Google is making a major change to the way it handles hotel booking links – adding an organic listing that allows hotels, online travel agencies, and other booking sites to have free visibility, offers more extensive reservation options for consumers and potentially makes Google even more competitive in the metasearch space.
Prior to this change, hotel booking links on Google.com/travel were paid ads, ranked using the traditional advertiser auction model.
Starting today (March 9), when a traveler searches for accommodation in a specific destination and then clicks on a particular hotel, in the booking module – which appears in the ‘preview tab’ – there is will have two new organic placements, in addition to up to four ad spaces. Clicking on the ‘prices’ tab will display the same (up to four) listings, along with an unlimited number of organic and free booking links from all ‘eligible partners’.
Google indicates that any hotel or travel agency is eligible to participate through their Hotel Center account.
Google’s vice president of product management for travel, Richard Holden, acknowledges that one of the challenges of providing an organic link listing is making sure the pricing information is accurate. To address this issue, Holden says Google will use a similar combination of technology and operational solutions that it has been using for several years to ensure that the rates displayed in paid ads are valid.
“It’s a bit more complex given that when you have someone paying for a product, an advertising product, there is an incentive to make sure that that data is correct. So you can hear some nervousness in the industry about “Is it harder to control this in an organic space?” I think it’s valid. It’s harder to control and that’s what we’ve spent the last couple of quarters working on this product to make sure we have the tools and processes in place to monitor this, ”Holden said.
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“But it’s totally, 100% in our best interests to get that [pricing] okay because the last thing we want is for a user to say Google is playing a bait and turning us on. It’s a terrible user experience.
In addition to pricing accuracy, Google says that the ranking of free organic links will be based on an algorithm that takes into account things like price, click-through rates and landing page experience, but ” , advertising and payment to Google are not taken into account at all. . “
Users cannot change the order in which entries are displayed but will be able to filter to only display those that offer free cancellation. They can also choose to display rates per night, with or without taxes and charges, or per stay.
Booking links will continue to be based on partner feeds, including hotels, online travel agencies, and integration partners including SiteMinder and Cloudbeds.
“SiteMinder’s long-standing partnership with Google has been essential in helping hotels expand their online presence to drive bookings, and this latest shift in Google’s offering only further strengthens the capabilities of hoteliers,” he said. said Dai Williams, Director of Growth at SiteMinder.
“By lowering barriers to entry, hoteliers can not only increase their direct bookings and revenue, but also gain more control over their customers’ online booking experience, every time. “
Holden says some integration partners are also working with Google to update and simplify its pricing standards. In the future, Google also plans to create web interfaces to allow hotels to directly provide rate and availability data to its platform.
“Over time, we will continue to build this open platform, so that all partners have even more opportunities to showcase their information and help people book a flight, find accommodation or explore a new destination, ”he said in a statement. blog post.
Capture the demand
The change comes as Holden says the company is “optimistic about the way ahead” for travel and wants to position itself to provide the information consumers will be looking for when they start thinking about future trips.
“We got a lot of participation across the industry with these [hotel] listings, but there’s no question that we don’t have a full representation of all pricing and availability information for our users with this approach, ”Holden said.
“We try to create complete user experiences and give users the most information to make them feel confident in the decisions they make. the whole range of information that exists. And we figured organic links would be the way to do that.
Google made a comparable change in January 2020 by removing the fees for referral links on Google Flights. This sparked speculation of a “bloodbath among meta-research players heavily dependent on income from thefts.”
With this change giving consumers a view of prices and booking links for more partners, it remains to be seen if there will be a similar reaction to this update and if it will lead to higher prices for all four commercials. , which will continue. to display at the top of the page.
Holden says, “You could envision with more players, potentially more pressure on the bidding over time, but … So you could see that as a ‘dump valve’ in a way versus the payout. .. This could therefore go in different directions depending on the market and the partner.
“Ultimately, the motivation behind this is relevance motivation for the user. The motivation is to try to make sure that we have the most complete information for the users. This is not an advertising optimization effort.
Holden also acknowledges that Google is dropping some ad revenue in the new model, but says the goal of better user engagement will yield long-term benefits.
“We want people to keep coming back because they get the best results, they trust it because it’s objective, and so they get a good experience. If this happens over time, it is positive from the partner’s point of view. And if we have more queries over time, more partner engagement, that can also lead to effective monetization, ”he says.
Since late last year, Google has been testing this new format for hotel booking links with some of its partners, and Holden says there has been an increase in traffic and engagement for individual hotels. and online travel agencies in these experiments.
But he recognizes that the change creates another element for travel marketers to deal with.
“I think it can increase some complexity … [and] can cause some nervousness and wait and see the perspective, but I can tell from the data from the experiences that we are seeing benefits at all levels, ”he says.
“Overall, it’s a big change from a user perspective, and it’s a good change from an ecosystem perspective and from a comprehensiveness and comprehensiveness perspective. I hope – and believe after looking at some of the data so far – that this will be well received over time and work well.