3 Mobile Search Trends DMOs Should Know

woman holding a white iphone
by Caitlin Bussey
Destination Optimization Program Specialist

Let’s be honest; our smartphones are our travel companions. According to Think With Google's Global Insights, 70% of US travelers rely on their mobile devices during trips, primarily to discover activities and attractions, research restaurants and shopping areas, and navigate their destinations. 48% of US travelers are comfortable planning their trip, from start to finish, using only a mobile device. 

These same tech-savvy travelers are also turning to other sources for inspiration and planning, beyond traditional search engines. Visual content and user-generated recommendations are playing a bigger role with younger travelers, who are particularly drawn to the immersive experiences and authentic vibes of visual-first social media platforms like TikTok.  

These changing travel research behaviors, coupled with a growing reliance on mobile, have sparked significant changes in the search landscape, particularly for travel-related queries. Google's recent updates underscore this shift, presenting DMOs with both challenges and exciting opportunities. To stay ahead of the curve, DMOs must optimize their content in new ways to thrive in the mobile search ecosystem. Let's explore these updates together and delve into actionable strategies to maximize visibility and connect with travelers in this dynamic mobile environment.

Search Gets More Conversational with SGE

In May, Google unveiled a new Search Labs project called the Search Generative Experience (SGE). While AI has been behind the curtain of search results for over a decade, SGE brings generative AI front and center. These new capabilities aim to answer search queries more conversationally, generating text answers within search results while still also providing links to relevant content. SGE can understand the context of more complex, long-form queries and also recommend next steps, including asking follow-up questions without starting a new search. While SGE isn't limited to mobile, it certainly commands more attention on smaller screens.

Let's explore how SGE responds to a search for, "best drag brunch in New Orleans." It first generates a list of businesses sourced from Google Business Profiles (GBPs). Expanding the listing reveals additional relevant content. For example, "The Country Club" is featured in Eater's article, "8 Drag Brunches to Liven Up Any Sunday in New Orleans."

best drag brunch in new orleans google search

SGE extends beyond GBPs, offering more conversational answers in some cases. For "how to make a courier de Mardi Gras costume," SGE provides initial tips alongside links to detailed tutorials from sources across the web. Clicking any article brings you straight to the relevant section, highlighted for convenience.

mardi gras costume how to google search

Here are some key takeaways for DMOs.  

While SGE is still experimental and only available in the US, SEO experts predict it's here to stay. Here's how you can prepare:

  • Explore SGE: Visit https://labs.google/sge/ and sign up for SGE. Test various queries relevant to your destination. 
  • Prioritize "Helpful" Content: Inspirational content isn't enough. If you want to rank in 2024 and beyond, your content will need to offer tactical advice through the lens of expertise and directly answer traveler questions. Leveraging local experts and local knowledge will help you compete with similar content online. Remember, SGE can even generate summaries of existing content within search results. Notice in our example above that SGE is sourcing content from Explore Louisiana. 
  • Partner with Tourism Businesses: Provide resources and training to help tourism partners verify and actively manage their Google Business Profiles, as these often serve as primary sources for SGE.
  • Stay on Top of Search Trends: Pay attention to traditional results for long-tail search versus SGE results. In our example below we searched for, "What kind of dishes is Miami most known for?" While traditional search lists dishes from a single source, SGE generates results based on several sources and may even mention specific businesses that are relevant to the query. 
what kind of dish is miami known for google search

Things to Do Content Takes Center Stage in Search

In November 2023, Google announced the retirement of the "Things to Do" section on Google.com/Travel. This isn't surprising given that the “Top Sights” featured there are now prominently displayed at the top of search results for travel-related search queries. Search for “things to do in XYZ,” and you will see 15 or more cards for attractions and points of interest, primarily pulled from Google Business Profiles.

things to do in sarasota desktop google search

Top Sights do appear on desktop searches, but mobile typically offers even more content, with a higher quantity of Top Sights and additional categories grouping like attractions. For example, a search for “things to do in Sonoma, CA” populates additional Top Sights categories like "wineries," reflecting the region's fame as “Wine Country.”

top sights in Sonoma google search

Another unique mobile-only feature for this type of query is “Top Experiences,” a carousel of cards featuring activities like “hiking trails” or “brewery tours.” Clicking on these cards generates content like related articles, short videos, or even “Activities and Tours,” a newer addition to search that sources tours from travel booking sites like Tripadvisor and GetYourGuide. This is often also a stand-alone carousel at the very top of search results for a “things to do” search.

top experiences in buffalo google search

While we can't directly influence which attractions are featured as Top Sights or what activities are displayed in Top Experiences, DMOs can take several steps to improve their visibility.

  • Analyze Search Results: Review the "things to do" search results for your destination; this provides valuable insights for optimizing content within the featured categories. Google allows user feedback on results so that you can report anything amiss. 
  • Empower Tourism Partners: Top Sights are sourced from Google Business Profiles. Encourage partners to create a profile and verify their businesses with Google. 
  • Boost Popularity: Google prioritizes results "based on frequency of mentions across the web." Partnering with bloggers and creating engaging content can boost the visibility of local attractions. 
  • Leverage DMO Content: DMO blog posts and other content can appear in the related search results section of SERP and potentially be featured in Experiences. Including the name of the market and category of experience can help to optimize. 

Mobile Search Continues to Be More Visual

Eye-catching images and video content continue to push down the traditional "blue links." To understand what this means for DMOs, let's dissect a travel query on mobile today:

A search for "things to do in Puerto Rico" showcases this visual shift. Images and carousels are sprinkled throughout the results, but video also enters the scene. Short-form video snippets from YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, often produced by independent content creators, offer glimpses of unique experiences relevant to the query. Occasionally, DMO-created short-form content can find its way into the spotlight.

short videos Puerto Rico

Longer video content also finds its place in results. In the Puerto Rico example, YouTube videos like "Puerto Rico Travel Tips: Everything you Need to Know" surface within the “related results” section, a feature at the bottom of organic results. In this example, we also see a new feature called “Perspectives.” Sometimes featured prominently in results or tucked away in its own tab, this feature highlights content "that might benefit from the experience of others," according to Google. Here, you'll find a mix of video and forum content from YouTube, TikTok, and sites such as Reddit and Quora.

Want your content to get some screen time? Here are some key moves. 

  • Optimize Your Videos: Make sure your video titles, descriptions, and hashtags are search engine optimized and mention your market by name. 
  • Text & Voice-Over: Enhance discoverability by adding text overlays on video covers and incorporating voice-overs mentioning your destination. 
  • Engagement is Key: Google favors popular videos with high view counts and interactions. Experiment with different formats and trends to capture attention, such as focusing on nature and including people in your video. 
  • Recency Matters: Create fresh content; most featured videos are between 3-12 months old. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As search expands to platforms like TikTok, Google will undoubtedly continue to adapt. So, we can expect even more changes in the future. For now, DMOs can focus on proactive strategies: working with their tourism partners and creating fresh, informative content that answers travelers' questions and captures their attention in this visual-heavy search interface.

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