On the 9th March 2021 Google did something completely unexpected, they launched “free booking links”, taking everyone by surprise… after all this is Google offering hotels free direct bookings by showing their rates and availability with a live booking link. No conditions attached, no requirment to pay for advertising and available everywhere.
Want fewer OTA bookings and more direct bookings?
No one else comes near Google in terms of traffic volumes and search influence. The booking levels on Google Zero or Google Hotel Ads clearly suggest you’ve got to be in that game.
We saw it as a “no brainer” and within 10 days Google Zero was live for free direct bookings on Google. Now just 6 months on Google Zero has delivered:
10,000+ free bookings
That’s £ millions in zero commission bookings! Bookings that would have come via the OTAs if Google Zero wasn’t there. A similar level of bookings are generated as phone bookings or website bookings because showing your live direct rates acts as an incentive for guests to contact you.
Your live availability on Google is amazing
We’ve seen Google Zero bookings in 30 countries with over 1500 businesses receiving bookings. A handful have even taken over 100 bookings each and across the board the booking values are high. This all adds up to very strong start and there’s much more potential particularly if you get things right.
Getting it right means:
Activate Google Zero and or Google Hotel Ads
Your direct rates and availability must always be the best (uniquely)
Reducing OTA commission means competing with the OTAs for those bookings. The best (and only) place to do that effectively is on Google. That’s why we prioritise Google development, we got it live quickly with free trails and now continue to build and expand the service…. all because it is working and growing right now!
What is coming?
1. More data to monitor and improve your performance on Google 2. Greater flexibility to move between Google Zero and Google Hotel Ads 3. Reports on Google Hotels Ads showing how well your rates are performing on Google searches versus the OTAs. A great tool to ensure your direct rates are always the best.
It’s great to show the booking numbers that prove it’s worth putting more effort into Google as a channel, if you’re not doing that you’re losing out on direct bookings.
Update: Two months into Google zero and we have received thousands of Google bookings across many hundreds of properties. Our data show that there is a significant level of bookings across a wide variety of properties and that the bookings continue to increase.
We are now sure that Google is taking bookings seriously and
that any property interested in getting more bookings should be serious about
If you haven’t already done it you can access the Google free feed without having to pay for any Google advertising services. It takes two minutes to set-up on freetobook and we do the rest for you.
“We first came across Googe Zero by reading the informative blog from freetobook. Signing up couldn’t be easier – just a couple of clicks to opt in and we were connected! We’re on the free trial and have 4 bookings (made in UK) already, so it has essentially paid for itself now.” (Bridge Hotel)
Seven facts about Google free bookings :
Google free feed available on its own (no need to pay Google)
Google free feed is 100% independent of paid advertising
Free Google feed is available world-wide
Free feed bookings are direct bookings
OTAs and review sites are also in the free feed
Google free bookings are only for serviced accommodation (not cottage, villa, or vacation type accommodation – sorry!)
Google free feed is estimated at about 10% of the Google traffic
Freetobook are pioneers in direct booking and one of the first in the world to provide Google free bookings on its own without payment to Google. In the UK we provide a managed option to upgrade and pay for advertising to access 100% of Google traffic (100% optional – you can keep the free only if you wish).
Interested in more detail? See our previous blogs about these exciting new Google free bookings.
A few weeks into the Google free feed activation and bookings are flowing in. We are overjoyed to be providing direct commission free bookings into your diary… (No charge from Google) so make sure you don’t get left out.
Sometimes these things don’t last forever so its worth getting in as early so you can to maximise the number of commission free bookings.
You can have the Google free feed on its own, you don’t have to pay for Google advertising to be part of the free feed.
Maximising direct bookings at zero commission is one of our key pledges, we are proud once more to be the first to build solutions that genuinely help accommodation owners to thrive…
Freetobook will always prioritise direct bookings which is why you can trust us to be the first with such important services like the Google commission free bookings. It’s a great benefit to your business so why not signup to Google Zero by freetobook and get yours!
The Google free feed is now available world-wide but it is also available for OTAs and big review sites. To maximise Google free bookings you must be at the top of the free feed….
Firstly the free feed ranking is a Google secret (but it’s easy to get to the top of it). What we do know is that Google will order the free feed to satisfy their user, that is the many millions visiting Google to check out accommodation. We also know that the free feed is independent of money paid so every accommodation owner has the same opportunity as a multi-billion dollar OTA. This has never happened before and is brilliant news for direct bookings…
users (just like most of us)
Want to see the direct feed “official site” at the top
Want to see the best price at the top
Want the best availability at the top
first time ever this gives property owners a distinct advantage (over OTAs) if
they connect availability directly with their booking system.
It is most
important that you make sure you have the best rates and availability direct.
This comes with a warning, if you offer OTAs or review sites a better deal they
will most likely go to the top of the Google free feed.
The top position in the Google free feed is as simple as this …
Have the best rate direct
Have the best availability direct
Do not accept OTAs/Review sites
undercutting your direct rate
In this simplicity, there is amongst the suspicious of us, a feeling of fear – can it really be this simple? Clearly Google want to satisfy their customers and make Google the best place to come for accommodation booking AND we know the customer wants the best price and availability. The Google free feed is an elegant solution to provide what the customer wants, but there is an elephant in the room. How much will it cost Google in lost advertising (mostly from OTAs and Review sites)
The question the future will determine is, how much is Google willing to pay in lost advertising revenue to make Google the best place to get the best deal? The answer right now is indirect, there is simply no company better able to make this calculation profitably. Google knows exactly how to do these type of numbers and knows how to provide great search. Great search for Google now includes availability, prices, location, reviews, descriptions, comparison and booking. They also have what only Google has, vast user data and smart suggestions.
If the Google free feed continues it is likely that the future battle over the best price – the “price parity” vs. “rate fixing” argument – is going to be settled by Google de facto rather than in law where it has failed to provide the customer the best deal. Before the free feed the OTAs could pay to get their higher prices at the top of the list, not on the free feed they can’t… Bookings and customers will naturally flow to where they can get the best deal and Google wants it to be them.
One can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end of OTAs and other meta review sites. They are starting to feel like second class places to go to book accommodation and that is, and must be, Google’s primary intention.. make it better than the OTAs and they will come…
The Google free feed changes everything in meta because it is genuinely better than anything else and that must put the fear in the rest.
Just over a week ago Google made a big announcement about free advertising. It’s fair to say it shook up the meta search hotel booking space like a gorilla with a rattle. We all like to have something for free and from an advertising giant like Google, we would surely love it.
But let’s pause for a minute, what is this? We know that the OTAs typically
spend in excess of $6 Billion a year with Google on advertising. Are they
giving all of this away? No, I’m sure they are not doing that.
So, if it’s not a total giveaway then what is it? What is the free
advertising Google are offering and how good is it for accommodation owners?
More to the point, WHY have Google done it?
As a Google Hotel Ads feed provider and Ads manager for nearly two years, here at freetobook we have seen the progress and have a few insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the Google Hotel Ads as it stands, and, as it might develop alongside its competitors – chiefly TripAdvisor – in this meta search space.
What is the free bit that Google offer? The new free listing of the rates and availability feed is a section at the foot of the advertising block. It fits in below the paid or sponsored listings and looks a bit like this …
For those of you familiar with search engine terms this new “free” block is
analogous to “natural” listings. Natural listings are the opposite of paid
listings, they are free and they are ordered based primarily on customer
preference. If many customers pick a certain supplier for that property it is
likely that supplier will float to the top.
Anyone providing a feed to Google can be listed in the free or natural
section and the order they are presented will be a secret algorithm known only
to Google which is 100% independent of any payment to Google. No advertising
payment can ever influence a natural listing, that is certain.
How good is this free “natural” advertising? This is the tricky bit to answer but I think I can. In short, the reality is that it’s as good as Google wish to make it. They are the universal masters of natural listings vs. sponsored or paid listings. Their whole business model has, at its core, the advertising auction to get to the top of the page (where the clicks are) vs. the natural listings that give more authentic content and customer satisfaction.
The answer is probably about 10%. Google is giving away about 10% of the
traffic to natural listing. We know this roughly from volumes of bookings and
it kind of makes sense as a natural vs. paid split.
It sounds small but to accommodation owners this is a fantastic opportunity. If you are not currently paying Google to advertise in their feed (and the majority are not) then this 10% is actually 100% of something you didn’t have before and for free. If you remember the $6 Billion dollars, they are giving away a chunk of that to massively improve their customer offering and bring in new potential advertisers. Not a bad price for them and remember Google controls the prominence of natural listings (as they always have), so that 10% might not always be 10%, the structure/visibility of that display will continue to change.
What’s in it for accommodation owners? Our feed to Google is direct so it
shows to the consumer as “Official site”, this puts properties at an advantage
against the OTAs in the natural listings (free section). This is because
consumers are drawn to the direct channel when everything else is equal. Every
property’s direct feed should by “rights” be at the top of the natural listings
and so you could get the 10% of clicks for free. But beware! The OTAs are all
also in the free feed and if any OTAs were to have a better rate than yours
they would almost certainly come above you in the natural listing. If you are
not at the top, it is likely you have given a special offer to an OTA and your
direct rates are higher than the OTA rate.
Now this is the bit worth paying attention to … here are our tips to
being top of the natural listing:
a) Have the best rate direct b) Keep the best availability for your direct bookings c) Do not accept OTA virtual cards or they will undercut your direct rate d) Make sure your Google My Business listing is as unique and rich as it can be with reviews, photos, amenities etc. In other words if your direct feed is not at the top it is your fault and you need to fix it – which is as easy as a,b,c,d.
So yes, this is a massive opportunity for the direct booking feed, if you
are managing your rates properly you will benefit. For the small number of
properties that do not list with the OTAs this is even better news because they
will have no competition for their direct bookings, a “no-brainer” as they say.
Why are Google doing this?
Lots of good reasons. Google really cares about the user experience. You use
Google search because they are the best search engine. They want you to say you
also book via Google meta because it is the best place to find the best rates
1) Google can only show the best rates and availability if they have all of
the properties in the world on board and feeding them with the best on offer.
So, on one level, this is a ‘land grab’ to get the whole world’s accommodation
listed and bookable.
2) As a customer on Google you want to find the best rate. In the sponsored
listing the best rate is not at the top, the top spot is for the highest
bidder. This is sub-optimal as a user, why is the best rate hidden down the
list of OTAs? Not a good user experience. The natural listings solve this issue
because the most popular link comes to the top (most likely the best rate).
3) New advertisers become possible. As google advertising is an auction, these
always work better with more bidders. Google would like you to play in the 90%
of traffic that isn’t free so they will get you on board with the 10% free and
take it from there.
4) Great authentic natural listings are what customer’s ultimately desire. They
want to see what the best link is and the only way to do that is to remove the
paid side of it.
5) Google probably know that by having all the small independent properties
(the “longtail”) on board they will increase their overall bookings including
those with the larger chain hotels. Guests want choice and that’s why the OTAs
want to have all properties listed.
6) Reviews and content are becoming a bigger part of what Google offers. Having
availability next to their accommodation reviews is a very smart move. We have
seen the growing importance Google and Facebook place on collecting reviews…
another blog in itself.
Google knows how to juggle the supplier’s desire for customers “traffic” with the customer’s desires. They know that if their meta is to work it must work for customers and the most authentic way for it to work is with natural listings providing by definition; what the customer wants at the top of the list.
We know Google has the best tech, they can do the math on advertising bidding better than any other company. They soon will have most of the rates and availability, a very good set of customer reviews and other content, making them the “go-to” place to book a hotel and other travel-related services. If I was a review website or an OTA I would be looking hard to see how I could keep my revenue. If I was an accommodation provider I’d take advantage of the free offer and see what plays out – Google vs. OTA vs. Big review site.
PS: Where Google goes and makes a success, Facebook and Amazon watch to see
how its done!
In an open letter this week to boutique hotel and B&B owners, Airbnb have just announced that going forward they want to ensure that small business owners have access to their community of travelers. Airbnb has always been a favourite of thousands of freetobook customers; over the years a large number have registered with Airbnb and use it as a great source of bookings. It’s good news that small hotels, bed and breakfasts and unique properties are now officially recognised and welcome to the Airbnb site.
Freetobook has always been a supporter of unique, independent, interesting and diverse accommodation; these are values we share with Airbnb, so its no surprise to us that so many of our customers enjoy bookings from them. Together we celebrate and support diversity, uniqueness and personal hospitality; after all, despite our size we too are a family business passionate about our customers and what you do.
There is another reason we support Airbnb for our customers. Over the past years the big OTAs have got bigger, they continue to grow, and their commissions are cripplingly high to so many small businesses. Compared to the OTAs Airbnb has a far lower commission to accommodation owners, which gives you a welcome choice.
At freetobook we support diversity of bookings, encouraging our customers not to have all their eggs in one basket and to be over reliant on one big OTA. Airbnb is a competitor of the large OTAs and therefore an additional independent source of bookings that can help make the booking environment healthier with more players.
Thousands of freetobook customers already list on Aribnb and update their availability using our iCal feature. We are in discussions to enrich the functionality of our connection with Airbnb and help our customers get even more out of the Airbnb connection. Further news of this will be announced in the future.
Now that they are expanding their customer base to include boutique hotels and B&Bs, Airbnb are looking for new properties to list. If you’re interested in lower commission and diversifying your booking sources, check out Airbnbs list of standards to make sure it’s the right fit for you and your property. Airbnb are selective about the properties they include so you should read their creteria before registering (see 1 below)
If you are interested in becoming an Airbnb customer (or already are one) you can link your availability from your freetobook diary (you can only do this after you have an Airbnb listing).
Stripe: online payments made easier, faster and more secure. Freetobook’s integration with Stripe makes payments possible at the click of a button, keeping things simple for you – and your customer.
Thousands of freetobook customers use Stripe as their credit card payment system – this is one bandwagon you want to hop on!
Top 5 reasons to use Stripe for card payments:
1. Quick and easy to setup
Just head over to the PAY tab in your freetobook account to get started!
2. Low Cost
In Europe, Stripe charges 1.4% for European cards (2.9% for International cards) and a mere 20p transaction fee!
3. No monthly charges
Stripe charge per transaction, a simple pay-as-you-go system so you’re not out of pocket!
PCI compliance fitted as standard, no lengthy forms to complete
5. 92% approval rating
Thousands of freetobook customers using Stripe love it! We introduced Stripe in 2015 and have since had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the service. In fact, we are so sure it will be good for your business that we offer a 30 day money back guarantee on the freetobook integration charge.
Still not convinced that Stripe will work for your business? Take a look at what your fellow freetobookers are saying…. A staggering 92% of freetobook Stripe users are very happy with the service! Check out some of their feedback below:
“Absolutely love it (Stripe). It has changed my life. It is so easy, great when people cancel, works fantastic… Much less admin for me. It’s a win, win all the way”
“Love it – all automatic, and you know if cards securing reservations are valid cards, you can also charge guest stays using the system. Well done freetobook! It so easy to set up and maintain even older users like me have mastered it simply like all freetobook products we use…”
We’re positive that you’ll love using Stripe for your accommodation payments! But just in case, we offer a full refund within 30 days of paying your subscription. Freetobook charges an annual integration fee of £89 for providing you with this great payment functionality, which can be accessed quickly and easily through your freetobook account.
So what are you waiting for?! Join thousands of freetobook users and improve the speed and ease of your payments today by adding freetobook Stripe integration! Click the PAY tab when logged in to your freetobook account.
Hotel Bonanza is a new Online Travel Agent (OTA) with a strategy of offering a lower commission for accommodation owners and a discount to guests. They have set their commission at 8% so you will find them considerably cheaper than the current dominant OTAs.
Freetobook is a family run company so our loyalty is firmly with our customers, we hear time and time again that properties need to reduce commission charges. We understand this need and will continue to support companies like Hotel Bonanza that offer a lower cost alternative.
If you already have a Hotel Bonanza account fully setup and are a freetobook customer all you need to do is request a connection in the Tab “Plus” where you can add a channel.
For those of you who are not yet freetobook customers you can find out about all the advantages of switching to freetobook …
Find out more about Hotel Bonanza and their story visit their website, join up if you like it click here…
Before next summer freetobook will have a connection for Google Hotel Ads which will give you access to Google’s direct booking channels at 10% which will also be a welcome reduction for many of you.
Freetobook, the fiercely independent family company you can rely on.
High levels of cancellation, high commissions from Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and competition from Airbnb are big issues that a giant chain like Hilton have in common with independent owners.
In a recent interview, the CEO of Hilton talked about rising cancellation rates, high commission from the OTAs and competition from Airbnb. Every day is a school day so I thought I would consider his comments and try and interpret them for independent accommodation owners like yourself.
High levels of cancellation
Nassetta, from Hilton, says “customers…have been trained to do multiple bookings and do things that have created a scene where cancellations…have skyrocketed.” He is talking about certain OTAs encouraging customers to book and cancel. OTAs don’t really care about high cancellation rates if the customer books again through them it doesn’t matter to their profitability, they still get the booking; it’s the cancelled property who loses out.
If cancellation levels are an issue for Hilton they are an even bigger issue for independent accommodation owners where each room is so much more precious. To put some numbers on it I looked at our statistics from the last 10 months and they show that certain OTAs have an average cancellation rate of 26.5% compared to 8% on direct bookings.
Our advice here is to make sure you have a cancellation policy that does not penalise direct bookings. If you can maximise your direct bookings you will also lower your cancellation rate because direct bookings are more than three time less likely to cancel.
Hilton has responded by increasing their cancellation deadline from same day to 48 or 72 hours and made sure that their direct booking cancellation policy is always the best.
High levels of commission
Many of our customers tell us about the rising commission bills which seem to get larger every year as OTA bookings keep rising. Hilton mentions a lack of competition “More competition would have the effect of driving down distribution [commission] costs.” We have seen less competition as the OTAs take over rivals leaving only two major OTAs (Bookingcom and Expedia, who own most of the others). Nassetta, of Hilton, thinks that Airbnb could change to become a competitor for the OTAs and help drive down commissions.
Is there a place for another OTA with lower commission? Hilton certainly thinks or maybe hopes so. In common with many independent owners Hilton feels the pressure from very dominant sources of bookings and hope for a path to lower commission.
Airbnb is not competition
Hilton sees Airbnb as catering to “different travel or trip occasions” this may be true for Hilton because a big hotel chain clearly has little in common with a bedroom in a home. Airbnb feels far closer to the independent small businesses that are our customers. We also know that many of our independent customers already use Airbnb as a channel for low cost bookings so they can be an ally for everyone.
In summary, it seems that there is a surprising amount in common between Hilton and independent accommodation owners. A closer look does reveal that the same issues are faced by everyone irrespective of size along with a hope for more competition in the online travel agent space.
Why should I book directly ? Answer this question in your customer’s mind and you will increase your direct bookings. Use some subtle “book direct” images and text to show that booking directly on your website is the best thing that guests can do.
Customers need to be convinced that they should book directly, it can’t be taken for granted. Present a message that re-assures your potential guests at the exact point they are thinking about where to book. As a little gift we have created some images, please help yourself to some “book direct” images, use them freely and share them widely. Link to “Book Direct” images…
2. Don’t hide your Book Now button
A potential guest has made it on to your website, so make sure that they can easily find your book now button. Is your booking button in a prominent position on all your web pages ?
Your “Book Now” button or “Search Availability” should be easily identifiable and should be on every page of your website, not only on the Home Page. If potential guests can’t find it easily you are pushing them away and they could proceed to some other property or end up booking through an Online Travel Agent (OTA). Make it easy to book so you don’t lose the direct booking.
Typical errors include putting the booking button too low down on the page forcing customers to scroll to find it, others hide it under tabs and menus like Accommodation, Rates or even Contact. Show your booking button clearly, simply and prominently to increase direct bookings.
3. Reward direct bookings
Reward guests who have or are about to book directly with you. Display a special offer for direct bookers using an offer for everyone or if you want to be a bit more selective use a promo code.
With a special offer you can ensure guests can book your best rates directly via your own website. This could be for a selected period or for a minimum stay, or simply make it available for all stays, it’s up to you. Creating a reward for direct bookers will certainly increase your chances of getting the booking direct. When I do a booking directly I’m always looking for that little reward to clinch the deal.
Using Promo codes is more selective, the customer needs to know the promo code. There are various types of offer from the simple discount to complimentary drinks or a room upgrade. A little something that shows you are willing to reward direct bookings on your website. It’s a win for everyone, guests will feel special, rewarded and will more than likely mention it in their reviews. This helps the overall book direct message because future guests learn of the benefits of booking direct when reading the great reviews the rewards have generated.
Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking.
To find out more about some of freetobook’s direct booking benefits take a look at Promo Codes, which can help you encourage customers to book with you again, and facebook book now button using a facebook call to action button.
Keep an eye on our blogs for tips on how to improve your direct bookings and start cutting into that commission bill.