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.
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!