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How Google’s latest experiments with metasearch could impact hotels
Just a few weeks ago, Google began testing a new hotel pricing and availability graph. This new feature shows average pricing for hotels when users carry out a branded hotel search on Google via desktop.
Below, you can see an example of this price and room availability graph for hotel-specific searches. It’s positioned directly above the first organic search result (which is typically where you would see a hotel’s official website) and provides a simple at-a-glance overview of room rates.
If this turns into a permanent feature, travel shoppers looking for a hotel may focus on Google’s price chart rather than clicking on a hotel’s own website. It’s certainly possible that hotels could then begin to see a decrease in organic traffic.
The rise of Google in travel
After heavily pushing Google Flights in the past few months, the company now seems intent on expanding its share of the hotel booking market. This follows a busy few years in which it’s released new products, including Book on Google, Destinations on Google and Google Trips, while also growing itself as a hotel review platform and launching Google Q&A.
In the past few weeks alone, Google has made a lot of changes to its hotel and travel search results. The Search Engine Round Table website has observed a host of updates, including a compact new design and layout for hotel search results.
Here’s a screenshot of the design, featured on the Search Engine Round Table website:
Google also tested a tool called “price insights“, which was first spotted by Sergey Alakov. This feature lets users know if they’re getting a good deal at a particular hotel. This is the box that shows when Google finds a better deal:
The front screen of the “Price Insights” section then shows similar nearby hotels offering a better deal:
Google then displays a series of additional boxes that show the best times to book the hotel you’re looking at, and how the rates for your selected dates compare over time.
These tests clearly demonstrate Google’s ambitions to evolve its hotel search and booking tools. For hotels, this makes it essential to understand how Google’s various products can be used to gain attention and drive bookings throughout the travel journey.
Impact of the new pricing graph
Clicking or interacting with the pricing graph takes users into the Google Hotel/Maps screen. They are then prompted to choose from any of the rates shown by various booking sites within Google’s Hotel Ads product.
What does this mean for travel marketers? At Travel Tripper, our experience is that hotel brand name searches are usually end-of-funnel searches. This means that by the time a traveler makes a search request (e.g. “Ritz Hotel London”), they’ve done their research and are ready to book.
The top three spots in branded search are highly competitive, earning the vast majority of clicks. Because Google’s pricing is shown above the organic results, hotels may find it harder still to earn direct bookings in this highly competitive space.
Is now the time for hotels to invest in metasearch?
At Travel Tripper, we firmly believe hotels need to have their own website or booking engine visible at every step of the customer journey. This requires bidding on your brand name through paid search, and ensuring you have great organic visibility for branded (and non-branded) search terms.
Metasearch can also be a hugely effective marketing and distribution channel. If your hotel doesn’t invest in this channel, you risk losing direct bookings to the other providers and OTAs that are happy to bid on your brand terms.
Of course in the light of Google’s latest move, hotels may need to invest even more into their search marketing campaigns to capture online attention.
What impact will this have on my hotel?
This specific change was around for a few days, disappeared, and then came back again at the time of writing. It also looks like Google briefly carried out a similar test on pricing graphs back in 2017.
It’s likely that Google is analysing the impact of this latest test, and waiting to see when and how to roll it out as a permanent feature.
Initially, there probably won’t be any real impact to your hotel’s organic web traffic. During the time when the pricing graph was live, we did not see any significant drops in organic traffic from the properties we reviewed.
However, it’ll be fascinating to see how this landscape changes again in the next few weeks. If this tool is deployed permanently by Google, there’s a good chance it will have an impact on organic traffic over time — especially when users get used to seeing and interacting with it.
This could mean that hotels have to “pay to play” in order to capture more valuable screen space within the search results, or else risk losing out on direct bookings to the OTAs.
You can learn more about Travel Tripper’s own metasearch and digital marketing services here.
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