Update March 2022: Google has announced increased visibility of free booking links, including them on the search engine results page as well as on Google Maps.
Update May 2021: After eight weeks we published real numbers and conclusions of free booking links impact.
Google has just announced the launch of free booking links in Google Hotel Ads. Until today, Hotel Ads was a 100% paid showcase in which only bidding channels would appear in the results. Now, a hotel’s homepage will appear in the Hotel Ads results, even if they are not bidding. An interesting and, once again, smart move by Google.
Free booking links show up just below the paid ads. Google differentiates between “Ads – Featured options” and “All options”.
This new layout is very much aligned with the traditional, and very much successful, search results page (SERP). In the SERP, the top of the page is reserved for paid ads, and organic results are below. In Hotel Ads, the “organic” listings are now called Free Booking Links.
How many entries appear in the “free booking links” results?
The results will vary, but we can assume this will be between one and ten results. If you click on the “view more options from $xx”, it pulls options that match your criteria without limiting the number of entries.
How many ads show up in the top part of the results?
This will also vary, but we have seen a range anywhere from one to four listings.
How to show up your hotel in these “free booking links”?
Besides having your Google My Business profile verified and up to date (Google released a guide last August), you need an integration partner that connects you to Hotel Ads, which is an easy process. Your hotel will be included within the integration partner feed and it will be eligible to show up in the free booking links, as long as you use an integration partner.
Do I need to be active with a paid campaign to show up results in the free booking links?
No. You can be in the free booking links without any active campaign. That is, you can be in Hotel Ads for free.
I am not connected to Google Hotel Ads. What are my options?
Google published an extensive list of active integration partners. Mirai is one of them, and we are proud to offer a full-stack integration with features including photos of rooms, compatibility with all the available filters (different occupancies, flexible cancellation), room bundles and Book on Google among many others.
Is the same information shown in the “paid” and “free booking links” sections?
Entries in the “paid” section have a lot of information such as room photos, cancellation policies, logo, occupancy, call outs and all of the rates & room types. It also has the “official site” label.
What we see in the “organic” section is simpler and has less information, showing the logo, “official site” label, occupancy, cancellation policy and price.
What is the “sort order” in the “free booking links” section?
Google traditionally values the quality of the integration (technical requirements), competitiveness of the price compared with other channels (or bidders) and the conversion rate of the channel. We’ll test in the coming weeks about what variables affect this order, but so far it’s very early to make conclusions.
Do filters affect “free booking links” results?
Yes they do. Both “free booking links” and “paid” results are affected when the “occupancy filter” or the “free cancellation filter” are applied. Having a solid integration with Hotel Ads is again crucial to take full advantage of all new features that Google releases.
Will it be possible to differentiate the traffic from the “paid” and “free booking links” sections in Google Analytics?
Google allows you to differentiate it. However, your integration partner should work on facilitating that work for you. How? By adapting the deeplink to your site to identify when it comes from the new “free booking links” section (either using If-Ad-Click or If-Hotel-Campaign techniques). If your integration partner does not do the work for you, all traffic coming from these “organic” links will be labeled in Analytics as if it were “paid links”.
At Mirai, we have adapted our integration and customized the “source” and “medium” variables so you see it right in Google Analytics.
Additionally, we’ve been recording all this traffic for quite some time. You can download, in our Metasearch dashboard, a booking report with all the detailed information from those reservations, including the source and medium it comes from: paid or free booking links.
How will this “free booking links” section affect the bids and CPCs in the “paid” sections of Hotel Ads?
It is too early to know. Top positions will definitely be more competitive, and that may translate into higher CPCs. Nevertheless, having free links in the “organic” section would also compensate for that increase in CPCs. So, we have to wait and see.
Should I expect an increase in volume and bookings with the new “free hotels links”?
It is still too early to know so we cannot say for certain. On one hand, you will get more traffic as you have a new placement for your direct channel. On the other, this new entry may somehow cannibalise traffic coming from the paid section. In essence, we’d argue that you should be getting more traffic and bookings in general. That being said, we will know more as we use the tool.
What percentage of the total traffic should I expect to be “free” and what “paid”?
So far, our data suggests that roughly 3% of the total traffic came from these new “free hotels links” in the last weeks. However, we do not know what percentage of users saw this new section and in what hotels. Therefore, this 3% is a conservative estimate. We’ll closely monitor this piece of data in the coming weeks.
Google is putting a strong emphasis on enhancing search for hotels on Google to not only improve user experience, but provide advertisers with more campaign optimizations. For hotels and the direct channel, any change to this product represents a new opportunity to compete with OTA’s and drive more direct traffic. As a hotelier, it is crucial to pay attention to two things: adding to your core business with these features and using them to their full potential, and finding the best integration partner to help you execute these best practices.