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!
News is out that freetobook are working on a connection which will enable accommodation providers to connect their availability to Google Hotel Price Ads. All customers using freetobook with nightly rates will be able to participate including hotels, apartments, guest houses, inns, bed and breakfasts, hostels, campsites and many others using nightly rates.
In the past Google HPA was only available to big hotel chains, Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and digital marketing organisations. Here at freetobook we like to smash through barriers and open up the best marketing technology to everyone, making more distribution channels available on an optional basis to our customers across the world.
When completed your freetobook diary will be able to feed rates and availability to the whole of the Google network giving you fantastic global marketing access. This service is on an opt-in basis without any tie-ins so you are free to try it out and calculate your return on advertising investment. Bookings that you receive from the service will be direct bookings and you will be able to pay per click for advertising on the Google HPA service.
Google HPA is different from Google Ads. The main difference is that Google HPA can link to your availability and direct bookings can be made there and then. Customers on Google will be able to see which accommodation is available at what price and make a direct booking. Unlike Google Ads you do not bid on keywords with Google HPA the placing of the adverts will depend on Google and their bidding system.
Where will my Google HPA adverts show ? You will be able to show on Google Maps,
Google Local, Google+, and the new Google “three-pack” on AdWords. You can see some of the examples of where the adverts show in the pictures on this blog. All the best technology changes and improves and Google is a great example of this, so whilst we can say where the Google Hotel Price Ads show now we can also be sure that this will change and improve with time.
A short video with a flavour of the Google HPA service
Customers already using freetobook can pre-register for Google HPA in their TAB”Plus” under “Your Ads” on the orange bar.
Now that we know all the benefits of having a Google+ Business page for your accommodation here are some quick and easy steps to getting yours. (If you don’t know why you should get a Google business page see our earlier blog – what a Google business page can do for you)
If you don’t have a Google business page you can set one up in 10 minutes.
Step 1: You need to visit the Google My Business page https://www.google.com/business/ and select the [Get on Google] button, you will be asked to login which you do using your gmail account (you will need a gmail account).
Step 2: Use the search box to find your business and claim the page, stating you are authorised to manage that business listing.
If Google can’t find your business then click [None of these match – Add your Business].
Step 3: When you create a business page for your accommodation you are asked for your business type. IMPORTANT – As an accommodation owner you should choose [Storefront] as your business type, this provides advantages on Google Maps and Local Search.
As you set up your Business page you will be asked if you wish to receive a “verify code” by mail – this enables Google to be sure you are where you say you are. You can continue to create the business page and verify later. Your “verify code” can take 1-2 weeks to arrive in the post. You should take advantage of the verify feature as it gives you more options later.
Take the tour of Google My Business and then set up your contact details, location, photos and descriptions, all of which help you thrive on the Google network. It’s as simple as that, you are now Google business ready.
Google is constantly looking for new ways to enable customers to book accommodation via their website so watch this space for news of any developments.
Someone else might register a Google business page in your name. You want to claim what’s yours so get ahead and register it for yourself so you have control over your business page.
2) Get found on Google Maps
Google maps is massive on mobiles and at the top of searches. Millions have downloaded their map app so why not get yourself on the map and catch more potential customers. The vast majority of accommodation businesses will have websites but if you don’t, then a Google business page is even more important.
3) Google make it easy to look great
It’s not just your address and contact details. You can make your page beautiful and ensure you stand out and shine, displaying your best features. Upload your best photos, descriptions and video. Google will make it all look great with their page layout and enhanced street view.
4) Mobile is key
Google maps is one of the most downloaded mobile phone apps in history and most mobile users make extensive use of these maps on their phone. Your business page ensures you are listed
in the mobile Google map app, next to your neighbours…. who might be ahead of you!
5) Search engine optimisation
It’s a fact, your search engine ranking is improved when you have a Google business page making it easier for customers to find and book you. Your Google business page helps your search engine ranking for various local and generic searches.
6) Use Google Plus to connect with your customers
Get a Google plus account and use it on your business page to share news and engage with customers, tell the world about what you are up to and manage your reputation.
7) Business of the future
It’s expected that Google will soon launch new ways for customers to access accommodation businesses and do bookings. Your business page will be the keystone of your visibility for booking capability in future. It’s easy and quick – so make yourself accessible now, it’s also Mobile, Social and Local…. and yes, it’s FREE!