Google Kills the Carousel and What It Means for Hoteliers

Google has officially killed the Carousel; if you recall, the Carousel is the black strip of images that may show up at the top of a location-based Google search result. You can read more on the Carousel in another blog we wrote if you’re interested, but we’ll focus this blog on three important questions related to Google’s announcement:

What Replaced the Carousel?

Here’s a snap shot of what “hotel in boston, ma” looks like in a Google search today:

Boston 3 Pack 2

Notice the new “3-pack” listings of hotels in Boston located under the PPC ads. This new 3-pack listing displays a star rating, a picture and a small blurb, all of which is based on the hotel’s Google+ page. It also displays a rate, which comes from Google’s HPA (Hotel Price Ads) product; you can read more about Google HPA in our blog. Note that if a hotel is listed within the 3-pack listing and it does not participate in Google HPA, then a “Visit Website” link will take the place of the rate; clicking this link will take you to the hotel’s own website. We like this idea better than showing a price, since it encourages direct bookings. Within this box, the user can change the dates and sort by price, star rating and hotel class.

Clicking on a hotel within this box initiates another Google search for the hotel’s name and location; for instance, clicking on the first link in our example would initiate the search “Boston Harbor Hotel Boston, MA”. The Google search result looks like this:

Boston Harbor Hotel

Notice that there’s now more info about the hotel, again coming from the hotel’s Google+ page. There are also some booking options, which are being pulling from Google HPA.

If you were to change the date, select one of the sorting options or click on “More Hotel” at the bottom of the 3-pack listing, you’ll be taken to Google Hotel Finder:

Google Hotel Finder

You can see that the Google Hotel Finder page is a larger version of the 3-pack listing, but with a map also included of the hotels’ location.

Why Did Google Kill the Carousel?

A recent study by Kenshoo reveals that 58% of leisure travelers and 64% of business travelers always start their travel planning with search engines like Google. You could imagine what those percentages could translate into in terms revenue for Google if they could get people to book using Google’s products.

In case you weren’t aware, travelers can book through options listed in Google HPA/Google Hotel Finder and in return Google generates some revenue on a CPC basis. The Carousel was loosely tied to Google HPA since the hotel’s Google+ page was tied with Google HPA and the Google+ page was tied to Carousel.

As you could imagine, this wasn’t the best way of putting Google’s HPA and Hotel Finder Products front and center. Sure, the Carousel was convenient for the end user in terms of being able to sift through hotel options fairly quickly, but the monetization opportunity wasn’t all that great for Google. Google did in some cases present a list of hotels nearby with rate info:

Google Carousel

Again, this section was tied into Google’s HPA product, but the Carousel above it was a distraction. Removing the Carousel, which wasn’t a great monetization opportunity, placed Google’s HPA product and PPC ads (two channels that can produce revenue) front and center.

What Does it Mean for Hoteliers?

This is the question every hotelier and hotel marketer will be asking. First, we believe this will have an impact on organic search results; we don’t have any data yet, but we’ll be sure to provide a follow up blog with some numbers. The reason being is that between Google’s PPC ads and this new 3-pack hotel listing, organic search results have lost visibility. Depending on the size of your computer screen, you might not even see the organic listings until you scroll.

Second is that PPC will become more important. Google search is consistently a top source of traffic from hotels’ websites, whether it’s from paid or organic listings. Naturally, if we want to maintain the same amount of traffic coming from Google search and one source of Google traffic is getting less visibility, then we’ll have to increase visibility in another source of Google traffic. Only time will tell if our predictions are correct. Users could simply scroll over the 3-pack listing and go straight to the search result. But a reduction in visibility is a big deal, and we’re willing to bet that won’t be the case.

What’s certain is that this change places more of an emphasis on a hotel’s Google+ page. Remember, what you saw in the Carousel and what you see in the 3-pack listing mostly gets pulled from the Google+ page. The better a page is optimized, the more likely you’ll see a listing for a particular hotel. The Carousel was nice in that it listed about 9 hotels, but the 3-pack only has 3 listings. So only the 3 highest performing and relevant properties will show up, while the other 6 that would’ve traditionally had a spot in the Carousel won’t show up at all. This makes it more critical that hotels give attention to their Google+ pages.

Just as a small side note, this blog discusses the 3-pack listing as it relates to hotels, but the 3-pack listing also gets triggered for other categories such as “wedding venues” and “meeting venues”.

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