The Vertical Search Era
If you are looking for eBooks, most probably you’ll head to Amazon to start your search and, likely, you’ll end up buying your next eBook without even visiting other websites or apps. Similarly, if you are looking for hotels you’ll likely start your search on a Metasearch engine.
In fact, Metasearch engines are to hotels like Amazon is to eBooks: they are both vertical search engines. Vertical search engines, as opposed to the most classic (and horizontal) search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, focus on a specific sector, just like eBooks and hotels.
This sectoral-based shift in the starting point of any given search for hotels has become so relevant that Google itself has created its own vertical tool specifically for the Hotellerie: Google Hotel Ads. The results are before everyone's eyes: Metasearch engines are now the go-to channels for every hotel that wants to compete in the digital space and get more direct bookings.
Google Hotel Ads, Trivago, Tripadvisor, Kayak, Hotelscombined are just some of the most known Metasearch engines in the market. Whilst each of them comes with its own set of pros and cons, in this article we are going to focus on the common denominators or, better saying, some of the most important aspects that you need to consider when dealing with them.
Many other articles have been written in this regard and we’d like to avoid repeating what has already been said elsewhere. Instead, this time we want to focus on some of the secrets and pitfalls that you might not be aware of, with just a brief introduction on the very basics of Metasearch engines.
Let’s get started.
1. The Basics of Metasearch
Metasearch engines are not just about showing up with the cheapest possible rates. Whilst parity is indeed an important factor, don’t forget that nowadays people land on your hotel website coming from a Metasearch site, so make sure to:
- Use pictures to present your rooms. This is particularly important because certain Metasearch engines, including Google Hotel Ads, allow you to show room photos next to the room name and price. This is a very good way to visually stand out from all other channels, considering that many OTAs do not use room pictures.
- Add ad-hoc hotel descriptions for your direct channel. Whilst you might have the same hotel description across different channels and OTAs, reward your direct channel with a more compelling, thorough and, more importantly, emotional description of your property. Again, all 3rd-party channels are masters at flattening how hotels are perceived in the eyes and minds of potential travellers, resulting in a 3-star property being presented very similarly to a 5-star luxury hotel. So use this as an opportunity to stand out.
2. Metasearch sites will scale both good and bad performance
Before you start even thinking about investing in Meta, you want to be sure that you have the right credentials to get some positive ROI. In fact, Metasearch engines per se, do not bring you more bookings, they simply bring you more traffic by boosting your visibility.
This is a subtle yet extremely important point to understand, and before starting any campaigns you might want to check your:
- Conversion Rate (CVR)
- Click-through rate between your hotel website and booking engine
Why is that? Think about it: if you have a depressing conversion rate of 1% through your booking engine, it means that only 1 of every 100 prospects turns into guests. In such a scenario, Metasearch will certainly bring you more traffic and yes, consequently, your bookings will increase too, but your conversion which will still be around 1%.
It’s simple math other than logic: you want to get more direct bookings, right? So, is it really worth spending (wasting?) money on platforms that will bring you more traffic but knowing that most of these people will bounce, or would it be better to improve your conversion rate first that would probably cost you near nothing and will also help you get more reservations from other channels other than Metasearch sites?
3. Distribution first, always
Hotel distribution is the final judge, the place where travellers (unknowingly) decide who will get their money and consequently, commissions.
It’d be obvious to say you should be in parity or, even better, offer better deals through your direct channel. However, knowing how hotel distribution works means acknowledging the fact that parity management is not as easy as it sounds, not even close.
Controlling your hotel distribution was relatively easy 10 years ago, but the revenue and commissions generated by simply shifting one booking from one channel to another not only has attracted new players but also stimulated the creativity of those big OTAs who were willing to do everything (literally) in their power to get those bookings.
The result is what we all know too: you think you are in parity, when likely you are not, even though you did everything right. A jungle in which the OTAs can undercut your rates, totally unbeknownst to you, when certain conditions in the booking search apply like, for example, searches coming from abroad as opposed to domestic ones.
It sounds impossible and certainly hotel distribution is complex, however, it doesn’t have to be difficult, it just requires some effort, consistency and discipline. This is really your judge, the playing field on which revenues and commissions are assigned. And just as we've seen together in the previous chapter, the ROI from your Metasearch budget will be in direct proportion to the attention you’ll give to this field.
4. Understand how Attribution works
Hardly anything is as it seems. It sounds dramatic, but consider the following 3 different scenarios:
- Adam lands on your booking engine via Metasearch engines after his first search for hotels in your area and makes a booking straight away.
- Brian lands on your booking engine via Metasearch engines after his first search for hotels in your area, but he leaves the site and comes back the next day after seeing your retargeting campaign on Facebook and completes the booking.
- Chris first finds and visits your website from a campaign of yours on Google Ads (formerly known as Adwords), but he comes back the next day from Google Hotel Ads to complete the booking.
Here’s the $1M-question: who takes credit for the booking, respectively in each scenario?
You see, every hotelier on planet Earth would love to have a simple answer to such questions and, most times, they wrongly get them. Wrongly, because maybe the web-marketing consultant or directly the distribution channel manager used to connect hotels to metasearch sites will simply report one source to be credited for each booking.
However, there is no simple answer. Moreover, any single-attributed answer to simple scenarios like the ones described above is misleading and not representative of the truth.
Even in the first example above, in which Adam seemed to complete the booking in its first attempt, it’s likely that he could have made other searches before, perhaps from different devices before turning into a paying guest: different devices, different browser cookies, resulting in different Users in your reports.
So what does this mean? It means that data is important, but it’s also extremely easy to misrepresent and can lead to wrong decisions. The solution is in understanding your customer journey and knowing your prospects’ behaviours and habits. Without, you’ll be flying blind, even if data will let you think you are in control.
5. 2-way cross-domain tracking
I know, this sounds so techy and complicated, that you might be tempted to stop reading further, however, this is so easy and, most importantly, so essential, that you just can’t disregard it.
If you have a tracking tool, like Google Analytics, you might be familiar with the concept of cross-domain tracking. In essence, since website and booking engines are on different domains, you need to tell Google to consider the 2 domains as part of the same journey, avoiding that 2 separate Sessions will be counted instead of just 1.
Cross-domain tracking is a standard procedure and most websites have it already in place when users move from the website to the booking engine.
But here’s the point: when clicking on your rates in the metasearch results, people are redirected to your booking engine, bypassing the website. Prospects who have beforehand already seen your website can this way finalize the booking in just a few clicks.
But what if the user is a new visitor? Since they have never visited your site before, they might not be ready to make a reservation yet. Therefore they’ll likely want to move back to your website with the intention of gathering more information (discovery phase) and, eventually, turn into customers at a later stage.
That’s why you need to be sure that your cross-domain tracking works also in the opposite direction, meaning from the booking engine to the website. Otherwise, you’ll not only be counting more Sessions than actually happen, but also your conversion rate, source attribution, bounce rate and a whole list of other metrics and KPIs will be affected, and your data-driven decision will be based on wrong data.
6. Metasearch Engines, the RM-based Advertising
We typically refer to advertising as a marketing discipline and Metasearch is indeed pure advertising, plain and simple, just like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, YouTube Ads, Bing Ads. Yet Metasearch engine campaigns simply can’t be managed by marketers with no revenue background. And by background, we don’t mean just an overall understanding, but real and deep expertise.
At the same time though, marketing expertise is also needed to understand pitfalls, tricks and opportunities of the advertising world. Put another way: Metasearch can’t be properly handled by either the Marketing manager or the Revenue Manager. The two need to become one, just like the 2 sides of the same coin.
Conclusion: focus on Google Hotel Ads and… Your Guests.
We’ve been living in a new era in the Hospitality industry. The pandemic didn’t change, but accelerated processes and trends that began some years ago and will keep on evolving at a steady pace.
Metasearch is the current trend and it’s here to stay for quite some time, even more so even since Google decided to become a big player in the game. Whilst in this article we didn’t focus on revenue models (pay-per-click, pay-per-stay, etc.) and the pros and cons of each player in the market, it’s out of the question that Google Hotel Ads has become the one.
So, our final key points:
- Get a trusted partner that can help you in connecting and advertising on different Metas, but mainly on Google Hotel Ads.
- Get to know how Meta sites work from an advertising standpoint and with a combined Marketing-Revenue mindset, with consistency and discipline (sorry, no shortcuts).
- Even though everything sounds (and is) so techy, never forget to be a great host. No innovation will ever replace you, your empathy and attention to your customers’ needs, just apply this attention in the digital world too, by answering the reviews that you get, the requests and trying to go the extra mile whenever you can.
For any questions on getting Metasearch set up for your hotel, check out our website or contact us via live chat.