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Google Zero: One Year On


google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

A year ago Google offered its free booking links so hotels around the world could display their direct availability and rates on Google with a link to their direct booking pages.  These links appear across Google encouraging guests to book direct and there’s nothing to pay Google for these bookings.

Why did Google do this?

Our best guess is they want visitors to their search engine to get the best experience possible when it comes to booking accommodation. Previously, most of the prices shown where coming from the OTAs on Google’s paid advertising platform.  Although hotels can also participate in paid ads there are still many that don’t, leaving all the pricing and booking options in the hands of the OTAs, not an ideal scenario for the guests.

Here’s how free booking links work (Google’s video on youtube)
Google free booking links video – Google Zero

Google’s free booking links changes all of this by opening it out to hotels directly.

We can see from the number of bookings coming in that these free booking links are taking bookings away from Google’s paid ads, so it’s costing them. However, Google can afford to play the long game and by increasing the direct booking options they’re placing Google at the heart of the booking process for guests (not just the search but booking too). Now that you can get the best deal live on Google (often the rate is better than the OTAs), guests love this and are using Google more often for bookings.

Google’s free booking links encourages hotels to offer better rates than the OTAs because there is no commission and they are direct bookings.

They also know this is a great first step to getting hotels back to thinking about Google as a key source of booking traffic (not just OTAs) and therefore using Google Ads as their main marketing tool. As more guests find a better deal on Google it will become an even better source of bookings for hotels and quite frankly the only other very big player in the game.

This looks like Google vs. OTAs and Google is on the side of the hotels and direct booking.    

If we assume this strategy from Google of free booking links actually works then getting on board sooner will put you in a stronger position and cost less. As a rule it is better to get in early when a new system is being developed as it is always cheaper at the start. The longer you leave it the more likely it is to be less valuable as Google eventually start to make more money from it.

The OTAs are also on Google free booking links – so if you are not on Google Zero you are handing all the advantage to the OTAs – everyday you are not on it you can be sure they are.

A large number of free Google bookings have already booked in thousands of freetobook hotels.

So how has it worked out a year on?

Pretty amazing would be our answer.  The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 16,000+ bookings
  • 2000 properties benefiting
  • Bookings in over 30 countries

…and these are just the online bookings (all with zero charge from Google), there’ll be many more bookings made via phone after seeing the rates and availability on Google. On Google Zero you get valuable extra exposure on Google.

Hotels using the Google Ads have also seen their advertising costs decrease as they too appear on the free booking links. When you use Google Ads you get more traffic and the amount you pay is lowered because some bookings come through on the free booking links.  

Who should be on it?

Anyone that wants more direct bookings.

We offered several free trials last year especially to those using the channel manager because we can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t do it.

The free booking links give you more control over where your bookings come from and reduce the commission you pay.

If you’re not on any OTAs it’s still makes good business sense to increase your visibility on Google and give guests the opportunity to book direct from Google.  Again, giving you more control over your booking channels.

Don’t delay if you haven’t already switched Google on now is the time, it couldn’t be easier, don’t let the OTAs get all the Google bookings.

freetobook customers subscribe to Google Zero here

freetobook webinar with Google here

Google info on their free hotel booking links