Google’s Free Booking Links: The Secret Weapon for Hotels in the Battle for Direct Bookings
5 key findings from D-EDGE’s analysis of metasearch performance for 1,000 hotels across Europe & Asia Pacific
What Is Hotel Metasearch?
Metasearch platforms like Tripadvisor, Kayak, Trivago and Google Hotel Ads display a hotel’s rate offerings pulled from a variety of booking sources on one page. Travellers love them because they can compare rates without having to visit every site. To make a reservation, users click through to their preferred booking source.
To display a direct link on metasearch results pages for a given hotel, the hotel and online travel agencies must bid for placement and pay a fee for every click. If the hotel doesn’t appear, travellers are more likely to click through to an OTA and book there. Metasearch campaigns are therefore an important way for hotels to attract direct bookings and reduce third-party commissions.
Google launched its metasearch module over ten years ago, giving it high visibility by integrating it into Search, Maps, and Business Profiles. Since then, the platform has been carving an increasing market share from other metasearch sites. In 2021, Google upped its game even further by adding Free Booking Links (FBL) as part of the Google Hotel Ads platform. When a hotel creates a GHA campaign and activates this feature, a free link to its website booking engine is displayed alongside paid ads in the metasearch module.
What Are the Advantages to Hotels of Free Booking Links?
Metasearch platforms are crowded with OTAs, all vying for clicks from travellers. With Free Booking Links, the hotel stands out from the crowd. Although paid ads receive top billing under “Featured options,” the hotel’s free link is displayed directly below as the first listing under “All options” and is labelled as the “Official site.” This draws attention and lends credibility to travellers. If the hotel is running a Google Hotel Ads campaign, a second, paid listing may appear, providing even more visibility.
Even better, when travellers click the free link, the hotel doesn’t pay any fees to Google. Nor does it pay a commission if the traveller proceeds to reserve a room on the hotel’s booking engine. Ergo, the “free” in Free Booking Links.
For hotels, this means additional direct bookings at a significantly lower average cost. And, as every hotelier knows, direct bookings allow hotels to control the booking experience, offer upsell opportunities, and collect valuable information and data directly from guests.
What the Data Tells Us About Google Metasearch: Our Analysis
To understand how Free Booking Links affect hotel performance, D-EDGE tracked booking activity for 1,000 hotels across Europe and Asia Pacific from June to September 2022. We then compared the results to the same period in 2019, prior to the pandemic and before Free Booking Links were introduced.
We also compared the results to Google Ads performance. Not to be confused with Google Hotel Ads(GHA), Google Ads are keyword-based ads which appear at the top and bottom of search results.
5 Key Findings: The Impact of Free Booking Links on Hotel Performance
At D-EDGE, we’ve always recognised the value of Google metasearch, but even we were surprised by the results. Free Booking Links are a game-changer for hotels.
Here are five key takeaways from our findings.
Free Booking Links: A Win-win for Hotels
The bottom line? “Metasearch has become an integral part of a diverse distribution strategy for hotels,” says Hadrien Lanne, D-EDGE’s Digital Media Director. “If hotels aren’t participating in metasearch, they’re losing direct bookings to OTAs and paying commissions of 15 to 20%. With Google’s Free Booking Links, hotels now have a way to increase direct bookings at a lower cost. It’s a win-win for hotels.”
If hotels aren’t participating in metasearch, they’re losing direct bookings to OTAs and paying commissions of 15 to 20%. With Google’s Free Booking Links, hotels now have a way to increase direct bookings at a lower cost. It’s a win-win for hotels.
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