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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Advertising giants in disguise - Part 2 - The Anatomy of the Google Search

Yesterday I wrote about Bing's search for a hotel.  Today, we turn to Google.

They are not so very different from the consumer's perspective.  The parts of the search screen are fundamentally the same, with slight nuances.

AD IDENTIFICATION

Google recently changed their search in a couple of ways.

First, their ads, which used to be shaded, now have an AD icon to make them stand out more.  Each ad is preceded by the icon.  I'll cover the other changes after we go through the main parts of the search page.

SEARCH RESULTS
When I do a search for the Mayflower Hotel, Seattle, I see 855,000 listings.

By encasing the name in quotation marks, the list is cut in half.  And remarkably, the number of ads are multiplied significantly and the photo/booking window on the right disappears, replaced by the right rail of ads.

Here is a search for the Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle.   The only ad on the page (separate from the embedded ads in the booking window on the right that I'll touch on in a sec) is one from Orbitz.   Orbitz appends the name of the hotel to the end of their URL, but as I mentioned yesterday, the name before the ".com" is still the name of who you are doing business with.

Google offers advertisers a series of options on their ads, which includes embedding ratings, showing your Google+ number of followers and reminding the user of how many times they have visited that particular site.  They can also include additional click ads at the end of the ad (4 Star Seattle Hotels and 3 Star Seattle Hotels are clickable links to Orbitz).

ORGANIC SEARCH

On Google, the next listing happens to be for the hotel itself.  The hotel is taking advantage of several additional features on Google, including "sub-links" for Special Promotions, a Calendar, Contact Us, Our Hotel, Accommodations and Oliver's Lounge.  There is also a link to display more results for mayflowerpark.com, so they can showcase other promotions using their same URL.

The remaining listings on the coveted first page are those that directly relate to the original search.  As you move back through the subsequent pages, the listings become less and less relevant.

THE PHOTO/BOOKING WINDOW

This feature is geared for the consumer that wants to search across different distributors of this hotel's inventory.  This is known as meta-search, made famous by Sidestep and Kayak.

If you fill in your check in and check out dates, you will see ads from Orbitz, Priceline, Hotels.com and getaroom ranging from $177 per night to $209 (not including tax and fees) and $206-$241 including taxes and fees.  You can also click through to the owner's site (if the property has been claimed through the link at the bottom of the window).  The same room is sold for $209 on the Mayflower hotel's site, shown as the "Best Available Rate".

NOTE:  As you can see above, Best Available Rate does not mean the lowest rate.  It typically means the lowest unrestricted (read can be cancelled without penalty) rate.

As opposed to showcasing TripAdvisor reviews, Google highlights its own rankings and reviews.  They also prompt the user to write their own review, directly from the window here.

The window also shows you other hotels that people are searching for in the Seattle area.

THE "BLACK BANNER"
The real difference between Bing and Google is when you do a broader search.  With Google, you get their "black banner", with a horizontal view of the hotels in the area.  The listing scrolls and can be filtered by hotel class and rating.  Beneath the banner are traditional ads, a sponsored (read: paid) listing of hotels, along with their average price, rating and reviews, organic search results, a map and then plenty more paid ads on the right side, with the Ads icon.  A total of 14 ads on the first page alone, if you don't count the black banner properties, which no doubt subscribe to this type of display of their property.



So what's a consumer to do?  Enjoy the choice.  Find the retailer that best suits you.  If you know what you want, then clicking on the hotel's own ad is likely a good idea.   If you are not so sure and don't have the time to browse through pages and pages of content, then a site that has a best price guarantee is your best bet.

As I mentioned in my Tommy Bahama post yesterday, do pay attention to cancellation policies and fees.  Don't assume that the hotel doesn't have non-refundable rooms.  Remember the "Advance Purchase" rate is a euphemism for Non-Refundable.

Be smart, be informed.

Travel often.  Spend money.  It is what keeps our economy going.










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