Will Recent SERP Changes Impact Hotel PPC?

by Phil Foriska

The hotel industry has seen the Google SERP change pretty drastically over the past few years and the latest update was more than just a minor tweak. Google has removed PPC ads from the right side of the SERP and added a 4th ad to the top of the page above Google Hotel Ads and organic listings.

Internet marketers across the globe have been tracking this particular 4-ad display, and it has mainly been found on transactional/commercial queries. Being in the hotel industry, we know that many of our customer’s informational queries are also considered transactional. The query “myrtle beach hotels” is one example. To a degree, this is just an informational query, but since there is likely intent to purchase a hotel room it is also considered transactional.

What does this mean for hotel marketers?

One of the biggest impacts this layout change has is that it once again pushes organic listings further down the first page. Many of the recent SERP updates have done this as well. We saw this happen with the original hotel carousel and then again with the addition of Google’s Hotel Ads program. While this doesn’t mean the “death of SEO” like many love to claim, it does mean that we can expect some decreases in natural search traffic.

We also anticipate this impacting PPC through an increase in Avg. CPC. Users will more than likely stay on the first page as they always have. Now that there are only 4 spots to compete for instead of 8-12, advertisers who were on the first page will need to increase bids to break into the top 4. As those advertisers raise their bids to break into the top 4, those who are already there will also need to raise bids to maintain their position. It’s a vicious cycle. Thanks again, Google.

This leaves many to question whether this change was made to improve user experience or if it was more a financial decision for Google. While they may be losing some paid clicks from the right rail, they’re going to get more per click from the top 4 spots as we just mentioned above. This could also be done to drive traffic to Google’s Hotel Ads program where the CPC is based on number of room nights searched, and can bring in much more money for Google than a single click on a PPC ad. Others are claiming that this is simply a cleaner, more user-friendly design.

What Can We Do To Combat This?

While there isn’t a ton we can do, here are 8 tips that will help you compete:
1. Optimize the hell out of your hotel’s PPC ads. Make sure they include as many sitelinks and extensions as possible. You want to be able to take up the most SERP real estate and have the most compelling listing. Test ad copy regularly to find a combination that works best.
2. Pay attention to your Auction Insights report within Adwords to monitor how Google’s new SERP layout impacts your position and competition for your top keywords.
3. Revisit your keyword list. Use the Search Terms feature within adwords to see what long tail keyword opportunities you may be missing.  
4. Improve your landing pages. A great landing page can increase your quality score which could lead to lower CPCs.
5. Remarket to your site visitors. Create remarketing lists for those who have visited the site or certain pages of the site. You should be willing to pay more for more generic queries for users who are familiar with your brand.
6. Try Dayparting to serve only during peak conversion times. This allows you to eliminate some unnecessary spend and bid into the top 4 when users are most likely to convert.
7. Don’t give up on SEO. If Google continues to increase the number of ads, users could become blind to them and scroll through quickly, much like we’ve seen with skipping pre-roll ads.
8. Participate in Google’s Hotel Ads program. Hotel Ads offers chance to show under the 4 PPC ads and above the organic results.  

It is still too early to tell whether this will have a major or minor impact, we here at TravelBoom will continue to monitor how this will change the landscape for hotel PPC and SEO. Contact us today to see how TravelBoom can help you stay on top of changes like these.

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