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How Google’s recent SERP changes affect hotels

Google has recently made some major changes to search engine results pages (also known as SERPs), which they have been testing for some time and have recently rolled out to the public. How do Google’s recent SERP changes affect hotels?

Well, from here on out, paid search results will no longer appear in the right column, and an additional fourth paid ad has appeared in the fourth place listing on the left column.


On initial inspection, more generic searches appear with an absence of advertising (see image above) and Google seems to be reserving this right hand side for Google Shopping or Hotel Search (see image below).



The fourth ad in the paid section will only show for what Google terms “highly commercial queries.” Positions 5-11 for paid ads will take the hardest hit. In a statement Google recently released, they said:

“We’ve been testing this layout for a long time, so some people might see it on a very small number of commercial queries. We’ll continue to make tweaks, but this is designed for highly commercial queries where the layout is able to provide more relevant results for people searching and better performance for advertisers.”

Key implications of the Google SERP changes

The digital marketing team at Travel Tripper has been monitoring this for a while now and we have seen a huge change in the last week across nearly all hotel results pages on Google.  Exactly how this is going to affect hotel-specific digital marketing is a little early to say, but there are some obvious factors:

  • Google is classifying the hotel industry as a “highly commercial” marketplace
  • The reduction in visible positions down to just four will increase competition
  • Organic positions are being pushed further down the screen

The first point was fairly obvious, as Google has long been experimenting with various ways to maximize its presence in the hotel industry, including trying out different hotel search layouts and testing out direct booking. But this change is arguably significant, as reducing the number of visible ad positions is going to make an already crowded and competitive marketplace that much smaller.

Google’s SERP change is also a hit to SEO, and reflects back to Priceline CEO Paul Hennessy’s declaration that SEO is dying. Organic positions keep falling further down the page, where they will be hidden “below the fold” (a term in web development that refers to the portions of a web page you have to access by scrolling).

In this example, a search for “london hotels” yields absolutely no organic results above the fold.


And this is still the case in searching for longtail keywords, as in this example for “hotels near central park new york.”


Why these SERP changes are important for hotels

Google’s new SERP layout will be especially important when we factor in competition from OTAs bidding on your hotel brand name ahead of you. Having a paid marketing presence is going to be more vital than ever before if you want to drive direct traffic to your own website and avoid paying expensive commissions to the OTAs (who are recycling your money into bidding on your hotel name again).

Failure to use Google AdWords could result in your organic listing being placed somewhere in the middle of the results page and only visible once the page is scrolled down.

For those of you already ahead of the game and actively bidding on your brand term, the increased competition is most likely going to lead to an increase in cost per click.  Even if the competition only increases slightly, it is highly probable that Google will be increasing their costs to cover the reduction in revenue they are missing out on from the removal of the right hand side ads.

Whatever your position, it is clear that what looks like a seeming innocuous change to Google is going to have a significant impact upon the whole of the hotel industry.

Interested in understanding how Google’s changes will impact you? Sign up for a free website consultation today.

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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