7 September 2017

Hotelier’s Action Plan to Maximize Revenues from the Google Ecosystem

By Max Starkov - President & CEO at HEBS Digitaland Carmine Fischetti - Associate Director at HEBS Digital

Background:

Over the past several years, hotel advertising on Google has become increasingly complex, due to changes instituted by Google itself, changes in travel consumer planning behavior, and advancements in technology. Here are just a few of these developments:

  • Desktop: By removing the right rail on desktop searches, Google decreased advertising "real estate" by 67%. This change has resulted in increased competition (i.e., there are four ad spots now, whereas before there were 11) and higher CPCs, which means that the same budget yields less clicks at a higher cost per click. Fewer clicks mean fewer bookings.
  • Mobile: Over 60% of Google searches are now done via mobile devices, where the competition for limited advertising "real estate" is especially fierce. There are less than three listings per search result, which means higher CPCs. In addition, many of the clicks result in phone reservations, which are only trackable with a sophisticated call analytics solution.
  • Travel Planning/Purchasing Behavior: Online travel planning and purchasing behavior has become increasingly complex. Today's online travel consumer visits 18 websites via multiple devices in eight sessions before making a hotel booking (source: Google Research).
  • Technology: From programmatic ad buying, dynamic rate marketing (DRM) and data marketing, to creating marketing personas and targeting look-alike audiences, today's advertising and targeting options have become more technology-enabled, more targeted, and exceedingly complex.

These changes should affect how hoteliers execute various advertising formats in the Google Ecosystem and what initiatives they use to reach travel consumers through the travel planning journey:

  • Upper Funnel: Increasing Traveler Engagement
    • YouTube TrueView
    • Gmail Ads
  • Lower Funnel: Increasing Traveler Conversion
    • Google Search Network
    • Google Display Network (GDN)
    • Google Hotel Ads (Meta Search)
    • Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA)
    • Customer Match – targeting look-alike audiences

The Google Ecosystem – A Fully Integrated Advertising Platform
Based on all of these developments, hotel marketers must plan accordingly and understand that the Google Ecosystem has become a fully integrated advertising platform where all advertising formats are intertwined and work in concert, user engagement in the upper funnel influences conversions in the lower funnel, and a campaign in one advertising format influences the results from all other formats.

For example, the interdependence between the traditional Google Search Network (paid search) and display advertising on the Google Display Network (GDN), though not always transparent, provides good insight into the importance of running both ad formats as part of one cohesive campaign and reporting on blended results from the Google Ecosystem. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The Google Search Network and the GDN work in tandem to push users through the sales funnel. In the U.S. market, consumers exposed to a display ad show an average lift of 49% in site visitation and 40% in brand-name searches. With the travel planning journey of today's consumer involving over 18 different touch points before making a booking, it is important to use all tools in the toolbox to engage the consumer throughout their journey. Engagement via paid search ads, followed up with GDN retargeting, helps ensure more users will come back to the property website to complete their booking.
  • GDN utilizes keyword targeting as one of the most successful targeting formats, where real-time "knowledge transfer" happens between paid search ads and GDN.
  • Utilizing just traditional paid search without GDN retargeting leaves the travel consumer exposed to ads and engagements from the competition, OTAs, and even other destinations. Running both paid search ads and GDN together under the same Google AdWords interface allows for higher conversions, better analytics, and attribution tracking.
  • The rich user data that comes from paid search ads and organic search data directly benefits GDN ads. GDN campaigns can use intent-driven search data to create contextually targeted or behaviorally targeted strategies. Using Google Search Network data to refine the audience profile helps GDN display strategies to achieve more granular targeting and be more precise with display bidding/media planning.
  • Using demographics data gathered from GDN campaigns can help advertisers better identify their audience and use that same information in the targeting of search campaigns. Identifying the key target audiences for the hotel not only guides keyword research and development but has a direct impact on ad copy as well. By using granular audience targeting, advertisers keep search network clicks hyper-qualified, which means more bookings for the same amount of spend.
  • GDN retargeting pools can be used for Google Search Network targeting as well, so that unique messaging can be presented to those who are further along in the booking process. Users who have already interacted with GDN display marketing can be served different and more targeted ad copy rather than generic messaging, which will increase a user's likelihood to book. Having both advertising formats working together is what allows for this type of unique marketing opportunity.
  • The connection between the Google Search Network and the GDN allows one to feed off the other. Running on GDN display marketing groups compiled from Google Search Network users' search history is a great way to build a qualified audience. The same can be said in using the Google Search Network to build a quality GDN retargeting audience. You can get even more granular based on what keywords users searched and the pages visited. This symbiosis between the Google Search Network and GDN lowers advertising costs and results in much lower blended return on ad spend (ROAS).
  • The GDN and Google Search Network connection can also benefit YouTube campaigns. Running these formats together under the same interface allows the advertiser to make a unique pool of users who viewed the hotel video, in order to then follow up with either Google Search Network or GDN campaigns. This is an effective way to capitalize and convert a branding effort into a revenue driving endeavor.

Hotelier's Action Plan to Maximize Revenues from the Google Ecosystem
Here are some concrete action steps to help you make the most from the Google Ecosystem, and generate the highest returns and ROAS:

  • You should no longer be fixated on stand-alone results from the various advertising initiatives on Google, but rather focus on the blended results from the entire Google Ecosystem, including the Google Search Network, GDN, RLSA, Google Hotel Ads, and Gmail Ads, among others. In other words, you should ask yourself: "If I invest $10,000 in the Google Ecosystem, what would the return be? 5 times? 10 times? 12 times? 15 times?"
  • Do not split various advertising initiatives on Google among different agencies and vendors. This is the best way to waste precious advertising dollars and achieve mediocre results. Utilizing a single partner to manage your Google Ecosystem allows for higher conversions, better analytics, and attribution tracking.
  • Make sure you utilize the services of a Google Premier Partner Agency whose employees are certified by Google to manage all of the ever-evolving and increasingly complex advertising formats in the Google Ecosystem, as well as handle ongoing, Google-specific SEO services and technical SEO. Ask questions like: "How many of your employees are Google AdWords certified? Can your agency manage Google Hotel Ads campaigns that include real-time inventory availability and pricing? What is the name of your agency's dedicated Google rep?"
  • Ask your agency to manage all property campaigns on Google (e.g., Google Search Network, GDN, and RLSA) from the same Google AdWords account. This approach allows for monitoring the property's Google budget as a whole, as well as shifting ad spend in real time between ad formats, based on performance, to achieve maximum results.
  • Make sure the GDN is part of the marketing mix. The GDN offers a lower cost ad format with no added DSP/programmatic fees, which could run into the thousands of dollars, as in the case with most traditional online media buys.
  • Take advantage of the full spectrum of advertising formats in the Google Ecosystem—including Google Search Network, GDN, Google Hotel Ads, and RSLA, among others—to engage, retain, and acquire travel consumers throughout their travel planning journey.
  • GDN Targeting is the perfect solution to expand hotel marketing reach and attract new customers at the top of the funnel.
  • GDN Retargeting serves as a great "reservation abandonment recovery" and "brand reminder" tool.
  • The Google Search Network is perfect as a "deal closer" ad format to convert new customers already exposed to GDN ads and for customers who know where they want to go.
  • Utilize GDN Targeting, in addition to GDN Retargeting. The GDN offers highly successful, direct-response type of targeting capabilities:
    • Keywords
    • Audiences
    • Retargeting
    • Similar Users
    • Email Address
    • Managed Placements
  • Make Google Hotel Ads (HPA-meta search) part of your evergreen marketing initiatives. This advertising format nicely compliments your property's SEO efforts, Google Search Network ads, and Google Business Listing to provide real-time availability and pricing right at the point of user engagement.
  • Employ the Google Ecosystem as an integral and indispensable component of any multichannel marketing campaign where a consistent marketing message or promotion is pushed across all marketing channels and devices to achieve maximum engagement and bookings.
  • Focus your campaigns in the Google Ecosystem on geo targeting in the main feeder markets that produce the most bookings, and not on national targeting. Use marketing creative with "It Pays to Book Direct" messaging and offer perks or value ads to close the deal, such as "Book Direct and Get Free Wi-Fi" (or free breakfast, free parking, and et cetera). Offer some form of exclusivity to direct bookers to help increase perceived value.
  • Make sure your Google My Business Listing is fully optimized, and your property listing on all local search engines, directories, and main data providers is uniformly optimized.
  • Finally, make sure your agency can deliver Google-specific ongoing SEO services, and can handle very complex Google-specific technical SEO requirements including schema.org, Google AMP, Google Sitemap XML, Google Search Console dashboard management, and more.

Conclusion:
Over the past several years the Google Ecosystem has become a fully integrated advertising platform where all advertising formats are intertwined and work in concert, user engagement in the upper funnel influences conversions in the lower funnel, and a campaign in one advertising format influences the results from all other formats.

Hotel marketers should no longer be fixated on stand-alone results from the various advertising initiatives on Google, but rather focus on blended results from the entire Google Ecosystem, including the Google Search Network, GDN, RLSA, Google Hotel Ads, and Gmail Ads, among others. In other words, if you invest $10,000 in the Google Ecosystem, what would the return be? 5 times? 10 times? 15 times?

Hiring different agencies and vendors to run various aspects of advertising on Google is a recipe for mediocre results. Partner with a single Google Premier Partner Agency specializing in hospitality to manage all of your campaigns in the Google Ecosystem in order to achieve higher conversions, better analytics, and attribution tracking.

Carmine Fischetti is Associate Director, SEM Dept. at HEBS Digital.

Max Starkov

Max Starkov is President & CEO at HeBS Digital. Recognized as a thought leader in digital marketing strategies in hospitality, Max is a frequent guest speaker at industry events and conferences. His expertise is sought after by a diverse client portfolio of top tier hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel chains, hotel management companies, resort and casino companies, franchisees and independents, as well as major Wall Street investment banks and financial institutions. Under Max's leadership, HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hotel digital marketing and direct online channel distribution, and has won many prestigious awards for its groundbreaking website design, technology, and digital marketing campaigns. Max received the HSMAI "Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing" honor for 2008. He has an MS in Economics of International Tourism and an MBA with Beta Gamma Sigma honors from Fordham University in New York.

Carmine Fischetti

Carmine Fischetti leads the SEM department at HeBS Digital. His experience includes work on major accounts, both branded and non-branded properties as well as multi property brands. He has experience marketing a variety of properties types from Leisure getaways to Casinos. Prior to HeBS Digital, Carmine was an Account Supervisor at Horizon Media where he was in charge of the strategic improvement and growth of the entire portfolio of premier client accounts which included both Sands and Hard Rock Casinos. With his years of experience and well-rounded background, he is able formulate a bespoke method of addressing client’s individual needs while providing superior results beyond expectations. Carmine received his Bachelor's Degree in Advertising and Information Technology from Marist College here in New York.

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