Job profiles at Serviceplan Group

Let’s play another round of Jobtitles Bingo! Our colleague Markus Kral from Plan.Net reveals why a Data Engineer sits at a computer much less than one would expect and what his job has to do with a so-called “Herrengedeck”, a beer in combination with a shot.

Click here to find out!

Serviceplan New York slowly begins reopening its House of Communication to allow for a mix of remote and office work.

In the wake of a global pandemic that is showing no signs of slowing, companies are forced with difficult decisions around their work from home policies. While offices are permitted to open in many regions, companies are fearful of the risks still posed to employees during long commutes on public transit and in close office quarters. With this in mind, mixed office and remote work will be the new normal for the foreseeable future.

Productivity hasn’t suffered – yet

In a survey conducted by YouGov in partnership with USA Today and LinkedIn, 54% of respondents reported that working from home created a positive effect on their productivity, mainly due to fewer meetings and no commute. However, 51% of employees reported feeling lonely at home. While productivity may remain stable in the short-term, it is difficult to say how long this will last.

Employees are working off the knowledge and intrapersonal relationships that were built in the office and growing these relationships while isolated at home is a significant challenge. While video conferencing can make up for some lack of physical connection, true innovation, collaboration, and fulfillment that vibrant office culture provides will be difficult to replicate virtually on a permanent basis.

Employers should be aware of the mental health toll

The associated mental health toll will also begin to take an effect on employees, regardless of their living situation. For those who are working in their homes alone, feelings of loneliness and isolation are surely increasing. The same study reported that, to combat loneliness, 49% of respondents are reaching out to friends and family via phone during the day or spending more time on social media – measures that are generally considered counterproductive.

On the flip side, those with children who are no longer able to attend day care or school are presented with constant distractions during the day, making deep focus difficult to achieve. 23% of survey respondents are sharing workspace with a spouse or partner, and 14% are sharing it with children engaged in online learning, which requires near constant parental engagement.

People are empowered by choice

Work from home policies are incredibly valuable in normal times. When you empower a hardworking employee with the choice to create a flexible work schedule that suits their needs, the benefits are clear. However, the operative word is choice – which has been removed in the current setting. Without choice, the benefits of empowerment and independence achieved through flexible work are not quite the same.

The House of Communication

The US House of Communication office space on 102 Madison Avenue, New York, New York

For Serviceplan Group, the House of Communication setting has always been central to the way we work and communicate. Integration and innovation are core to our company culture, and to the services we provide. While we have found ways to utilize technology and foster communication and teamwork in this remote setting, we are excited to begin a slow, safe reopening of our House of Communication to be with our colleagues again.

The benefits derived from a vibrant and encouraging workplace cannot be understated. We are human beings first and employees second, requiring human connection to be satisfied in anything we do. Going forward, we will be armed with new experiences from both the physical and virtual working world, better preparing us to tackle any project, anywhere in the world, with any team. Being flexible and responsive to our employees and clients remains at the heart of what we do, no matter where we sit.

by Madison Rhyner, US House of Communication, New York

The global Coronavirus Pandemic has slowed the german economy down, which has been accompanied by massive sales losses for large parts of the retail trade. Even the slow easing of regulations will not lead to a short-term recovery in the economic situation of many companies. In this situation, online trade has not only been able to prove itself as an alternative sales channel, but has also emerged from its shadowy digital existence. The new circumstances continue to offer great opportunities for digital marketing.

Paid Media plays an outstanding role in addressing the right target groups. As experts in the field of performance marketing, we have identified the most important developments and trends for you by analysing our customer campaigns on the channels Google Search, Google Display Network (GDN) and YouTube. All statements refer to paid search, as they usually have a consumption-related background.

Our findings do not take place in a vacuum: In recent weeks, customers have already reacted to the altered situation by reducing or increasing their budgets; the same applies to the competition. These effects are reflected in the analysis as well as adapted user behavior.

Google Search:

With the start of the lockdown and consequent restrictions on leaving the house, impressions of paid search ads across our cross-industry client portfolio declined by an average of 29 percent. It was not until the first week of April that we saw a resurgence. One explanatory approach is that the consumer behaviour of consumers had clearly clouded over from the first days of the strict Coronavirus lockdown measures. This was because the volume of brand-related and transactional search queries in particular had fallen significantly. Informational searches on the nature and course of the pandemic have occupied people more than consumption.

After just under two weeks, however, an initial recovery in demand can be observed. The online search is thus also a good indicator of the increased need for information in society. As a result of the falling demand while competition remained the same or perhaps even increased, click prices rose significantly in mid/late March. In April, the CPC already dropped again significantly as some advertisers temporarily reduced their budgets. This dynamic will continue until the market situation is clarified. However, this will only delay the long-term trend towards rising click prices on Google.

Another special feature that we were able to observe in our analyses is that, although the majority of all searches are still generated from mobile devices, the share of desktop searches has risen significantly from February to March compared to February. This is probably related to the increased use of laptop and desktop devices in the home office. In our experience, desktop searches convert better than mobile requests, so here too is an advantage in terms of campaign success that should not be underestimated.

When considering demographic factors, it is noticeable that the aforementioned decline in search demand was significantly lower for women than for men. The female target group still has more consumer wishes, which are also in demand during the Coronavirus epidemic.

With regard to the age demographic, the picture is not very surprising: While young users aged between 18 and 24 years show practically no change in the intensity of use, demand in the oldest segment of users aged between 45 and 64 years has fallen by almost a third. As a rule of thumb, therefore, the higher the age of the target group, the more pronounced the fluctuations in search behaviour.

Google Display Network (GDN) / YouTube:

The development in the GDN stands in stark contrast to the development in wanted ads. Impressions on display ads in the Google Ad Universe have increased significantly with the beginning of the pandemic, by an average of 37 percent since mid-March. The still high interaction on GDN campaigns can be used very well for advertisers, since at the same time the prices in this channel fell clearly, partly by 50 per cent.

YouTube is also one of the big winners of the crisis. On the one hand, the audience has become larger and the time spent on the world’s second largest search engine has increased, while on the other hand, CPTs have fallen to new lows since mid-March.


Search continues to distinguish itself as the medium through which users actively disclose their needs. It is therefore more relevant than ever before, and is as indispensable a channel during the crisis as it is afterwards. Many advertisers have already adapted to the decline in paid reach and changed their strategy accordingly. But often this happens on sight, campaigns are stopped, paused and restarted. If hard campaign targets such as sales or KUR can no longer be achieved, we recommend temporarily considering alternative targets. With a focus on lead generation, valuable data can be collected now and used at a later date. Vouchers are another option for securing future sales today. Now is also the right time to advertise products and services that require explanation and to offer comprehensive virtual advice. As a brand, you remain in a position to build up a portfolio effect, i.e. to pick up and inform consumers even without sales. Because demand is still there and wants to be served over the coming months of the new normality.

Serviceplan New York talked to Richard Stewart of VOK DAMS about the impact of COVID-19 and the event industry.

Social distancing and restrictions in public gatherings are changing this year’s Marketing landscape. Events like SXSW have been canceled, the Cannes Film Festival has been postponed and even the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have rescheduled their start date to June 2021. We wanted to know how the event industry is coping and how virtual experiences are being held in today’s uncertain times. After all, we are in this together.

Serviceplan New York talked to Richard Stewart, Managing Director – North America for VOK DAMS, an agency for events and live-marketing about the impact of COVID-19 and the event industry.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell us about what it was like to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 assault on in-person group experiences.

COVID-19 has rocked our entire industry.

Those of us in the creative industries should take particular care of our event services peers. Millions of people who have devoted their careers to experiential marketing — event planners, event hospitality specialists, technical specialists and more — are looking at a very uncertain future right now. That is why at VOK DAMS, we actively support organizations such as Go LIVE Together, a coalition of leading companies from across the events ecosystem with a mandate to drive local, state, and federal legislative actions defining new parameters and accelerating recovery for live events in a post-COVID-19 world. On a personal level, just reaching out and letting someone know you are thinking about him or her can have a profound impact. We often underestimate the value of simple human connection.

To date, how has your business model been forced to change?

Like many agencies, starting in March 2020, we dove into virtual experiences deeper than ever before. Originally, this pivot was out of necessity as clients sought to capture as much value as possible from planned live events that could not be executed. By early April, we had already significantly strengthened our credentials in creating virtual employee events, large conferences, press conferences and showrooms.

We are now in a next phase of our virtual event expansion, one in which streaming live-moments into the digital world is being replaced by digital-first design of interactive event canvases and immersive experiences that result in a higher production value for clients. We’re also focusing on future-forward R&D for digital brand experiences, including the launch of a virtual conference center available globally. New offerings will go to market as developed and form a suite of virtual event offerings for our clients.

Do you have any examples of fun, innovative virtual experiences that you can share

Transforming L’Oréal Day, an employee conference for L’Oréal employees in Germany, was one of our first examples of transitioning a planned live experience to a virtual event. Like many of the virtual events we produced in March, this event was remarkable for the time it took from client decision to actual execution – 2.5 days in this case – and required the type of innovative agile agency approach that we pride ourselves on delivering with passion. In the end, we transported an event for approximately 900 employees into a digital space and provided a platform at scale for an exciting exchange of ideas.

We also took the Volkswagen Geneva Motor Show media press conference online, establishing a playbook for engaging journalists in a contactless world. We integrated three live environments into two 15-minute episodes, creating an experience that was digital, fresh and yet familiar to an audience of International media and brand stakeholders.

But we’ve probably had the most fun producing in the VOK DAMS virtual conference center, where up to 8 speakers can “take the stage” together on a large LED screen, with an in-person moderator and an audience of up to 100 live attendees, who are individually seated on iPads in a physical studio audience seating area. Events here can also be streamed to an unlimited number of viewers on the client’s collaboration platform of choice, and each production is recorded for delivery on downstream marketing channels after the event.

This hybrid event format is shot live in a COVID-19 compliant studio, outfitted with up to date global health safety measures for all staff. This way our clients can be assured that events that take place in our virtual conference center are safe and do not expose our staff to COVID-19. During the event, the moderator is the only person with a physical presence in the studio. All cameras and technical production are run autonomously or by technicians working remotely.

What are the current best practices in virtual experiences?

We’ve gained tremendous insights and learnings from every virtual experience that we’ve delivered thus far. One that consistently stands out is that shifting from a live brand experience to a virtual brand experience is not as simple as mapping your live event to a set of digital tools. Rather, we find that successful digital experiences create haptic moments, or moments that satisfy the consumer’s demand to have and keep something that lasts. Consider using short, hard-hitting content mixed with an intelligent audience engagement strategy and sufficient breaks. How you plan to earn participation, interaction and co-creation with your audience should be central to your planning.

What’s your post-pandemic outlook?

New ideas will enable us to design exceptional customer journeys and consult on the best partners and technologies to unite great teams, inform journalists, build investor confidence and create fiercely loyal customers for brands. When I think about this mandate in the context of the challenges we are currently facing, it’s like, “let’s ride.”

R.Stewart, MD – North America for VOK DAMS

The coronavirus crisis not only creates losers, but also some winners: online retailers and delivery services in particular, as well as online platforms for tutoring, fitness or cooking are all currently experiencing a massive sales boost. Social distancing is shifting both shopping and communication even more towards digital, which offers great opportunities for providers of such online services. However, even German SMEs that have found themselves in crisis, should perceive this as a digitalization push and initiate the necessary, in some cases long overdue transformation processes.

What does that mean in concrete terms? What steps should companies now take to digitalize their product portfolio and compensate for lost sales? Both B2C and B2B companies have a range of e-commerce measures available to them that make sense in the current situation.

In the B2C sector, action must now be taken quickly.

1. Discounts as an effective means.

Massive discount battles can currently be observed in the B2C sector. In the fashion industry especially, suppliers are currently trying to get rid of their seasonal goods. In addition, price reductions are also ensuring the liquidity that is urgently needed at the moment. The highest possible surcharge can be achieved with the right support through special newsletters and an increased and effective use of social media.

2. Through interactive features directly at the customer.

Keyword: Social Media. If a certain type of customer communication has been given a major boost as a sales channel during the crisis, then it is interactive features such as live chats and sales via live streaming that are most effective. These should definitely be integrated into the e-commerce strategy. The case of the Chinese cosmetics brand Forest Cabin, whose sales had slumped by 90 percent, shows what a great opportunity this offers. After a radical change of strategy with live streaming as the central sales channel, not only were all previous losses made up for, but just two weeks after the initiative was launched, the daily sales of the previous year were exceeded.

3. Digitalising loyalty systems.

Another tool that can be easily digitized are the well-known loyalty systems. For example, a well-known German perfumery chain has over 44 million loyalty cards on the market. These are well suited for contacting and retaining customers during the crisis. This applies in particular to older customers, whose willingness to use digital loyalty programs is significantly higher due to the crisis.

4 Exploiting the online marketplaces boom.

It’s well-publicized that Amazon, Alibaba and Co. are the big winners of the crisis in terms of increased market share. And others can also profit from this. These marketplaces should now be used as (additional) sales channels to take advantage of the current boom in digital marketplaces for their own business.

The Crisis as Digitalization Excellorator

Typically, transformations in B2B business are somewhat slower and are not implemented as quickly as in B2C. However, due to the massive impact that the Coronavirus crisis is also having on B2B companies, rapid action is now also required. The following four points are particularly important and effective.

1. Move Customer Services personnel to Home Office.

Customer services such as call centers and sales services must be made fit for the home office in order to continue to offer all necessary customer services and to be able to generate new business digitally. The fastest possible implementation is crucial here, since such services are needed at all times and this transformation is complex and extensive.

2.Digitalization of the Customer Journey,

The entire customer journey is currently shifting to online business, also in the B2B sector. As a result, all companies whose business model was primarily or even exclusively offline now have to invest more than ever in building their own service platform. This is the only way they can absorb the losses in offline business through online trading.

3.Agile working methods are more efficient than ever.

The crisis requires faster action, and budgets are now only planned in the short term and screened several times. To meet these requirements, agile working methods are a very good tool. A joint sprint every 14 days to redefine what is important facilitates an effective response to all eventualities and developments.

4.Sufficient server capacity is the A&O.

However, implementing all these measures is of little use if the website or even the web shop collapses during a run on your own sales platform. It is therefore extremely important to ensure sufficient server capacity and performance, either in-house or with an external service provider.

Companies that have already implemented some of these measures before the crisis are currently finding it easier to master them. However, the crisis mode in which our economy is currently operating should be seen as an opportunity to make up for lost time or to build on the digitalization steps taken so far. It is now more important than ever to implement the above-mentioned measures and to perceive this crisis as a catalyst and accelerator, because those who take the right steps now can emerge stronger from it.

The Coronavirus crisis currently poses challenges to many areas of business, but also creates new opportunities. In the Serviceplan Group’s first live session of the webinar titled “Acting Successfully in the Corona Crisis”, Verena Letzner, Managing Director of Plan.Net NEO, presented her analysis of the effects of the crisis on social media. In her expert article, she looks at the current situation in Germany and explains what questions brands should ask themselves now, and why it is worthwhile to take a look at the situation in China.

The use of social media platforms, from Messenger and video platforms to classic social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and others, has risen significantly. Due to the lockdown and social contact restrictions in Germany and the resulting social distancing, people increasingly use the Social Web to inform themselves, discuss and get in touch with others – including brands. This creates opportunities for brands to strengthen their market position sustainably during the crisis, however the procedure brands follow in order to do so is important. Only those brands that make a helpful contribution now will become part of the conversation and have the ability to emerge from the crisis stronger.

1. Improve people’s situation

Brands should create an offering on the Social Web that adds value to the many people who currently must stay at home. Brands can support important areas of life such as sports, health and education through their offerings, or create alternatives for activities that are restricted or completely forbidden during the lockdown phase, such as eating out together, shopping and maintaining physical social contacts.

2. Have a purpose and radiate optimism

Currently, the “Time with brands” is in a peak phase, which means that users engage more with brands on the Social Web than usual. For brands, it is important to use this time to authentically place values such as solidarity, community, care, trust and optimism at the centre of their communication, thereby increasing their brand capital in the long term.

3. Benefit from changes in media usage

Due to the withdrawal of many advertisers from the paid social sector, the advertising pressure and the competition for placements is currently decreasing. Therefore, it can be especially useful for brands to buy cheap advertising space or to get more reach for the same budget.

Five questions that brands should ask themselves now

In order to exploit the potential of social media during the Coronavirus crisis, brands now have to urgently address the question of a strong and relevant social media strategy. The following five questions provide a guideline:

  1. What role can social media play for my brand in the communication mix during the Coronavirus crisis?
  2. How do I deal with my community in times of crises?
  3. Which channels are the right ones for me?
  4. How can I establish a performance-oriented social media approach and invest my budget effectively?
  5. How do I measure my success ­– during and after the crisis?

A look towards China – Looking ahead

An interesting question is certainly what happens as soon as the lockdown in Germany eases. It is worth looking at China, where the crisis and its effects are ahead of European countries. In China, too, the social media use of various services and platforms increased significantly during the lockdown, and the personal exchange that usually takes place in shops, such as product or purchasing advice, shifted to the Social Web.

And after the lockdown phase? Social media use in China has remained high, only the daily usage time has decreased slightly again. In a survey of Chinese marketers on how they would invest budgets in the future or which fields they would use more after the crisis, most of the respondents cited the social media sector.  This shows that long-term business opportunities are seen here.

Serviceplan and NYC-based entrepreneur and fitness influencer Brian Mazza discuss how at-home fitness can help employees stay healthy (and sane) while working remotely.

New York, April 2020 – integrate fitness into your daily routine while working from home

As we all adjust to a new reality of social distancing and remote work, it’s important to find ways to protect our mental health and maintain productivity. While it would be easier to slide into a routine of pajamas and take-out, making fitness a part of your daily routine will certainly have a more positive impact on your well-being.

It’s no surprise that screen time has skyrocketed in recent weeks, along with new offers for streaming entertainment and at-home workouts. Companies from Nike to NEOU are offering live, on-demand fitness programs available on any device. Instagram, with over a billion active monthly users, has become a go-to source for health and fitness inspiration.

Brian Mazza, entrepreneur, fitness influencer and founder of High Performance Lifestyle Training (HPLT*), sat down with Serviceplan to talk about how fitness can transform employee productivity. Companies that prioritize wellness will have a healthier workforce that produces a better ROI. The below interview has been edited for clarity.

Courtesy of Men's Health Magazine

Tell us about yourself and High Performance Lifestyle Training*.

I am a husband and a father of two amazing young boys. I am an athlete and someone who really strives to be the greatest version of myself every single day. Creating HPLT has been a dream come true for many different reasons, but mainly because of the positive impact I am able to have on others. My [HPLT] summit allows an individual to understand their full potential in a group setting of like-minded people.

Can you explain why being mentally engaged and creating a lifestyle that’s centered around good health is important?

I always looked at fitness as just working out or just getting the job done when I was playing soccer. It wasn’t until I truly understood that fitness was a lifestyle choice, that I realized all the positive effects it had on my life. Working out is a small part of the formula, but a very important one. It sets the tone for your life and creates discipline which results in mental clarity.

What is the relationship between physical exercise and success in a corporate environment?

It’s very easy in today’s world to become lazy and soft. We need everyone to understand that being a High Performer can positively impact every facet of your life. Imagine the benefits of working alongside people that challenge you to be your best every single day.

What is your recommendation for employers?

Office spaces need to change, amenities for employees need to be health and wellness tailored, and more companies need to understand wellness in order  to get a healthy workforce that produces a better ROI.

How important are team workouts for corporate culture?

I like this question! I think corporate culture is very stale – it needs to be more fluid and transparent. Companies are teams, and if an employee doesn’t do their job because they aren’t dialed in, they need to be replaced. Employees will better understand this if they are put into uncomfortable situations through fitness and team building together. There is something special about people sweating together.

KEEP MOVING by following along on Instagram @brianmazza  and download his spreadsheet of at-home-workouts.

To learn more about High Performance Lifestyle Training, visit or follow along on Instagram @hpltraining The experience is offered several times a year in selected cities in the USA. It will be expanding to Europe 2020/2021.

#WeSport is key pillar of Serviceplan’s company culture

In the Serviceplan Group, over 4,000+ employees around the world are encouraged to excercise (e.g. Yoga with Serviceplan’s own Julia V.). Employees can use the intranet to find local health clubs and offers to boot camps or find Accountability Buddies for their health and wellness goals. The Munich office even has its own climbing wall that will be waiting for the employees to use, after the current Covid-19 crisis.

#WeSport is key pillar of Serviceplan’s company culture.

Nothing motivates the advertising market quite like the search for purpose. Even the search segment, which has always been one of the central points of contact in online marketing, is now reacting to the ever-increasing demand from users for an overriding sense of purpose of the providers. In this edition of SEO News, we take a look at new search engines and why ‘search’ has always had a purpose.

A binary search for meaning with an after-taste

Purpose is the word of the hour. Artificial intelligence and voice search have been all but forgotten again, with meaning and purpose taking their place as the latest marketing vehicles. Now, therefore, a positive contribution to society should also be made in business life. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has been dealing with search engines for a while now.

Google has always wanted to organise the world’s information. Microsoft has made empowering people the mission of its Bing search engine from the very beginning. But even beyond these visions, the issue of search and purpose could not be simpler, because search engines basically have these functions: finding meaning, providing information, reducing fear, and facilitating decisions.

In return, people not only entrust their search bars, microphones and camera lenses with their innermost doubts, fears and worries, but a technologised society also transmits location and transaction data, as well as behaviour and movement patterns to tech companies in the East and West. Although data protection has also been a topic of growing attention in Germany since at least the 1987 census, paradoxically it is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity in the information society.

To put it bluntly, one could say that the digital economy, loaded with great expectations, has so far done no more than collect the personal data of billions of people by the petabyte, only to then market said data to increase the prosperity of a few.  Simply adding up the current sales of the performance advertising top dogs Google and Facebook, advertisers’ exposure to our privacy is worth around US$60 billion a quarter.

As a result, data is increasingly being privatised with private companies profiting from their sale and everyone having to take responsibility for their own protection. For this reason, the US telecommunications giant Verizon has now launched a search engine called Onesearch which, similarly to the privacy search engine DuckDuckGo, which has been established for years, is committed to special measures to protect the privacy of its users.

Meanwhile, we ignore the fact that Verizon’s corporate portfolio also includes Yahoo, the classic data-handling mother of all search engines. Besides ignoring cookies, retargeting and profiling, according to Verizon search queries are transmitted in encrypted form. As a special feature, links to search results that are stored in the browser history, for example, are deleted after an hour, and the personal search result is then no longer visible. It almost goes without saying that the search history is not saved.

While the birth of a new search engine is always a big event, despite all its well-meaning features, Onesearch will probably have already experienced the peak of its use with the press release for its launch. This is because data protection alone is not enough of a purpose for a search engine. Users are not only prepared to hand over their lives in Is and 0s to search companies, but they have learned over the past 20 years that hardly anything makes the symbiosis of humans and technology as immediately tangible as a search engine. We are fascinated by the comprehensive store of knowledge, but also surprised by helpful information about our own neighbourhood. In contrast to social networks, the negative effects of the algorithm economy on society play a secondary role in the universal search. As important as the protection of personal data is in the networked society, Google’s long-term vision of a convenience engine with comprehensively personalised information seems to be a logical response to users’ need for technological meaning.

Job profiles at Serviceplan Group

It’s time for another one of our new Job Title Bingo videos! In today’s clip, our colleague Julia, a consultant at Facit Research, tells us what a Market Researcher does and how to become one.

She also tells us what’s in a mojito…

Click here to find out!

Escaping the cold and out into the sun. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter whether you book your next winter break at the travel agency around the corner, or on your mobile phone. In January’s SEO News, we will discover how, with Google’s help, we will soon be sending ourselves jet-setting off into the distance, and why you should never underestimate supposedly harmless hoaxes.

Travel agencies – fasten your seatbelts

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

It’s safe to say that 2019 was not an easy year for the travel industry. Not only did the insolvency of the British tour operator Thomas Cook send shock waves through the industry and cost many jobs, but “flight shame” and “overtourism” have been two social trends that have really put the brakes on growth within the sector, rather than strengthening it.

The traditional travel agency, which has for decades been the administrative headquarters of our holiday dreams, has experienced a small uptick, despite the adverse conditions. Although their numbers have been steadily declining for years, physical travel agencies have recorded a small but constant increase in turnover over the past 15 years. The reason for the success of travel agencies in the age of online bookings lies in the comprehensive, personal advice they provide and the transparency of prices and fees for customers. Both of these factors are forces that the online travel business has not yet been able to overcome. Against a background of changing travel behaviour, moving away from package tours to individual holidays, all market participants seemed to have settled down comfortably into their respective segments of the almost 800 billion US dollar global travel market.

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

As humankind’s entirely natural digital partner, the Search channel is virtually predestined for such a venture. A large number of us think nothing of trusting the input field of a search engine with our most intimate secrets, greatest fears, and most hidden passions.  For companies, webmasters, and SEOs, though, the challenge of generating genuine value from this social potential is growing ever greater. Paid ads, answer boxes as featured snippets, and the beloved “People Also Ask” questions – each of these is displacing the classic, organic click result from the top spots on the search results page. This is the other side of Google’s metamorphosis from a gateway to a portal for all of life’s questions and situations.

Google Travel as the new gatekeeper

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

But all that is about to change… After several acquisitions, iterations and experiments, Google is starting to expand its flight and hotel search into a comprehensive, personalised travel consultant and planner. The new travel search tool “Google Travel” has been live in the US since the start of the year and has received positive initial reactions  from both the press and users alike.

Bookings are still made on the travel providers’ own websites, but as a gatekeeper Google will certainly soon be monetising its dominance. Last spring, SEO veteran Rand Fishkin had alreadyexpressed his regret regarding this to the start-ups and online travel industry employees present at SMX Munich. A few months earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, a small website called Touringbird, an individual travel planning provider, which could not even be found via organic search, was launched. As it turned out a year later, the supposed start-up was in fact an experiment by Google’s incubator, Area 120. The site, which has since been discontinued and merged with Google Travel, allowed the search giant to test the application of its wealth of data in combination with the use of artificial intelligence under market conditions.

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

A recent patent shows that, in addition to online check-ins and reviews, Google also wants to incorporate offline user behaviour into its quality evaluation of local companies. According to the document, movement patterns of individual users or EXIF data from uploaded photos are to allow conclusions to be drawn about the quality and relevance of local listings. This leaves a lot of room for imagination as to how conventional SEO work at the computer may also shift into the real world in years to come. In addition to optimising website technology, structure, and content, clever strategies for obtaining good signals from offline searches are now set to be in demand as well. Before long, the free cup of coffee offered in exchange for a longer stay at the corner shop may very likely count among the modern search engine optimiser’s trusted tools.

Successful linking of different Google services

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

Google actually laid the foundations for its development work a few years earlier with its app Google Trips, which has also now been discontinued. The result they are now presenting is a tool that combines personalised searches with historical and real-time data to offer the entire spectrum of individual travel inspiration and planning using three simple tabs.

Broken down into “Where to stay”, “When to visit” and “What you’ll pay”, at first glance all the basic questions relating to travel are presented in an easily accessible and comprehensive manner. The comprehensive and familiar information from Google’s local search for almost any location around the globe can not only be marketed within the immediate geographical area, but can now be directly monetised as added value in travel planning. The company deliberately places the transparency of the final price at the centre of its marketing communication in order to distinguish itself positively from the competition. According to a study by EMarketer, despite ecological and social headwinds, the global travel market will be reaching the trillion dollar mark in just two years’ time. This means that the pie is getting bigger, but who gets a slice is still up for grabs.

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

The proliferation of technologies that enable open searching with the help of visual information is now also underway in Europe and North America, several years after Chinese search machines like Alibaba and Baidu first made important pioneering achievements in this area. Through advancement in the development of artificial intelligence and the gathering of ever more extensive volumes of data, it’s becoming increasingly easy for users to perform search queries that would be difficult to express assisted only by text or even speech.

The most important driver for visual search, however, will turn out to be that optimal searching is the ideal partner to e-commerce. With the launch of its visual search tool, US fashion chain Forever 21 has succeeded in increasing its average shopping cart value by approximately 20%. Inspiration portal Pinterest recently announced that around 80% of its users begin their shopping session with a visual search. The shortening of the customer journey in the young target group of 18 to 34 years is a powerful factor in the battle for online sales. Soon enough, the path from “I want” to “I have” will be just a camera click away.

From the point of view of search engine optimisation, this means it would be advisable to extend content strategies by a visual dimension, and to optimise technical deployment of picture and video files within digital assets. 2020 will not only see us experience the proliferation of visual searches, however, but also witness the first steps on the road to a multimodal search matrix consisting of text, speech, camera input, and (offline) context.  That’s why we advise you to stay on the ball, keep reading our little column, and, most importantly,  have an excellent start to the new year.

Duck Duck Go buys into Android

With almost 90% of the market share, Google’s Android dominates the smartphone operating system market worldwide. Hard-wiring your browser to your own search engine gives you quite a valuable asset. The EU’s competition watchdogs have now also realised this, imposing on Google a fine of around five billion US dollars in March 2019. In addition, the company was required to provide users with a choice of search provider when setting up their mobile device, much in the same way as Microsoft had to make alternatives to the Internet Explorer browser available in the Windows 7 operating system in 2009.

Google has now successfully fulfilled this obligation with the help of an auction, much to the disappointment of the search engines participating. Three selections were auctioned in a total of 31 EU markets. The bidding was on the click price that the third-party provider would be prepared to pay Google for each search action.

Duck Duck Go comes out on top

The result of these auctions now reflects neither the market position nor the quality of Google’s alternatives. For example, Microsoft’s successful search engine Bing was only used in the high-revenue UK. In Germany, new Android users will have the choice between the US providers Duck Duck Go, InfoSpace and GMX-Suche from Germany’s United Internet group. The search engine Duck Duck Go, which specialises in the data protection, was the biggest winner in the auction and was used immediately in all markets. Despite criticism from participating companies, this procedure has not yet been called into question by the EU. Even though the auction procedure is a proven method of ensuring fair access to a limited market, the demand for a permanent click price speaks volumes about our beloved monopolist’s understanding of the market.