7 Ways to Compete Against OTAs

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Beach Resort Hotel

One of the biggest challenges for hotels and established brands in the travel sector in recent years has been the growth of online travel agents (OTAs) and metasearch aggregators. They’ve taken a huge slice of market share and positioned themselves at the forefront of customers’ minds. 

If you’re an accommodation provider, having more places that offer your product sounds like a good thing. But many companies now have to rely on OTAs to move their inventory, while taking a big slice of margin.

7 Ways to Compete Against OTAs

Recent data suggests that a minority of people consider booking accommodation directly. If that’s the case, how can you compete for direct bookings in an environment where everything appears stacked against you?

Here are Epiphany’s top tips for using paid media budgets and campaigns to help you stand out.

1. Check your Auction Insights

The Auction Insights reports available in AdWords and Bing are a great way to understand exactly who you’re up against.

Try running this report –twice-once for specific hotel/property names and a second time for more generic terms that you might bid on. This will help you understand what OTAs – if any – you’re competing against, and to what level.

But what does this report mean? Overlap rate is how often another advertiser’s ad received an impression in the same auction that your ad also received an impression in-i.e. how often do you appear together?

Position above rate highlights how often the other advertiser’s ad appeared above yours, when both were shown together.

Top of page rate takes this a little further, showing you how often your ad, or the other ads, appeared above the organic listings.

2. Being smaller is an asset

In some instances, it can pay to be small. It allows you to react to changes more quickly, capitalising on new features or betas before the competition, and be specific, because you won’t cut corners when making ad copy or ad extensions super-specific. Every single ad or sitelink can be as tailored as possible, increasing the likelihood of direct clicks to your website.

3. Make the most of customer data

Before we go any further, almost everything in this section is caveated by the need to ensure that any data you want to use is GDPR-compliant and that customers have given you permission to use that data for marketing purposes.

Understand your customers & prospects
If you don’t currently have access to Facebook Ads Manager, it’s worth setting up an account purely to try and better understand your customer. Combining Facebook data with insight from Analytics and AdWords, you’ll uncover a goldmine of information. You can do all of this using customer email data.

Remarketing lists for search ads
Commonly referred as RLSAs, these offer the ability to track users who’ve been to your website versus those visiting for the first time. Why is this so powerful? You can adjust your bids, show different ad copy or even exclude a specific group of users if you want.

If you bid on keywords such as “[hotel name] expedia”, you can add all website visitors via those terms to a specific list. You can then bid higher for these users the next time they search using relevant keywords, showing adverts that promote why they should book directly instead.

It’s also worth increasing bids for users who’ve been to your site at least once, ensuring that you appear in top positions when they search for your property again.

If a user doesn’t complete the booking process, you can serve them an advert promoting “no booking fees”, “easy cancellations”, “instant book”, or any other USPs for swinging users your way.

Customer match
You can access much of this same functionality through Google’s Customer Match feature, where you upload your email addresses and target those users (or similar customers) when they search for your keywords. This is also useful if you’re targeting certain events. If from your data you’re able to determine when someone books a birthday trip in 12 months’ you can target those users again with dedicated ads.

Try paid social
Facebook is advantageous for hotels thanks to interactive ad formats which can attract users. Anyone who clicks these ads can then be added to one of your AdWords RLSA campaigns and targeted next time they appear in search.

Carousel ads can be very eye-catching, and canvas ads are mobile-only ad formats that are extremely immersive. If your hotel lends itself to customers with certain demographics or interests, paid social can drive clicks at a cost-per-click lower than paid search. Make sure you are visible elsewhere though – you don’t want someone to book it through an OTA when they search!

4. Bid on your own hotel name

If you search for your hotel and nobody is bidding on those keywords, then this is completely optional.

Brand bidding comes into its own in two specific circumstances.  Firstly, where you are using it to defend against other advertisers bidding on your hotel name (OTAs, etc), and you could either lose the booking altogether, or a big slice of margin. Secondly, if you need greater control over the message than organic search provides. This includes limited-time offers, promotions for a particular audience, or greater control over sitelinks.

W Hotel Barcelona Advertising

It’s always worth testing to understand the cost and return received on investment. There’s also some data showing improved brand awareness for advertisers who are present in both the paid and organic listings.

5. Press home your USPs

Ads & ad extensions
In paid search, you have so many ways to get messages across about why booking directly with you beats booking through OTAs. Make sure that you’re utilising available space for ad copy in the best way, including all relevant ad extensions.

Sitelinks
Additional links to your site that link users to specific pages.

Callout Extensions
Promote USPs or features, such as free Wi-Fi, 24-hour service, airport shuttle, etc.

Structured snippets
Highlight specific aspects of your products and services. Choose from a set of pre-defined category headers such as Destination, Amenities, Featured Hotels, Types etc., and add your values.

Call Extensions
Attach a phone number to your ad so people can call directly from the search results. These calls can also be tracked and counted as conversions if you wish.

Message Extensions
Allow users to contact you directly via text message from the ad.

Location Extensions
Requires a Google My Business account, but allows you to show a hotel’s location within the search results, and trigger your ad for users searching based on proximity.

Price Extensions
Show up to 8 cards that feature different options and prices. Helpful for showing packages, or other services that your hotel offers, e.g. spa.

App Extension
If you have a mobile app for either iOS or Android, you can provide a link to users allowing them to download it straight from the advert.

Promotion Extensions
Allows you to share a promotion that might be relevant to specific times of year, e.g. Mother’s Day or Christmas. Check AdWords for available dates for which you can run promotions.

Ad extensions have multiple benefits. Not only do you get your message across, but you take up more space on the results page and extensions usually drive a better click-through rate.

Keyword Selection
Look beyond “hotel” keywords to the other things that your hotel is good for: is it a great wedding venue? Would visitors recommend it for corporate events? Are you near a popular attraction?

Also consider what makes your hotel unique- what do you know that Expedia definitely don’t? All of these can be keywords for campaigns.

6. Show your ads on maps

With Location Extensions, you’re also eligible to show in Local Search Ads. These are ads that pop up on Google Maps and at the top of Google Search – on both mobile and desktop – when someone searches for relevant business or needs. You won’t have control over these ads (although ensuring everything is organised in Google My Business will help). Think of them as a nice-to-have.

Hotel Ads Maps

7. Google Hotel Ads

These are more complex and need to be set up with the help of an authorised integration partner. To understand how these work, think of Google as the metasearch aggregator – taking in API feeds from different hotel providers and using that to create results from accurate pricing and inventory. Because customers book via your website you pay Google on a cost-per-click basis for the users it drives from Search and Maps.

While setting this up with an integration partner would be more work, for its reach and ability, allowing you to stand alongside OTAs, it’s an option worth considering for hotel marketers.

80 DAYS Benchmark
80 DAYS Benchmark
Arianne Donoghue
Arianne is Strategy Director at Epiphany. Having started off her digital career client side over a decade ago, she has worked for both agencies and brands in-house, specialising in all things paid search. She is now back agency side in Epiphany, supporting on paid media digital strategy. A regular on the conference scene, she’s also an editor and contributor at popular site State of Digital.