Blog category: seo

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

Google Places becomes Google+ Local and changes the Search game yet again

By Editor | On Tue, April 23, 2013

Introduction

In a potentially influential change in search norms Google has moved their Google Places business pages to the social media platform Google+ under the new moniker Google+ Local. All existing Google Places pages have been automatically moved to Google+ Local seamlessly so page owners do not have to worry about major profile updates. Business owners can still log into their Places account but will be gradually moved across over the next few months.

The Google+ Local page is intended to be a more rounded profile for businesses (see Figure 1). Visitors will see content like reviews, ratings and photos as before but now the page integrates social media also by offering Google+ account holders the opportunity to see what others in their own social “circles” have said about that business.



Figure 1.
The new Google+ Local page that replaces the former Google Places page, shown here for Charleville Lodge Hotel Dublin.


Businesses that have not yet created a Google Places account or a Google+ account are losing a valuable opportunity in search. Good interaction with, and management of, your Google+ Local profile will likely contribute to better search engine optimization and therefore higher positioning in relevant search results. With the integration of highlighted reviews and social media it will be increasingly important also to interact with your customers online, since much of this information will now be visible directly from search results.

The change is part of an increasingly strong push that Google is giving to its social network platform, integrating it throughout its services in an attempt to out-social rival Facebook.

Changes in Organic Search

In tandem with the change, Google also now provides a much richer level of information in their organic search results. The new Google+ Local page will replace the old Places page that can be accessed through the map feature on the right hand side of the search results.

The area below the map (see figure 2) contains useful information on the business such as Google+ Location pictures, Zagat ratings (Google’s recently purchased restaurant rating system), Google reviews, price comparisons, profile information and links to third party review websites. If the searcher is not already a Google+ member there will be a prompt to join for access to more information, evidence again of Google pushing the searcher towards their Google+ social platform.


Figure 2.
The extended info on the map section of Google’s search results page.

On the left where the organic results appear Google has also integrated extra information for the searcher (see figure 3). Under the usual search results they have added a bar with additional intelligent user information. Again they have integrated a Zagat rating that takes an average of user ratings from the Google+ Local business page and scores it out of 30. Next is a Google reviews link and finally a product price listing. This link has a drop down selection which compares prices accross multiple websites while highlighting the official website link. In the case of hotels, featured pricing sites are booking.com, Hotels.com etc., and one can compare rates on particular days through a check date selection box.


Figure 3.
Additional information and interaction is now possible directly on search result listings.

What it means for Hotels

Google+ Local looks like it’s going to be an essential element of a hotel’s online marketing efforts since so many hotel customers interact with social media and reviews when making a decision on where to stay. The new changes in search results integrating rich Google+ Local page information directly into organic results means that hotels direct booking potential will certainly be affected.

Interaction with the searcher, your potential customer, and good management of your business’s Google+ Local page will be essential in keeping your online reputation in good condition as search enquiries will bring up Google reviews and comments from members of the user’s personal Google+ “circles”. Such personal recommendations from others who are known to the searcher have a much stronger influence than reviews from strangers.

It is very likely that businesses who use the maximum potential of their Google+ Local page will be rewarded with better SEO and search engine rankings.

Finally a big factor is the price comparison feature that compares rates across other sites and online travel agencies for any given date selection. This means hotels will have to always keep best rates on their own site as price comparisons are easily and immediately viewable in search results.

These steps are likely to be just the beginning of the changes Google intends to integrate into Google+ Location pages. If your business hasn’t set up a Google+ Local or at least Google places page, now is the time to do it. The changes are intended to provide the searcher with richer and more transparent search results. Since it will directly affect hotels’ online presence and direct website sales there is no choice but to get involved and stay involved.

Actions Bookassist have taken to maximise potential of Google+ Location

The very first mode of apparatus was to make sure that all of our clients had taken full ownership of their Google+ Location profiles.

This made sure that each hotel has maximum control and thus effect their Google+ Location profile has for both users and search engines when showing up in results.

Online Visibility Perspective

In order to maximise the effectiveness of the Google+ Location profile to the visitor we made sure to have:

  • A full and complete description using maximum allocated space and features provided.
  • Correct Hotel information, Address and Map location.
  • Clear and concise text descriptions.
  • Featured Hotel services and USP’s.
  • Advised Hotels to display quality images of their property on their profile.

Also as part of online visibility as described in the article Google have integrated price comparisons directly into the search results making these comparisons clearly visible and accessible to the searcher.

Bookassist are constantly communicating to Hotels the importance of at least rate parity if not best rates available on the Hotels direct website as a very important part of the over all direct bookings strategy. Hotels always keeping to this practice ensures that price comparisons in search engine results will always reflect well for a hotels online reputation, customer loyalty and direct bookings strategy which are all key elements in optimising your online revenue.

Search Engine Optimisation Perspective

In order to maximise the effectiveness of the Google+ Location profile in search engine rankings we made sure to have:

  • Specific Address and Map location is correct.
  • Added keyword friendly text to Hotel descriptions.
  • Made sure Google+ Location profile is 100% complete in order to get maximum weighting by google in the search engine results.

The Traffic Builder Team at Bookassist are monitoring Google+ Location for issues, changes and updates in order to make sure our clients are maximising the potential of their profiles both to visitors and to search engine rankings.

Cristian Petcu is an Online Marketing Specialist with Bookassist (bookassist.com), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

seo, sem, google+, brand

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

Search is Dead

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, April 11, 2014

We are in very turbulent times for search. Specifically, natural search has been strongly eroded and is losing relevance in certain business sectors, travel being a key one. While this represents a threat for those with reliance on organic search result methods, it is by no means the death of search opportunity. The search landscape has changed quite dramatically recently and will continue to do so through 2014. Should hotels be worried about this? Definitely. Can they make strategic changes to actually capitalise on the rapid change in search? Most definitely. But they need to understand that benefit comes at a price.

Search Engine Optimisation Relevance

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a strategy and technique to improve traffic to websites by deliberately targeting a high position on search engine results pages (SERPs). SEO could be viewed as an effort to ensure your content and relevance is properly recognised in SERPs for relevant searches (which is a good and fair marketing effort, though difficult). Or, SEO can also be an attempt to rig the game by getting exposure you don’t justly deserve (which is a disingenuous marketing attempt, and bad for everyone in the long run). Search engines of course want to always be relevant with their natural results, and not look like they’ve been rigged. Relevance is critical, and search companies work hard on complex algorithms to ensure, essentially, that SEO becomes redundant. In other words, to improve their indexing technology so that it makes its own decisions about relevance for the searcher regardless of what the website owner has tried to do. To quote moz.com (http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change), “Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500-600 times”. Search engines make these algorithm changes to make deliberate SEO more irrelevant. Websites therefore more than ever need to ensure they have good content, relevant content and accurate content relating to their services. To justify a good position in SERP, you need to deserve it. You need to invest properly in website design and content on an ongoing basis to have a chance here, before you even consider the issue of your website’s impact on conversion, which is another story. So while SEO may not be dead, the simplistic approach to SEO that yielded results years ago is certainly of little use today. SEO needs to focus far more on relevance and freshness and not just keyword stuffing.

Competing Space

However well you achieve optimisation, the bottom line is that your site is effectively listed once in a sea of results and products on a SERP. And that sea is getting extremely complex. If one looks at Google search results alone, you can see that it is increasingly dominated by Google products. To get more visibility, you need to play their game and use their services effectively. The company is pushing hard on Google+, its social “network”, to the extent that optimising your Google+ page is arguably far more relevant for SERP positioning in Google than anything else. Google does stress that it sees Google+ more as a layer to bring all its various products and services together for you the user in a personalised way, and that it’s not a stand-alone social network in the way we view Facebook and others. Of relevance for hotels, Google is gathering reviews rapidly, and via Google+ is using them to influence search relevance. More and more, your hotel’s Google+ page content, the freshness of your interaction there, and your review rating, are influencing your hotel’s SERP position. With the advent of Google Hotel Finder (GHF), the company began to gather availability and pricing from hotels (via the Online Travel Agents and also from direct representatives of hotels such as Bookassist), effectively becoming a meta search player within its own search results. The result of that effort so far is that for accommodation searches, Google now presents its pay per click (PPC) advertising (indicated by the little yellow “Ads” sign), its Google+ local results, and now its GHF integrated results that hotels (and OTAs) bid for. Google search results have it all - why go elsewhere? At least this appears to be the plan. If you look at Figure 1, the block headed “Hotels in Berlin on Google” has appeared after the PPC adverts in a search I’ve done for “hotels in berlin”. Here, you can see directly not just the pricing for hotels being fed by GHF, but also the Google+ reviews and ratings taking prominence. Interestingly, even if you click on a specific hotel in this listing, you will be brought to a full listing of hotels in GHF, as Figure 2 shows, not to that specific hotel you clicked.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Google search results for “hotels in berlin” showing Ads, Google map results, and the Google Hotel Finder and Google+ influence on results, injecting ratings and prices.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Google Hotel Finder as accessed from the search results in Figure 1.

GHF functionality is also integrated into maps and other areas of Google and taking more and more precedence and real estate on the screen, along with Google+. The result is that your natural listing is moving further off the page, and the money you are required to spend on PPC and on bidding within GHF is becoming more and more relevant to your prominence. The industry expects this trend to continue, with the move of technologies like the Google carousel (Figure 3) inevitably into accommodation. Typing a search like “things to do in London” shows the carousel of points of interest, and will display prominently on the right of the page the associated Google+ page when available. When a carousel is used for hotels in a city, you can see just how relevant the GHF bidding and the Google+ page content will be for a hotel.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Example of Google’s carousel and the dominance of Google+ for elements of the carousel on the lower right of the page.

The Continuing Rise of Meta Search

For hotels, the opportunity presented by meta search sites like Trivago, Hotelscombined and many others is a second wind on the internet. The dominance of OTAs over direct booking on hotel websites can now be mitigated by hotels using meta search sites, which can show the hotels’ own website and pricing via representative companies such as Bookassist, along with the OTA pricing. This levels the playing field somewhat for hotels and is a positive development. Likewise, high-traffic sites like TripAdvisor have seized on the opportunity presented by their qualified users and have moved to offer meta search services that combine OTA and hotel direct pricing, via the TripConnect service. Hotels’ own websites and pricing can again be listed along with the OTAs via representative companies for hotels, such as Bookassist, presenting TripAdvisor users with little reason to leave TripAdvisor when doing their research. However, when you now look at Google Hotel Finder, TripConnect and Trivago, you see quite different approaches to optimising the opportunities for your hotel. For example, on Google Hotel Finder, it is often best to focus on your hotel’s website having the lowest price, and not focus on just bidding highest. You may be outbid by an OTA that grabs the first position, but the prominence of your lower price will win out in many cases. On Trivago, the layout of their results favours the highest bidder, and the process is extremely dynamic. When you are searching on Trivago, you can see results and prices literally changing before your eyes. Meanwhile over in TripConnect, the push for the best TripAdvisor ranking is no longer as relevant as it was, since your availability and pricing will drive how TripConnect returns your hotel within its metasearch. And even these observations about best approaches have changed in recent months. Managing all of this is critical, and is not an easy task, especially since it must be done virtually in real time.

The Mobile Challenge

Mobile search remains the key entry point for mobile hotel customers, despite the prominence of specific branded apps for last minute booking. With smaller screen sizes, the limited real estate on a mobile SERP means that natural is even less relevant here and the battle for the first page is extremely significant. Google is injecting GHF panels directly into mobile search also, following relevant PPC ads, pushing down natural search. The inclusion of mapping results further relegates natural results. All of this is good for the user, but makes it difficult for the hotel.

Figure 4. Google SERP on iOS showing PPC advert and GHF panel
Figure 4. Google SERP on iOS showing PPC advert and GHF panel

Interestingly, as internet usage on tablets and mobile phones becomes more the norm, usage patterns have quickly changed. Not that long ago, bookings on mobile and access to accommodation websites was dominated by last minute users. The average lead-in time however has now lengthened. We see it in Bookassist data, and recently at the EyeforTravel Mobile Web Congress, Carlson Wagonlit Mobile also indicated in their data that hotel booking lead-in time is indeed getting longer on mobile.

Where To Next?

Just understanding the fast-changing nature of the search space and meta search in particular is a very difficult task. The pace of change is quite breathtaking as the competition hots up between OTAs and meta search. Google is innovating fast, but must be mindful of treading on its paying advertisers’ toes too - it cannot afford to annoy OTAs too much with the hundreds of millions of dollars they literally spend per year on PPC. Likewise, OTAs and meta search are pushing their own brands so they can reduce reliance on Google, and we see Trivago and Booking.com investing hugely in offline advertising like TV to get customers to bypass search and go directly to them. Everyone wants to be the one stop shop gathering as much diverse info in one place as possible, which is a direct result of the increasing trend of online users to want to shop around. As a supplier, monitoring the dynamic nature of all of this is complex in the extreme and poses a significant challenge for the individual hotel, let alone those hotel groups with more resources. But this is the reality of where we are in search today. Increasingly, your direct traffic must be bought. And this makes margin all the more relevant as the key issue to track in your business. Hotels must invest even more strongly in PPC, and in meta search bidding, while making sure they are watching and measuring the real ROI. Since both these approaches deliver qualified traffic, but not actual bookings, hotels must invest ever more in website technology and have world class booking capability to ensure that this hard-earned paid-for traffic actually converts. This may be daunting, but those hotels who move fast in this area can benefit significantly Expect the search space to be radically different by this time next year. Search today is nothing like the game we played just two years ago, and to compare then and now displays bewildering differences, with threats and opportunities. To say search is dead may be an exaggeration. More appropriately, to borrow from Star Trek, “It’s search Jim, but not as we knew it.”

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

trivago, tripadvisor, strategy, seo, metasearch, google+, google hotel finder

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