The hotel finder service first appeared on SERPs way back in 2011, although it look a couple more years to reach UK users on co.uk domain. In typical Google fashion the service has undergone numerous layout changes before arriving as its current layout just below the top ad positions. In this article, we take a look at the Google hotel comparison feature and how businesses in the travel industry can make this work to their advantage for PPC campaigns.
Being marked as a sponsored result, it is commonly confused as a feature of the AdWords platform, which serves as a hub for paid advertising on a number of Google’s products including G+, YouTube & Shopping. However, public submissions are not currently accepted and the feature is invite only open to a select few online travel agents (OTAs) and large hotel chains.
The feature works by calling pricing & availability from a Central Reservation system (CRS) or Global Distribution System (GDS) which is available from these selected members websites. For small hoteliers this means you must proceed through the likes of Booking.com, Expedia or LateRooms to gain a presence on the platform.
While bids do factor in ordering of the booking agents, because the selection is so limited, a number of other influences decide which hotels appear in which position. By understanding these we can aim to appear more prominently in listings.
The main points to consider are:
1. Ensure you are listed on an eligible online travel agent. As Google takes listings, availability & pricing from here, it is essential to have a presence with an OTA which is part of the program. Your chosen platform will then be involved in a bidding system to determine their ranking, but other factors such as pricing, imagery & ratings will also contribute. While we have no control over setting bids, we can influence other criteria in order to improve rank against the competition.
2. Add high quality images to your Google Business pages. Formerly known as ‘local pages’ or simply ‘Places’, this will be an important source of additional data including imagery. A verified account is important ensuring both an appealing main image, appropriate street view and accurate position are selected.
3. Encourage your guests to leave reviews. Providing relevant results is the key priority in any SERP, and user ratings is an excellent indicator of that. During our research it become clear it is uncommon for any listings with a rating of less than 4 to appear in the main 4 results, aside from locations where choices are limited. Review data is taken from your ‘My Business’ profile (again highlighting the importance of having this set up correctly) displaying an average star rating out of 5, along with user comments. Guests could be influenced to leave reviews by offering reminders or incentives after their visit which will in turn boost your ratings.
4. Be competitively priced within your category. Listing are laid out to offer variety of options and star-ratings, getting progressively more upmarket and offering the user a choice based on their requirements. While pricing has a wide spread across the actual hotels shown, it does play a factor within your own classification taking account of the star rating & features.
5. Distance from the city centre. While this factor can’t be influenced it is worth mentioning that location also plays a role. For sponsored results only this does not seem to be more specific than city at this time, so there is no optimisation for users inputting more targeted search terms.
While impossible for independent businesses to tap into this feature, there are a number of strategies that can be exploited to increase your ranking and gain more visibility. This also removes much of the risk by paying a booking agent on a CPA basis, rather than Google on a CPC basis which can be very expensive due to fierce competition from price comparison websites.