This week, Google announced a change that got the industry talking about something other than the pandemic. It announced on its blog that it is making it free for hotels and travel companies around the world to appear in hotel booking links on google.com/travel. (Free!) In the past, as you know, hotel booking links were only available via Hotel Ads. Now, booking links will be available for all hotels, in order “to improve the experience for travelers.” Google says, “With full access to a wider range of hotel prices, users will have a more comprehensive set of options as they research their trip and ultimately decide where to book.”
While Google’s ranking of free, organic links is based on an ever-changing and hard-to-crack algorithm, we know that things such as pricing accuracy, click-through rate and landing page experience are critical. In addition, the quantity and quality of online reviews play a role in how hotels rank. According to Moz, roughly 9% of Google’s entire search algorithm is driven by review signals like the ones you’ll find in a business’ Google reviews.
Since the cynics will undoubtedly ask, let’s address the elephant in the room. Will your booking link appear before others if you pay for Hotel Ads? According to Google, this truly is a free offer and Google advertisers will not be ranked higher than non-advertisers. Google’s support page about free booking links reads, “Google’s commercial relationship with the free booking link provider has no effect on ranking, nor can anyone pay for a higher ranking. Participation, or non-participation, in Hotel Ads does not impact ranking of free booking links either.”
While Google may be giving up some short-term ad revenue with the new free approach to booking links, the company feels it will make it back the revenue by providing a better experience for its users by providing more booking options.
So what does the experience look like when a user searches for a hotel on Google? When the results are returned, the user will first see hotel ads, displaying the booking site and price for the itinerary. (A hotel’s booking link will show as ‘official site’.) Below, the user will see free booking links in the All Options section. Like hotel ads, the user sees the site name or hotel name, along with the room rate for the itinerary selected. When users click on to Visit site, they’ll be taken directly to the landing page you provide.
Users won’t be able to change the display order of the entries but they will be able to filter the results in a few ways. They can choose to show only those hotels that offer free cancellation, which will be beneficial for travelers who intend to travel but worry that fear of Covid-19 might change their plans. They can also choose to view rates as per night, with or without taxes and fees, or per stay, eliminating the sticker shock that travelers sometimes face when seeing additional fees.
It’s also important to note that if you are a Google hotel ads customer, your link might appear in the ads section, and below in the All options section. To understand how well your ads are performing, you can access the “Reports” tab of Hotel Center. There, you can download a CSV file containing the amount of free booking clicks you received per hotel ID, user country, or device. If you don’t have any free booking clicks, the CSV file will be empty.
Given this change, what should hotels do to maximize their chances of receiving a free booking? Because this is an organic search listing, hoteliers need to:
- Ensure plenty of fresh Google reviews
Google’s algorithm rewards hoteliers with timely content. Ensure that your hotel has recent reviews by driving your guests to write reviews. Revinate Guest Feedback customers can syndicate post-stay survey responses to Google automatically, ensuring a consistent, fresh stream of reviews. Current reviews will also be helpful since many travelers will be looking closely at online travel reviews to ensure that recent guests felt safe at the hotel.
- Ensure great review ratings
The best way to drive higher ratings is to get your happy guests to write reviews. The easiest way to do this is to operationalize the process. Revinate Marketing makes it easy to automate this process by sending an email to guests after checkout requesting guest feedback. Hotels that automate this process not only save time, but they drive more review volume and get better reviews in the process.
- Make sure your listing is accurate
Update your Business Profile on Google by making sure your Google My Business profile is verified and your hotel information is up-to-date. Accuracy matters to Google so make sure the information is always current.