By Rosalia Arias
For travelers, planning a vacation can be a lot of work. To save time and money, more travelers are turning to metasearch platforms like Google Hotel Ads, Tripadvisor, and Trivago to search for hotels, conduct price comparisons, and find deals. And yet, many hotels overlook metasearch in their digital marketing strategy, missing out on opportunities to reach a broader segment of travelers, compete for business with online travel agencies (OTAs), and drive direct bookings.
This guide aims to take the mystery out of metasearch marketing for independent hotels and other types of lodging properties. Read on to learn more about what metasearch is, how metasearch sites differ from OTAs, and how to implement a hotel metasearch strategy that generates more bookings and earns higher profits.
What is hotel metasearch?
Although the concept of metasearch may be new to some hoteliers and hosts, it’s actually been part of the travel industry for over 20 years. Sometimes called “a search engine for search engines,” a metasearch platform acts as an information aggregator.
In the case of hotels, a metasearch engine aggregates hotel information and rates from a variety of online distribution channels and displays them all in one place. This enables trip planners to compare hotel booking options without having to visit every site.
The most popular metasearch platforms in the hospitality industry include Google Hotel Ads, Tripadvisor, KAYAK, Trivago, and Skyscanner. Some metasearch sites also aggregate information for flights, car rentals, and activities, allowing travelers to plan an entire trip from one travel site.
How do hotel metasearch engines work?
Most metasearch sites operate in a similar way. Upon arriving on the platform, the user is prompted to enter a destination and the desired travel dates. Much like with OTAs, the search results then display a list of available hotels and rates in the destination. When potential guests click on a hotel, a listing appears, showing hotel information, photos, and traveler reviews, along with rates and availability pulled from a variety of booking sources. Some listings may display rates for several room categories, while others may display only the best available rate. Additional booking details may also be provided such as the cancellation policy and inclusions like free breakfast or Wi-Fi.
To make a booking, the user can click on one of the links and will be taken to the booking source to complete the reservation. On some metasearch sites, users may also have the option to book the hotel without leaving the site.
Booking links on metasearch platforms are typically dominated by OTAs like Booking.com, Expedia, Travelocity, and Hotels.com, but other intermediaries like Tripadvisor and KAYAK may also be listed. If a hotel advertises on the metasearch site, its rate and a link to its website booking engine will be displayed along with the other links, representing the only direct booking option.
Hotel metasearch vs. online travel agencies
So what is the difference between metasearch sites and online travel agencies? The main difference is that OTAs provide room rates and booking capabilities for only one booking channel – their own – whereas metasearch sites display rates for multiple booking channels – sometimes up to twenty or even more.
If the hotel is maintaining rate parity, there shouldn’t be a lot of difference among the room rate offerings across booking sites. In reality, however, there are often significant variances, and the site that offers the lowest rate typically receives the most clicks. To attract bookings, advertisers often try to undercut one another, even by just a dollar or two.
Another key difference between metasearch sites and OTAs is the booking model. OTAs work on a commission model, typically charging hotels a percentage of the total booking value (room rate + taxes and fees). Metasearch engines, on the other hand, work primarily on a cost-per-click business model, although most now offer a commission model too.
What is hotel metasearch marketing?
Metasearch marketing is the use of metasearch engines by hotels as an advertising channel to increase exposure, build awareness, and attract bookings. Metasearch advertising places a hotel or destination in search result listings and includes real-time room rates and a direct link to the hotel’s website. Depending on the site, hotels may also be able to add marketing messaging such as free cancellation or complimentary breakfast.
In addition to room rates, the order in which listings appear on metasearch platforms can also have a significant bearing on click volume. Typically, the higher the link is on the page, the more clicks it generates. So it’s not enough to be listed on a metasearch site; hotels also must compete with other advertisers to appear as high as possible in relevant search results.
When hotels don’t advertise on a metasearch site, a link to their website won’t appear, and the user is likely to book their stay through one of the OTAs or other intermediaries listed. Not only does the hotel miss out on an opportunity to get a direct booking, but it must also pay a commission to the OTA if a booking results. This is a key reason why metasearch campaigns are an essential part of a well-rounded hotel marketing strategy.
How does hotel metasearch advertising work?
Depending on the platform, hotels typically can choose between two metasearch payment models: cost-per-click (CPC) or commission-based. In the cost-per-click model, also called pay-per-click (PPC), the hotel pays a fee to the metasearch engine for every click that leads to its own website. The hotel bids for ad placements to compete with other advertisers for a higher ranking in hotel search results, setting a maximum CPC fee or budget. Generally, the higher the bid, the higher the ranking, but other factors may also be taken into consideration, such as the room rate, ad relevance, and landing page quality.
Some metasearch engines also offer a pay-per-impression (PPI) option, in which case the hotel pays a fee for a certain number of impressions or views, whether or not clicks or bookings result.
Traditionally, metasearch engines have operated on a pay-per-click model, but today most metasearch sites now offer a commission option too. In this model, which is also referred to as cost-per-acquisition (CPA) or pay-per-stay (PPS), hotels pay a commission, or a percentage of the room rate, on bookings. With CPA, the advertiser will pay commission based on sales generated, not stays, which means the commission is due after a guest makes an online booking and is charged whether the guest cancels the booking or not. With PPS, the advertiser will only pay the commission after the guest checks out of the property. This is similar to the OTA model, although metasearch commission rates are typically lower.
There are pros and cons to each model. On the one hand, CPC fees are much lower per transaction than commissions, but the hotel pays these fees whether or not a booking results in a stay. With the commission model, the hotel pays only when a booking is completed.
So which metasearch payment option is best? Testing out both options might be the best way to find out which one works best for your marketing budget. That being said, on metasearch platforms, the cost-per-click model is generally more popular with hotels than the commission model. With a smart metasearch strategy, a hotel’s return on investment can be higher on CPC campaigns than on commission-based bookings on both metasearch sites and OTAs.
Hotel metasearch vs. hotel metasearch marketing
To summarize, hotel metasearch refers to platforms used by travelers to compare a hotel’s rates across booking channels. Hotel metasearch marketing refers to advertising on these platforms to generate awareness, clicks, and bookings.
The importance of metasearch marketing for independent properties
You may be wondering, why would I advertise on metasearch channels when I have free booking links? Ben Lloyd and Kent Schnepp, Directors of Cloudbeds Amplify, answered this question during Passport 2023.
For independent hotels, hostels, inns, and other types of accommodations, metasearch marketing offers a number of advantages. This includes opportunities to:
- Broaden your reach. Metasearch is part of a healthy and diversified distribution strategy. The more channels your property appears on, the greater the visibility, the higher the awareness, and the more opportunities to generate reservations.
- Increase revenue and profitability. Travelers love hotel metasearch sites because they make it easy to compare rates from a variety of booking sources. For hotels, a metasearch strategy gets you in front of high-intent travel shoppers, with the potential to generate bookings at a lower cost than other distribution channels.
- Compete with OTAs. Metasearch engine advertising is crowded with OTAs. By listing on these platforms, your property will stand out from the crowd, attracting travel planners away from OTAs and generating those lucrative direct bookings.
- Own the relationship. Unlike OTA bookings, direct bookings allow you to collect guest contact information at the time of reservation. You can start building relationships with guests right away using automated email communications like booking confirmations and pre-arrival messages.
- Upsell and cross-sell. When travelers visit your website, you have more control over the booking experience. You can promote higher-category rooms, packages, and amenities that may not be available on OTAs, as well as additional on-property services like the restaurant, bar, retail, spa, and activities.
- Target active trip planners. Because metasearch ads are displayed only if your property has availability on the chosen dates, you don’t pay for clicks for dates when your hotel rooms aren’t available, as can happen with Google Ads and other advertising channels.
The 6 best hotel metasearch engines
To help you decide where to list, here’s an overview of the most popular metasearch websites in the hotel industry today.
1. Google Hotel Ads
According to Skift, Google accounts for 67% of all metasearch spending, and that means it should be your top priority. Further, Google Hotel Ads (GHA) are integrated into Google Search results, Maps, and Google My Business Profiles, providing unrivaled exposure for your brand. Whether or not you purchase GHA, you should take advantage of the free booking links now offered by Google.
Launched in 2000, Tripadvisor is one of the original metasearch platforms. Today, it’s one of the most popular travel sites in the world and serves as an essential source of traveler reviews. Tripadvisor offers a number of advertising options for hotels, including its TripConnect cost-per-click program, a commission model called Instant Booking, and Sponsored Placements. Although Tripadvisor launched Instant Booking in 2014, booking activity is still relatively low on the site, and most hotels opt for the CPC model. Find out more about advertising on Tripadvisor.
Launched in 2005 and purchased by Expedia Group in 2012, Trivago now works with more than 180 OTAs around the world. The site offers a cost-per-click model, in which the hotel is charged the amount it bids for each click, and a cost-per-acquisition model, in which the hotel pays a predefined percentage on the value of bookings. With either model, when users click on the advertised rate they are directed to the hotel’s website to complete the booking. Find out how to get listed on Trivago or how to take advantage of Trivago’s Free Booking Links.
Another one of the original metasearch channels, KAYAK first appeared in 2004 and was purchased by Booking Holdings in 2013. Today, the company operates seven brands, including HotelsCombined, and works with more than 60 international sites in over 20 languages. Find out more about advertising on KAYAK.
Formerly Bezurk, Wego is a travel metasearch site based in Singapore. The site operates in 76 countries and in over 22 languages but is most popular in the Asia Pacific and MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) regions, where it is the #1 travel app for IOS and Android devices. Wego allows users to shop and compare flight and hotel prices from over 700 travel sites. Find out how to get listed on Wego.
Founded in 2003 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Skyscanner was acquired by Shanghai-based Trip.com Holdings in 2016. Today, Skyscanner is used by 100 million people per month in 52 markets and is available in over 30 languages. Launched in 2014, the Skyscanner Hotels service has grown to become a global sales platform for hotel brands and OTAs. Find out more about hotel integrations with Skyscanner.
6 hotel metasearch tips & strategies
To maximize your return on investment in hotel metasearch marketing, consider the following strategies:
- Optimize your reach. Choose to work with metasearch channels that make the best fit for your property in terms of popularity, target markets, costs, and booking potential. Set a strategy, budget, and bidding parameters for each channel.
- Manage rates. Strive to maintain rate parity across distribution channels. If OTAs offer lower rates than your direct rates, your advertising dollars will be wasted as most travelers will choose the cheapest channel. If your rates are being undercut by an intermediary, find out why and ask them to stop.
- Diversify offerings. Rather than list only your cheapest rate, offer several room types and rate plans to appeal to a broader segment of travelers, along with add-ons and inclusions such as free cancellation, breakfast, or parking.
- Optimize your listing. Much like OTA listings, metasearch listings should be complete and up-to-date with property information, descriptions, amenities, and quality photos. Compare your listings with other properties in your area to ensure your content stands out from competitors and update the information regularly.
- Manage reviews. Some metasearch sites feature user reviews, whereas others aggregate reviews from other sources. In either case, your hotel’s rating and reviews will have a significant impact on clicks and conversions. Include metasearch channels in your reputation management efforts by monitoring and responding to reviews and using guest feedback to guide improvements.
- Monitor performance. Keep a close eye on your ad spend, bids, clicks, and conversion rates across channels to ensure you’re generating the best performance possible within your allocated budget. If one channel is performing better than others, consider shifting more dollars to that channel.
What independent hotels need to get started on metasearch
If you’re listed on OTAs, you’re probably already listed on metasearch channels too. However, your listing may be inaccurate or incomplete. As a starting point, it’s a good idea to visit metasearch sites to create, claim, or update your listing. Note that some content on metasearch listings may be pulled from OTAs and other sources.
Selecting the right partners is another essential step. While some metasearch engines allow hotels to work with them directly, managing rates and availability on multiple channels can be time-consuming and prone to errors. This can lead to double bookings, overbookings, and missed booking opportunities. As a result, many independent hotels choose to work with only a limited number of distribution channels, but that means they’re missing out on revenue opportunities.
Most metasearch sites require independent properties to work through a connectivity partner, and that makes things easier for everyone. A connectivity partner can provide all the integrations you require as well as manage metasearch advertising campaigns and bidding on your behalf, saving you time and preventing costly errors.
Last, choosing the right tools will ensure you have the technological ecosystem that best supports metasearch marketing strategies. Key tools include:
- A website booking engine integrated with your PMS to drive direct bookings
- A channel manager to easily manage pricing and inventory across multiple distribution channels
- A revenue management system with a built-in rate shopping tool to monitor competitor rates and ensure optimal price positioning at all times
Cloudbeds’ integrated hospitality platform offers these tools and more. A proud connectivity partner with Google, Tripadvisor, and other metasearch sites, Cloudbeds has the functionality to help increase your visibility and direct bookings. We can also help you activate your free booking links on Google.