With huge marketing budgets at their disposal, OTAs have come to dominate metasearch sites in recent years. As part of the widespread bid-for-placement model, it seems that those with the deepest pockets will always gain the top spots.
But despite this OTA dominance, metasearch can still be a hugely effective marketing and distribution channel for hotels. Being successful isn’t about spending more necessarily, it’s about spending wisely and following a solid strategy that involves an awareness of the channels you’re investing in. To help you get started, here are five tips hoteliers can use to begin mastering metasearch.
1. Make sure your hotel rate is lower than other OTAs’ rate
The top three positions on metasearch sites are the ones that most frequently get clicked, and it’s these coveted top spots that OTAs traditionally dominate. While trying to outbid OTAs is pointless, one way to leapfrog them is by making your room rates lower than theirs.
The algorithm on metasearch sites is designed to show the lowest rates near the top of the search results, and this will happen even if your hotel’s CPC (cost-per-click) isn’t that high. However, if an OTA’s CPC is far higher than yours, your rate simply won’t be able to compete.
The solution is about balance. If your CPC isn’t set too low, and your rate is lower than the OTAs’ rate, your hotel can move into the top positions. Obviously your ad position can change depending on the activity of your competition, so opting for automated campaign management can be a good solution to help organise your bids in real-time.
As for the sweet spot of CPC? We suggest that you carry out tests for a month and measure the results to see what works best. For example, you could set your CPC at $3, and then adjust that rate each week to see which one is most likely to convert. Success ultimately lies in continual refinement and fine-tuning.
2. Is top spot always best?
OTAs spend heavily to gain the top spots on metasearch sites for a simple reason – they want to drive the maximum number of visitors to their site. This whole approach is based on a simple numbers game: even if a visitor isn’t so keen on the original hotel they liked, they’ll probably stay on the same OTA site to compare other options.
Clearly, hotels don’t have this luxury. If a person visits the hotel site and isn’t convinced to book based on the available rooms and rates, they’ll head elsewhere. Because of limited budgets, hotels need to promote their rate when people are ready to convert.
It’s also worth remembering that grabbing the top spot isn’t always a good thing for a hotel. It might lead to more clicks, but a lot of those clicks will be from people still researching their options and not yet ready to book. Given that every click costs money, it’s essential to check how many actually lead to a conversion.
Of course, conversion rates can be increased on the hotel website by applying the kind of tried-and-tested urgency tactics OTAs successfully use to drive bookings.
3. Different bidding strategies for different metasearch sites
Every metasearch site has its own unique benefits, and there’s no one-size-fits-all bidding strategy that works across the board. Here’s a quick look at the pros, cons and latest developments related to four of the biggest metasearch sites out there.
TripAdvisor has a hugely influential role on hotel bookings—77% of travelers usually or always consult the site before choosing a hotel. But from our observations, TripAdvisor remains a site where people check reviews and search for information. In other words, they’re not visiting with the express intention of booking a room.
In the end, being near the top of TripAdvisor’s metasearch results (rates shown on your hotel’s profile) could lead to lots of clicks, but not so many direct bookings. For that reason, you may want to set a lower cost-per-click to account for the fact conversion rates may not be as high as other sites.
Hotels may also want to consider TripConnect, TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking program. Instead of a CPC model, hotels pay a commission fee (12-15%) for confirmed bookings that is generally lower than an OTA commission (20-30%). On top of that, hotels still get to own the relationship with the customer, something that many OTAs prohibit.
Google also plays a massive role in the travel process, and the value of maintaining high visibility on this channel goes without saying. That said, CPC on Google is notoriously expensive, so spending your marketing dollars wisely here comes with added importance.
Although Google typically delivers on actualized bookings, the high cost of advertising here can mean it is not necessarily the most profitable advertising channel, but it is often the channel that’s best used for brand awareness. However, Google’s Hotel Ads Commission Program also offers a commission-based model like TripConnect’s that may be more cost-effective than CPC.
Trivago and Kayak
These channels can both be tricky because you’re not only competing for links against OTAs, but you’re also competing against other hotels for ranking in hotel searches (unlike TripAdvisor and Google, both Trivago and Kayak will show other competing hotels on the same page if you search just for the hotel name). These channels fluctuate frequently, so the best strategy is to test and iterate.
4. Keep an eye on changing design
Metasearch sites often test new formats to optimize their own conversion rates and responses. These changes can all have an impact on your bottom line, so it’s important to keep an eye on the sites your hotel has a listing.
In many cases, these changes can be quite subtle. For instance, Google recently swapped the position of its metasearch box from the right side to the left side, placing it above the paid search ad section. We’ve since observed this has moved back again. TripAdvisor also made a similar change by blending Instant Booking from the right side to the left.
Kayak also keeps testing different ways to display room rates, and these variations will all impact your CPC. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Trivago tends to have outdated hotel information, which could be harmful to bookings. For instance, if your listing doesn’t mention your hotel’s spa, you’ll be filtered out of search results by potential guests seeking that specific amenity.
5. Test, test, test
The dynamic nature of metasearch means that you can’t simply set up your campaign and forget about it. As well as inventory availability checks and daily campaign and bid management, it’s vital to conduct regular tests to maximize your investment.
These tests should include tracking return on ad spend (ROAS), monitoring conversion rates, and trialing subtle differences in your CPC. By carefully testing and adjusting various elements of your campaign, you’ll be able to optimize direct booking volume while delivering the best possible return.
The art of mastering metasearch
Though they may be owned by the major OTAs, metasearch sites can still offer an important channel to gain significant exposure and drive direct bookings, ultimately helping to avoid hefty OTA commission fees.
In the end, success comes down to managing your metasearch channels carefully, investing your budget wisely, and adjusting your bidding strategy based upon the specific benefits each site offers.