Not just a search engine anymore, Google has dramatically extended its presence and influence in the online travel space in recent years.
New features include Hotel Finder, Google+, a revamped Maps application and Local pages, greater prominence of reviews and ratings, and redesigned YouTube brand channels.
Increasingly, these products are integrated, driving traffic to and pulling content from one another. Google+ and the now ubiquitous Plus button add a critical social dimension to search, making the social network difficult for travel marketers to ignore.
What does all this mean for hotels, and how can they utilize these features to maximize visibility, traffic and conversions? For insight I checked in with David Zammitt, a UK-based Travel Industry Manager with Google. What do hotels need to know about recent changes to Google's search algorithm?
All businesses and websites should stay on top of the latest changes by using Google Webmaster Tools. This is a hub that lets you check your site's health, understand search traffic and optimise your site for Google ranking. I would also recommend that everyone follows the Google webmasters blog. In addition, we have Webmaster office hours where you can have a live face-to-face chat with the experts.Seriously though, do Google users pay attention to paid advertising anymore?
Paid search is evolving all the time and the traffic volumes we see would suggest that paid advertising is still highly relevant. We have done some analysis on the incremental impact of paid ads on search traffic. This study is available here. Okay then, conversely, with paid content and Hotel Finder dominating search results "above the fold", how important are organic results?
Organic search is extremely important to Google. Our goal is to get the user from intent to action as quickly as possible. A user can choose to do this through organic or paid listings and so SEO remains an important part of any business's online strategy.What role does social media play in Google search results?
Google+ adds a social layer to our search results and indeed Search Plus Your World has recently gone live in the US (info here). Social Extensions, which can be enabled by AdWords advertisers who have Google+ pages, also provide an average CTR uplift of 5-10%, which can provide a significant boost to your traffic.Here's your chance: convince hotels they need a Google+ page.
Some of our UK clients have had great success engaging with the public through Google+ — Hotel Direct, Travel Republic and LateRooms, just to name a few. These brands have used Hangouts to communicate directly and on a personal level with their followers, they've created communities of users who are interested in particular types of travel or destinations.
They have used circles to broadcast tailored messages to specific groups, while Social Extensions, as I have said, provide the very tangible benefit of an uplift to search traffic. We're working on improving Google+ all the time and a whole host of features will be launching in the coming months.How can hotels use Hotel Finder as a tool to sell rooms?
Hotel Finder has a number of innovative and exciting features to help users select the hotels they are interested in more quickly. As I said, our goal is to get our users from intent to action as quickly and as smoothly as we possibly can. Hotel Finder does this through the use of detailed search, maps and live hotel rates and availability. We feel that this provides valuable leads to both suppliers and OTAs.Presently independent hotels can't work directly with Hotel Finder. What options do they have?
If a hotel works with an online travel agent, it is likely that that hotel is already included on Google Hotel Price Ads. Partners like Booking.com, Expedia.com, Priceline.com, and Hotels.com have been active Hotel Price Ads partners for a while.
If an advertiser is looking to include their properties on Hotel Price Ads and receive the clicks on their own sites, they may wish to consider one of our Integration Partners, including several leading CRSs (Customer Reservation Systems). This ensures that even small individual properties or chains can have their price and availability showing on Hotel Price Ads.[Note: HeBS Digital in the U.S. and WIHP in Europe are Google Integration Partners as well as ReviewPro partners.]Why is it important for hotels to claim and optimize their listing on Google Local?
These listings can be claimed at no cost to the business. In terms of the influence of local, we did a click study in 2010 that found that 67% of users who purchased a hotel had visited a map site before making a booking.
With the rise of mobile technology such as smartphones, this is becoming more and more important all the time. We encourage businesses to keep their listings as up to date as possible – making sure information and pictures are relevant will make sure the experience for the end user is a quality one.Speaking of mobile, it's huge in travel. What options are there for hotels to increase visibility in mobile search?
We've been working hard to help advertisers manage their ad campaigns in a smarter and more simple manner in order to deal with today's multi-device world. Enhanced Campaigns, which launched in February, allow advertisers to control their performance on desktop and mobile, by ensuring we serve the most relevant ad to the user based on that user's context.
With our new bid adjustments, you can manage bids for your ads across devices, locations, and time of day. With Enhanced Campaigns, we'll also make sure that you show ads across devices with the right ad text, sitelink, app or extension, without having to edit each campaign for every possible combination of devices, location and time of day.When it comes to reviews, TripAdvisor commands all the attention. Why should hotels pay attention to Google reviews? Do you recommend responding to reviews?
Google reviews are important because they feature prominently on the Google search results page when a Google user looks for your business. As a verified Google Places business owner, you can of course respond to reviews in the "Reviews by Google users" section. In terms of responding reviews, we actually have some guidelines that should help keep you on the right track. Tell us about YouTube's new design.
We have integrated a lot of user feedback, including improving the What to Watch Next module and making it easier for users to create sections from playlists.
Channels that have already made the switch to the new YouTube One Channel are experiencing several benefits. Their branding shines through in more places because Channel Art is visible on Android and iOS apps, as well as TV. For the channels that have opted in, we've seen 20% more page views on their channels because clicks from the YouTube guide go directly to their channel pages instead of to their activity feeds.How can hotels optimize their presence on YouTube?
Hotels can use YouTube in a number of ways. Channels are a place where your customers can engage and share your video content, and you can use YouTube Analytics to gauge and drill down into what your audience likes (and doesn't like!) in order to optimise your content towards what your customers want. We also have a range of advertising formats for YouTube, including our skippable video ad format, where advertisers pay only when a user chooses to watch their ad.
Want to learn more? Join me, David Zammitt of Google and Margaret Mastrogiacomo of HeBS Digital for ReviewPro's webinar, Google for Hotels, on June 26, 2013. Click here for details
. Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager and the founder of Reknown, a consultancy specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management for hotels and the travel industry. He collaborates with ReviewPro as Industry Advisor, Engagement. Visit www.reknown.com. Copyright: © 2013 Daniel Edward Craig. Reprinted with permission.