Google is ditching its carousel integration for the hotel vertical in favour of a new (more profitable) 'three-pack' SERP rendering and some new secondary page experiences.

What does this mean for marketers? 

The highlights:

  • Google expands paid media placements for most hotel related results pages in the US.
  • If you’re not involved in a meta search program with Google, you better start talking about it.
  • True organic results pushed even further down the page and below most folds for today’s screen resolutions.
  • Google continues to blur the line between paid and earned media for hotel SERPs
  • Increase in propensity for three paid ad units to sit above these algorithmic results increases versus 2.x across different geo-markets.

It would appear this roll-out has been quite swift in the making. Usually there are volumatic murmurs and rumours as Google tests out SERP UI changes, but on this occasion it seems to be pretty confident it’s in the user’s best interest, which as we know really means revenue stimulation.

Here's the before and after.

Before:

Not all regional search phrases render this new format at this point, but major markets in the US do. 

The results so far pretty much exactly match the top three from the legacy carousel display which could be a simple reversal of formatting but retaining algorithmic law.

So if you were well positioned in the top three from the carousel, you should notice your presence in the initial set of results prior to any criteria modification such as price, star rating and booking dates.

Let’s not forget, the carousel ended up having similar criteria embedded within it too, so the inclusion of result modifying options aren’t new, but the positioning of it this time around will likely make them more widely used versus their near invisible state before.

After: 

This placement in itself will make for interesting future analysis to truly evaluate how widely used they might become. Competitive rate analysis will now move beyond the traditional distribution channels and meta search channels and should now include the standard SERP results of Google.

The initial three-pack, it would seem, is also predicted by search history as it has before and so you can argue there is algorithmic decisions being integrated into displayed results as well.

But you have to question this to a degree with the HPA (Hotel Price Ads) being a primary component of the results. Some might say this is purely informational, but knowing the construct of the HPA program and its algorithm, I, and others, know different.    

With the old carousel, the top 6-10 results were the most important based on research. Now you have to click to be seen beyond the top three.

Effectively, this new slice of real-estate in the default SERPs UI is your goal. It also seems that Google have retained the amount of traditional listings causing a more elongated page UX for searchers.

Likely creating a situation whereby CTRs for those listings,  now further down, will decrease as a result rendering them less valuable in the scheme of things. Ultimately, the removal of the carousel format, introduction of an advanced '3-Pack' combining HPA data, local SEO algorithmic results, will reduce some hotels' search visibility to zero where they might have had a fighting chance before.

It could well be that three results isn’t enough for the vast majority of consumers. And that inevitably, clicks to see 'More Results' will occur where users can see a host more of potential hotel candidates.

Or maybe Google will introduce a scroll inside this rectangle to make it more interactive without the need to navigate away from the SERPs page like they have native gesture swipes from right to left on the mobile UI of the same format which actually has been running for a short time already. 

To add insult to injury, when clicking on a listing in '3-Pack', Google delivers the user to a new search page layout. Instead of the legacy carousel being positioned at the top, ads directly beneath and branded results for the listing showing - the introduction of more prevalent paid media occurs.

The new result is loaded with paid media immediately after a large knowledge graph result and then traditional organic listings in a clear attempt to drive traffic into the online travel agent domain.

Prior to this change in layout, most searchers would have clicked on the first ad or organic result for the hotel after clicking on the carousel listing. Now the Hotel Finder acquire significant real estate above the branded organic results, yet again,

Make no mistake, this move will affect your organic traffic ranking and volume of traffic. This will make you re-think your overall search strategy if you are a hotel, resort, or other lodging provider. With these new changes, it is essential that you are in the top three local results or previously the top three carousel results to show up in this reinvigorated 'Local 3-Pack'.

With the dominance of big brands in the hospitality industry, the new Local 3-Pack is going to make the lives of independent and boutique properties a bit more difficult. Google’s recent Pigeon algorithm rewards sites that have greater domain authority with better local rankings.

Therefore, big brands will be in the top spots for the Local Pack as hotels within those brands piggy back on their big brand domains resulting in greater domain authority. Independent hotels can’t compete with the big brand domain power, therefore the removal of the Carousel will greatly reduce the visibility of some hotels.

What should you do to capitalize on the new Local 3-Pack? 

  • Time is of the essence so act now before Google has rolled this out universally. If you get into Hotel Price Ads now, then as more and more users see this new search results page, your hotel rate could be above the OTAs allowing users to book direct.
  • It’s time to confront the Hotel Price Ad giant and pay to play. With the predominance of the hotel price in the search results page, and the new “Book a room” function within the Business Listing page, you can no longer ignore Google’s desire to grow this element of it’s ecosystem.
  • Local search is now more important than ever. You need to be in the top three for your geographic keywords in order to have visibility on the first page.
Tom Dibble

Published 17 November, 2014 by Tom Dibble

Tom Dibble is the founder & CEO of Screen Pilot and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

5 more posts from this author

Comments (1)

Avatar-blank-50x50

Gord Collins

They did this sort of thing before, but on Google.com, it's worse than your report. They've got 2 ad units in there now. Take a look: google.com/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=tSdqVPi4CcGD8Qfu84CwCA&gws_rd=cr&fg=1#q=san+diego+hotels

Hotel rooms are easy pickins for Google. Hey, please expand on the meta search marketing issue with Google. I'd like to know more about how adwords is skewing opportunities with them. Is this a threat to small advertisers?

almost 3 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.