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Metasearch engines: Finding new direct revenue for your hotel

  Posted in Resources

Metasearch engines

How hotel's can improve their Google rankings

Metasearch has been a growing digital marketing trend for the hotel industry for quite some time now – the past four or five years have witnessed the rise of metasearch. The last 12 months has seen an especially rapid rise.

Metasearch sites are gaining ground on OTAs, and innovating in the process, and are winning popularity among travellers and hotel guests thanks to objective positioning.

With Google’s new Search and Destinations features, it’s effortless for travellers to find and book rooms at the best prices.

With travellers highly interested in hotel loyalty programs, particularly those that offer high-value rewards such as a free night’s stay or an included meal, Google has well and truly caught up on online travel agents such as Expedia. Google is now using its search site to encourage travellers to sign up for hotel loyalty rewards programs, showcasing when there are additional savings or benefits available for travellers. There’s also a search filter for “deals”, which gives travellers an opportunity to view only the hotel results that offer extra deals that may be valuable for them.

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.

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.

This blog will tell you everything you need to know about metasearch and Google Hotel Ads.

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 a traveller, this might mean they’ll be shown a list of websites to compare that offer 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 – but also a challenge. In a way, metasearch combines the digital marketing and distribution efforts of a hotel. Metasearch presents as a booking channel and an environment to advertise your hotel.

This is part of the advantage, since potential guests can discover and book you almost simultaneously, meaning there’s a bigger chance of impulse purchases and less chance of abandoned bookings.

Given its popularity among travellers thanks to a comparative rate model, hotels should seriously consider investing some marketing dollars in a metasearch engine, or look for ways to optimise their experience if they’re already engaging in this area.

There are a few major players in the metasearch world and not all of them use exactly the same model, so it’s important hotels have a clear understanding of what’s best for their property.

Here are eight essential things your hotel needs to know about this online sales channel:

  1. Metasearch is growing strongly, dominating over traditional ads
  2. There are a handful of key metasearch engines, such as Google Hotel Ads, TripAdvisor, and HotelsCombined
  3. 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.
  4. Some models include pay-per-impression, which are based around charging a predetermined fee for a certain amount of impressions.
  5. Sites like Google or TripAdvisor can offer instant booking, meaning the traveller can stay on the same screen to complete their booking, providing a simpler and more seamless experience.
  6. Metasearch creates a level playing field for hotels because it allows them greater opportunity to compete with bigger travel companies and secure more direct bookings.
  7. Metasearch is a trending hive of activity, with smaller sites being bought by larger ones to create more marketing power.
  8. It’s important to use the right tools, like CRSs, PMSs, booking engines, and channel managers.

The other thing to know about advertising on search 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.

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.

What does a meta search engine do?

A metasearch engine or website lets travellers compare hotel room rates from various online travel agencies (OTAs) and other booking sites all in one place. A potential guest can use these sites to find room prices from multiple booking options at the same time.

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.

Each site pulls in price feeds from a variety of sources, showing users the “best” place to book their hotel, with advertisers paying for placement and encouraging users to book their hotel stay via their platform.

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. In most cases, they will abandon the booking entirely and seek out another option.

With a seamless booking experience on a metasearch site, you make it easy for your 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. Ultimately, this is what travellers are looking for in their booking experience.

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.

Metasearch engines list

There obviously a few major players when it comes to metasearch engines.

When looking into where you should advertise your hotel consider the following:

  • Google Hotel Ads
  • TripAdvisor
  • HotelsCombined
  • Trivago
  • Skyscanner
  • Kayak

It should be noted that in general, sites such as Kayak, which offer combined rates (accommodation + flights), aren’t as successful at providing hotels with a high share of top ad placements.

A recently released report from EyeforTravel and Fornova states that 44% of travellers surveyed in Australia, Canada, the UK and US “always used metasearch tools”, 73% “did so regularly”, and 94% were “at least occasional users.” This share of traffic is growing all the time, so hoteliers certainly need to look into the above channels.

Top metasearch engines

The big players in this field are Google Hotel Ads (which feature in Google’s search results) and TripAdvisor, but other sites such Trivago, Kayak, Skyscanner and WeGo are some of the other sites within the metasearch marketplace.

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.

Some have likened Google to a giant octopus engulfing other sites like TripAdvisor, Trivago, Kayak, and Hotelscombined on its way to complete metasearch dominance.

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.

For its hotel clients, Google Hotel Ads has increased return on ad spend in 2017 by 10.1x, edging out TripAdvisor at 10x.

The increase in Google’s metasearch effectiveness is a result of some key updates to its platform including:

Introduction of Google Hotel Ads has increased traffic
Originally, Google began its journey in travel search with Hotel Finder before changing the name to Google Hotel Price Ads – and now to Google Hotel Ads. It now takes only two clicks from Google.com to begin the booking process.

A new filter on Google Hotel Ads also creates 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.

For instance, a business traveller can filter only those hotels that offer free wifi. 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.

The hotel reviews interface offers some new core features
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 has been updated in the following ways:

  • Third-party reviews show in a carousel for some of the listings
  • The review overview has a more robust interface showing stronger colors and reviews also 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.

Hotel metasearch engine tips

For some quick advice on how to navigate metasearch for your hotel, take note of these five tips.

Tip #1
Choose the right metasearch channels
As hinted above, hotels should take a specific and unwavering stance on their advertising. Focus on those with an ‘accommodation only’ slant and 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 your price in the search results match the price displayed on your website’s own direct booking tool?
How do your prices compare to your competitors’ and other rates shown on OTAs on the same dates? They need to be competitive.
Also remember that to use the Google Hotel Ads platform, you need to have a verified Google My Business profile – although this is free to set up.

#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 metasearch 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 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.

Another example is Google which converts much better on bookings, but is a more expensive metasearch option so you need to manage your budget carefully and continue to optimise.

Google hotel ads: A rundown

Google Hotel Ads 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.

In fact, according to a Google study conducted by Ipsos MediaCT, 57% of both leisure and business travellers start the process of booking their next trip with a search. These numbers highlight the importance of appearing high in Google search results.

Hoteliers should aim to do this in two ways;

By using SEO best practices to increase their chances of gaining a high ranking on the search engine results page; and, 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:

  • Rates
  • Availability
  • Location
  • 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.

So, how can you start using Google Hotel Ads?

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 use 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 will want to take high-quality, high-resolution photos and videos.

Photos need to be in focus, generally 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
In 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 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 tells Google about the hotel rooms you offer, and Bidding, which says how much you’re willing to pay to get which users to which booking page.

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 are very complex, which is why Google suggest 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.

These partners can help with nurturing and growing your ad campaign to the creation of strategies across all major areas such as setting up campaigns, maintenance, and optimisation.

Google hotel finder: Now 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.

Here’s a breakdown for hotels about the major updates.

Search replaced Hotel Finder
What happened?
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, search engine users 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.

Winning a Google hotel booking

Over the past few years Google has made a conscious effort to be a bigger player in the travel industry.

Google My Business, Google Adwords, Google Analytics, and Google Hotel Ads are all features that are very helpful for accommodation businesses wanting to optimise traffic, conversions, and revenue.

Google has a huge advantage when it comes to traffic with around 4.5 billion searches made per day, accounting for 77% of the world’s total search traffic.

With Google Hotel Ads (GHA), it has made it simultaneously easier for travellers to find the right hotel deals, and for properties to advertise effectively.

What benefits will you enjoy with Google Hotel Ads?
There are three major advantages to getting your hotel involved with GHA.

They include:

1. Increased direct traffic
Once a traveller clicks on your ad they’re taken immediately to your hotel’s booking page and 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 they’ve reached your site, a guest will have already filtered results to match their exact preferences meaning they’ll be a highly qualified lead for you. The more of these bookings you can capture, the better your net revenue will be compared to an OTA booking.

3. Establish an early 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 their travel planning process. This will allow you to predict and attract future guests as well as strengthen your loyalty strategies for the existing bookings.

To help with your conversion and to stand above competitors there are a few things you should do:

  • Create your Google My Business account

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 your reviews. These 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 hotel search

Search engines plays a pivotal role in the success of hotels have in marketing and growing their business. Google is especially influential, making hotels more visible than ever to potential guests.

After phasing out hotel finder, Google offered search 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 optimise your search engine optimisation. An easy way to kick this off is to create your business profile.

Google My Business is a free business listing you can create and is the best first step to ranking higher in search results and providing travellers with all the necessary information they need about your hotel.

Google My Business gets your hotel off on the right foot by taking your information and organising it into optimised fields on a template that ensures you, and your guests, don’t miss anything.

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

Google My Business makes your hotel immediately more accessible. Potential guests can easily click ‘visit website’ or ‘call’ from the search results on Google.

This also encourages them to book directly with you instead of through commission-based online travel agents. 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 your search ranking.

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, so maintaining a blog on your website will make this easy.
  • Create cornerstone SEO pages by merging multiple pages that relate to similar keywords – otherwise Google won’t know how to rank them 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 run.
  • 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.

Key takeaways

  • Metasearch sites are gaining ground on OTAs, and innovating in the process, and are winning popularity among travellers and hotel guests thanks to objective positioning.
  • 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.
  • A metasearch engine is a search tool that sends user requests to several other search engines and aggregates the results into a single list.
  • In a way, metasearch combines the digital marketing and distribution efforts of a hotel. Metasearch presents as a booking channel and an environment to advertise your hotel.
  • 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.
  • Some major players include Google Hotel Ads, TripAdvisor, HotelsCombined, Trivago, Skyscanner, Kayak.
  • Some have likened Google to a giant octopus engulfing other sites like TripAdvisor, Trivago, Kayak, and Hotelscombined on its way to complete metasearch dominance.
  • 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. Google Hotel Ads displays your hotel information such as availability and rates on Google Maps, Search and Assistant.
  • Google Hotel ads rely on two key components: A series of Data Feeds which tells Google about the hotel rooms you offer, and Bidding, which says how much you’re willing to pay to get which users to which booking page.
  • The processes are very complex, which is why Google suggest that you do employ a third Party Integration Partner to assist with all the technical details involved.
  • 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.
  • Three major benefits of Google Hotel Ads are increased direct traffic, increased revenue, and an early relationship with guests.
  • Google My Business is a free business listing you can create and is the best first step to ranking higher in search results and providing travellers with all the necessary information they need about your hotel.

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