Using Paid Search Engines to Maximize Returns
By Michael Coughlin, Managing Director, Digital Blue Creative
Since its infancy in the late 90s and early 2000s, paid search has been a highly effective tactic for capturing would-be travelers that are actively exploring travel options. There's seemingly no better way to attain a new hotel guest than by delivering an ad promoting your hotel when someone is searching for "hotels" in your market area. For instance, if you are promoting hotel rooms in Las Vegas, you would likely deliver relevant ads to people searching for keywords such as "Las Vegas hotel," "Las Vegas hotels," and "Vegas hotel reviews. "According to Prognosis Digital, 79% of people that book hotels online search for that particular hotel on a search engine before buying. Thus, having a presence on search engines is essential for any hotel.
Part of the reason paid search is so attractive to advertisers is that it's "easy" to manage. Google AdWords, the world's largest paid search marketing platform, is a self-service tool that allows you to quickly and easily write 95 character ad copies and pair them up with keywords relevant to your business. Google was created as a 'plug and play' type platform on purpose. The company and its investors want as many companies as possible leveraging AdWords to market their businesses.
Google AdWords offers flexibility that previous advertising channels never allowed. There's no minimum amount of money you need to spend. You can start and stop your campaign any time you please. Previously, you had to buy banners on a flat rate CPM (Cost Per Thousand Impressions) with a minimum cost and contractually-bound flight dates. Even before online media, you had to pay a flat rate at thousands of dollars to run a print ad or TV commercial. As with most offline advertising, you had to hire service providers or ad agencies who spent years cultivating media relationships and building teams of artists and media buyers to produce your ads and get them in front of the right audience. Now, thanks to search, you can pretty much create and deliver ads on your own.
The early adopters of search engine marketing first discovered the search engines as "digital blue oceans," or low competitive market spaces, with customers ripe for the picking. However, as the paid search skillset diffused and free training became abundant, the search engines have become crowded. This is good news for Google since its revenue grows with an increase in competition, but for advertisers, the opposite is true. Increased competition creates click price inflation and divides impressions over near limitless amount of competition. To accelerate growth, Google continues to give away "free money" to small businesses, which actually helps boost overall click prices for existing advertisers.
While the search engine marketing space is great for a price conscious consumer, it is becoming increasingly costly and difficult to master for the advertiser. When a competing hotel offers a certain promotion or discount, others likely need to match them to attract the same customers. As the search results get increasingly crowded, the click prices go up, competition begins to homogenize, and profits shrink for everyone except Google.
Not only has the search marketplace gotten more crowded, but Google has made the paid search game more complicated. On a frequent basis, they make significant changes to the platform and its policies that can cause even the most experienced paid search marketer to spend their marketing budget recklessly. The following tactics and strategies are essential to keep in mind when marketing your hotel brand on Google or other search engines.
Never Use Broad Match, Only +Modified +Broad +Match
Several years ago, the nature of broad match changed without many advertisers even noticing. When Google AdWords first launched, if you bid on the keyword phrase "New York hotel," you would display ads to people searching for keyword phrases that contain "new," "york," and "hotel" in any order. Since then, Google has enabled something often labeled as "Enhanced Broad Match," which will trigger your ad for a variety of phrases, not just those three particular terms. For instance, your ad may be delivered to people searching for 'New York resort,' and you may have no understanding as to why the Google algorithm made that decision.
To avoid any of these unnecessarily targeted search queries, we highly recommend putting a "+" in front of each keyword to ensure that your keyword is mapped to only search queries that contain those exact words, in any order. Aside from Modified Broad Match, you can also leverage Phrase and Exact Match to maintain better control over targeting.
Weigh the Benefits of Bidding on Branded Terms
In the world of Google AdWords, bidding on competitor keywords is permitted. This can be good for your company since you can pluck away other hotels' would-be guests, but it cuts both ways. Now, your competition can try to steal your customers. As a result, you're nearly forced to bid on your own branded keywords and pay for clicks that otherwise could have been free via organic listings. In allowing this type of competitive behavior, Google is further increasing click prices for all parties.
While there's an ongoing debate in the industry as to whether or not you should bid on your own branded keywords, consider running your own test to see for yourself. If you're currently running a paid search campaign, take your branded campaign offline for a short period of time and see if there are changes in your overall ROI. If your ROI goes up as a result of the change, you may want to put your branded campaign take your campaign offline indefinitely. If you do so, beware that new competitors may start bidding on your branded terms at any time, so monitor the search results pages frequently.
Be Careful With Over-Broad Geo-Targeted Settings
When you launch a campaign in Google AdWords in the United States, it defaults to targeting the entire country. For a national chain with a large budget targeting, this entire area may make sense, but it can be an extremely wide net for a boutique hotel. With a limited budget, it's likely that you'll be spreading your budget too thin and won't see the results you desire.
If you run a small, independent hotel in one location, and you know that most of your customers come from a specific area, you may want to start off by targeting a specific location (i.e. city or state) rather than the entire country. This allows you to allocate a certain budget while not spending money in areas that typically do not convert to sale.
Be Sure to Analyze Cross-Channel Attribution Data
As anyone in hospitality can attest, buyers do a tremendous amount of research before making purchasing decisions. People typically don't click an ad and book a room immediately. According to a recent article on nsight, consumers look at 7 to 20 sites before making a travel purchasing decision. These people may search for reviews on Google. They may also post on Facebook or Twitter asking for hotel recommendations. In most cases, people always engage in some form of online buying journey across multiple channels and even devices.
Within Google Analytics, the most commonly used web analytics platform on the market, there's a 'Conversions' section that showcases the cross channel flow of your site's visitors and hotel guests who book online. This section will show your purchasers' buying path across multiple channels, including email, display ads, social media, search engines, direct traffic, and more. Use the data found here to help determine where you should be spending your marketing dollars and to better understand the behavior of your customers.
Leverage Mobile Ads but be Careful With Spending
In October of 2015, mobile searches exceeded the number of Google desktop searches for the first time ever. This is a significant milestone for the search industry and proves that consumers are becoming increasingly "mobile first" when it comes to searching. This is especially true for the travel industry since some people book while they travel and may not have access to a computer or Wi-Fi connection.
By default, Google AdWords opts advertisers into bidding on all mobile devices. Be sure to use the "mobile multiplier" setting to lower your bids below your desktop bid amounts. In most cases, mobile click prices should be cheaper than desktop click pricing and you don't want to set yourself up for overpaying for clicks.
Be Sure to Leverage "Hotel Ads" for Additional Branding Features
Hotels have amenities that should be highlighted and showcased to the searching public but are not visible in typical text-only pay per click ads. As a result, Google allows enhanced features to be showcased via "Hotel Ads."
These ad formats allow hotel advertisers to display information such as available rates, ratings, reviews and photos right on the search results page. Additionally, you can add photos specifically for food, drink, guest rooms, and common areas.
To enable these features, you should login into "Google My Business." Link to your AdWords account and make sure all of your photos and hotel specifics are entered into the system. Callout extensions and structure snippets are other ad extensions that can also help enhance the presence of your hotel ads on Google.
YouTube Advertising is Great for Branding
YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world and advertising on this powerful network is available via the "Video Campaigns" tab in Google AdWords. Advertising on Youtube is a great way to present your brand in a livelier format, which is especially important for businesses in the hospitality industry. With the influence of video, you can build a more powerful brand story and connect with consumers emotionally.
By leveraging YouTube, you can run and test commercials you could previously only run on traditional television. With enhanced features, you can take advantage of insightful analytics data, precise targeting features, and non-committal spending and flighting.
Explore Bing Ads and Yahoo! Gemini for Cost Savings
Bing and Yahoo! are often overlooked when it comes to managing paid search. However, these secondary search engines can offer major benefits to expanding your search campaign beyond just Google. For instance, a Wordstream study showed that clicks on Bing were 33.5% cheaper than clicks on Google. Yahoo! Gemini also maintains click prices that are significantly lower than that of Google.
Utilizing these search engines is highly recommended because you will likely get more bang for your buck (i.e. more clicks at less cost). If you know how to use Google AdWords, it will be intuitive to start using these other platforms.
Consider International Search Engines
Above and beyond Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, there are sizable search engines with large user bases outside of the United States. If you have guests traveling from Russia and China, you should consider launching your campaigns in Yandex and Baidu. Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia, while Baidu is the largest search engine in China. Naver is the largest search engine in South Korea.
Tapping into these international search engines may help you discover hidden gems of opportunity that may be overlooked by other hotels and resorts.
Sound Campaign Architecture is Crucial to Success
Even a widely successful hotel will fail to be profitable via paid search without having the right campaign architecture in place. How you structure your campaign will determine where and how you spend your marketing dollars. It's vitally important that you segment brand and non-brand keywords into separate campaigns. You may also want to segment your campaigns based on geo-targeting settings.
For larger hotel chains, having the right campaign architecture is even more crucial. If you have hotels in multiple states, countries, or even continents, things can get extremely confusing and inefficient to manage. Inefficiencies can create excessive time invested, resources hired, and out-of-control spending.
Manage Partners and Resellers
As hotel owners or marketers, many of you are promoting your hotels on OTAs or resellers like Hotels.com or Expedia. These types of companies are likely leveraging paid search and may be bidding on the same keywords as you.
If this is the case, you should set up a "keyword governance" strategy with guidelines for resellers. If you do not do this, your partners may be effectively cannibalizing your marketing efforts. This will likely inflate your cost-per-click (CPCs) for all parties.
Overall, paid search can be an extremely effective way for acquiring new hotel customers, but don't be deceived by how "easy" the paid search platforms are to use. It's best that you hire or consult with an expert who will help you navigate the complicated world of paid search without causing unnecessary pain to your bottom line.
Michael Couglin has twelve years of working experience in the digital marketing. His core competencies are in online branding, marketing analytics consulting, global paid search management, social media management, creative video production, and website usability. He has wide-ranging expertise working with companies as small as early-stage startups to global Fortune 500 enterprises. Prior to forming his own agency, Mr. Coughlin played pivotal roles in the early growth of multiple digital marketing companies. Throughout his career, Mr. Coughlin has gained tremendous experience working with global companies in almost every industry. Currently, Mr.Coughlin manages his own creative digital agency, Digital Blue Creative. Mr. Coughlin can be contacted at 1-844-468-6258 or Mike@DigitalBlueCreative.com Extended Bio...
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