Blog category: google

New Google Analytics in Beta

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, March 21, 2011

Bookassist’s Pasquale Mellone shows how you can try out the new beta of Google Analytics and what improvements it brings





New Look

On March 17, 2011 Google gave people at the Google Analytics User Conference in San Francisco the opportunity to take a look at the new version of Google Analytics. As stated in the official post (http://analytics.blogspot.com/2011/03/looking-towards-future-of-google.html), the main goal of this new version, which is still in beta, is ‘to make it easier and faster to get to the data you want’.




Those who want to try out the new Analytics can enter their details on the beta sign-up page. A link to this page is included in the official post published on the Google Analytics blog.



Two important changes of this upgrade are in the main navigation and naming of reports. The main navigation has been changed and it has now the look and feel of the Google navigation bar. Names for reports have been changed too by making them more intuitive (for example, ‘Top Content’ is now called ‘Pages’).



Multiple Dashboards

However, probably the most important change concerns the dashboard. The new version of Google analytics allows users to create multiple dashboards showing different sets of graphs.



As noted by Search Engine Land http://searchengineland.com/google-analytics-v5-unveils-a-new-user-experience-68685”>(http://searchengineland.com/google-analytics-v5-unveils-a-new-user-experience-68685), ‘this is a much wanted feature, especially for large organizations, where employees have very different needs from the tool. Now dashboards can be set by hierarchy, department, interest or any other rule’.



From what we’ve seen so far it seems the new Google Analytics delivers an improved user experience together with a more immediate and intuitive interface.



It’s probably still too early to see whether all the suggestions and requests received by Google have been applied to the new version. Having said that, it seems that Google has once again taken a step further in improving usability for one of its products.



—-

Pasquale Mellone is Search Engine Marketer in the Online Marketing Division of Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

traffic builder, google, analytics, adwords

Google Introduces +1 Button

By Ciaran Rowe | On Fri, April 01, 2011

Bookassist’s Ciarán Rowe shows how Google’s new +1 feature is taking on Facebook’s popular “Like” function with big implications for search.
Google has recently introduced a new feature called the “+1” button, which allows users to recommend a website in the search results page. This recommendation will be visible to members of that person’s Google Contacts - i.e. contacts from Gmail, Buzz and Reader etc. To see who you are connected to, check the Google Dashboard (https://www.google.com/dashboard/ ). It is likely that at some stage in the future this will expand to include your entire social circle, using non-Google sites such as Twitter.

In order to see the new +1 button, you must have a public profile on Google, and be signed in. If you don’t have one already, you can create one at Google Profiles (https://profiles.google.com/me/createprofile/).


The +1 feature is being rolled out slowly, so may not be visible to all users immediately. You can sign up for the experimental version here: http://www.google.com/experimental/index.html

Once you are signed in, you can see +1 in action: go to google.com and enter your chosen search term. The results page will look like this, with a small +1 link beside each entry.


If you decide to recommend the page by clicking on the +1 button, you will see a new line appear as below - this also offers the opportunity to undo the click. You will be able to see all the +1s that you have created in a new +1 tab in your Google profile page:

Google’s version of “Like”?

The second phase of the new rollout is that the +1 buttons will be made available to website owners, so that they can add the button to their website similar to a Facebook ‘Like’ button. This is likely to be a much more useful service than adding the button to the search engine results page. In order to “+1” a page in the search results, a user would need to visit the website to decide if they want to recommend it, and then go back to the results page to “+1” it, which is unlikely to happen very often, as it involves extra effort for no reward. However, once the button is added to the website pages, it is very easy for a user to recommend the page by clicking on the ”+1” button. It will probably be a few more months before the button is available for websites, but you can sign up to be notified of the launch here: https://services.google.com/fb/forms/plusonesignup/

The benefits of the new button are twofold - for the searchers, they can see recommendations made by their friends, which would carry more weight than recommendations from strangers, and therefore help them in the decision making process. For the website owner, having recommendations displayed beside your search engine listings (both paid ads and natural) gives them more emphasis and encourages users to click through.


An example of a PPC ad that has had the website it leads to recommended would look like the following:

The message is clear and makes it more likely that the user will click on the ad based on their friends’ recommendation.


Pagerank Changes

Apart from the visible effects of the recommendations, they also carry some weight behind the scenes. There is some speculation that +1’s could become the new pagerank, which is Googles view of the importance of a webpage. A large portion of pagerank is based on the number of incoming links a page has, but this is easily abused, as links can be bought and sites can be spammed. So if each incoming link is considered a vote, then a +1 is an even better marker, as friends are less likely to spam each other. Google’s perspective on this issue is:

“Content recommended by friends and acquaintances is often more relevant than content from strangers. For example, a movie review from an expert is useful, but a movie review from a friend who shares your tastes can be even better. Because of this, +1’s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality. For +1’s, as with any new ranking signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality.”

Source: Google

So in conclusion, what can a site owner do about about the new +1 buttons?

The presence of the buttons beside your site listings in Google search (ads & organic), is automatic, so there is nothing that can be done about that. When the facility to add a +1 button to your website becomes available, ensure that you do so.


Above all, encourage people to recommend your website by providing useful, relevant & interesting content that people would be happy to share with their friends.


—-


Ciarán Rowe is Senior Search Strategist at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

seo, sem, google

Fixing PPC budgets to previous revenue will fail - Part1

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, August 31, 2011

Bookassist’s Ecommerce Project Manager Mark Dolan explains why fixing Pay Per Click (PPC) monthly budget as a percentage of the overall website revenue from the previous month is a mistake



Many hotels discuss a “lower risk” strategy of fixing their budget for the current month’s PPC campaigns based on a percentage of the previous month’s revenue. We don’t consider this to be a sound strategy for online revenue growth. There are two reasons:



1. High performance in PPC will be restricted due to lack of budget

2. Low performing PPC is masked by overall growth and will be allowed continue to overspend.



To illustrate these cases I will use the following example:



Situation

Suppose a company had a revenue figure of €300,000 in July and currently has three salesmen: “direct”, “organic” and “referrals”. The MD hired a new salesman “PPC” in August who has promised great returns on investment (ROI) of greater than 10:1. There is a cost however of €100 per sales call. To minimise costs the MD set the salesman’s PPC’s budget at 1% of overall monthly revenue, so his budget for August is €3,000 which works out at 30 sales calls.



Scenario 1

PPC salesman gets fantastic results, an ROI of 20:1 resulting in revenue of €60,000. Salesman PPC thinks he can double the number of sales calls for the next month and bring revenue generated by him up to €120,000. He will not get the opportunity. The other 3 salesmen didn’t do as well so the overall revenue figure stayed at €300,000. The MD understood PPC performed very well but stayed with the formula of 1%. So PPC was restricted to just 30 sales calls for September instead of the 60 he had hoped for. This equates to a missed opportunity to have increased revenue by a further €60,000.

Result: High performing salesmen PPC is penalised by other poor performers and will be restricted due to lack of budget.



Scenario 2

PPC salesman was all promises and only brought in €6,000 from his 30 sales calls. The MD is obviously disappointed but has signed up for a contract so continues with PPC hoping the salesman improves. At the end of the month however the other 3 salesmen perform quite well so overall revenue grows to €350,000. This means that instead of reducing the budget for the PPC and taking time to fix the problem, he actually gets to increase the number of sales calls in the following month.

Result: Poor performing salesman PPC is masked by overall growth and will be allowed continue to overspend.



Solution

Set an advertising budget for your PPC (Pay Per Click) campaigns and vary those budgets depending on the PPC campaign performance to maximise revenue potential.



—-

Mark Dolan is Ecommerce Project Manager with Bookassist.

He manages the Traffic Builder department that manages online marketing for hotels.


traffic builder, sem, ppc, google

Google+ and Hotels: What to do?

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, September 02, 2011


Bookassist’s Paul Ferry talks about Google+ features and what hotels should be doing with the new social platform



Google+ looks like it has been created to compete with Facebook’s global domination of social media market. When it first launched Google+ profiles could only be set up by receiving an invitation from another Google+ user but now anyone with a Google account can sign up. Google+ boasts features that are different from Facebook but some features are similar. From our initial impressions, it looks like Google have got the formula right this time around compared to their last failed attempt at social media, Google Buzz. But the correct formula is not a guarantee of success.



Google+‘s main features include Hangouts, Circles, Sparks and Huddle, here is a brief explanation of each:



Hangouts allow up to ten people to group video chat and watch YouTube videos. When you start the video, the group chat mutes everyone by default and a ‘Push to Talk’ button lets everyone enjoy YouTube videos and discuss it with comments.



Circles enables users to create mini friend lists within a larger network. Easy customisation of groups with drag-and-drop actions to limit who’s updating can be seen.



Sparks lets users organise their content according to their interest. Sparks delivers articles, blogs and other content from the entire web depending upon terms that users enter. They can save terms and return to them at any time when they want to browse new content and they can add circles or individuals to an item to share it.



Huddle allows users to easily stay in touch while they’re on the go. Users can text groups of people or individual friends in Google+ Mobile. They can also receive a new message in Huddle, Google+ sends a push notification to their phone.





What should hotels do?



At the moment Google+ is for individual use only and Google are actively shutting down profiles that are being used by businesses or are not the user’s real name. There has been an official statement from Google saying that they are currently developing a business account and have been Beta testing it with selected businesses.



So for now, hotels should not create a Google+ profiles, instead they should wait for the release of the Google+ business profile which Google says is coming in the next few months.



Google+ looks like it could rock Facebook’s boat due to its innovative and easy to use functionalities. It will be interesting to see if be people will actually stop using Facebook and use Google+ for their social media conversations or they could start to use different services offered by each platform. Figures show that Google+ acquired 20 million users in the first 3 weeks of its full release but a more recent blog article (19th August 2011) stated that 83% of users are labeled as inactive. The lack of user engagement was also an initial problem for Facebook and Twitter.



It will also be interesting to see how they allocate advertising space on Google+, if the advert campaigns can be controlled from Google Adwords or will Google+ have a completely separate advertising platform. Currently there are no advertisements on Google+ in its present state but knowing Google there will be something soon on the horizon. Google have also integrated Google+ users’ +1 button activities to display on the user’s Google+ profile, very similar to what Facebook already does with their “Send” and “Like” buttons.



Google+ has some great new features but only time will tell the success of Google’s latest venture into the social media arena.

social media, google+, google, facebook

Google Hotel Finder - Everything you wanted to know

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, December 16, 2011

Bookassist Search Marketer Martin Murray discusses Google’s latest experiment, the Google Hotel Finder.

The Google hotel finder is a very interesting development that has the potential to shake up the online market for hotels. As a service, it aims to allow you to search, compare and book hotels from all over the world. It can be accessed at: www.google.com/hotelfinder

Here are some of the key features in the service to date: 1. Search

The main feature of the Google hotel finder is its comprehensive search function. Users can search for hotels by location, price, hotel class and user rating. They can also limit the results shown by using the “shape” tool and specifying a specific region on the map.

2. Date Selection

The hotel finder has a standard date selection feature allowing users to select their check in and check out dates using a calendar.

3. Shortlist

When searching for hotels a user can add hotels to a shortlist and they will then be displayed at the top of the search results page until they leave the hotel finder site.

4. Compared to typical

The compared to typical feature allows a user to compare a hotels current price with its typical price. Google use historical price data from various providers to determine a hotel’s typical price.

5. Ranking

By default Google list the hotels in descending order of their user rating, although they term this “Magic”. The user rating is based solely on reviews and ratings left on various Google properties such as Google places. 6. Hotel Data

Your hotel’s description text, contact details and website address are all taken from the hotels Google Places page. Your hotel’s photos are provided through a partnership with VFM Leonardo and the reviews are taken from Google itself.

7. Prices

Google is partnering with several providers that can provide pricing information for the listed hotels. Google will not deal directly with individual hotels, but Bookassist is currently working with Google on integration so that Bookassist clients can also directly show their prices with expected completion early in 2012.

8. Book

When a user clicks the “Book” button they are presented with a list of prices for the specified hotel. These prices are provided by the various providers which have partnered with Google. Underneath the list of prices there is a direct link to your hotel’s website. This link is included for all hotels and is free.

9. Cost Per Click (CPC)

The current CPC cost is 0.2% of the total quoted booking value. The total quoted booking value is the number of days (taken from the date range selected by the user) multiplied by the price quoted (taken from the selected provider). If the user clicks on the link to your hotel’s website without any pricing information there is no charge for this click.

Appearing on the Google Hotel Finder

The majority of hotels are already included in the hotel finder but some hotels are currently missing and some hotels that are included are only shown if you use the shape tool on the map to include the area where the hotel is physically located. If your hotel is not currently listed please be aware that Google are constantly adding hotels to their database.

Analysis & Opinion

In our opinion, the main positives and challenges of the hotel finder for the online customer and the hotel are listed below.

Key positives

  • Clean, uncluttered design.
  • Shape tool is useful but only beneficial if you know the area you are visiting.
  • Filtering options are useful and easy to use.
  • Prices are listed clearly.
  • The hotel website link is included automatically and is free.
  • Hotels can now compete directly with OTAs.

Challenges

  • A user cannot search by hotel name, specific address or landmark.
  • Prices are currently displayed in US dollars only.
  • English is the only available language.
  • Only reviews from Google are listed.
  • Some hotels are missing from the finder.
  • Not all hotels can show their own prices yet.
  • As of mid December, Google is placing its hotel finder as the first sponsored link in search results for hotels in the USA, causing considerable controversy in the PPC market.

Hotel Specific Challenges

Besides the challenges of the hotel finder product there are also some hotel-specific challenges which only you the hotel owner can overcome.

Rate parity – Up until now customers have had to go to multiple websites to check who has the best price. With services such as Google hotel finder they now only have to go to one website. As a result it is now fundamental that hotels have the same rate or better on their own website compared with the OTAs that are selling the hotel’s stock.

Availability – Allocating sufficient availability on your own website is essential if your hotel is to benefit from the hotel finder. Simply put, if Google “hotel finder” is to generate traffic to your website and you do not have sufficient availability on your own website then that traffic will be wasted as the visitor will go elsewhere.

Integration – In order to fully benefit from the hotel finder, full integration with the your hotel’s own booking engine is essential. This means partnering with providers like Bookassist that can provide such integration.

Reviews - At the moment the hotel finder only displays reviews from Google. You should make sure you are reading and reacting to all reviews on Google about your hotel. You should also try and encourage guests to leave reviews on Google to build content for the future.

Paid Advertising

Once you get your prices to display on Google Hotel Finder you are then signing up to a Cost per Click (CPC) advertising service so in certain respects the Google hotel finder is evidence of the shift to paid advertising that is currently taking place. As a result it is important that you are aware of this and ensure that you allocate sufficient marketing spend to paid advertising for 2012 and onwards. The key move in this area was in mid December when Google placed the hotel finder as the first advert result on search pages for hotels in the USA. Expect more moves in this area in the coming months from Google.

Conclusion

It is early days for the Google hotel finder but this combined with Hotel Price ads could be a game changer if this tool becomes popular with users. The main advantage for you as a hotel owner is that it allows you to compete directly with the OTAs without having enormous advertising budgets. In providing such a platform, Google is clearly encouraging more hotels to spend directly on online advertising, rather than letting those few OTAs that dominate the space right now be the only spenders.

Looking ahead it is up to Google to make this product as feature rich, relevant and as functional as possible and to create sufficient awareness of the product with the general public.

For your hotel to benefit as much as possible from the hotel finder it is important that you consider and prepare for the challenges outlined earlier.

Bookassist is the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

strategy, ppc, google hotel finder, google, cpc

Best Practice Link Building Guide

By Mary Collins | On Wed, May 22, 2013

The best link building strategy is to acquire links at a natural speed. Hoteliers need to have a policy of gaining quality links over quantity of links to their websites. Before these Google updates, search engines rewarded websites with large quantities of links, but once Penguin 2.0 is released websites with poor link building strategy will most likely be penalised, potentially being removing completely from search engine results.

Google now values websites that have fresh up-to date relevant content which visitors to the website will find useful. As well as creating fresh relevant content, hoteliers need to adopt a best practice approach to their linking building strategy as this will greatly enhance SEO results.

For our Traffic Builder clients we provide guidance on link building strategy as part of our online marketing service. If you wish to sign up to Traffic Builder service please contact us.

Perform a Link Audit

Before embarking on any link building strategy, it is important to establish where your links are coming form. A website link audit should be performed, analyzing the links that are beneficial to your website and those which are causing harm.

Use Webmaster Tools

Manage Links Through Webmaster Tools: Through this interface, you can view all the links pointing to your site, sorting the quality links you attained through targeted strategy and the less valuable or negative links that have linked to your website without your authority.

Maintain a Blog on the Hotel Website

Building and maintaining a blog on the hotel website is a quick and easy way to provide unique, fresh content to website visitors, potential guests and potential linking websites. In order to use a hotel blog as a strong inbound marketing tool you need to post regular articles. Examples include upcoming events and activities, property updates etc. Ask your team to contribute e.g. a day in the life of a concierge, or reception staff, regular recipes from the kitchen etc which will attract the interest of other bloggers or websites that would like to link to you. If your blog is run on any of the popular Content Management Systems, you’ll already have an RSS feed.

Build (Relevant) Links

Engage local sites that produce quality content and are of relevance to your website first to build a solid base of trustworthy links, while at the same time ensuring the hotel website is listed by and linked to from a variety of online directories and local listing services. Engage with local suppliers, local groups and conference organisers who use the hotel facilities regularly. To get full SEO benefit, ensure the link from their website to yours contains relevant text (try and get the hotel name and location in the anchor text).

Interlink

You have pages on your website, so make the most of them. Internal links are very relevant for link building because you can control everything about them, from the location on the page to the anchor text. If you have multiple sites, interlinking is a must!

Create Quality Website Content

Every time content is added to the website, ensure that it is of a consistently high standard. Regular updates to the website will ensure that the content is always up to date. This will help attract other websites to link to yours and help in turn boost SEO.- Research Competitors:Review where your competitors are getting links. There maybe opportunities to get your own website listed.

Create a Social Media Strategy

Currently Google considers links from different social networks like Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter among others. It is important that the hotel has a content strategy on social networks in order to take inbound links to their websites. If the hotel has a profile on any of these social platforms they must be kept up to date too with fresh content, linking back to the hotel website.

strategy, social media, seo, marketing, google

Plan for Google Penguin 2.0 now!

By Mary Collins | On Wed, May 22, 2013

Mary Collins, Head of Internet Marketing

Google is constantly changing it’s algorithms with minor tweaks, to ensure it can return the best search results. Usually these changes don’t have dramatic affects on search engine results, however the impending Penguin 2.0 will bring a major change to the search engine algorithm, which will have big impact on search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is the Penguin 2.0 update?

Since early 2011 Google has released Panda and Penguin updates to its algorithm. These updates affected over 12% of all SERPs. The change in the algorithm penalised low-quality websites and rewarded websites with high-quality fresh content.

In this next upgrade Penguin 2.0 will address bad link-building and linking practices, penalizing sites that use black hat techniques to help improve visibility within the SERPs.

Google has evaluated a huge amount of websites to learn more about non-organic links.

As part of the Penguin update Google will locate these bad-practice links, it will remove their PageRank, and so negate the positive impact they had on search results.

There are two scenarios which Google views as bad link building practices:

  1. links that come from websites that Google deems untrustworthy
  2. websites with high “link velocity” – the rate at which a site acquires inbound links

What should Hoteliers do?

The best link building strategy is to acquire links at a natural speed. Hoteliers need to have a policy of gaining quality links over quantity of links to their websites. Before these Google updates, search engines rewarded websites with large quantities of links, but once Penguin 2.0 is released websites with poor link building strategy will most likely be penalised, potentially being removing completely from search engine results.

Google now values websites that have fresh up-to date relevant content which visitors to the website will find useful. As well as creating fresh relevant content, hoteliers need to adopt a best practice approach to their linking strategy as this will greatly enhance SEO results. See our best practice guide to link building.

strategy, seo, marketing, google

Ever-Changing AdWords

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, June 11, 2013

Ciarán Rowe and Des O’Mahony

​Google’s AdWords remains undiminished as a necessity for any hotel serious about online business. A very large percentage of search users still do not distinguish between AdWords and natural search results at the top of search results listings, while at the same time the majority of search users still focus their clicking actions at the top of the search results page. These facts combined mean that engaging in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is critical for online revenue generation.

Google continues to enhance AdWords to make them more attractive to the public and more likely to be clicked. Success in capturing clicks depends on quickly adopting any new approaches available in AdWords, since it is these fresh new approaches that appeal to jaded eyes.

Here are just some of the enhances being rolled out in AdWords at the moment that we are analysing for effectiveness.

Enhanced Campaigns

Enhanced Campaigns is due to take effect from July 22nd and is about targeting the reality of the multi-device world that we live in. At the moment, AdWords campaigns are set up separately to target each kind of device, for example desktop or mobile. But research (from Google) indicates that people often accomplish a task over a period of time while moving between platforms, desktop to tablet to phone etc. Such a task might be researching a trip leading ultimately to booking a hotel.

The idea of focusing campaigns on a single platform therefore limits the reinforcement capability of an advertiser to be ubiquitous, or at least makes it more difficult to manage.

With Enhanced Campaigns, AdWords advertising campaigns will be amalgamated into one master campaign with the option to create mobile-preferred adverts and site links to unify the campaigns across platforms. Google says that this is to allow easier control and targeting for AdWords users, and cite improved reporting and more powerful marketing tools.

See: http://adwords.blogspot.ie/2013/02/introducing-enhanced-campaigns.html

What is key here for Google is to ensure that advertisers opt into the mobile advertising network to improve Google revenue. After all, Google’s Android mobile operating system is pushed out for free precisely to create an increased target for Google’s advertising. Mobile advertising takes advantage of the mobile platform with location-detection advertising and click-to-call options, together with tracking of phone call conversions. Lots to be gained here as an advertiser.

Social Extensions / Annotations

Social Extensions (now transitioning to being called Social Annotations) link your business’s Google+ Page to your AdWords campaigns, so that all your +1s, whether from your Google+ Page, your website, your adverts or your search, get unified and tallied together.

Unifying data in this way is a similar philosophy to the ubiquitous approach adopted in Enhanced Campaigns: it shouldn’t matter what device someone is on or what element of your online presence they like, your business is a single online entity.

In practice it means that each of your online elements will see the total +1s and so each will look like it has been more heavily interacted with. This may make it more attractive in the eyes of a potential customer. It also means that Google is essentially saying that businesses should push their Google+ Page more as an additional way to be liked online.

See: http://www.google.ie/ads/innovations/socialextensions.html

Dynamic Search Advertising

The main thrust of AdWords is to serve advertising based on keywords matched to the user’s search terms. This requires the creation of campaigns based around keywords targeting. But with Dynamic Search Advertising, you can instead target relevant searches with ads generated directly from your web site content, dynamically.

With Dynamic Search Advertising, Google keeps a fresh index of your website’s content using organic web crawling. When a search occurs, Google can determine that your website content is relevant and can dynamically generate an ad with a headline based on the query.

Dynamic Search Advertising is an approach that is very useful for advertisers with limited experience, or for those who may not have the resources to analyse keyword volume for their business. But it also is an addition to standard AdWords approaches and, according to Google, can result in 5%-10% of additional clicks.

Google data indicates that every day 16% of searches that occur are ones that Google has never seen before. Keyword targeting is extremely difficult therefore in about one seventh of searches, and this is where Dynamic Search Advertising can help.

See: http://www.google.ie/ads/innovations/dynamicsearchads.html

Similar Audiences

Google remarketing allows you to reach people who have already visited your site by serving them adverts through the Google Display Network when they are elsewhere online. You’ve probably experienced this yourself online, where adverts for stuff you’ve been looking at seem to follow you around!

Similar Audiences is a refined version of Display Network targeting using remarketing audiences, rather than just remarketing to one individual. You can serve ads to people whose browsing patterns are similar to the browsing patterns of your existing site visitors.

Again, similarity should mean better chances at clicking and should add to the success of your existing targeted Adwords campaigns.

See: https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2676774?hl=en

Adwords Image Extensions

Google announced Image Extensions in early June to allow advertisers add images to AdWords (see figure 1). As yet it is not clear what the criteria for display will be. Can all adverts have them or is it only the number one spot? It is likely that images will only appear if the context of the search indicates to Google that the searcher would benefit from imagery.

What is obvious though is that Image Extensions would be far more appealing to searchers. They would likely make organic search results even less appealing, reducing the value of SEO in comparison to SEM.

Adwords image extensions are currently in beta.
Adwords image extensions are currently in beta.

Improving the Click Rate

At Bookassist, we continue to improve the click rate for hotel adverts not just by employing Google technology, but also by integrating with the dynamic pricing options of the Bookassist Booking Engine. As figure 2 shows, Bookassist’s Traffic Builder online marketing team creates far more attractive adverts for hotels with detailed site links that serve targeted actions with pricing. This is far more appealing than generic online travel agent advertising.

Advertised actions such as “Advance Purchase Rate from €72” and “Stay Longer and Save up to 15%” within the ad content have proportionately higher click-through rates because they are more relevant to searchers than just “Book here”. And using deep linking into Bookassist’s Booking Engine, customers can be brought directly to the actual offer being advertised, with a book now button right next to the offer, rather than just being sent to the hotel’s website to fend for themselves.

Eliminating barriers between what’s being advertised and the action to book is critical to improve conversion.

Adwords advertising enhanced to feature attractive site links which directly bring searchers to the advertised offer.
Adwords advertising enhanced to feature attractive site links which directly bring searchers to the advertised offer.

Beyond the Click

The science of capturing clicks in increasingly complex, but remains a very first step. Delivering conversion on that precious click is even more important. The key is “nose to tail” integration of advertising, quality web presence, clarity and attractiveness of the product on offer, and advanced booking engine capabilities to serve without barriers. Only with this level of integration can clicks lead to conversion, and onwards to improved online revenue. No single link in this chain can be neglected.

traffic builder, seo, sem, ppc, marketing, google, adwords

​The Rise of the Meta Search Opportunity

By Des O'Mahony & Ciaran Rowe | On Wed, October 02, 2013

The demands of the online consumer for a more efficient way to assess multiple sources of information, for example comparing lots of sites for the best price for a specific hotel on a specific date, has directly led to the recent rapid rise in meta search websites and technologies of late. Meta search for travel has actually been around in various formats for quite some time, particularly for flights, though airlines like Ryanair have taken considerable steps to thwart them. Recent news shows that Skyscanner, for example, is expected to massively grow and also expand into hotels. The first model in the meta search arena was introduced by Sidestep in 1999, in the format of a downloadable widget. The basic comparison principle has remained much the same since then, but the model is becoming ever more sophisticated as technology develops and meta search presence is now becoming an integral part of customer acquisition strategy for hotels. The most popular sites for accommodation at the moment include Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, Kayak & Trivago, all of whom offer real time availability and pricing from multiple sources to their users, thereby allowing the user to make an informed decision with minimal effort. Consolidation in this space has been rife recently, with smaller sites being acquired by some of the bigger players, and new entrants to the market quickly grabbing a huge presence in the consumers’ decision making process.

The Third Way Online for Hotels

For consumers, the development of meta search was clearly a useful tool in their search process, but for hotels the advantages weren’t initially so clear. The rates and availability being displayed were usually taken from OTA sites, so although the hotels might be getting bookings through meta search, they were coming at a high price - up to 25% commission in some instances. This all changed recently as the meta search providers allowed for integration with the hotel’s own inventory, thus enabling direct contact between hotels and consumers. The introduction of this integration changed the meta search model from being just another distribution channel to becoming a key marketing channel for hotels. Note that hotels can’t directly integrate themselves with most meta search sites - they need to be using a hotel representation service, such as Bookassist, that can manage the data and integration for them in a structured and automated way. Hotel representation companies such as Bookassist have integrated with Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, Trivago and others to allow Bookassist client hotels’ inventory and rates to be fed automatically and dynamically to the meta search sites, allowing hotels to compete head to head with the OTA pricing on those sites. For hotels, meta search can therefore be viewed as the “third way” online, sitting right in the middle between the direct model on the one hand, where the customer books directly on the hotel’s own website, and the indirect online travel agent (OTA) model on the other hand, where the customer browses and books on a single branded OTA platform such as Expedia or Lastminute.com. Meta search can hold back the OTA influence a little, and drag the hotel directly in front of the consumer.

Game-Changing Marketing Opportunity

As a marketing channel, meta search interacts with users at most stages of their research and decision making process. So whether a user goes directly to a site such as Trivago, or if they are doing a general search in Google, or even if they are looking at reviews in TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for hoteliers to be directly present with their live rates, and the chance to bring the user directly to the hotel website booking page. Once a hotel is working with a company such as Bookassist, pages on TripAdvisor where they can expect their rates to appear include their own hotel page. They will also appear on generic location pages on TripAdvisor, for example ‘Paris Hotels’, but the level of exposure on these type of pages will depend on how highly ranked the hotel is in within TripAdvisor itself. Ranking is always king on TripAdvisor. Google offers a bewildering array of placement opportunities once your hotel is using an integrated service like Bookassist. Rates can appear on Google’s Hotel Finder, on Google Maps, on Google+ Local, and in Google Universal searches. In this case the ranking of the placement relative to the OTA offerings will specifically depend on the price of a double room for the dates chosen by the customer, and on the bid placed for the potential click by the representation company managing the listing on the hotel’s behalf. This has the potential to be a game-changer for hotels - why would a user go to an individual OTA website when they can check multiple OTA offerings in one place using meta search? Hotels can now compete on an equal footing with OTAs, particularly when it comes to users specifically researching the hotel brand, but they need to understand the medium first and partner with an experienced provider such as Bookassist.

Practical Details

Getting set up to appear on meta search sites is relatively straightforward, but as mentioned, needs to be done via a representation company that has established a trusted integration with the meta search site. The system generally works on a pay per click model, with the hotel charged every time a user clicks through to their booking page, similar to the Google Adwords PPC model. If a user does not click then there is no charge for the exposure. So it’s still valuable free advertising. Managing these campaigns is a skill that requires experience in the online marketing area, in particular with meta search marketing, so we would advise partnering with a provider that offers a robust integration as well as marketing expertise to get the most from your marketing budget. Budgets for meta search marketing vary significantly by property, but the costs are not prohibitive. A budget of €500 each per month usually provides good exposure on Google Hotel Finder and on Tripadvisor. However, participating in meta search marketing is not something you should set up and forget about. In order to generate a good return you need to ensure good availability and rate parity or better, as well as a good user experience when they arrive at your booking page or landing page. The click delivery is the meta searchers’ job, but conversion of the customer is still yours.

Try your hotel's numbers in this calculation.
TABLE 1: Try your hotel’s numbers in this calculation.

When looking at the return on investment, it is also critical to factor in the commission costs that were saved by diverting a user from booking through an OTA to booking direct on the hotel site. For example, through an OTA your booking may have been at something near 20%, while through your website it could be at 5% or less depending on your service levels, plus the click charges you incur. As an example, enter your own figures in Table 1 and see what can be achieved. The savings of course need to also contribute to website costs and management fees, but it still is significant. Getting this right on a regular and consistent basis means that there is a considerable ongoing benefit to be had. What’s more, since the customer converted has booked on your own website, you now have their details for future marketing. This customer is now your customer, not an OTAs customer, which presents further opportunities for brand building and re-marketing in order to capitalise on life-time value.

Bottom Line

Meta Search marketing is a great opportunity for hotels. To ensure you get clicks, you need to be focused on pushing the best rates and always having last room availability. Remember that a click is wasted unless you can work hard on ensuring conversion through proper website design, specific targeted landing pages, and a booking engine layout designed to convert. Returns are still low compared to PPC, but this will inevitably build. Right now we are seeing returns of about €5 per €1 spent, far short of the PPC ROI we typically achieve for our clients. But it is early days and the trend has been continually upward. Meta search is one of so many online marketing approaches, all of which need to be tackled and optimized. It is important to partner with an experienced provider, with a proven track record in online marketing and strategy, in order to really maximise the returns on your investment and to be kept informed of the latest trends and opportunities in the area. —

Ciaran Rowe is Senior Search Strategist, and Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and founder at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the award-winning technology and online strategy partner for hotels worldwide.

tripadvisor, sem, metasearch, kayak, google hotel finder, google

Google Hummingbird Update and your Hotel website

By Ciaran Rowe | On Thu, October 10, 2013

Recent updates

News that Google has updated their search algorithm tends to cause confusion and fear. Confusion as nobody really understands how the updates work, and fear about what the impact on ranking might be. Recent updates such as Panda & Penguin were seen as punitive, with accounts of sites losing ranking and some even disappearing completely. The purpose of these updates was to clean up the results pages and get rid of sites that tried to game the system by using tactics such as buying links or generating multiple keyword stuffed pages.

How is Hummingbird different?

Hummingbird is not such an update - it is a whole new system that changes how Google parses search queries. Instead of looking just at certain keywords within a query, they are now attempting to understand the context of the query in a conversational sense. Providing solutions for semantic search and long tail queries have always been a goal of search engines as they attempt to answer questions posed by searchers with the best possible results, and it seems the Hummingbird is a successful first step in achieving this goal.

Why now?

Part of the incentive for pushing through this update was the increase in conversational queries coming through from users on smartphones which can accept spoken queries as well as written. This means that many people are creating more intricate search queries than in the past, so Google needed to find an intelligent way to respond to these spoken queries.

What should I do next?

The Hummingbird update prioritises sites that provide answers to queries posed by users, instead of simply matching keywords from the search phrase with the content of the site. This provides a good opportunity for site owners to update their content to take advantage of this change. We have long promoted good, relevant & fresh content as the cornerstone of a successful SEO strategy, and so far it looks as if this update will reward sites that provide such content. The key step to be taken next is to analyse your content and see does it answer conversational queries. So instead of trying to just add keywords to your content, try to put them in context. If for example you are near a convention centre such as the ExCel in London, think about the queries that might be searched such as ‘what hotels are the nearest to ExCel London’ or ‘where can I stay near the ExCel London’. Try to cover as many contextual options as possible in your content, and as always, keep creating blog entries, which give a great opportunity for your site to be found for very specific long tail queries. Look around to see what users might be searching for and try to answer those queries in your content.

Ciaran Rowe is Senior Search Strategist at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the award-winning technology and online strategy partner for hotels worldwide.

sem, metasearch, hummingbird, google

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