Google Flight Search Taking Off

Google Flight Poster

Image from: Buzzom

Google Flight launched in September 2011, providing consumers yet another option for travel shopping.  It is most similar to meta search sites like Kayak, in that you search for flights using the tool, but are redirected elsewhere to book.   However, unlike Kayak, Google only directs searchers to airline supplier sites (think aa.com) for booking rather than offering the option of booking with supplier or OTA.

To measure Google Flights’ early performance, Compete assessed traffic volumes, quality of traffic, and engagement.  Volume is based on unique visitors (no false positives from double-counting people that visit a site more than once in the same month), engagement is measured by time spent on the site and quality is measured by the extent to which the site is capturing high-activity travel researchers (based on inflow and outflow).  All of these leverage Compete’s industry-leading panel and patented normalization process.

Ready for Take Off

Google Flight launched in September and reached a period-high 270k unique visitors and 300k visits.  But activity quickly tapered off, so initial traffic may have been driven more by curiosity than real travel shopping  Traffic has gradually recovered since, but the biggest change was the January lift in visits per person, to 1.19—the highest since launch.

Number of unique visitors, visits, and average number of visits per person to Google.com/Flight

On Board Engagement

We next measured engagement based on ‘time spent on page.’   The shorter time spent, presumably the less engaged.  The pattern is similar to UVs and visits, with peak engagement at launch and in January.  September results could again suggest visitors were driven by curiosity.  The increase in December and January may suggest consumers starting to engage more with the site for travel purposes.

Average time spent on Google.com/Flight by each visitor in minutes

Air Traffic Control

To help validate the hypothesis that September traffic was curiosity-driven, Compete evaluated traffic sources from the News and Travel behavioral categories.  Behavioral categories are collections of similar sites; sourcing means traffic from any one of the sites in the category to Google Flight.  The Travel category includes but is not limited to supplier sites, OTAs, aggregators, meta search, and lead gen sites.  The hypotheses would be validated by more traffic from news sites in September and more from travel sites later.

Indeed, referrals from news sites were highest in September at launch and then quickly tapered off (chart below).  By January, referrals from travel sites dominate.   The increase in travel site referrals suggests that real travel shoppers (not just those curious) are engaging with the site.

Immediate Referrals from News and Travel Sites by Month

Next Steps

Google Flight is likely here to stay and at some point could add a booking engine, add the ability to pass searchers to many OTA sites, and expand into other travel areas.  Given that, how can existing travel brands (suppliers and OTAs) keep their shoppers engaged and booking?  Recommendations include:

  • Monitor Google Flight traffic volume
    • Google Flight traffic today is light compared to a site like Kayak but understand when and why it grows will inform when to respond
  • Quantify visitor engagement in context
    • How does the time spent on Google Flight compare to that on OTA flight paths?  Which parts of the page is working best? Is the search feature easier to navigate
  • Assess the quality of Google Flight visitors
    • Investigate destination sites for Google Flight visitors
    • How well does Google Flight traffic convert vs. traffic from other sites? Are Google Flight visitors from a given brand more likely to convert than those on the brand site directly or those deep linked from other sites?  To what extent are non-partner OTAs losing bookings?
About JackieODowd:
Jackie is a marketing consultant for Compete with over 10 years client service and consulting experience in automotive, travel and youth marketing. Jackie holds a Master’s from Northwestern University in Integrated Marketing Communications and has been part of the Compete team for longer than she can remember. When she isn’t writing for Compete, Jackie spends her time running around after her kids, sampling organic wines and pondering life’s questions like…’can I throw this away without anyone noticing?’ You can connect with Jackie on LinkedIn or Twitter.