The ongoing evolution of metasearch is generating a lot of conversation, and with good reason. The channel is poised for exponential grow. Google, for instance, expects 2016 will see 100% growth for its metasearch product. Though the landscape can be complex, this is a lucrative marketing channel that should not be overlooked.
So…what exactly is metasearch?
Metasearch (n.): A travel-specific distribution and marketing channel that aggregates hotel accommodation information to provide travelers with the most variety and an easy way to find the best available rates. Metasearch sites (or “meta engines”) like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Trivago, and even Google present travelers with relevant results based on the traveler’s desired location, check-in date, stay length, and price. The aggregated information makes comparison shopping quick and easy. Traditionally, these meta engines direct travelers to the Online Travel Agent (OTA) or the hotel website to book their stay. However, some metasearch sites are moving towards direct bookings on their sites in order to streamline the user experience.
Metasearch placements are part of a hotel brand’s paid search arsenal. Fairly minimalist, the metasearch ad eschews ad copy in favor of emphasizing the essentials: hotel brand and price.
Paid Search Ad:
Google Hotel Ads Ad Unit:
Leveraging both traditional paid search ads and metasearch ads increases a brand’s visibility in the SERP. The dual approach increases the likelihood that the ads will serve to users and result in a booking on the brand site rather than users completing their transactions via an OTA.
How does metasearch work?
To someone fluent in digital marketing, the metasearch channel is most easily described as a hybrid of paid search and feeds. Metasearch is unique to the travel and hospitality ecosystem, but shares many similarities with retail product listing ads (PLAs). Both are feed based, and neither feature text as prominently within their respective ad units. Because of these traits, accurate data and bid management are the keys to driving results.
When first discussing metasearch with the SEM aficionados on my team, they struggled to come to grips with the program’s current limitations. The conference room echoed with their shocked cries of, “No search query data?!” Though some familiar features do not apply to metasearch, it’s important to note that the absence of these capabilities doesn’t prevent us from leveraging sophisticated strategies for campaign management. There are myriad ways to integrate and layer in other data points that are relevant to a user’s booking behavior. For example, you can optimize by user stay length, check-in date, and device type. It’s also valuable to explore integrating relevant internal data.
What does the UI look like?
You are likely already familiar with metasearch placements from a user perspective. Popular metasearch sites Kayak, Trivago, and TripAdvisor are all viable options in terms of revenue-generating potential as well as vehicles for trip planning and destination research.
Unsurprisingly, Google has their own metasearch product, aptly named “Hotel Ads” and it has experienced exponential growth in recent years.
The Metasearch landscape is evolving rapidly
In the last year or so, the metasearch space has undergone considerable change. Like any new channel, it is swiftly evolving. Meta channels are iterating at a rapid pace to find the ideal intersection between appeasing suppliers with more advanced targeting abilities and providing searchers with an optimal user experience.
The inception of disruptive booking platforms on metasearch – sites like TripAdvisor’s “Instant Book” and Google Hotel Ads’ “Book with Google” – have prompted hoteliers to renegotiate their strategies and rules of engagement with metasearch sites. The emergence of these “OTA Lites”, as industry experts have deemed them, provide minimal branding exposure and usurp hotelier’s valuable interactions with consumers. They’re often granted top visibility in the search results and also are given a larger ad. This enhanced real estate ensures that they, not the hotel brands, receive the majority of available click traffic. Because users complete the transaction on the metasearch interface, they never make it to brand.com. This disruption of the path-to-purchase prevents hoteliers from capturing valuable user data for retargeting. Shifts like these in the dynamics of metasearch indicate a clear need for innovative tactics and I’m excited to see how this swiftly evolving channel will develop!