NB: This is an article by Asher Fusco, Associate Director Copy & SEO and Carmine Fischetti, Manager SEM at HeBS Digital
Google rolled out a major change to its search engine results display in late February, phasing out text ads from the right side of its desktop search results. This substantial adjustment to the search engine’s ad display approach will have far-reaching implications on search engine marketing, return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) and ultimately the hotel’s bottom line.
Hotel digital marketers can stay ahead of the curve and adjust to Google’s latest change by monitoring search engine marketing (SEM) performance and cost-per-click (CPC), while also focusing on organic search, retargeting, and emerging paid search initiatives.
What Does it Mean for Hotel Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?
The primary result of Google’s move away from desktop right-rail ads will result in less “ad real estate” and fewer text ads, which means increased competition and higher Costs per Click (CPC). The elimination of right-side ads takes the number of text ads on a given search engine results page (SERP) from 11 to 7. This 36% decrease in paid search real estate leaves fewer ads for competitors to jockey for, in turn raising CPC levels. An additional aggravating factor is that 3 of the remaining 7 text ads are “hidden in a dark corner” – way at the bottom of the search engine results pages (SERPs), making them far less visible and attractive to advertisers.
In other words, only the 4 top text ads provide the desired visibility, a fact that without any doubt, will spark fierce bidding wars among advertisers. At least 2 of the 4 spots are already spoken for by the two mega OTAs, Expedia and Booking.com, and their well-funded war chests. The remaining 2 spots will see intense competition among major hotels chains and independents in the destination, TripAdvisor, various OTA affiliate sites, etc.
The only good news here is that Google’s removal of the right-rail ads means less clutter on the page, which gives the property a better chance to highlight its product, marketing message and value position, if the property SEM campaigns are funded adequately.
What Should Hoteliers Do to Counter the Negative Impact from Google’s Recent Move?
Increase Budgets for SEM
Hoteliers should review their annual digital marketing budgets and increase search engine marketing spend accordingly to compensate for higher CPCs, allow the property text ads to be showing in a more prominent position among the top 4 ads on the page, and maintain impression share, click-through-rates and conversions.
Google Display Network (GDN) Advertising Becomes More Important
Hotel digital marketers should strive to “close the loop” via paid search placements. If you are willing to pay higher CPC costs to drive visitors to the hotel website, you should take advantage of this user engagement by following the user across the Internet with GDN banners (display retargeting). With fewer text ad touchpoints by which to reach the travel consumer, it’s critical to make the most of every visitor with a conversion-minded initiative like retargeting or remarketing advertising. Because GDN is more carefully targeted than traditional SEM advertising, it tends to attract “cheaper” website visitors, on a CPC basis.
SEM is One of Many Engagement Tools, Not a Primary Revenue Channel
This recent change reinforces the importance of maintaining multichannel marketing initiatives to underscore and support search engine marketing efforts. With SEM costs likely to rise due to limited text ad space, reaching visitors via alternate means becomes even more critical. Invest in multichannel digital marketing campaigns to diversify your marketing spend mix and offset the volatile SEM landscape.
The average travel consumer takes about 17 days, eight research sessions, 18 site visits, and six clicks before making a hotel booking (Google Research). A successful multichannel campaign that includes SEO, SEM GDN, mobile marketing, social media, online media and retargeting, dynamic rate marketing and email marketing reaches potential guests at every touchpoint of the travel planning process with one cohesive message across channels, capitalizing on key customer micro-moments across devices.
Take Your SEM Strategy Beyond the SERP
Paid search strategies are no longer limited to text ads on search engine results pages. Now more than ever, it’s important to think outside the SERP and embrace emerging Google initiatives when planning your SEM strategy. Gmail Ads are a great place to start: you can target users in their inboxes with text and dynamic email ads. YouTube TrueView placements also add value and round out the paid search strategy by serving video ads to qualified YouTube users.
What Does it Mean For Hotel Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Although this new Google SERP display primarily affects paid search placements and costs, the shift of elements to different positions on the search page impacts organic listings, as well.
In lieu of displaying text ads on the right side of SERPs – where they did not affect the visibility of organic results – Google announced it will add one extra text ad to the top of select SERPs. These four-ad SERPs will occur for commerce-focused search queries, including some hotel-related searches. The addition of an extra text ad at the top of the SERP pushes organic results down even further, increasing the importance of securing one of the top organic search positions for the hotel’s top terms.
With less real estate to work with, SEO maintenance and tracking take on even greater importance. Ongoing organic search optimization efforts should include regular tracking and benchmarking of search visibility for top keyword terms, as well as proactive on-page updates to ensure continued visibility on SERPs.
What Should Hoteliers Do?
Hotel digital marketers are buzzing about this development – and rightfully so. By migrating its desktop results toward a more mobile-centric structure, Google is reinforcing its commitment to mobile as the channel of the present and the future.
Hotel digital marketers shouldn’t panic. Instead, they should keep a close watch on the key performance indicators of their paid search campaigns during coming weeks and months. If competitors and OTAs rush to adjust to the change by pushing CPC up, be aware that additional investment may be necessary.
By collaborating with an official Google Partner agency, hoteliers can work proactively to optimize SEM campaigns, making quick adjustments and strategy shifts as needed. Utilizing a full toolbox of search engine marketing initiatives – including GDN ads, Gmail Ads, and organic search efforts – to reach travel planners at as many touchpoints as possible is more important than ever.