It’s no secret that online travel agencies (OTAs) make up one very powerful side in a years-long direct booking war with hotels. While branded hotels like Marriott and Hilton are gaining ground with huge ad campaigns and loyalty programs, independent hotels are fighting a losing battle. Will your hotel be another casualty in the direct booking war?
No matter how great your loyalty plan or ad campaign is, you’ll lose the direct booking war if your hotel isn’t at the #1 spot on Google Search on its brand keyword. This includes both organic and paid results. Although this issue is well recognized, random searches show that only a small portion of independent hotels have claimed that coveted spot. It is not difficult to see why it’s such a crucial issue when speaking about direct booking. And here is why – while the first position gets more than 30% of the clicks, the entire sponsored section of the search results page is responsible for 70% of clicks, which leaves the organic (non-paid) search with 30% of all the rest. Not bidding on your branded keywords makes you almost invisible, and on mobile, it’s even worse.
Capturing Attention Is the Key to Direct Booking – Don’t Neglect It
Missing the opportunity to communicate with potential guests who are looking for specific information about your hotel, is nothing less than waving a white flag on the direct booking battlefield. There is no reason for a hotel to ignore attracting guests, period, much less those who intend to book direct. You probably noticed that OTAs are bidding on your brand keywords, and they are smart in doing so – why wouldn’t they take the opportunity to grab a few bites of the potential direct bookings that you passed up?
Search Engine Marketing, commonly known as SEM, is the #1 marketing strategy responsible for the rapid growth of Online Travel Agencies (OTAs). OTAs owe their success in the Online Booking Market first and foremost to their extensive presence in the Travel Search Market, which they have dominated for almost two decades. But what can independent hotels learn from this? One thing – if you want to grow, you have to be searchable, because otherwise your partners will grow on your behalf, and they are already.
OTAs and metasearch websites themselves are massively bidding on your hotel name keywords. Every single time that a potential guest, or even a current guest, searches for information about your hotel, chances are he’s going to reach an OTA or a metasearch website. That information will be presented according to the OTA/metasearch site’s best interest, and not yours. The most shocking part of it, is that most hotels are well-equipped to capture a potential guest’s attention: they have websites, they may have online loyalty programs or even guest reviews on their websites. These are all great marketing tools. But you have to take it a step further. If you do not bid on your brand keywords using Google AdWords, the search results will look like this:
It’s almost like this old lottery ticket joke…
Unfortunately, a few persistent myths about SEM still exist that hold back thousands of independent hoteliers. These, combined with the lack of knowledge about the benefits of proper visibility on search engines (which captures a potential guest’s attention during that crucial decision making moment), and the lack of a dedicated Best Practices for hoteliers, work together to create a painful-to-watch missed opportunity for hotels to increase their direct bookings.
Let’s bust some of those myths.
Myth #1: “I am already on Google. You can find my website when you search for the hotel name.”
Although I covered most of this above, let me emphasize a few key points:
• Paid search ads (the one with the “Ad” icon) will always be placed above the organic results, no matter what.
• 1st position gets 3X more clicks, and any position below 3rd receives a significantly lower percentage of clicks.
• When your hotel bids on its brand keyword, Google will usually lower the cost per click and give you a larger ad space. This will let your hotel cover a larger area of the search results page, which will draw a potential guest’s attention directly to your brand.
• Finally, why do you think a brand like Booking.com still bids on its branded keywords, regardless of having a very strong and recognized brand?
Because they know it works.
Myth #2: “Why should I spend money to attract guests who already know about the hotel? They’ll find it anyway.”
While it might seem like a completely logical question, the answer to that has two parts:
- The user isn’t going to double check what she/he clicks as long as she/he receives the needed information.
- OTAs and metasearch advertisements use the hotel brand name in the copy, which makes their ad look exactly like the hotel’s website search result.
Sure, you can save advertising money, but online search behavior doesn’t work in your favor according to this myth, and when you don’t bother with Google AdWords, you continue feeding the most expensive distribution channels (OTAs).
Myth #3: “Guests want to read reviews on TripAdvisor.”
Yes, they do, so what?
As long as a potential guest searches Google for a hotel-branded keyword that you bid for (let’s say “Hotel XYZ reviews”), then you can push your branded ad to the on top position of the search page, which will maximize clicks from potential guests. They will then land on your web page, where you can present a discounted offer (or any other value proposition for direct booking guests), and where you can show a TripAdvisor reviews widget as well.
Myth #4: “PPC is expensive.”
PPC might be expensive, with some keywords costing more than $10 per click, but relax – your brand keywords will probably cost you less than 70¢ per click. It’s the generic keywords such as “Hotel in New York” or “Hotel in Vegas tonight” that are super competitive and therefore expensive. As long as you bid on branded keywords and avoid generic keywords, the cost per click will stay low. In addition, Google will recognize your hotel domain address, and the content on your website as more relevant for searches that include your brand name, therefore providing you with a better ad rank that will help you outbid competition from OTAs.
Benefits of a Branded Search Campaign
Now that we’ve busted some myths, let’s take a look at some specific benefits of bidding on your brand keywords. You might think you have heard this before, but probably not as it relates to independent hotel marketing, so let’s look at it from that angle.
#1 – Google provides reports of actual search terms
#2 – Grab deal-seekers’ attention to encourage direct booking
Many have cited the strategy of offering special deals and loyalty benefits as the preferred tactic of hoteliers to attract direct bookings. Research conducted by Roomertravel.com showed that nearly 10% of all branded search queries represent a potential guest who is looking for a better deal, containing search words such as “coupon”, “discount”, “offers”, “deals”, etc.
Instead of having a plain text description of your hotel’s website, create a copy text pointing directly to special offers one can get by booking direct. Along with benefit #1, you will be better able to target deal-seekers with the best value proposition. What an effective way to say that booking direct is better!
#3 – Control the search results page
By simply following Googles guidelines for successful search ads, and using ad extensions, your brand can gain visibility control over the search engine results page. Being at the top position is important, but maximizing clicks on branded searches is the best way to grow direct bookings.
As you can see, there is a lot of direct booking growth potential from simply catching the attention of potential guests while they search for your hotel on Google. However, having a hotel website and being ranked first on organic search results won’t let you take advantage of branded searches. In fact, not having a branded campaign and not bidding on your brand name, could leave your site completely off the search results front screen on desktop computers and on mobile. Without a branded Google AdWords search campaign, your hotel website has a much lower chance of being noticed when potential guests search for it.
A branded Google Search Campaign is a crucial strategy you must implement if you’re eager to gain control of your direct booking channels. Not doing so is literally leaving money on the table.
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