Hotel Google Advertising – Google Removed Sidebar Ads

This week, we saw a major change in Google PPC advertising: Google removed the sidebar text ads from desktop search results pages.
This will have consequences for hotels advertising on Google.
Firstly, there will be less ads displayed overall. This may secondly result in higher bidding cost.
But let’s start from the beginning.

What exactly has changed?

There are some changes to desktop search results:

  • No text ads will be served on the right side of the search results page (SERP) on desktop anymore
  • Google will serve 4 text ads instead of 3 at the top, above the organic listings
  • 3 text ads will show at the bottom of the SERPs
  • The total number of text ads on a SERP will shrink from 11 to a maximum of 7
  • Product listing ad blocks and Knowledge Panels will show in the right sidebar for relevant queries

So, for example when searching for “hotel berlin”, the new SERP looks like this:

Google removed sidebar PPC-ads

Google removed sidebar PPC-ads

There is now a large empty space on the right-hand side where PPC-ads used to be. Underneath the top page ads Google displays results from Google Hotel Finder. The very last result at the bottom of the page and just above the fold (on a very large screen) is an organic search result.

Why has Google removed sidebar ads?

Google’s “mobile first” approach is enforced, due to mobile searches beginning to overtake desktop searches. This move results in a similar user experience across both.

There is probably also a monetary consideration: When there is fewer positions, advertisers will have to bid more to get on the first page.

Officially, Google says this change will improve overall quality. The lowest position ads (9,10,11) are the ones Google has deemed least likely to appeal to the user. Removing them means that the quality of the remaining ad links is improved.

What are the consequences for hotels advertising on Google?

For independent hotels and brands with more modest advertising budgets, Google’s change will limit the use of more generic keywords. Bidding on short-term keywords will become too costly. Instead, such hotels and brands will have to shift their focus to niche and highly relevant long-tail keywords. Basically, far more thought will have to go into PPC strategies because bidding lower and appearing in position 5 or 6 will not be an option anymore.

Moreover, organic listings are being pushed down even further the SERPs and on some screens even underneath the fold. Therefore, brand campaigns are going to be increasingly necessary. Hotels need to bid on their own brand to fend off competitors’ paid ads.

Even though it’s too early to say whether and how much click costs will increase, it would probably be wise to budget more for Google PPC advertising in order to be still competitive in desktop advertising.

Google search results explained – Organic Search Results

What is what in Google search results?

With this series of blog articles, we are going to explain the Google search results page and the different elements Google shows us on this page.

The search engine results page (SERP) is the listing of results returned by a search engine in response to a keyword query – in this case ‘hotel berlin’.

We searched on in Germany which is why English as well as German websites are among the search results:

Google Search Results explained

Google Search Engine Results Page for Query ‘Hotel Berlin’

1. Organic Search Results

The first element on the search results page we want to explain are organic search results.
Organic search results is what Google started out with. Sometimes organic search results are referred to as natural search results. These are the search results the Google algorithm produces when a user types their search phrase into the Google search field and presses Enter. The results appear because of their relevance to the search terms, although obviously Google determines what this is.

Over the years, organic search results have occupied less and less space on the Google search results page and are being pushed further down to make room for other Google products. Of course, search is free on Google and organic search results are non-commercial. Some other Google products are, though – first and foremost Google AdWords.

When it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), organic search results is what it refers to. With less room for organic search results on the page, SEO has also become much more difficult, since more websites compete with each other for less places in the search result listing.

Responsive Web Design for Hotels

What is responsive web design?

According to Wikipedia it is “a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience — easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling — across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors)”.

A website, designed in a responsive way adapts the layout to screen size by using fluid, proportion-based grids and flexible images with help of CSS3 media queries.
Now this sounds pretty technical but it’s what developers have to worry about.

For everyone else, responsive web design is easily explained:

  • Traditional websites were designed using fixed pixel or point units.
  • Responsive web design on the other hand uses percentages, arranging website elements relative, not absolute to each other.

The result is a so-called fluid web design. You can see whether a website layout is fluid when looking at it in a browser, then changing the size of the browser window. If the site is responsive, the website layout will change “fluidly” and adapt to ‘different screen sizes’ smoothly.

Below is an example, a video screen shot we took of this very blog:

Now, why is it so important for hotels to make their website responsive?

Read the article below about mobile-first travelers!

Especially the young generation, i.e. Millennials, are increasingly likely to use mobile or tablet devices for their travel planning. Google expects that search queries from mobile devices will overtake those from desktops by the end of 2014!

Take a look at the Google Analytics data for your existing hotel website. What share of traffic comes from mobile devices? We see traffic from mobile and tablet devices ranging between 20% to 50%. Which is massive!
Imagine you ‘scare’ away so many potential hotel guests by not being up-to-date with your hotel web design.
In the best case scenario, they book your hotel via an OTA website or app. In the worst case, they are gone forever…

At e-conceptory, we create your hotel responsive website using the latest technologies: HTML5 and hotel responsive web design for all screen sizes from mobile phone, to tablet, to desktop computer.

Boost Direct Bookings And Keep OTAs Happy With These Three Expert Tips

Hotel operators are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to dealing with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Orbitz, Travelocity and Hotwire. These websites may provide a large source of revenue for hotels, but at the same time, they can cannibalize business that probably would have booked through the hotel in the first place, which saves the hotel from having to pay large OTA commissions.

The plot thickens when you consider that most OTA agreements require rate parity. These rules forbid hotels from advertising rates for less than what’s on the deals site, which makes it difficult for operators to compete for business. But you also don’t want to “bite the hand that feeds you.”

Luckily for hotel operators, there are a number of tricks they can use to increase direct online revenue without breaking OTA agreements. Here’s a few our hotel technology experts devised.

Catch Visitor’s Attention With Smart Design and Layout

Many times when customers shop for deals, they find a handful of properties in a similar price range. Their next step is often to navigate to the individual hotel websites. This is your big opportunity to convince them to book directly through your website.

The first and most obvious (yet surprisingly overlooked) best practice is to put your most attractive rooms front and center on the homepage. When customers book on deals sites, they often assume they will get the most basic room you have to offer. So if they see immediately just what they would miss, it might be enough to convince them to pay the extra amount needed for the better room. Use professional photos that show the room’s best features, whether that’s the view, a huge soaking tub, or the square footage — whatever generally “sells” customers on the room. Here’s a great example from the Hilton in San Francisco:

This page also demonstrates another design best practice – the “check availability” button in the top right corner. You should make it extremely obvious where site visitors can book online. The experience should be seamless. Your web booking engine should enable customers to view availability in real time and book their room immediately.

Finally, you should prominently display your own discounts and packages. Rate parity requirements only apply to offers for the exact same room. Even if you can’t offer a lower price for that same room, you can offer more value than the savings with add-ons. Here’s a great example from the same Hilton website. They dedicate an entire page on their website for packages:

Steer Them to Your Website with with Online Reviews

Another common step in the evaluation stage on OTAs is to browse online reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like. This presents yet another opportunity for hotel operators to jump in and drive direct website bookings, rather than sending them back to the OTA.

Hotel operators should respond to every comment possible that users post. For example, if someone comments on how much they liked the room layout, view or another feature, the manager could respond by thanking them for feedback and and providing a link to their customer loyalty program. Or, in a scenario where the customers was less than satisfied, they can thank them again for the feedback and offer a discount for their next booking. This shows customers you care and are willing to take steps to provide them with more value. Here’s a great example from Hotel San Jose in Austin, Texas:

Send Your Facebook Fans and Loyal Customers Special Discounts

Parity agreements prevent hotels from offering discounts publicly. However, this restriction doesn’t apply to those offers hotels distribute to a limited audience, including to Facebook followers and people signed up for your loyalty program.

Here’s a great example from the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego. They posted an update with a nicely-designed poster and advertisement for special packages they offered that weekend. If you click through, it takes you to a landing page with discount codes:

You can also send regular discount codes to an email list of people who signed up for your loyalty program.

“We give better rates to returning guests than any rate on a OTA,” says Gary Bruton, principal at Cypress Hospitality Management, which manages The Sanctuary Beach Resort, among others.

About once a month, he sends a form of communication to his mailing list of former guests. Sometimes it’s a newsletter, other times a blog post. This communication provides the reader with up-to-date information about what’s going on in the hotel.

Savvy hotel operators can personalize these communications through automation technology. These tools can also enable customers to rack up reward “points” that can then be put towards a future purchase via self-service portal.

What strategies does your hotel use to drive direct bookings? Join the conversation with a comment here.

Ashley Verrill is a market analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Google Maps with hotel pricing – changes everything, again.

Have you recently searched Google for a hotel?
If so, you may have noticed the new meta-search functionality on Google Maps.
Google has now launched a service on Google Maps and Google Place on many of their domains in Europe, the Americas and Asia. The new functionality lets users enter their desired arrival and departure dates above the generic search results. It then returns rates and availabilities in real time next to the hotel listing, including drop down boxes displaying rates from various online booking channels along with links.
Ads are usually listed at the top and highlighted as such. Non-paid links to owner sites appear at the bottom.

This new functionality is very likely to change users search behavior.

When looking for a hotel in a particular destination, Google now displays a clickable map on the right-hand side next to the search results taking users straight to Google Maps.

They will then enter their travel dates and decide on a more specific location by zooming into the map. Checking the rates, they will make a selection based on the price they are willing to pay before even clicking on a link and visiting an OTA or hotel website.
In my view, with this new meta-search feature, Google Maps could easily replace OTA websites as well as meta-search travel sites which users have to date used in order to pre-select hotels – also mainly based on location and price.
Hotels and chains can also buy ads that display direct booking links underneath a Google Map search result and so compete with OTA ads within the rate drop down boxes.
It remains to be seen whether Google is just experimenting or whether Google Maps hotel pricing is here to stay.
Some questions should spring to your mind immediately:
1. How can you improve your hotel’s ranking on Google Maps?
2. Should you change your SEO strategy?
3. Could you publish your direct booking rates in Google linking them with your CRS?
4. Should you pay for Google Map ads?

Google Remarketing: New Hotel Advertising Tool

Google Remarketing is a new feature in Google AdWords. It enables hotels to advertise to anyone who has visited their website before.
People often take time researching different options before making a hotel reservation. Up until now, there hasn’t been many opportunities to keep their interest going, unless of course they’ve signed up to the hotel newsletter or agreed to any other form of direct marketing, for example via social media such as Facebook.
With Google Remarketing, hotels can now track their website visitors or audiences and target them with ads on Google’s content network of websites, which reach about 80% of the online audience.
The ability to reach out to these people with a targeted offer while they make their booking decision can be powerful and should be part of hotel online marketing.

Showing ads to people as they move from site to site reminds them of what the hotel has to offer and can also give the impression the hotel is advertising everywhere. Additionally, ads can be targeted precisely depending on the actions a visitor has performed on your site. Perhaps they have visited the hotel’s special offers page, read the blog or visited a section of your website with specific content such as spa or wellness. In which case an ad could be shown addressing exactly their interest and so nudging them towards making a booking.

Watch the Google Ad Remarketing video:


Big iPhone hit: The Hotel Negotiator

Priceline has just landed a big hit with its new iPhone and iPod touch application, featuring William Shatner.

The Hotel Negotiator let’s you name your own price for a hotel in a certain location and of a chosen category. Using a one-page checkout, you will know instantly whether your bid has been accepted. A special treat is the Shake Down function, whereby shaking the device establishes the traveler’s location and then performs a winning bids search for hotels in the surrounding area. For those who are not in the mood for negotiation, the Hotel Negotiator also contains an option for browsing hotels on for a particular city or town.

After one week of being available, the Hotel Negotiator has already climbed to the #3 free travel application on the App Store. Priceline’s heavy marketing and PR campaign has certainly had an impact, too. The downloadable video on YouTube just being part of it:
Time will show how much revenue the free application will generate for the company since booking hotels on the fly and blind is not for everyone. However, a very well done and flashy application has certainly brought Priceline awareness and into the media and provides them with a cutting-edge image in the eyes of an ever more demanding customer.

Search Marketing or Display Ads? Part 3

With part 1 and 2 of this series we’ve headed into the following direction: display ads, as we know them, are not such an effective hotel online marketing tool anymore. It is more and more about precise targeting and innovative ways of running banner ad campaigns.

How is this for an example?
Travelocity, the popular travel website, is using real-time search data for their display ad campaigns. They use an engine called Teracent which matches the marketing message to their audience on the fly. Messages are based on a host of dynamic parameters such as search intent (e.g. when someone clicks on the star ratings for hotels, this person would only see ads for luxury hotels) and how far people drill down into a certain category.
This strategy has increased Travelocity’s online bookings by 203% !
Chip Hall, senior VP of sales and marketing at Teracent, tells AdAge:
“Display has to change, otherwise it’s headed for failure. If advertisers don’t recognize online is more challenged with the old approaches and needs to be incredibly hyper-targeted, they’re going to fail.”
Source: Econsultancy