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Will Your Hotel Thrive or Dive under the new Google Changes?
By Gillian Meier
There has been a lot of controversy around Google's many updates - such as Google's Hotel Finder - that have significantly impacted the travel and hospitality industry over the past two years. Hotels are crying out against the latest Google Hotel Finder while travel agents seem to be enjoying the spotlight that their businesses are receiving.
Comparison sites thrive
If we look back a few years one can remember a time when shopping comparison sites used to thrive due to the prime spots that they held on Google's natural Search Engine Results Pages (SERP's). For many years these comparison sites were receiving top rankings for their customers' (e-commerce and online retailers) products on their websites. E-commerce sites provide feeds of their online catalogues to the shopping comparison sites who would in return charge the online retailer a cost-per-click for the referral traffic that they sent their way.
Comparison sites dive
With the launch of Google Shopping and Google Panda updates in February 2011, many (not all) comparison sites were hit badly due to duplicate and poor content penalties. Comparison sites that were hit saw a dramatic drop in their search traffic overnight. Some comparison sites reported a loss of up to 80% of their organic (natural) Google visitors directly impacting on their revenue models and ultimately costing them their businesses.
What does this have to do with the travel industry?
At the end of last year Google announced that its new product, Hotel Finder (www.Google.co.za/hotels) went global. Google's Hotel Finder is a search tool designed to make it easier for people to compare hotels for their trips with features such as location filters (and drawing shapes on maps), dates, price and both user and hotel ratings. Simply put, Hotel Finder is a travel comparison platform where Google decides which hotels or travel agents will rank highest for local hotel-related search queries. When searching for a hotel, users are given results matching their criteria and filters selected. When clicking on a specific hotel listing the centre window displays the hotel's information together with a big red booking button.
How does Google decide who should rank highest on Hotel Finder?
Hotels that have been enjoying top rankings on Google's organic results have started to see a huge decline in their traffic coming from Google since the launch of Hotel Finder. Travel aggregators who used to rank well are also seeing an impact on their revenue (much like the shopping comparison sites did after the launch of Google Shopping and the many subsequent Panda updates).
Can hotels pay their way to the top of Google's Hotel Finder Rankings?
Whilst Google always strives to give the user the most relevant results in response to a search query it is also in the business of making money. I am not suggesting that you can pay Google somehow to get better rankings in the organic (natural) SERP's, Hotels will soon be able to make use Google's Promoted Hotels tool. Just like Google AdWords, where you can bid on a keyword to come up in the sponsored listings, Promoted Hotels works in much the same way. It allows advertisers (both hotels and online travel booking agents) to bid on particular properties in order to see them featured on the top of the search results on Hotel Finder. These advertisers will be featured in the top two to four spots in the shaded area in the search results for a particular property, with the winning bid listed as the only available booking channel.
Printed with full permission from the author.
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