Industry Update
Opinion Article17 August 2015

What to know about Google's new hotel ads

By Abi Mandelbaum , CEO - YouVisit

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Digital advertisers know that trying to keep up with Google's platform and algorithm changes can be harder than keeping up with Hollywood starlets' hair color changes. However, for hotel marketers, there is one recent change that can't be allowed to fly under the radar.

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In early May, Google announced that mobile search had overtaken desktop search in more than 10 countries. With that announcement came the revamping of several of its ad formats to be better designed for mobile devices, including ads for hotels.

Now, when a browser searches for a particular hotel, or a destination or search term that a hotel is keyword optimized for, the space once dominated by a carousel of local hotel options (which were ranked according to Google+ reviews and other organic factors) is gone.

Instead, more page space has been dedicated to a hotel's Knowledge Graph panel on the top right when a browser searches for an exact hotel. If a browser is searching for hotels in a certain city, only the top three organically ranked hotels will display in the Google hotel stack.

The other major change accompanying this new format is that OTAs can take advantage of a "Book Now" advertising feature in the Knowledge panel. In this way, Expedia's price or Hotel.com's price, for example, can be listed alongside price ads sponsored by your hotel.

This is both good and bad for hotels: it's good because it creates an opportunity for guests to book instantly through the Knowledge panel without your hotel necessarily needing to pay for that ad unit. However, the downside is that your hotel may be competing for customers with OTAs who are selling the exact same product: your rooms. If an OTA has a better deal for a hotel, the browser will likely book through that site instead of directly with your hotel, and over time, that will dig into your profits.

So what can you do to be sure that your hotel is best positioned to capitalize on these changes?

The first and most basic thing you need to do is ensure that your hotel has a single, verified and updated Google+ business page. This is for two reasons: Google gives preference to social signals created on its Google+ platform when organically ranking your hotel in search results, and this is the information that Google will pull from to create your hotel's Knowledge panel.

There are many things you can do to make sure your Google+ page is clean and up-to-date. You will want to be sure that first and foremost, you have taken the time to claim the business page and merge it with your hotel's local listing service. Second, be sure to write a concise, accurate information into the "About" section. Be sure to optimize your hotel's "Tagline" with keywords you are optimizing your hotel site for, as this tagline also becomes the meta-description in search results for your hotel. Verify that your phone number, address, and other information are correct and up-to-date. Last, ensure that you have recent, high-quality photos in both your profile and your albums. Google will pull these images first when displaying images in your Knowledge panel.

Second, optimizing your hotel's website for organic search ranking is more important than ever. Because Google has done away with the carousel, browsers will now only see the top three organic hotel search results on page one when doing a geo-specific hotel search. Winning the hotel SEO game now means getting into that top three ranking. If you don't currently work with an SEO agency to help improve your site structure and external ecosystem of inbound links, you may want to consider contacting one for a consultation.

Last, carefully consider whether to bid on "Book Now" ad units in light of your current offerings through various OTAs and where your current booking traffic comes from. If your room offerings through various OTAs are fairly consistent with your on-site booking rates, and most of your booking comes through OTAs anyway, it may make sense not to advertise on these spaces, because you would essentially be bidding against your own comparable offerings for that ad space.

It is also important to note how many OTAs are bidding on this space—if none are, then of course it makes sense for you to run ads in this space. This is to ensure that there is at least one book now option for guests viewing your hotel's Knowledge panel.

If you cover these three bases, you will be well positioned to take full advantage of Google's new hotel ad layouts, and ensure that you won't be left behind.

This article originally appeared in HOTELS Magazine.

Abi Mandelbaum

Abi Mandelbaum is the CEO and cofounder of YouVisit—the global leader in creating virtual reality experiences and virtual tours for hotels. Abi is a Wharton MBA grad who has worked with leading hotel chains to help them implement digitally-based marketing solutions for many years. He has contributed to Huffington Post, Lodging, HOTELS, and many other publications.

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