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Google experiments with new hotel ad placements

Google has been playing around with its hotel ad product lately. The digital marketing team at Travel Tripper recently spotted a subtle change of its metasearch box from the right side of the screen to the left. Below you can see what a typical hotel search returns on a search engine results page (SERP). A box populated with the Google Business listing information appears to the right side, immediately followed by a Google Hotel Ads metasearch box with prices and paid search links.

Hotel metasearch on Google right side of page
Google hotel metasearch ads on right side of page

In the following screenshot, you can see that the metasearch ads box is moved to the left, positioned right underneath a search ad from the hotel. This is a BIG move for Google. It positions their paid metasearch ads into the mainstream search results, making it more prominent than it currently is on the right side of the page. This puts a lot of paid OTA links right near the top of the page, although to be fair, this SERP has also taken out any OTA search ads that would normally appear in place of the metasearch box. The hotel ad at the top of this page is a direct link to the hotel website.

Google hotel metasearch ads moved to left side of the page

While we don’t necessarily think this move will become mainstream, it does reveal that Google is in the midst of a testing phase to compare how different formats impact conversion rates and response. If the metasearch box does end up staying by the PPC ads on a permanent basis, focusing on good metasearch advertising will become more important than ever. It will also play an important role in how we strategize hotel PPC ads in general.

Another change that was recently spotted by another hotel marketing blog was a new nearby deals placement for hotel queries. When a user carries out a search, a “Nearby Deal” has appeared above the top ad position. If clicked, users are taken to the map results where the hotel deal is preselected, and this deal gets refreshed if check-in and check-out dates are altered.

Google nearby deal placement
Example of Google “Nearby Deal” ad placement (Source: Koddi)

Interestingly, it seems the selected property within this feature doesn’t have to offer lower than normal rates. When a search was performed for “Sheraton Kauai Resort,” the Nearby Deal was a hotel that didn’t appear to be offering a better price than usual. However, it was highly ranked and rated, and its prices were lower than those from Sheraton Kauai Resort.

The feature appears to promote local hotels that share comparable amenities and ratings. Google’s algorithm may be using the same or similar signals to rank properties and recommend them within this new format.

The potential impact on hotel search advertising

At Travel Tripper we haven’t been able to replicate the nearby deal results so far, but if this feature is being used by Google, hotel search could be changed in a major way.

Google already encourages wider comparison through a “People also searched for” tool, positioned at the bottom of its Knowledge Panel. However, Nearby Deal sits at the top of the Knowledge Panel and promotes direct price comparison—an altogether more persuasive feature.

As such, this new format could prove highly significant. When conducting a hotel-specific search, users would be prompted to consider alternatives while deep into the booking process. By highlighting alternative options, a more thorough comparison could occur immediately before the final decision.

If Nearby Deal does become a permanent fixture, marketers will be eager to spot patterns that reveal which properties get recommended, helping them to gain similar exposure and drive traffic to their own hotel site at a crucial point in the booking journey.

Part of a bigger Google ads experiment?

It seems these new developments by Google are simply part of a larger experiment in adjusting their overall travel product for the coming years. Not that their dominance as a travel marketing player isn’t already clear—the companyis projected to bring in more than $12 billion in travel-related revenue in 2016, with the majority of it coming from Priceline, Expedia, Ctrip, and TripAdvisor.

Google has also recently announced a beta platform for travel brands to buy native advertising—travel companies simply provide the creative, text, and headlines, and Google will “place” the content on various publisher sites and apps. Several travel brands have already performed beta tests on the platform, and the early results look promising. If successful, this may be a new advertising channel for hotels to explore in 2017.

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

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