Major Experiment Promotes Google's Hotel Ads

As of last night we’re seeing a major new experiment pop up across domains for hotel specific searches. The new format shifts the Hotel Ads unit from its usual home in the knowledge panel to the middle of the screen, sometimes even giving it preference over Text Ads:

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The screenshot above shows the new Hotel Ads unit front and center, with preference over standard text ads.

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In the second screenshot you can see the standard experience for a hotel-specific query, with the Hotel Ads unit in the Knowledge Panel to the right. In this standard experience, the first two pieces of content in the left column (below the privacy disclosure) are legacy Text Ads.

Frequency indicates experiment

It’s extremely common for us to see new experiences tested in the search results, and we frequently refer to these as experiments. Successful experiments (presumably driven by user response, traffic quality impacts, monetization, and other KPIs) are then promoted in frequency. We’re seeing this experience pop up very infrequently right now, indicating that it is an early stage experiment. In the example above, a page refresh (and many subsequent page refreshes) showed the standard experience with the Hotel Ads unit in the Knowledge Panel, further reinforcing experiment status.

Functionality and details

From the functionality standpoint, the unit appears to work almost exactly the same when promoted to the center of the page. Date selection is still defaulting to the Sunday ~ 2 weeks out, with the selection units themselves operating as usual. The ad unit headline has been expanded from “Book a Room” to “Book a Room at [hotel name]”, making use of some of the newly available space. The booking unit itself has been expanded to cover almost twice the area it did before.

From the few examples that we’ve seen in the wild, the advertiser sort appears to remain the same across experiences, though we have also seen examples where the advertiser count has been expanded beyond 2. This isn’t unprecedented, as the Hotel Ads unit in Google Maps is already showing 4 advertisers.

In the example above, the Deal tag showing that the nightly rate is currently “15% less than usual” was not maintained, but this may be a factor in the experiment, and we don’t expect this indicates anything about that tag.

Advertiser callouts – shown above as Expedia’s “Best Price Guarantee” and touting their “Member-Only Deals” – are maintained in this new experience. By the nature of the move to the center column these callouts are more visible to users than before.

The Knowledge Panel content is largely unchanged beyond missing the booking widget and the blue deal tag. It’s interesting to note that there’s a subtle change in how the photo and map content is displayed, but its not immediately clear if this is a variation in the experiment, an existing behavior, or a separate function altogether.

What this experiment could mean

This looks like a small scale experiment thus far, so while the new experience is being tested we expect any impact to be minimal. That said, this type of experience would represent a major shift for Hotel Ads with significant potential implications for advertisers.

The most obvious implication could be more volume through Hotel Ads. The unit’s shift to the primary content position in Google should drive more eyes, more interactions, more clicks, and more bookings. Given the offset of Text Ad and Organic Results, it’s possible this could drive a shift in traffic across channels, though it’s too early to say.

The effect on conversion rate will be extremely interesting to measure. Ads by their nature, placement, and content experience selection bias from users. A user that is researching and ready to book in the legacy experience should be more likely to engage with the booking widget than a user researching hotels. It is possible that this experience could drive more mid funnel users due to its prominence.

In the screenshot below you can see an example from another query where 4 advertisers showing up at once:

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While we’ve seen this before in other units, this is the first time we’ve seen an expanded result set in the “localuniversal” search type.

mobileIf this experience becomes the new standard, we expect that impressions would increase significantly for many advertisers and for the click curve to smooth out from ad positions 1 to 4 due to the inclusion of two additional advertisers.

We’re seeing a similar experience on mobile devices, where the Hotel Ads unit is also promoted above existing content. On mobile the effect is perhaps even more significant.

There’s also an interesting  and perhaps unexpected benefit to expanding the number of advertisers; doing so gives users the opportunity to experience more rates and diversity than they may otherwise see with only two results.

Expanding out the number of results also gives advertisers the ability to drive more lower CPC traffic across their portfolio, and may be especially valuable for those that are looking to drive valuable traffic through the positive brand bias that exists in metasearch.

An expanded and more prominent ad unit also creates an opportunity to add more functionality to the experience. Users may find value in potential features allowing them to explore prices across different timeframes, filter down to specific rate types, explore different room options, or engage with additional relevant content. These types of things would be difficult to support in the standard Knowledge Panel real estate, but may now be possible.

This experiment represents the most significant potential change to Hotel Ads and Google’s hotel search results in some time, so we’ll be watching closely and will update here as we learn and find more.