What is Metasearch?
Metasearch is one of those concepts that’s a powerful force, but is rarely mentioned by name. Put simply, Metasearch is a pay-to-play channel where a property buys ad placements on leading industry sites like Google (Google Hotel Ads), TripAdvisor, Kayak or Trivago to name a few. Those sites aggregate hotel room inventory from numerous channels. The available rooms are collected and displayed with price comparisons all on one site.
What Benefits Does Meta Present to the Hospitality Industry?
I’m confident in stating that most travel consumers will not know what metasearch is. If someone asked a guest where they booked, they would likely say TripAdvisor or Google. This is why Metasearch is incredibly important in the overall digital mix for hotels, especially independent properties. Big brands and OTA’s with large-scale budgets try to dominate search. However, there are 3 opportunities for any given property to appear on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP):
Paid Search: A pure pay to play channel. This is achieved by dedicating budget to Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and leveraging Google’s auction-based model to pay for placements at the top of a google search page above the organic listings.
Organic Listings: This is achieved by a multitude of factors summed up in large part by having an effective SEO strategy with high-quality website content, structure, and technical SEO in place. Unlike SEM & Meta, Organic listings are considered earned placements – there is NO pay to play involved here.
Metasearch: Similar to SEM in that it is pay to play, metasearch operates on an auction model, and typically shows up underneath the Local Pack (Map, Property Name, etc.) section on the Google homepage.
In sum, it is in any hotel’s best interest to dominate the organic listings, as they should be the foremost resource of content on their property AND destination. They should also have a KPI-based approach to metasearch and SEM that aligns with the property’s ROI targets for these channels. If you’re not doing this, your competition likely is and the OTA’s certainly are with their massive marketing budgets.
How is Metasearch Different Than Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)?
Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s), like Expedia and Booking.com are also aggregators. They collect information on hotel, car rental, airline, etc. inventory. OTA’s hold huge power in the overall travel industry. One strong reason they are so powerful is that they are present at numerous touch points in the consumer planning journey:
Dreaming: OTA’s are often used as price comparison shopping sites when consumers are considering which destination to travel to next
Planning: OTA’s help in narrowing a search further when a consumer is set on a particular destination, and now looking at which specific accommodation to book
Booking: OTA’s serve as a validation prior to purchase with their mass of consumer reviews
It is also important to remember that OTA’s often leverage metasearch channels to push their inventory. If a hotel is also listed on those channels, then the OTA is actually in direct competition with the hotel’s own inventory.
The OTA’s behave the same as an individual hotel that allocates budget for metasearch to drive direct bookings. OTA’s have a certain amount of hotel inventory, and they look to metasearch as one channel to sell that inventory. In fact, a consumer likely won’t see the difference between any of the channels and certainly doesn’t understand or really care who is adding rooms or where they originate. But hotels definitely care. Using metasearch channels, hotels hope to sell their rooms directly through their own booking engine and avoid reseller partner commissions of 15-25% for the same room on the same metasearch site.
How Can You Maximize the Potential of Metasearch?
Numerous factors contribute to maximizing the potential of metasearch. First, choosing the right partner to manage your metasearch campaigns is key. Leveraging meta is a niche tactic that is specific to the travel industry. Choosing a partner with hospitality industry experience is a must. Digging deeper, make sure that the provider is using an effective platform (or has built their own) to manage metasearch campaigns. Features to look for include advanced bidding logic.
The next thing to consider if you want to be successful in metasearch is how you manage your rate parity across all distribution channels. Policing offending resellers who are undercutting you is critical. If your direct channel is not the cheapest offering (or the same price as resellers), you might as well not invest in metasearch. Consumers are price conscious and will more often than not go with the same room at the cheaper price, regardless of who is selling it.
Finally, the desired action/conversion from metasearch campaigns is a direct booking – Meta listing CTA (call-to-action) is deep-linked into the property’s own booking engine. Wait, what does my booking engine have to do with anything? Simply put, your booking engine is the landing page for meta campaigns, and if it does not have a good user experience, isn’t optimized for mobile traffic, etc. consumers may ultimately decide to abandon and book through another channel that may seem easier to complete their purchase on.
How Much of Your Marketing Budget Should You Put Toward Metasearch?
Ultimately, this will vary based on your market and what your competition is doing. The rule of thumb, however, advises that you keep investing in any direct channel initiative that’s driving revenue. As part of your marketing mix, metasearch should be used as an ongoing budget–and not a static spend. As long as you’re above your ROI/ROAS targets, you should keep refilling the budget regardless of where you are in the month/your budgeting cycle. After all, while your inventory might be ever-changing, the way you keep filling those rooms can be through a steady stream of metasearch traffic.