In January, Google announced that search results would include Google+ pages, and by extension, Google+ business pages. Google+ has barely been a blip on many individuals’, let alone business’, radar screens. However, the inclusion of Google+ content on search results should make every business owner and hotel take notice.
Bear in mind that Google+ only has 90 million users while Facebook claims 800 million. However, in an article in PCWorld, the headline read, “Why Google+ Business Profiles Will Trump Facebook Business Pages” (PC World, Ilie Maturu and Elsa Wentzel, 11/9/11), and all the reasons why were outlined. By integrating Google+ results into search, “…businesses have one more incentive to create a Google+ business page and begin live streaming for a chance to appear organically in real time on a user’s search query. Facebook has no penetration into the search market, and if it’s up to Google, it’ll stay that way.”
Google vs. Facebook/Everyone
The competition is not taking this lying down. Google had a contract with Twitter to feature tweets in searches but let it expire. Twitter, among others in the social world, is crying foul. “Facebook engineer Blake Ross, working in conjunction with programmers from MySpace and Twitter, released a Chrome extension bookmarklet called, “Don’t Be Evil.” (www.focusontheuser.org) That’s a reference to Google’s unofficial motto, one that aims to highlight the claim as Google calls its social search integration, favors Google’s content and returns less relevant results.” (Information Week, Thomas Calburn, 1/24/12)
The FTC may agree. It is currently giving Google scrutiny for unfair practices – the same route it took with Microsoft. The first wave of this occurred when Google rolled out its travel suite including Hotel Finder and Flight Finder and the OTAs took exception. This rollout, however, is more global in nature and includes preferential inclusions in search for Google+ members.
Recently published by Chris Davies, “Google’s social network, Google+, will also come under investigation in a U.S. FTC antitrust probe, according to sources, as the Commission examines whether the search giant has improperly used its heft to squeeze out rivals. Although originally expected to cover search, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s inquiry will now be expanded to look at Google.”1
A search is one of the primary ways that travelers find hotels within a given location. The first Google shock was when it integrated live rate quotes into Google Maps functionality. A Google Map leads into the Google Places page for every hotel that features live rates for the dates searched as well as a drop down of the reservation channels and their rates.
According to PC World writers Maturu and Wentzel, “Google can (and probably will) integrate the new Google+ pages with Google Places, which appear in its Maps search results. This would allow a user to interact directly with a given company after it appeared on Google Maps. Currently, users can see static rankings of a given business from Google Places, but integrating Google+ profiles would allow users to ask questions or offer feedback in real time.”
The screen capture below is what a customer sees when he or she scrolls over the double arrows next to the name of a hotel that has a Google+ page. The customer sees a picture of the website and can go directly to the website by clicking on the image.
In contrast, when a customer scrolls over a double arrow for a hotel that doesn’t have a Google+ page the Google Places page appears. This is the way all hotels without a Google+ page will appear. Businesses with a Google+ page will be able to interact directly with customers. The hotel with the Google+ page provides the customer to click on the image of the hotel website, find out information and book directly through the website booking engine.
On Google Places a customer can also book but the booking channels are presented with a drop-down list of OTAs links and rates with the hotel’s website link appearing at the bottom of the sort. You can do the math: more direct bookings with no commission or more bookings on the OTAs at 35 percent commission. The case for building a hotel business page on Google+ then becomes pretty compelling.
I used to call Google the 1,000-pound gorilla in the travel space with its travel suite of Flight Finder, Hotel Finder, et al. Google just gained weight in the travel space with Google+ for business and its incorporation into the search for hotels.
This is only the beginning of Google’s mission to consolidate all of its business tools, search, email, document sharing, online call/video platform like Skype’s and many more into one space so that the user experience is enhanced and theoretically users may never have to access another platform for many business and personal online functions. This is an edge that Facebook doesn’t have and probably won’t have soon enough to slow down the now 2,000-pound gorilla.