There’s a pretty good chance you’ve tapped into Google today—to take a look at the weather forecast, queue up directions, or maybe check the business hours of that take-out place you’ve been meaning to try.

The ever-present search engine also is playing a larger and larger role in influencing consumers’ travel decisions. Along with curating the information that shows up in online searches, Google is now creating its own search results, too. It’s producing content like Top Sights and Google Travel Guides for a growing number of destinations, embedded with links to book lodging and attractions directly.

“If people are relying on these platforms for making decisions, we want to make sure our stakeholders are making a good first impression,” says Katera Woodbridge, Sales and Marketing Contractor for the Oregon Coast Visitors Association. That’s why OCVA is partnering with Travel Oregon and Miles Partnership on a Google Content Co-op program to better understand and capitalize on Google’s destination-focused content.

To develop its listings, Google essentially “scrapes” the web, pulling information from websites, Wikipedia entries, media coverage, photos, YouTube videos and more. The results may be adequate, or they might be unfortunate. If Google can’t come up with any decent photos of your business, explains Woodbridge, it might grab a Google Street View photo of an empty parking lot or a closed sign—not exactly the message you want to send out to the universe. Through programs like Google My Business, individual business owners can take more control over their search results. “It can be simple things,” suggests Woodbridge, “like providing better photos, and making sure business hours and map locations are correct.”

“We recognize the challenge,” says Cecilia Suvagian, Database Information Specialist at Travel Oregon. “You have your website to manage, your social media, and now someone’s saying, ‘Don’t forget about your Google profile!’” But it’s looking more and more obvious that Google is going to continue down this path, so we want to provide the resources to help members make the most of it.”

In autumn 2019, Miles conducted a baseline audit of Google results for 12 Oregon Coast communities to see how their area and attractions were represented in products like Google Travel Guides and Top Sights. The next step is in-person training for DMOs and their members, to learn how they can address issues identified in the audit, and better manage Google results. The co-op program includes how-to guides developed by Google with specific tools that OCVA stakeholders can leverage to become more effective on the Google platform. A January webinar put on by Miles Partnership, “Uncovering the secrets of the most successful business profiles on Google,” drew more than 200 OCVA registrants.

It’s tough to overstate the importance of a positive, accurate Google presence, emphasizes Woodbridge. “The number of eyes looking at a Google listing is potentially millions of times larger than those looking at a Yellow Pages listing,” she says. “Our goal is to help local partners see how important this is and eliminate the stigma of thinking it’s too challenging to keep up with Google.

“Going into Google to make changes to a listing may seem outside the realm of possibility for some of our smaller mom-and-pop destinations,” Woodbridge adds. “But we want to let our partners know that we’re all tackling this together. A lot of really useful information has come out of this program, and we’re eager to share it.”

By Tina Lassen