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Managing metasearch: strategies for success

Recently, we hosted a webinar to help hotels make their metasearch channel more profitable with more direct bookings and lower costs. Our digital marketing experts from Travel Tripper shared their insights on managing meta channels effectively and discussed metasearch’s role within a wide digital marketing strategy.

Topics included:

  • The history and evolution of metasearch channels
  • Bidding and targeting strategies for the major channels
  • How to efficiently set up the account and optimize your campaigns
  • How to budget for metasearch within your total marketing spend

Click here to watch a full recording of the webinar, and read on to see a list of the top takeaways from our discussion.

Why should hotels participate in metasearch?

Metasearch is a channel that doesn’t usually get the attention it deserves, despite the fact that it can play a vital role in a hotel’s marketing mix. Here are four major reasons why it matters:

1. Exposure

In today’s digital landscape, visibility is the key to success. Metasearch is arguably the best way to gain exposure because it instantly shows guests what they’re often looking for: the price of a hotel room. Guests can use any metasearch platform to check real-time prices for their preferred stay dates, then quickly decide if a hotel fits their budget. If your hotel doesn’t expose its room rates on metasearch, you could easily be losing direct bookings to the OTAs.

2. Control

The huge marketing power of the OTAs enables them to dominate travel booking decisions. Metasearch helps hotels gain back some control by letting them decide the rate for specific stay dates and room types. Rather than endlessly competing with OTAs, metasearch is about giving hotels a way to drive the conversation by creating a baseline for guests to compare.

3. Oversight

Metasearch is often treated as a “set and forget” channel. But now that metasearch channels offer more elaborate bidding features, careful management is more important than ever — not just to position your hotel as a favorable listing, but to gain insight into what’s happening in the marketplace.

Metasearch managers and revenue managers should be in constant conversation about any factors that might impact performance, such as ensuring OTA partners aren’t undercutting their hotel on price and checking price discrepancies for certain stay dates.

4. Marketing mix

The value of metasearch within the marketing mix is growing. When hotels use metasearch to promote their own rates alongside the OTAs, they can position themselves as a more favorable booking option and gain a lot of clicks to their direct booking engine. More potential guests can then be retargeted through a hotel’s existing marketing initiatives to drive conversions.

Which channels should your hotel target?

Google is almost certainly the most important metasearch channel and should be the one that hotels test the water out with. But three other main metasearch channels (TripAdvisor, Kayak, and Trivago) also play a big part in a hotel’s strategic approach — especially when it comes to strategic marketing, such as using platforms with dominant market share in specific overseas locations.

While investing in all channels is ideal, aim to focus on the metasearch channel(s) that complement your existing marketing mix.

How much should you invest?

Once you’ve chosen your preferred metasearch channels, the million dollar question is: how much should you invest? There are two main ways to look at this:

Monthly budget

A monthly budget is a simple way to determine which and how many channels to target. When deciding how much to spend, consider other factors such as seasonality, occupancy, need periods, and anything else that might influence the performance of your campaign.

Commission model

For hotels without sufficient budget, a commission model can help maximize their results. Instead of paying an upfront fee, a digital marketing agency takes a commission fee for any bookings generated via metasearch. Not only does the hotel pay a lower commission fee to the digital agency than to the OTAs, but it also gets to retain guests booked through the hotel’s direct booking engine. A valuable added bonus!

Marketplace and competition

There’s been some recent industry talk about the validity and life expectancy of metasearch. However, one metasearch player seems confident about the future potential of this channel: Google.

Since 2010, Google has been testing a direct integration of hotel pricing on its core products. In the latest major move, Google Hotel Ads will soon be integrated into the more established Google Ads, with the ultimate goal of making metasearch more accessible to every hotel, not just the major chains and large independents.

Here are the main benefits of this integration:

Robust bidding controls: Marketers will be able to optimize the bidding dimensions that are unique to hotels (e.g., travelers’ length of stay and check-in dates).

Smart bidding: Powered by machine learning, smart bidding will allow marketers to maximize bookings and increase their return on ad spend.

Access to Google Ads audience manager: With access to Google Ads audience manager, a hotel will be able to target its Google Hotel Ad campaign using the audience list created on its own hotel website. This opens up all kinds of opportunities for unique targeting and personalization of metasearch campaigns.

Hotel campaigns will use the new Google Ads API: Hotels will also have access to the new and more flexible Google Ads API, making the possibilities for metasearch almost endless. But ultimately, this could be the first step towards the creation of an automated metasearch company. These new integrations will further cement Google’s dominance in the metasearch market, and provide another major reason to invest in metasearch if you’re not already.

Who am I up against?

Hotels face several types of competition in metasearch. This point is illustrated in the Google landing page below, which features a search on Royalton Park Avenue in New York City:

Royalton Park Aveneue metasearch

As you might expect, the OTAs dominate the top spots.

Next, there are wholesalers (such as Cancelon and Amoma) who buy hotel rooms in bulk from third parties who have obtained them directly from the hotels. This can lead to highly discounted prices, which in turn drives down profit margins for the hotels.

Finally, hotels must compete with metasearch sites such as TripAdvisor, Kayak, and Trivago, which want to drive traffic to their own metasearch engines to convert visitors into paying hotel guests.

Let’s dive into how this competition impacts hotels. In the example below, the direct rate of Royalton Park Avenue is the most favorable, which is the best way to drive traffic and conversions.

Royalton Park Aveneue metasearch 2

But instead of the hotel, imagine that Expedia has the lowest available room rate in this metasearch feed. When a visitor lands on Expedia’s landing page, the Royalton Park Avenue listing is top, but there are numerous other relevant search results to pick from.

Royalton Park Aveneue on Expedia

The additional hotel listings are visible above the fold, so users don’t even need to scroll down to see them.

Three of the competing hotels are advertising a lower room rate than Royalton Park Avenue, and they’re all promoting either an appealing extra (such as free cancellations), or using scarcity messaging or limited-time pricing to drive conversions.

So a person who originally clicked on the Expedia link for Royalton Park Avenue might easily be persuaded to book with one of these attractive alternatives.

The bottom line is this: if your hotel participates in metasearch, always strive to offer the best price. If you don’t, you risk giving your direct booking away to an OTA, or worse, losing out entirely to another hotel.

Metasearch management

Finally, let’s briefly look at the finer details of metasearch management. Here are the six areas we believe underpin a successful metasearch campaign:

1. Data insights

Aside from Google, no other metasearch site provides impression data. This makes it tough to gauge how much budget to spend and where it should be allocated. In addition, most other channels don’t let hotels set daily budget caps, and offer only limited information to help them track the cause of any changes in performance. As a result, hotels must scrutinize their metasearch campaigns to stay ahead of the competition.

2. Bidding and targeting

Early on, we highly recommend testing different metasearch channels to see how consumer behavior and conversions differ. Depending on your budget, start with Google and then ideally pick at least one other metasearch channel from either Kayak, TripAdvisor, or Trivago.

3. Need periods

When it comes to metasearch, a time of low occupancy is one of the most important factors for revenue and metasearch managers. Helpfully, Google Hotel Ads offers several ways to manipulate bids (such as advance booking windows and check-in days), which allows marketers to boost performance for selected need periods. With regards to price, it’s best to use a combination of enticing rates based on the stay dates that fall into your hotel’s own need periods.

4. Price parity

As already touched upon, price parity is crucial to a successful metasearch campaign. From a bidding perspective, a higher room rate compared to other listings equals a higher cost-per-click for the hotel — just another reason to at least be on par with your competition. Various tools can help conduct price parity checks, but digital marketers should also carry out manual checks on a regular basis.

5. Booking engine access

Try to give your metasearch manager access to the back end of your hotel’s booking engine. They’ll be immensely more efficient when they need to add certain rates and special sales to the rate feed. Being swift and agile to shifting marketing conditions is the key to eliminating wasted marketing spend and maximizing conversions.

6. Rate plans

Finally, all of your hard work means nothing if your hotel’s room rates are higher than the rest of the field. At Travel Tripper, we recommend adding a metasearch-specific rate plan into your metasearch mix. To further improve conversion rates, consider targeting your rates by geolocation, and using a mobile-specific rate plan (as mobile is usually less effective than desktop at driving bookings).

Getting ahead on metasearch

For the full discussion on optimizing your hotel’s metasearch marketing, make sure you watch the recording of our recent webinar. It includes two recent metasearch case studies and features an in-depth Q&A session with more invaluable insights.

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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