Google for hotels: Hotel Finder, AdWords and ‘Brandjacking’ demystified

15 Jul 2013 by ReviewPro in Best Practices

By Daniel Edward Craig

In this latest instalment of our Google for Hotel Q+A series, we address questions from hoteliers who attended ReviewPro’s June 26 webinar and wanted to know more about paid advertising options. With so many recent changes to Google search, paid advertising is the only sure-fire way for hotels to show up in search results. It can also be an effective way to increase visibility and traffic.

Do paid search options like cost-per-click and banner advertising on Google impact organic search results?

I thought I’d address this question out of the gate, since there’s a lot of misinformation out there. During the webinar David Zammitt, Google’s U.K. travel industry manager, made it clear that paid advertising has no impact on organic search results. So essentially, you can’t “buy” higher organic rankings – only visibility in areas marked “Ads” or “Sponsored.”

“I work with some of the UK’s largest hotel advertisers,” Zammitt told us, “and even they don’t get additional support on organic or SEO. I always direct customers to Webmaster Tools. That should give you a good idea of changes to algorithm and how to optimize organic listings.”

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Some of our competitors and OTAs are using our hotel’s brand name in AdWords campaigns. How can we protect our brand from this?

So-called “brandjacking,” the practice of competitors and online travel agencies using a hotel’s brand name in online advertising, thereby leveraging the brand’s equity to divert traffic to their own site – and driving CPC rates up – is a contentious issue in the hotel industry.

When I asked Zammitt about this, he referred to Google’s AdWords Trademark Policy, which states, “Google will not investigate or restrict the use of trademark terms in keywords, even if a trademark complaint is received.”

So don’t expect help from Google; you’ll need to go to the source instead. “Advertisers can work with OTAs and competitors to come to their own independent agreements to prevent bidding on brand terms,” he said.

One exception in some jurisdictions is the use of trademarks in ad text, which Google “will investigate and may restrict.” However, most OTA agreements contain a sweeping clause that gives them the right to use your content and trademark for promotional purposes, which includes keyword bidding and ad text. This isn’t entirely unreasonable, considering that you’re commissioning them to sell your rooms, but it shouldn’t permit predatory or misleading tactics.

So what can you do to protect your trademark?

  1. Ask competitors to refrain from bidding on your brand name. If that doesn’t work, you can pursue legal action for trademark infringement, but that will be expensive and there’s no guarantee of success.
  2. File a complaint with Google if your brand name is being used in ad text without your permission.
  3. Try to negotiate a “no use of trademark in keyword bidding and ad text” clause in OTA agreements.
  4. Focus on increasing visibility in organic rankings through SEO best practices and optimizing content on your Google Local listing.’
  5. Many internet marketing companies recommend bidding on your brand name to ensure you appear in paid results.

Companies like MarkMonitor specialize in online brand protection. Also refer to “Protect Your Good Name,” written by hospitality industry lawyer Ruth Walters in Hospitality Upgrade magazine.

What is Hotel Price Ads?
Hotel Price Ads (HPA) is a drop-down box that appears in Google products like Search, Maps, Local and Hotel Finder, allowing users to check rates without leaving the page. To book a room, users must click through to one of the sources listed. The system runs on a cost-per-click bidding model, and to participate you must fit Google’s criteria (see below).

For an insightful analysis of HPA check out this article from Impaqt.

An example of Hotel Price Ads displayed in Google search results

As an independent hotel or small group, how can I be listed on Hotel Price Ads?

Unlike AdWords campaigns, which businesses of any size can participate in, presently only designated Integration Partners can work directly with Google. These include select online travel agencies, big brands, GDSs, CDS providers and digital marketing agencies.

If you’re an independent hotel or a small group, this is a distinct disadvantage – however, you’re not shut out completely.

“If a hotel works with an online travel agent, it is likely already included on Google Hotel Price Ads,” Zammitt told ReviewPro webinar attendees. Further, a direct link to the hotel’s website is listed at the bottom of the box at no charge to the hotel.

You can also participate through an Integration Partner. Inquire with your CRS provider, GDS supplier or digital marketing agency to see if they qualify.

One such partner is HeBS Digital of New York. During the webinar, Margaret Mastrogiacomo, HeBS Senior Manager, Interactive Media & Creative Strategy, explained that her firm has built a gateway that connects hotel inventory and pricing to Google’s HPA system, enabling any hotel or group to participate at a monthly rate. The gateway is “designed to level the playing field between OTAs and hoteliers,” she told us. For more info, see this piece on the HeBS blog.

If you’re in Europe, WIHP is also a Google Integration Partner and ReviewPro partner.

What is Google Hotel Finder?

Hotel Finder is a meta search engine that integrates features and content from various Google products like Local, Maps and HPA. Users can check hotel availability within a specified location, compare rates and review scores, read reviews and sort results by amenities or brand—everything but book a room.

Hotel Finder boxes now figure prominently in many search results pages, ranking directly above organic results. Typically, one hotel in each star category is listed, along with review information. All links lead to the Google Hotel Finder page.

For a great guide to Hotel Finder, check out this Buuteeq blog post.

A Hotel Finder box is now displayed prominently in search results.

Where does Google Hotel Finder get its information about hotels?

Information on Hotel Finder is pulled from a variety of sources, including Local listings, OTAs, Hotel Price Ads and Maps. Photos are pulled from Local pages and VFM Leonardo. To fix incorrect information, you must go to the source. See Google’s Help for Hotel Owners.

Rate information is pulled from OTAs and Hotel Price Ads. So again, independents and small groups can only list direct-book rates through an Integration Partner. But “on Hotel Finder, an owner site will always be listed free,” Zammitt told us.

When will the mobile version of Google Hotel Finder be launched?

Zammitt said he couldn’t give a specific date but was confident it will be launched sometime this year.

ReviewPro clients can view the Google For Hotels webinar and all previous webinars in the Learning and Support Center from the ReviewPro dashboard.