In the latest changes and additions to Google’s search landscape, many hoteliers are finding it much more difficult to stand out on the first page and rank organically. Over the past several months Google has rolled out with new products, which has significantly dominated the online travel space; particularly when it comes to the hotel search experience. The search engine giant has extended its presence and influence over the online travel industry with its new features including Hotel Finder, Google +, and most recently the Google Knowledge Carousel. According to Google, these changes are intended to improve the hotel search experience for travel shoppers by making it easier for them to find the best hotel deals without having to navigate to another search engine like Yahoo Travel or even meta search engines like Kayak or Trivago. In this way, users will be able to find everything they need to know through Google to help them decide where to book without having to click on one of the search results.
Users will be able to read reviews from Google + Local, see real-time hotel comparison rates from Hotel Price Ads, and view photos from Google Carousel. This all sounds great and beneficial for Google but what about independent hotels that already struggle with ranking organically against OTAs and brand hotel sites? These Google products pose an even greater threat to independent hotels. Through these products, Google is increasingly moving into areas that it can monetize through its own sponsored programs like HotelFinder and push organic results further down the fold. So let’s review these major changes and discuss how hotels can utilize these features to maximize visibility, increase organic traffic and boost conversions.
This heatmap shows where visitors tend to click when on the Google search results page. Notice the majority of visitors click on the Google Carousel results.
Google Product #1- Pay-Per Click Advertising
Although not a new advertising platform, pay-per click is still a highly relevant and effective way to increase visibility and gain traffic. With these Google products, it may seem like paid advertising is the only for sure way for hotels to show up above the fold in search results. However, PPC should only supplement your overall online marketing strategy. Driving organic traffic and increasing direct bookings using Social Search Optimization or SSO 3.0 should be every hotel’s priority. Larger funded competitors like OTAs and brand sites heavily rely on PPC advertising to position themselves on the first page. Instead of relying on PPC advertising, independent hotels should implement an SSO strategy that enables them to rank for less competitive long-tailed keywords that will yield higher conversions.
Google Product #2- Google Hotel Finder
When Hotel Finder first appeared on Google, hoteliers became threatened by its features and ability to divert a travelers’ attention away from natural search results. Many hoteliers have seen a significant decline in traffic to their vanity site since the launch of Hotel Finder especially if their property was not listed in the Hotel Price Ad drop-down. Instead of thinking you can’t do anything to remedy this decline, hotels should learn to adapt and adjust their marketing strategy. For independent hotels interested in using Hotel Price Ads (HPA) to receive more clicks to their sites, hoteliers must participate through an Integration Partner including various Customer Reservation Systems. This will ensure that a vanity site’s hotel rates are clearly displayed on Hotel Price Ads thereby shifting customer loyalty away from OTAs and brand sites and into the property site.
Google Product #3- Google Knowledge/Local Carousel
Just a few months ago Google displayed its Knowledge Carousel which shows related properties in an interactive slideshow on the very top of SERPs. The results displayed in the carousel are derived from the property’s Google + local page which means there is a greater emphasis on local listing optimization when it comes to search placement. For better search placement and to stay ahead of the competition, hoteliers will need to optimize Google + local. There are several factors that will affect your hotel’s placement in the carousel. Google’s algorithm takes into account whether the listing has been claimed, optimized, and actively managed. By actively managed, we mean encouraging and responding to reviews, joining relevant communities and posting about relevant topics about your hotel. Failure to optimize your property’s Google + will result in missed opportunities of converting visitors into guests.
The evolution of Google’s search landscape will evitable change user behavior and affect click through rates of organic listings which means hoteliers must be prepared to implement a strategy that will align with these changes and work in their best interest. With that said, hoteliers should not let these Google features discourage them from re-strategizing their marketing efforts but rather use it as another marketing opportunity to sell their property.