Metasearch engines: What you need to know
Metasearch has been a growing trend for the hotel industry within digital marketing for quite some time now. Over the last few years, metasearch advertising has seen a rapid rise with it now contributing to many hotels overall revenue.
Metasearch sites are gaining ground on Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and have helped innovate the process for travellers. Thanks to objective positioning, metasearch engines are winning popularity among travellers and hotel guests.
Combined with Google’s new Search and Destinations features, it’s practically effortless for users to find and book rooms at the best prices.
Metasearch advertising is another way to gain visibility that can lead to a stronger brand awareness and online presence, increase in direct bookings and potentially a lowered marketing spend – when used strategically. This blog will tell you everything you need to know about metasearch, whether you’re looking to optimise your bids or plan on shifting your paid marketing efforts.
Table of contents
What is a metasearch engine?
A metasearch engine is a search tool that sends user requests to several other search engines and aggregates the results into a single list. For example, hotel metasearch would target travellers, where they’ll be shown a list of aggregated sites to compare hotel prices and availability in real-time.
Metasearch engines represent a huge opportunity for hotels – the easier travellers can find and book your hotel the better. Since potential guests can discover and book almost simultaneously, there’s a higher chance of impulse purchases with less chance of abandoned bookings.
In a way, metasearch combines the digital marketing and distribution efforts of a hotel, presenting itself as a booking channel and an environment to advertise your hotel. Hotels should seriously look to consider investing some marketing budget into metasearch channels, or look to find ways to optimise their experience if already investing in this area, not only because of its popularity among travellers but also its beneficial comparative rate model.
The other thing to know about advertising on metasearch engines is that the hotel can ‘bid’ for ad placements on keywords. For example, a hotel may bid on ‘Sydney hotel’ to show up as a top result everytime that keyword is searched. This is where it can get complicated however, because hotels need to make sure the fee they’re paying for a click is worth the revenue the ad drives.
Another factor is that if a keyword is very popular, a hotel would have to bid higher to secure the top placement, which is risky. The key is to find balance. If you bid too low your listing won’t show high enough on results – but bid too high, and your guest acquisition cost will be more than it should be. More information can be found on exactly how metasearch engines work in the next section.
Companies such as TripAdvisor are working on becoming a one-stop shop for researching and booking hotels, making it the perfect time for hotels to start investing in metasearch.
Difference between a metasearch engine and a search engine?
A normal search engine, such as Google will send out robots (commonly referred to as spiders) that will crawl one site to another before an adequate amount of information is available to establish a record or database of the sites that it has visited.
As previously highlighted, a metasearch engine (also referred to as an aggregator) is a type of search engine that does not retrieve data from robots but instead aggregates a that then results into a main list and that organises the search engine results from which they are sourced.
Difference between a metasearch engine and OTAs?
Online travel agents promote hotels in global destinations and highlight room rates, provide descriptions and images. Travellers are able to book directly through an OTA website.
Some well known online travel agents include Expedia, Booking.com, Travelocity and Yahoo? Travel to name a few.
Smaller hotels and accommodation providers may find OTAs a bit out of budget. While they do require a little more spend, they are a key player in online distribution and can be valuable partners to sell rooms through. Alternatively, commission hotels pay through a metasearch site are generally lower than an OTA while being just as popular, presenting a budget friendly option for marketing to invest in.
Metasearch engines are a unique search engine that can help make the booking process for travellers more convenient. The key difference between the two is that users cannot book through metasearch sites like you can with online travel agents, as they act as an advertising platform that only displays information.
Some larger metasearch sites allow you to now book through the metasearch results, allowing the same functionality as an OTA. It’s worth noting that online travel agents will continue to play a pivotal role within the online travel market, however only fierce competitors who are able to handle the evolving metasearch channel will survive.
Metasearch channels are known to potentially direct more bookings because it provides ease of booking for travellers. However, contact details are kept by the metasearch engine so hotels do not receive them directly.
What does a metasearch engine do?
A hotel metasearch engine works the same way as traditional metasearch. Travellers compare hotel room rates, based on a search term such as a destination or travel dates. Metasearch sites will then deliver results from various online travel agencies (OTAs) and other booking sites that meet their requirements, all in one place.
A potential guest can use these sites to find room prices for one hotel on a number of different booking sites at the same time. Some hotel listings often aggregate guest reviews, photos, amenity information and in some cases, policies too. A traveller will just need to click on the link to one of the channels to complete their booking.
Traditional metasearch started off as a way to compare room pricing across different websites, allowing travellers to click onto the hotel or OTA site with the best price and complete their booking there. The business model was pay-per-click (PPC), where hoteliers and OTAs could bid for the best ad placement. Depending on the metasearch site’s structure, the booking sites offer a certain fee per click, fee per impression, or a percentage of booked revenue, with the site’s that place the highest bids dominating top spots on the listing.
Each site pulls in price feeds from a variety of sources, showing users the “best” place to book their hotel. However, advertisers can pay for a prime placement and encourage users to book a hotel stay via their platform. You may find that the featured listings are not the cheapest rates but appear because they pay the most for the placement.
But Google and TripAdvisor have driven metasearch in a different direction in recent years: Google and TripAdvisor are offering instant booking options instead of relying solely on PPC advertising. They’re relying more heavily on a commission per booking model.
Through instant booking on metasearch sites, guests can book your rooms without being directed and redirected to all corners of the Internet. When travellers are continuously redirected, they can become frustrated and confused, that could lead to a lack of trust in booking and in most cases, they will abandon the booking entirely to seek out another option.
Ultimately, providing travellers with a seamless booking experience on a metasearch site, makes it easy for potential guests to find your hotel property and book the room they want, at the best price possible, for the dates they have been searching for.
Many hoteliers shy away from adding more channels because of how long it takes to manage manually, not to mention the potential for overbookings, but think about how many people use Google and TripAdvisor to search for and book accommodation! To simplify the management of your rates and availability across these channels (and drastically reduce the risk of double bookings), a channel manager can help.
List of top hotel metasearch engines
A report from EyeforTravel and Fornova surveyed travellers in Australia, Canada, UK and US, finding that 44% of travellers “always used metasearch tools”, 73% “did so regularly”, and 94% were “at least occasional users”. The trend of metasearch engine use is constantly growing, so hoteliers certainly need to look into the above channels.
There are obviously a few major players when it comes to metasearch engines. When looking into where you should advertise your hotel, there are a few options to look at.
You may want to consider the following:
- Google Hotel Ads
It should be noted that in general, sites such as Kayak that offer combined rates (accommodation + flights), aren’t as successful at providing hotels with a high share of top ad placements.
Google Hotel Ads: Why is it so important?
Data shows that Google Hotel Ads is the fastest growing metasearch engine with 64% of the meta market in 2019. GHA simply gives future travellers the opportunity to book a hotel room at various crucial points throughout their research.
Anywhere a user can be making travel-related decisions, Google surfaces hotel ads to help them evaluate the pricing and booking options available to them. Google Hotel Ads displays your hotel information such as availability and rates on Google Maps, Search and Assistant.
Social sharing sites and the vast reaches of the internet have changed the way that people see the world around them. Many people gather ideas and inspiration for their next adventure abroad online, and they’re likely to begin the booking process with a search on a powerful search engine.
Hoteliers should aim to rank higher on Google in two ways;
- By using SEO best practices to increase their chances of gaining a high ranking on the search engine results page
- By using Google Hotel Ads to market your hotel property
Over time, Google has evolved and the way that hotels appear in the search results has changed. A few items that are displayed include:
- User Reviews
- Editorial Descriptions
- Google Street Views
- High Resolution Photos
Hotel Ads give you the power to control what appears below your own search results. In fact, you can change the images that appear when a user searches for properties like yours, and you also can incorporate interactive tours into your display.
Google has always been a giant of the search world, but now it seems the behemoth is expanding even further to take over the metasearch arena for hotels and travel, with an estimated market share of 64-80%.
Google hotel finder: New Google hotel search
In recent years, Google continued to shake up the hotel booking space by axing Hotel Finder, and adding more options to its Hotel Ads offering.
Search replaced Hotel Finder and Hotel Finder was phased out!
Why did it happen?
It’s easy to see why Google is simplifying the booking process by cutting out their Hotel Finder program. Their search engine is already being used daily to search for accommodation, and it’s much more popular than Hotel Finder.
How does it work?
Now, travellers can search for hotels on Google and Google Maps in over 100 countries, making a booking directly from the Google interface. They can see prices, photos, reviews, and street view panoramas. More features around what amenities are available have also been added.
After Google launched a new layout for hotel search results in October 2018, Google’s share of the bookings also increased from 57% to 67% of all metasearch bookings.
What impact is Google having on metasearch?
Analysis by Fastbooking says that Google Hotel Ads has grown exponentially, surpassing TripAdvisor for click volume, traffic, and cost-per-click.
Google does have the advantage of travellers carrying out searches within its own search engine, making it much easier for them to present their price comparison tool to the end user. In comparison to other metasearch engines, such as Trivago, users are more likely to end up using Google Hotel Ads without realising it due to the subtle integration Google has developed directly into search results.
It’s no wonder that hotel clients who use Google Hotel Ads, have seen an increased return on ad spend in 2017 by 10.1x – edging out TripAdvisor at 10x.
When comparing metasearch engine channels, Google Hotel Ads is the one that has seen the strongest growth. Other metasearch engines that have made noticeable improvements to their platform, such as TripAdvisor, have also seen investment growth in recent years, however Google Hotel Ads is the engine with the largest rhythm of growth.
The increase in Google’s metasearch effectiveness is a result of some key updates over the years to its platform, including:
- Introduction of Google Hotel Ads
Originally, Google began its journey in travel search with Hotel Finder before changing the name to Google Hotel Price Ads – now known as Google Hotel Ads. It now takes only two clicks from Google.com to begin the booking process.
- New filters creating a more detailed user experience
When travellers search for a hotel, for example ‘hotel in Sydney’, they’re offered a set of three results. Once they click on this and are taken to a pop-out, they now have the option to filter results based on their individual preferences.
With this update a business traveller can filter only those hotels that offer free wifi at the beginning of their search journey. Alternatively, a leisure traveller can restrict their results to pet-friendly hotels. They can also choose to see more hotels and be given a two-month date range to work with.
This specificity so early in the booking journey means some hotels will be able to significantly increase their visibility with Google.
- Hotel reviews interface
Google is working hard to improve the information it shows to travellers in order to make it easy to choose a hotel. Its review interface offers some core features including:
- Third-party reviews show in a carousel for some of the listings
- The review overview has a more robust interface showing stronger colours and reviews by attributes such as location or facilities
- The detailed review section will show a graphical user interface based on type of travel
- Travellers can again use a filter to see only reviews from Google, Expedia, Booking.com etc. depending on what they prefer
Google has continued to improve and enhance their advertising platform for hotels, with some noticeable accelerations in the last few years – especially to keep up with the COVID-19 pandemic and changing search for the travel industry. Some noticeable updates include:
- Pay per stay program
This used to be known as Google Hotel Ads Commission Program and is now available to all Google Hotel Ads partners globally. Instead of hotels paying for each click or per transaction, they now have the opportunity to pay Google a commission once the gudest has completed their stay. This means that, in case of cancellation, no commission is due to Google.
- Introduction of Free Booking Links
Hoteliers can now appear in Google Ads without bidding on the platform. Free booking links appear just below the ‘featured’ (paid) options.
- Launch of the Check-In-Date multiplier
Google Hotel Ads allows hoteliers and OTAs the ability to apply bid adjustments, also known as multipliers, to their campaigns.
Multipliers can be based on length-of-stay, check-in-day of the week, booking window, location, device, or even remarketing lists. This feature allows hoteliers to adjust bids for specific dates based on variables such as events in the area, pace of pick-up, occupation rate, and so forth.
What benefits come with using Google Hotel Ads?
There are three major advantages to getting your hotel involved with GHA.
1. Increased direct traffic
Once a traveller clicks on your ad they’re taken immediately to your hotel’s booking page. If your booking engine is able, they can make a booking straight away with no ‘middle man’ involved.
2. Increased revenue
It’s also likely that by the time a user has reached your site, they’ll have already filtered results to match their exact preferences meaning they’ll be further along the sales conversion funnel, meaning a potential highly qualified lead. The more of these bookings you can capture, the better your net revenue will be compared to an OTA booking.
3. Establishing a relationship with guests
Increasing the chances of direct bookings, in turn reduces intermediaries between the guest and the property, meaning you’ll obtain vital statistics and information about a travellers planning process. This will allow you to predict and attract future guests as well as strengthen your loyalty strategies for the existing bookings.
How to increase bookings and revenue with Google Hotel Ads?
To help with your conversion and to stand above competitors there are a few things you can do:
Sign up for Business View
Google Street View has become an expectation of searchers across the globe who use Google for nearly every question that they have.
Now, businesses — including hotels and those in the hospitality industry — can utilise the Google Business View tool to showcase the interiors of their properties.
Shoot quality photos and videos
Google has standards and they are exceptionally high. In order to feature interior photos of your hotel and incorporate them into your Google Hotel ads, you need to ensure you take high-quality, high-resolution photos and videos.
Photos should be in focus, optimally taken in natural light and without excessive filters, and must be at least 14 mp or larger in order to be considered high-quality by Google.
Highlight special offers, discounts and other unique features
Within your ad copy, you’ll want to highlight the special offers and discounts that allow your property to stand out from the competition. Mention any discounts or promo codes you’re currently running.
If you’ve recently added a new room or new suite at your hotel, then you can feature this in the description as well as high-resolution photographs.
Keep track of your competition with the Ad Preview Tool
With the Google Ad Preview Tool, you can monitor the progress of your competition and verify that your own ad is performing optimally. You can use specific keywords in order to check your ad and make sure that it is achieving the best results, and see how your ad is appearing to travellers who are searching for hotels like yours.
Google Hotel ads rely on two key components:
- A series of Data Feeds which informs Google about the hotel rooms you offer, and
- Bidding, which clarifies how much you’re willing to pay to get users to relevant booking page
Create a Google My Business account
To use the Google Hotel Ads platform, you need to have a verified Google My Business profile – although this is free to set up. Google My Business is a free listing that optimises all your information and makes it easier for travellers to find and access the information they want. It’s an invaluable tool for capturing traffic.
Strengthen Google Reviews
One thing that might sway a traveller to click your hotel over a competitor is reviews. Reviews are curated from various sources by Google and then displayed to the user so it’s important you stay on top of managing your reviews.
Maintain rate parity
Your rates should be somewhat in line with your direct competitors, unless you want to see your impressions drop. Too much disparity will see users steer clear.
Google doesn’t shy away when it comes to the complexity of how difficult it is to launch and maintain a successful campaign on Google Hotel Ads. The processes can be very difficult, which is why Google suggests that you do employ a third party integration partner to assist with all the technical details involved.
Integration partners not only assist with tasks such as entering rates and availability, but these experts can also assist in managing many of the processes of running a successful ad campaign; from setting it up to maintenance and optimisation, all to help nurture and grow your campaign.
There are many ways you can get the most out of Google Hotel Ads for success. We’ve listed what we feel are the top 5 tips however you can read the extensive list from Mirai.
- Show all room types and rates; not only the cheapest one
- Display all your occupancies ready and get 30% more visibility
- Display pictures of your rooms
- Customise your logo and callouts
- Communicate your room and rate attributes; not only the price is important
Google hotel search
Search engines play a pivotal role in the success of hotel marketing and growing their business. Google is especially influential, being a top search engine in many markets, and provides greater hotel visibility opportunities to potential guests.
After phasing out Hotel Finder, Google offered an integrated search approach instead and made a number of interface updates to make things much easier for travellers.
The changes included:
- Stand alone search interface and updated Google Maps view
- Personalised search results – users tracked through gmail account
- Price tracking and easy access to the best deals
- Mobile-exclusive offers
- Quick impressions of top features, images, reviews in one consolidated view
- Access to travel community to ask questions
- Brief but informative descriptions
- High volume of reliable reviews
- See all available rooms
- Price insights
- Nearby sights, bus stops, airports
Before you start investing in Google Hotel Ads, you really need to improve your hotel’s search engine optimisation. An easy way to kick this off is to create your business profile.
As mentioned previously, Google My Business is a free business listing you can use to create a profile. It is probably the best first step to ranking higher in search results and providing travellers with all the necessary information they need about your hotel. GMB instantly makes your hotel more accessible, where potential guests can easily click ‘visit website’ or ‘call’ from the search results directly from Google.
Google My Business can help organise information into optimised fields on a template that ensures you, and your guests, don’t miss anything. This also encourages them to book directly with you instead of through commission-based online travel agents.
Using the tool you can:
- List your hotel’s name, address, and phone number
- Have a geo-marker on Google maps to highlight your location
- Display unique photos
- Display guest reviews
- Provide any additional details relevant to travellers looking for information
It’s also very easy to edit all of your information once you have verified your business through your Google account, meaning even if you’re away you can still be managing your listing and influencing search rankings.
To ensure your business listing is effective you need to make sure your details are always up-to-date and accurate. You should consider adding videos in addition to your images and have at least five genuine guest reviews for your hotel.
More tips for mastering your hotel’s SEO
First impressions are always the most important. If you create an effective SEO strategy along with your Google listing and a beautiful website, you’re more likely to capture bookings in the first instance.
Here are some important guidelines to follow:
- Research keywords and define your own list. Then use the most relevant and searchable on your website and in your content.
- Quality content always ranks highly so make sure what you provide your site visitors is interesting and engaging. Keep it fresh too, that means updating regularly, this can be maintained through a blog
- Create cornerstone SEO pages by merging multiple pages that relate to similar keywords – otherwise you risk confusing Google on what should be the ranking URL leading to fluctuations and you won’t feature high on search results.
- Optimising your website for mobile will increase the opportunity you have to be seen by travellers and enable you to accept mobile bookings for guests who plan their travel on the go.
- Partner with other local sites to increase your inbound links. The more the better, both for traffic and search engine ranking.
- Visual content should always be a priority. No one will book your hotel site unseen.
Hotel metasearch engine tips
For some quick advice on increasing bookings through hotel metasearch engines, take note of these five tips:
Tip #1 – Choose the right metasearch channels
Hotels should take a specific and unwavering stance on their advertising. This means focusing on aggregators with an ‘accommodation only’ slant; prioritise sites like Google Hotel Ads above combined advertising platforms such as Kayak.
This allows a high-quality hotel metasearch platform to continually assess the specific hotel-related needs of both travellers and hoteliers and offer a unique and intuitive experience to both parties.
Tip #2 – Maintain your room rate integrity
Some sites, like Google, take rate parity very seriously. It’s important not to fluctuate your rates too much so the metasearch site can provide accurate real-time data. Fluctuation is also going to see a degradation of performance over time – and your hotel guest is most likely going to click on the lowest rate shown to them.
Some questions to ask yourself before advertising on sites like Google Hotel Ads include:
Does the price in search results match the price displayed on your website’s own direct booking tool?
How do booking your prices compare to your competitors’ and other rates shown on OTAs on the same dates? They need to be competitive.
#Tip 3 – Use a reliable hotel PMS or CRS provider
The right property management system (PMS) or central reservation system (CRS) will not only allow you to connect to the biggest players in the metasearch field, but also help monitor the key performance metrics of your channels.
Know which channels perform best for you, and which are costing you money.
#Tip 4 – Fine tune your approach to meta search over time
The top positions on metasearch sites are naturally the ones that receive the most clicks, but getting to the top isn’t easy.
It’s going to be virtually impossible to outbid OTAs so you can try to bypass them with a lower rate – however if your CPC is too low you still won’t be able to compete. The best approach is to test what works over a long period of time to optimise your conversion rate. Play around with your CPC within your budget limits and see what rate brings you most success. Remember to assess if this is sustainable for your hotel.
#Tip 5 – Set different strategies for different sites
Not all metasearch engines operate quite the same way and a one-size-fits-all approach is likely to fail you.
For example, TripAdvisor garners huge amounts of traffic, but its visitors may not necessarily be browsing the site with clear intentions to book a hotel room. You might get a lot of clicks, but a low conversion. Therefore you may want to set a lower cost-per-click and experiment until you have a scenario you’re comfortable with.
Alternatively, Google Hotel Ads is known to converts much better on bookings, however is a more expensive meta search option. If this is the strategy you want to tailor towards, you may need to manage your budget carefully and continue to optimise.
- A metasearch engine is a search tool that sends user requests to several other search engines and aggregates the results into a single list.
- This online sales channel is growing strongly and is dominating over traditional ads
- Metasearch sites are gaining ground on OTAs, while constantly innovating in the process. Some major players include Google Hotel Ads, TripAdvisor, HotelsCombined, Trivago, Skyscanner, Kayak.
- They are becoming increasingly popular among travellers and hotel guests thanks to objective positioning.
- Google and TripAdvisor are offering instant booking options instead of solely positioning themselves as an advertising platform, with a heavier reliance on the commission per booking model (pay per stay).
- Metasearch advertising is largely based on a pay-per-click model – meaning the hotel will only pay for their hosted ad when someone clicks on it.
Some models include pay-per-impression – this is based on charging a predetermined fee for a certain amount of impressions.
- By using a cost-per-click (CPC) or pay-per-click (PPC) model, metasearch creates a neutral and transparent marketplace for independent hotels, OTAs, and chains to grow their business and connect with millions of travellers booking hotels online.
- It’s important to choose the right metasearch channels, maintain room rate integrity, use a reliable PMS or CRS provider, fine tune your approach over time, and set different strategies for different sites.
- Google Hotel Ads simply gives future travellers the opportunity to book a hotel room at various crucial points throughout their research by displaying hotel information such as availability and rates.
- Google Hotel ads rely on two key components: A series of data feeds about hotel rooms offered, and how much you’re willing to pay to get users to booking pages.
- Three major benefits of Google Hotel Ads are increased direct traffic, increased revenue, and an early relationship with guests.