When people are ready to travel, the channel they turn to more than any other is search. In today’s world, that means many travelers end up researching their next trip on Google.
According to Google, 60 percent of leisure travelers begin their research and booking process on search engines (along with 55 percent of business travelers). While that makes organic search and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) an integral part of your hospitality digital marketing strategy, it also adds importance to one of Google’s other platforms: Google Hotel Ads. The company has evolved its hotel platform in recent years, and it’s now a critical piece of the marketing mix alongside Online Travel Agency (OTAs) ads.
With its added importance, it is crucial to understand how Google Hotel Ads work and where they might fit into your marketing strategy.
What are Google Hotel Ads?
If you’re familiar with metasearch marketing, you likely have an idea about Google Hotel Ads. They are to Google what hospitality marketers have become accustomed to with companies like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Kayak, and more. But while hoteliers have a number of metasearch options to incorporate into their marketing mix, Google Hotel Ads command its own attention.
Google launched its hotel product in 2011 as Google Hotel Finder but has since expanded to become one of the most essential advertising components for the hospitality industry. As the search giant itself notes, millions of people search for hotels on Google each day. When a hotel combines Google Hotel ads with organic search and Google My Business, it has the ability to stake out the top half of Google’s search listings and drive direct bookings to its hotel website.
Before diving into what Google Hotel Ads are, let’s talk about what they aren’t. Google Ads and Google Hotel Ads are not the same thing. While Google’s standard advertising offering appears as static ads at the top of search listings or across the display network, Google Hotel Ads offer a number of unique benefits that enhance the user experience and improve the ability for hotels to convert prospective travelers into bookings at the same time.
Google Hotel Ads can appear across three different platforms when someone searches for a hotel: Google Search, Google Maps, and Google Assistant. Increased placement isn’t the only added benefit of utilizing hotel ads. In addition to being where a traveler is most likely to be, when someone enters a search query to trigger your ad, they'll see a hotel search module that showcases photos of your hotel, dynamic prices, and a map. From there, a user can click to see up-to-date prices and go directly to the hotel website to see availability.
Google Hotel Ads are focused on delivering bookings as opposed to the traditional goal of clicks, meaning the ads offer a higher conversion intent than traditional ads. That is just one of several benefits of using Google Hotel Ads as opposed to traditional online ads.
- Only pay for an ad when someone books a hotel: While Google’s traditional ads operate on the standard Pay-Per-Click model, Google Hotel Ads offer a commission-based bidding strategy including Pay-Per-Conversion (where you only pay when a traveler books) and Pay-Per-Stay (offered to select partners where you only pay with a traveler completes a stay). Google Hotel Ads typically have a commission rate of 10-15% compared to the OTA average of 15-25%.
- Make it easier for travelers to compare prices and book: People love when the booking process is made easy for them. A big reason OTAs took off in the early 2000s was the ability to easily compare rates and then book. Google Hotel Ads offers the same experience and allows users to book right on Google for a commission or go to your website for a direct booking.
- Meet prospective travelers where they are: Your hotel’s ads can contain your brand name, price, and unique benefits to drive users to your website. Plus, with Google Hotels Ads, you’re meeting a potential guest at the perfect spot in their journey, whether inside a specific Google Search or on Google Maps as they look for the perfect hotel near the game they’re attending.
How to set up and run Google Hotel Ads
Any hospitality marketer can set up Google Hotel Ads on their own by using Hotel Center inside Google Ads, but Google itself recommends utilizing a Hotel Ads partner to set up the requisite feeds and become eligible to run hotel ads through Google Ads. The hotel ads feature has some complexities — from setup to campaigns to bidding — which is evident by the fact that the company offers not only a Google for Hotels 101 guide but also 201, 301 and 401.
A Hotel Ads Partner has the ability to set up and manage Hotel Ads campaigns, beginning with setting up the three primary feeds within Hotel Center.
Hotel Listing Feed
The hotel listing feed matches your hotel properties to the correct properties on Google. These matches are made through shared property names, addresses, phone numbers and other common information. For a single independent hotel, you’ll just need to match your hotel in the feed. For a hotel management company, your list will be longer. This feed helps Google ensure your property (or properties) only show up when relevant.
Price & Availability Feed
Inside the pricing and availability tool, hotels are able to regularly update their prices. This is important since Google Hotel Ads are dynamic. It’s critical for your hotel to keep this up-to-date and competitive since travelers will see OTAs and other listings next to yours. This feed can take some technical know-how and a strategic partner as you’ll want what Google calls an Availability, Rates, and Inventory (ARI) feed.
Landing Page File
The final feed that requires setup inside Google Hotel Ads is the landing page file, which is a list of dynamic destination URLs on your hotel website depending on where a user is searching from, their language, the property they select, and their itinerary. This is crucial to ensure a user is ending up on the right page. If you send a search user to the correct destination, it improves the chance that a direct booking will be completed.
Once the three feeds are set up within Google Hotel Ads, you can set up your ads using many of the traditional audience and targeting tools available in the standard Google Ads platform:
- User geographic information
- User demographics
- Device type
- Time of Day and Day of Week
- Audience Lists
You also have the ability to target specific locations (if you have multiple) or specific date ranges, if there is a time of year that occupancy is especially low for example. Another example might be utilizing the advance booking window targeting to bid higher on ads for last-minute bookings on a mobile device, which usually convert better.
Maximizing your hotel’s real estate on Google
When combined with other hospitality marketing strategies, Google Hotel Ads are an important tool for hoteliers to maximize the visibility of their hotel(s).
When Google set out to transform its hotel platform a decade ago, it aimed for OTAs and to become a one-stop booking solution for travelers. Today, hotels can take control of the top fold of the search engine results page (SERP) when they combine an optimized Google My Business listing, organic search strategy, and Google Hotels Ads.
While launching a successful campaign on Google Hotel Ads takes some technical work, the results can be notable. In one instance, Choice Hotels used Google Hotel Ads for low occupancy hotels, gearing its ad strategy toward discounts. The result? A 75% lift in bookings. Google Hotel Ads allow hotels to utilize a variety of strategies depending on their situation.
Most people in the hospitality industry agree that Google Hotel Ads are an important piece of a hotel’s digital marketing strategy. Metasearch has taken off in recent years, they drive direct bookings and OTAs are ingrained in the space. But Google Hotel Ads aren’t the end-all for hoteliers. A hotel’s ads are sometimes only triggered when a user specifically searches for a hotel, and they tend to work better for a traveler who is further along in the customer journey as opposed to one who is in the research or discovery phase. That’s why it’s important for Google Hotel Ads to act only as one of several tactics.
In March 2021, Google announced it would offer free listings on the Google Hotel Ads platform. This update allowed hotels to claim space under the "View more rates" section on the main search results screen free of charge. For hotels that want to be top of page, this is just one decision of many in a Google Hotel Ads platform that has now become a monster.
If you have questions about implementing Google Hotel Ads for your hotel, get in touch. In the meantime, read our other hospitality marketing tips on our blog.