Top of Google free feed

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….

Google free feed ranking
Google free and paid feed ranking

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…

Google users (just like most of us)

  1. Want to see the direct feed “official site” at the top
  2. Want to see the best price at the top
  3. Want the best availability at the top

For the 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.

Google free feed tips
Google free feed tips

The top position in the Google free feed is as simple as this …

  1. Have the best rate direct
  2. Have the best availability direct
  3. 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.

Find out how to get listed on Google free feed – earlier blog..

Google’s free booking feed – Why ?

Good news for property owners? We think so!

Google free feed

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 …

Google free and paid Hotel Ads feeds
Google free and paid feeds – Hotel Ads

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.

Freetobook Distribution
Freetobook distribution for less

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.

Top Tips freetobook
Tips to be top of the free feed

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 and availability.

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!

Craig Stewart, Director freetobook

TripAdvisor website grab

TripAdvisor makes a grab for your website content.

grab for your unique content

Late last week TripAdvisor sent out an email advising of a change in their terms and conditions. This was no trivial change, they demand access to all text and images on your website which they can harvest anytime and have perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable rights over. This is a grab for all the content on your website forever. TripAdvisor can then use any of those images and text as they see fit and for their potential profit without any payment to you (A copy of the terms at the bottom of the page).

Why is your website content so important ? The unique descriptions and photos that you put on your website are one of the few places that a small independent business has an advantage. Search engines value unique content, if you give this over to TripAdvisor or anyone else, it will impact your uniqueness and harm your ranking on the internet. Conversely it will improve the ranking of the website that takes it for their own use. In short: giving away your website content will harm your internet ranking and help that of TripAdvisor. A likely result of losing your unique content would be your website going lower on Google and others going higher.

What is really striking about this request for “agreement” of content access is that it is perpetual (forever), it is irrevocable (can’t reverse it), it is transferable (can be given or sold to anyone else), royalty-free (you get no payment) and sub-licensable (they can make money from it). This is just about the worst possible outcome you could ever agree to, it is completely and utterly in the favour of TripAdvisor. I don’t think its possible for there to be a worse agreement for independent accommodation owners.

Do not undervalue your website content. The material on your website is a result of your hard work. With your toil over time it has become your very valuable brand/name/image, it is literally what marks you out as different. I cannot image what has possessed TripAdvisor to think they can grab it so blatantly from your website and take it forever to do with as they please with just one click. There is no option to refuse the terms, (only a button to close the pop up – see below) this looks more like a diktat, “a take it or take it”, than it does an agreement. You can close the popup but it keeps coming back until you agree, if you agree then you lose your unique content rights and the pop up goes away.

TripAdvisor say in their popup that they want to improve traveller experience on their website. Fine do that, but that is their business to make the experience better for customers on their website. Unique content costs effort, it costs money, it is valuable and it is certainly not free. TripAdvisor profits from their website. They sell OTA advertising that is a major part of their income which is paid for by commissionable bookings. Why would a independent property give over its unique content (under extremely bad terms) in order to increase the profit of TripAdvisor. The nett result of which is fewer direct bookings and again, and again, yet more commission.

It is extremely sad and disappointing that TripAdvisor have such low ethical values in this action. This is no relationship of mutual benefit, they take everything and you get nothing. Surely this has to be totally withdrawn by TripAdvisor with a big apology. All properties that have agreed these terms should have the agreement reversed with an assurance that these kind of terms should never be sneaked back in. The damage has been done, we have now seen the disregard they have for accommodation businesses and sadly trust lies shattered.

World Social Media Day

Social Media is a brilliant way for B&Bs and independent hotels to connect with their customers, build relationships and promote themselves. In celebration of World Social Media Day, here are freetobook’s top ten social media tips for B&Bs:

Make visuals a social media priority

Give future guests a virtual experience of what it will be like staying at your B&B – share pictures of your rooms, the delicious breakfasts you offer, the awesome view from your property, that speciality cake you make for new arrivals…get creative!

Destinations change based on the time of year, remember to show off how awesome you are year round with pictures reflecting seasonal changes.

Play with your Facebook cover photos

 It’s the first thing that prospective guests see when they visit your page and influences their perception of your brand. Make sure your cover photo is as awesome as your business, and remember that you can change it frequently if you want to.

Engage Your Followers

Platforms like Facebook are a great way to engage with existing and new customers. Take the time to respond to questions, and also sometimes ask your own – “we’re preparing our new afternoon tea menu, what should it be, lemon drizzle or Victoria sponge?”

Get Guests Involved

Create a hashtag for your B&B to get your guests talking online. Guests can use it when they post about their holiday on Twitter and Instagram and is great bit of free PR for your business. It’s also a rich source of material that you can re-post on your own social media channels (with the guest’s permission!).

Speaking of hashtags…

When you post on Twitter and Instagram remember to include a few relevant hashtags. An important one to include is your location – holiday makers will often search for their planned location via hashtag on social media, for inspiration and ideas. Using it on your posts can draw them to your page and showcase how great your property would be for their holiday.

Promote your special offers and packages, but…

Have you just launched a brand new package? Got a new promo offer? Advertise it on social media! Get your great deals out there and encourage people to book direct.

Remember the Seven and One Rule

Too many promotional or ‘salesy’ posts are a turn off for your followers. Make sure you get the balance right by posting around seven posts that are interesting, beneficial and relevant to your customers for every one post where you advertise your B&B.

However, you can (and should) still do some ‘soft promotion’ on your posts by including a link to your website at the end of your posts.

Post Interesting Content

Consider topics and ideas that would be interesting and useful for your guests and incorporate them into your social media plan. Interesting or fun event coming up in town? Post about it! Is there a great country walk nearby? Post about it! Is there a brilliant local restaurant that your guests should try on their trip? Post about it!

Repeat Posts

So you’ve made an awesome post about family activities in your area…but it’s been a few months and now it’s hidden far down your page where your followers won’t see it. Time to repost!

Social media has a very short shelf life – if your followers don’t see your post the day you make it, chances are they won’t see it at all. Repost interesting content (as long as it’s still relevant) every few weeks or months.

Direct Bookings through Facebook

Turn your facebook page into a great booking tool with our free facebook app. Incredibly simple to set up and use, this is a brilliant way to convert all the hard work you’ve done creating an awesome facebook page for your business into more direct bookings.

Packages help direct bookings

Packages: the latest update on freetobook.

Using freetobook packages you can now offer your customers extra value added inclusions and change the board basis for any specific package you wish to create.

Types of Package:

Added Meals – for example you may have a standard rate with Bed and Breakfast and want to offer a “Dinner Bed & Breakfast” rate, or a rate which includes a packed lunch.

You can also remove meals in a package, so if your standard rate is including breakfast you might want to have a package that does not include breakfast.

Value Added Service –  Alternatively you might create a package which incudes bike hire or some other value added service special to your business. For example, you may collaborate with other local businesses and offer a golf  or spa package, cookery or photography class, or tickets to a local attraction such as a theme park.

How you setup your packages is very flexible; you can change the board basis and add extra services -it’s completely up to you.

Packages are a fixed rate and can be restricted by:

  • dates of stay
  • minimum stay duration and
  • nights of the week.

If a package is available for a customer to book during their search they will see a new tab with the package title you have created. They can then easily switch between your package and your standard availability.

 

Packages are exclusive for your direct bookers so they also potentially give a great way to offer more value to your direct customers where you pay zero commission.

To start creating your own unique packages, head to the ‘Specials’ tab on your freetbook diary and select ‘Packages’. Click ‘Create Package’ and start filling in all your package details – simple!