What are free booking links and how can hotels take advantage of them?
Last year, Google announced that they are introducing free booking links in Google Hotel Search. Free booking links have the potential to bring a major change to the online distribution landscape and impact the way travelers find and book their stays. It also opened a new opportunity for hoteliers to win more direct bookings directly on their website by making them more independent of OTAs and their high commissions.
How can hoteliers and hosts take advantage of the new Google Booking Links? We break down everything you need to know, including how free booking links differ from Google Hotel Ads.
What are Google’s Free Booking Links and where do they appear?
Free booking links appear on the hotel booking module alongside hotel ads when travelers look for rooms and the best rates at a given hotel. For hoteliers and guests, this means you are now showing up on hotel search on Google, like this:
Why should every hotel be listed in Google with their own website?
By launching Free Booking Links, Google made some significant changes to the way they expose an individual property’s direct booking engine on Google Hotel Search.
In the past, the only way for hotels to get visibility and traffic through Google Hotels was to run paid campaigns and compete against OTA’s and other metasearch engines.
But according to Google’s major update last year, any eligible property that has rates and availability integrated to Google via their booking engine, channel manager or PMS will now have their direct booking engine or ‘official website’ displayed for direct booking on Google Hotel Search.
With your hotel’s free Google Booking Links displayed to users across hotel searches on Google, users will be able to make a booking directly with your property. This allows hotels to save by reducing the costs you would otherwise pay to OTAs in commissions as well as allowing hotels collect the guest data that can be used for upselling and re-marketing.
What does hote need to have to be eligible for free booking links?
To be eligible for Google’s Free Booking Links a property must fulfill all Google limitations concerning rate plans, taxes, and fees as well as following criteria:
- You must have a Google Business Profile listing
- You must use a Booking Engine from one of Google’s approved partners
- Properties with the following taxes activated on their booking engine are restricted from using Google connection due to price accuracy issues: per person per night and rate-based.
What is the difference between Google Free Booking Links, Google Hotel Ads, Google Business Profile and Google Search Ads?
Google offers various different ways to be listed in search results. We’ll describe different options for how to get visibility and traffic in Google search results along with an image to illustrate where your property will be shown.
Free Booking Links
As mentioned, the Google Booking Links is a free listing in Google Hotel Search that displays a link to your website’s booking engine with an “Official Site” badge.
They show your property’s bookable rates and allow direct reservations. It appears underneath any ‘Google Hotel Ads’ being run and is listed under “All options.”
Google Hotel Ads
Besides Free Booking Links, these advertisement links display your official website on Google Hotel Search with bookable rates and may help you to achieve direct reservations.
Unlike free booking links, these are paid ads and appear alongside with traditional Google Hotel Ads being run. The ads appear in a property’s Google Business Profile and in Google Hotels Results as well as in Google Maps. When a user clicks on on hotels own Google Hotel Ad, they are redirected directly into the property’s booking engine or website to complete the reservation. Also the OTA’s and other metasearch engines does market on here and that’s why you should protect your own brand in here against them.
Google Business Profile
The most important free tool that every hotel needs to take seriously. This is your property’s official listing and profile in Google.
You can use it to see and connect with your customers, post updates, and see what reviews your customers are writing of you in Google. This is a good tool to highlight your amenities and services you provide.
Google Search Ads
Google Search Ads are ‘keyword ads’ – paid links that you can use to promote your brand, help sell products or services, raise awareness, and increase direct traffic to your website. They are shown as paid links displayed at the top of Google’s search results page above the Google Hotel Ads module.
Every hotel should at least protect their own brand by running Google Search campaigns just so that OTAs don’t win the reservations you earn to get with your own brand. Search Ads are a good channel to market with some very niche and targeted keywords such as e.g.“pet-friendly hotels riga latvia old town”.
Why should every hotel use a booking engine that integrates to Google Hotels?
The benefits of having a booking engine that integrates with Google Hotel Search in are e.g:
- Your hotel room rates and availability will be shown at no cost and will always be accurate and directly bookable on Google through your own website and avoid paying commission fees to OTAs.
- You’ll convert future guests at an earlier point in their purchasing journey by reaching guests when they start searching
- You own the guest data, personal data and all the communications that can be used for re-marketing and upselling your services and products.
Hopefully you understand now why it’s important to have a reliable, up to data booking engine.
Ranking factors and things to keep in mind
The easiest way to get your hotel listed in Google is to use an integration partner that is approved by Google. If your booking engine isn’t, I highly encourage you to change to one because all the up to date booking engines should be integrated with Google nowadays.
Some other factors that affect your visibility:
This is a confirmed ranking factor. The price that you show to guests in Google should alway match with the final price guests pay in the reservation page. Reliable Booking Engine is important in this matter.
Landing page experience
As in traditional search landing page experience is a strong ranking factor. Your website should be your most important sales channel so it’s worth investing in that.
Best price through your own website
You should always provide the best price through your own website. Metasearch is a highly price sensitive sales channel and even 1 euro makes a big difference when guests are deciding which channel they use to complete the reservation.
Free booking links are no brainer to get direct reservations and every hotel should take advantage of them. It’s estimated that the traffic that comes through them is only 17% so it’s also important to do some marketing Google Hotel Ads. It’s also estimated that they represent 11% of the sales coming through GHA. If you are not yet integrated with Google, talk with us and we will help you to get you there with our integration partner.