Hopkins said...

Kevin, great post! As the "someone" that called you yesterday about this, I thought I'd weigh in on this. I wrote a white paper on this issue a few weeks ago and found that about 8% of searches for the most searched for brand name for the leading retailers send visits to competitor, price comparison or affilate websites. The percentage of visits that go off to other sites increases significantly with misspellings and keyword combinations. If you are interested in the full white paper, you can request it at www.hitwise.co.uk.

Guillaume Thevenot said...

This controversial subject is also true for hotel brands or even the name of an independent hotel. We have heard in the last couple of years that big brands like Le Méridien or Accor brands did succeed to block competitors or OTAs to buy key words on Google related to a brand protected name. Type Meridien on Google and you will see that no sponsored links appear anymore on the results. Same for Novotel…that means it is possible to talk to Google and protect fully your brand on the Internet. Having said that, small players still have those issues and loose some traffic on their website because of parasites and unscrupulous OTAs. Just this morning for example, I was searching for “malmaison hotel leeds” and I only had results from OTAs…which is annoying…

Chris F. said...

"direct sale is becoming the increasingly preferred option." Its becoming more evident by the day that your average searcher uses the intermediaries to research a particular location then uses a search engine to find the hotels "Official Site". Take a look at www.nozio.com