PPC For Hotels: How To Counter OTAs (Online Travel Agents)

If you’re a hotel that works with online travel agents (OTAs), you’ll be familiar with the battle of balancing your relationship with the OTAs and also driving enough sales directly.

The battle has become increasingly aggressive in recent times, with leading brands such as Hilton launching campaigns which outright tell users to book direct for the best rates.

Consumers have come to expect OTAs to offer them the best rates. It’s a learned consumer behaviour that is going to be tricky to even start to change. Most hotels don’t have a biddable media budget to match the likes of Late Rooms or Expedia, but there are steps you can be taking within your PPC campaigns to try and earn back more direct bookings and try to counter OTAs.

OTA Brand Bidding

A quick glance in your Auction Insights report for your brand campaign will let you know if OTAs are bidding on your particular brand, and how they perform against you. Impression Share is a good indication of what percentage of the time the OTA is showing for your brand. Compare their Impression Share with your Impression Share, and you’ll be able to see whether they show for your brand more often than you do.

To try and counter some of the traffic and sales lost to OTAs who are bidding on your brand, it is important for you to be bidding on your own brand too. In addition to simply bidding on your brand, you can also bid on your brand plus the name of the OTA, for example ‘Hotel Name Laterooms’.

When you do this, consider what you put in your ad text to try and combat or match their USPs. In the example below, you can see Booking.com bidding on Harbour Hotels Brighton. Booking.com’s ad mentions no booking fees, 24/7 Customer Service, and Free Cancellation. These are all USPs that the hotel can offer when the user books direct too, so the ad text of the hotel’s own ads should try and mention some of these USPs and any other USPs that trump the OTAs ad, such as free WiFi.

OTAs ad accounts are often run on a huge scale, which means that often ads are automated and dynamically pull in information, or use generic information that could apply to lots of hotels, so that the ad text can be used when the OTA is bidding on multiple different hotel brands. This saves work for the OTAs and makes their accounts more efficient. This also creates an opportunity for the actual hotels, because if you can make your ad text very specific and unique to your hotel, mentioning benefits and descriptions which are clearly about your hotel, you can often appear more relevant to the user and earn the click over the OTA. The high level of specific relevance might also help increase your Click Through Rate, Quality Score and Ad Rank, the result of which can be a reduction in Cost Per Click.

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs)

It’s common consumer behaviour for users to find a hotel deal on an OTA, and then visit the actual hotel’s website to learn more about the hotel, before returning to the OTA to make their booking. This is an excellent opportunity for the actual hotel to win the booking, by using RLSAs.

A basic definition of RLSAs is that they allow us to adjust bids and customise ad text in search advertising when the user is searching using your keywords, based on whether the user has previously visited your site and what their behaviour was on your site.

If you’re completely new to RLSAs, you can read about them in more detail here. If you already know a lot about RLSAs and are interested in some more advanced strategies, you can get some examples here.

RLSAs are very handy for trying to win transactions that might have otherwise gone to OTAs, for example:

You can increase your bids if the person searching has previously visited your site and started the booking process but then left the site. The increased bid for this audience would ensure you have the best chance of showing your ads in the best ad positions when the user is searching for price comparisons and possibly thinking of using OTAs.

Using the RLSA audience example above of users who started the booking process but left the site, you could also customise your ad text to promote factors that you might not necessarily want to use ad space promoting to a new website visitor. For example mentioning your easy cancellations policy, the fact that no payment is taken until they stay, or your secure payment system. This can be implemented using RLSAs in a separate campaign on the Target and Bid option (explained here) or using using the AdWords If Function (explained here).

You could even particularly increase bids even more than you might otherwise if the user visited your site via your PPC ad group which contained your hotel name and OTA names (‘hotel name laterooms’ for example). This ensures you have the highest likelihood of your ad showing, and in the best possible ad position, when the user next searches with your keywords and might be thinking of returning to the OTAs site to book.

You can also show bespoke ad copy to users who found your site via your brand name OTA keywords (‘hotel name laterooms’ for example). This is done using AdWords If Functions, which allow you to insert a small piece of code into your ads, and then when your RLSA audience is searching, the ad they see is customised via that code to say something different than the general public (who have not previously visited your site via your hotel name OTA keywords) searching for your ad would see. For example, you could use the ad text to promote a unique added value offer (such as a free bottle of wine) for those users, which would help encourage them to book directly rather than via OTAs. It may even be possible for you to offer a discount code depending on what your terms are of working with the OTAs are. You can learn more about implementing AdWords If Functions here.

Customer Match

Customer Match allows us to upload your email marketing database and adjust bids and ad text (just like RLSAs) based on whether the user searching is on the email marketing list you uploaded.

You can learn more about AdWords Customer match from these sources:

  • https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6379332?hl=en-GB
  • http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2015/11/02/adwords-customer-match-setup
  • http://www.ppchero.com/adwords-customer-match-advertising-to-your-email-database/

If you’re a smaller hotel with fewer rooms or hotels, standard display remarketing will be effective. This just uses a standard display ad which you design, and the ad doesn’t change based on the room or hotel the user browses. You can learn how to set up standard remarketing here.

Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSPs)

Gmail Sponsored Promotions are native style display ads that look like emails and appear at the top of the inbox of Gmail email users. Once the ‘email’ ad subject line is clicked to open, the ad expands into a large display ad unit that can be fully designed to engage with the user and ultimately provide them with a call-to-action to visit your website.

You can learn more about GSPs here.

The real power of GSPs comes from the targeting available with them. To counter OTA booking share you can target GSPs in these two ways particularly:

  1. Targeted to show in the inbox of users who are
    receiving emails from your competitors and OTAs
    such as Laterooms.
  2. Targeted to show in the inbox of audiences who are on your
    existing mailing list, particularly if the list is segmented by those who previously booked via OTAs.

You should add further targeting layered on top of these examples, for example adjusting the location targeting to suit how far users usually travel to your hotel.

Google Hotel Ads

Google Hotel Ads show on Google alongside the organic hotel listings. There is an option to bid based on a maximum cost per click, or based on a maximum cost per booking.

The number of local searches (for example ‘Hotel in Chelsea’) which happen on mobile devices is increasing rapidly. The trouble with mobile search increasing, is that there is much less mobile ad space on the mobile search results pages than there is on desktop.

In the example below, you can see how for a search such as ‘hotel Southampton’, the top three results were taken by OTAs, and then Google’s hotel search took the next spot. This means that unless you’ve got a very strong impression share for the same keywords as the OTAs are bidding on in relation to your hotel, you might not even get a slot on the first page of mobile results.

One way to combat this is to run Google Hotel Ads, which appear alongside the organic hotel ads.

In order to run Google Hotel Ads, there is a lot of set-up work involved, and you need to work with a specialist partner to create a Google Hotel feed. The feed talks to Google’s API and allows your vacancies to appear dynamically and ensure you only advertise for the rooms you have available. Don’t be put off by the hard work involved, as the ad space and increased revenue gained by running these ads is invaluable.

Local Search Ads

Local Search Ads are ads that show on Google search in the local search results section of the page, or on Google Maps, when users search for nearby related businesses. An example of a search that may trigger this ad format to show could be ’Hotel Near Me’.

These are great because they allow you to take up ad space within the local search results section of the page, that OTAs won’t be able to show ads in.

These are very easy to run, you simply need to have location extensions applied to the account. You can learn more here.

Use All Relevant Ad Extensions

Ad extensions are a way of expanding your ads with relevant information to encourage a click from the user. There is no extra charge for using them, and they allow you to push ads from OTAs further down the page, increasing your likelihood of winning the click and potential conversion.

Ad extensions are also an integral aspect of generating the best Ad Rank, which ultimately determines how much you pay per click and what position your ads can show in.

Using ad extensions is best practice for all industries, however there are some particular extensions which work particularly well for the hotel industry.

Location extensions should be used to extend ads with the address of the relevant hotel, and call extensions will extend the ads with the phone number of the hotel, allowing the user to call the hotel directly from the ad is they wish to. Review extensions show press coverage about the hotel from third party publications, whilst price extensions show starting prices for rooms. Structured snippets can be also used to show the variety of services, such as different amenities including WiFi, swimming pools and restaurants. Sitelinks deep-link to internal pages to allow the user to directly click into the page that they feel is most relevant.

You can learn more about all ad extensions here.

Hopefully this blog post has armed you with some ideas on how to use your PPC ads to try and increase your booking share against OTAs. If you have any other ideas on how you’ve found success harmonising your relationship with OTAs please feel free to comment below.

Post from Tara West