For hoteliers, there is a clear difficulty in trying to make the most of your relationship with OTAs whilst being able to drive enough direct traffic to your hotel’s site.
OTAs are great because they put your hotel on the scene and help you to increase overall bookings. But this comes at a cost; not only does the OTA take a hefty percentage of each booking, but you lose out on brand awareness because to the consumer, you become just another hotel in the area to compare prices with.
As the saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. OTAs are useful in your marketing strategy, but you can’t rely on them solely if you want to increase direct bookings and increase your brand awareness.
Only in February this year, the UK’s Competition and Markets Agency (CMA) had announced that they are launching ‘enforcement action’ into various OTAs to help end misleading sales tactics, hidden charges and other practices (BBC). This speaks volumes about why OTAs win sales over direct bookings at your hotel and gives more of a reason as to why you shouldn’t rely on OTAs only.
One of the most effective ways to counteract the negative effects of OTAs is to run PPC campaigns. If you’re not too familiar with them, we will explain what they are all about below (alternatively, have a look at our beginner’s guide to Google Ads as well as how you can use them to your advantage against the effects of the OTAs.
What is PPC?
PPC (which stands for pay-per-click) is a type of internet marketing which aims to drive traffic to websites where advertisers (such as yourself) pay a fee each time one of their ads is clicked. So, rather than leaving it down to organic visits, PPC is a way to buy visits to your site.
There are many PPC platforms available, the most popular being Google Ads. And if you use Google search, you have more than likely come across a sponsored ad which showed at the top of the results.
How PPC campaigns can be used to counter OTAs
OTA brand bidding
First of all, it’s a good idea to find out if OTAs are bidding on your hotel’s brand, and if so how their bidding compares to yours. You can do this using a tool such as Auction Insights which gives complete details about how your ads and the competitors’ ads are performing in the same auction.
It’s important that you are bidding for your own brand name to reduce the amount of traffic lost to the OTAs who are also bidding on your brand. You could even bid on your brand name along with the name of each OTA; by doing so, your ad is more likely to appear above the OTAs’ ads, making you look more dominating.
To really make your ad stand out compared to your OTAs ad for your brand, you should match the USPs (unique selling points, or reasons to come to your hotel) mentioned by the OTA and try to beat theirs by adding more USPs if possible.
Remarketing lists for search ads
Remarketing lists for search ads (also known as RLSAs) is a Google Ads feature that allows you to adjust search campaigns based on whether a user has previously visited your website, and what their behaviour was on your site.
Quite often, consumers find hotel deals on one of the OTA sites, then visit the hotel’s website to find out more about the hotel, but then they go back to the OTA site to make their booking instead of making a direct booking. This is when hotels should use RLSAs to win the booking.
By using RLSA, when consumers try to return to the OTA site by search, the search results may come up with your RLSA ad. This ad will be different to your other ads, this will be more specific on trying to get consumers to book directly, so specific key phrases should be included such as 10% off direct bookings.
Customer match is another Google Ads feature for PPC campaigns that is effective in counteracting OTAs. Customer match allows you to reach and re-engage with your customers but also target ads to other customers like them.
The advantage of using customer match is similar to that of using the RLSA – you can create customised/more specific ads based on the users’ stages in their purchase journey.
Google Hotel Ads
Google Hotel Ads shows your hotel’s availability and room rates on Google Search, Maps, and the Assistant, alongside the organic listings.
To run Google Hotel Ads, there is a lot of set-up work beforehand and you need to work with a specialist partner in order to be able to create a Google Hotel Feed.
You create a Google Hotel Centre account which allows you to send and manage your hotel rates and availability across Google. You then link your Google Hotel Centre account with your Google Ads account to connect your prices and availability to your ads. And once this has been done, you can then start creating ad campaigns in Google Hotel Ads.
One of the main benefits of using Google Hotel Ads is that it increases the chance of direct bookings; once a user clicks on the ‘Book a room’ CTA button, the top choice to do so is the official hotel website, so Google is advertising your website first to book through over the OTAs.
Local search ads
Another PPC best practice to help you counter OTAs is by using Local Search Ads, which are the ads that show up in the Google local search results section of the page, or on Google Maps when users search for local/nearby businesses.
Search queries such as ‘Hotel near me’ or the name of a specific local hotel name will trigger local results to show rather than the usual search results.
The great thing about local search results is that you can take up a lot of ad space that OTAs wouldn’t be able to, meaning an increase in direct bookings is likely.
Use all relevant ad extensions
Ad extensions allow you to expand and strengthen your ads by showing relevant information that the user may find useful to then encourage them to click. Ad extensions do not cost anything, they are just an additional feature that you can use to improve your ads, ultimately helping them stand out from your OTAs ads.
Ad extensions also help to improve your ad rank, hopefully meaning you can outrank your OTAs ads, increasing the likelihood of your ad winning the click and potential conversions.
For best practice in the hotel industry, the best relevant ad extensions to use are:
- Location extensions – so the user knows how close your hotel is to their ideal location
- Call extensions – which makes it easy for users that wish to call your hotel for any queries
- Review extensions – an easy way for users to see what your hotel is honestly like in other people’s words
- Price extensions – you can show the starting prices for rooms, users will know straight away if your hotel is within their budget
- Structured snippet extension – to show the variety of services or to highlight certain aspects of your hotel such as amenities
Effectively use PPC to counter your OTAs…
We hope this article has been insightful on how you can use PPC to counter your OTAs and increase your direct bookings at your hotel.
Starting with an audit is a great first step. Find out Why Running A Digital Audit Is The Best Decision You Will Make This Year.