Lightbox Search study reveals the airline’s search strategy worked

NEW YORK, Jan. 20, 2023 – “Chaos in the Skies” dominated what Americans heard, read or searched online when Southwest Airlines suffered a catastrophic meltdown between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

(Photo: Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

More than 100,000 stranded airline passengers irate at the carrier’s flight cancellations, lack of responsiveness, runway returns to gates, and endless delays was the story that had no end – until it did. But by the time the airline was able to return to near-normal service, some 16,700 flights had been cancelled and the airline’s bill was estimated at more than $800 million – and counting.

But what began on Dec. 31, 2022, hit a turning point for the beleaguered carrier on Jan. 3, 2023 at least as far as Google searches. While the news headlines were still horrible and images of seas of stranded luggage continued to circulate, searches started showing a changing story.

As the No. 1 most referenced and most trusted news source, according to the Pew Research Center, Google is more important than traditional news outlets because of its higher traffic with potentially slower news cycles. Clearly, the communications and search experts at Southwest and its agencies well knew that bad headlines on Google are worse than bad headlines alone, and readers fear them at least as much as video on network or cable news.

Jet Blue experienced a similar catastrophe during Valentine’s Day, more than 15 years earlier. That airline bounced back, although it was very badly bruised at the time. It took many months for Jet Blue to restore a modicum of normal business, customer confidence, let alone loyalty. But now, that February massacre lives only in the air travel history books.

So how will Southwest bounce back from its Christmas nightmare? One quick answer is to study and learn from the Jet Blue playbook from 2007. But as a Lightbox Search study already underscores, Southwest is doing a very good job at reclaiming its reputation on the world’s most important site: Google search.

Lumentus, powered by Lightbox Search, tracked Southwest’s search results beginning Dec. 28, just four days after the airline’s computer systems bulked under the strain of a fast return of air travelers following the Covid-induced drop-off. The situation appeared dire and it was reflected by the Lightbox Search proprietary score.

Lightbox Search is a technology platform providing search results intelligence for agencies and in-house communications teams. Lightbox Search scores are the equivalent of FICO scores for specific Google results, as they compute the relative sentiment and strength of what appears on screens large and small, desktop and mobile – with location-specific precision.

The headlines at that time were still horrendous for Southwest, but Jan. 3, 2023, proved to be a crucial turn-around in its Google Search results. Southwest could not control the headlines, but it did appear to try to remediate its Google search results.

Over the next two weeks, more Southwest-owned content, ranging from auxiliary websites for business travelers to a careers page, started appearing on page one of Google search results. And the scores rebounded quickly, lifting its online reputation out of the “red zone” within five days and even achieving respectable scores by Jan. 15.

“Southwest strengthening its Google search results was, and still is, a critical step as it tries to salvage its reputation,” said Laurence Moskowitz, chief executive of Lumentus, a communications agency that helped build Lightbox Search. “The airline certainly has a long way to go, but its rapidly improving Lightbox Search scores lays the foundation for a comeback.”

“The Lightbox Search technology that underpins Lumentus services, is now available as a stand-alone offering,” said Jesse Jacobs, chief technology officer. “Communications pros at companies, associations and agencies can now save countless hours – and substantially cut subscription costs – by automating the most labor-intensive elements of reputation management: monitoring search results, performing SEO audits, generating reports and even developing custom strategies on a single integrated platform.”

“We decided some months ago to offer the platform to communication professionals so they could take control of Google search results for themselves,” Jacobs added. “Agencies, companies and organizations with their own public relations or communications teams are able to leverage intelligence, analytics, geographical search capabilities, audience insights and suggested solutions that are automatically generated and benchmarked.”

Jim Gold

Project Director
With his combination of multimedia skills, solid judgment and global communications experience, Jim ensures Lightbox Search engages with all of its audiences and delivers consistent client service excellence.