Is Google Taking Over Travel or Helping Consumers?
Is Google strategically taking over travel and shopping by monopolizing technologies formally utilized by their customers? Is Expedia in essence doing the same thing by bidding on “British Airways” which is considered their customer? On July 12, 2016 Google Adwords announced a passel of updates to their Shopping/Product Listing Ads and Hotel/Travel search results.
Hotel Smart Filters gives users the ability to filter hotels by max price, star rating, minimum user rating and a list of amenities (the default is relevance of the original query however). The new feature doesn’t eliminate paid ads in most instances. When I search terms like “find hotel near Disneyland” I still see trivago.com and findhotel.net on my mobile device followed by organic listings for Disneyland then Expedia. However, when I search the broad matched term “hotel” there are no paid ads for my location.
Most advertisers are not bidding on broad terms like “hotels” that eat up their budget by 9am. They are bidding on longtail terms that attract people who are further down the conversion funnel. In fact, “British Airways” is one of Expedia’s highest spending keywords. “Hotels” however did not make the cut. Broad queries like this tend to take place on mobile devices where users don’t have time for the longtail search. They want Google to do the work for them. The new Smart Filters allow users an easy way to sort through all local listings. I think this is a great alternative to the top of page one going to the 3 or 4 highest bidders as it was prior to Google’s Hotel Smart Filters.
Another feature Google pushed live this July was Hotel Deals. Hotel Deals tags hotels, found to have reduced prices, with a “deal” button. Bookings have as much as doubled for these hotels. Seems to me this would naturally cause more hotels to reduce their prices in order to get the tag, therefore, saving the consumer money in the long run. That is if they were privy to this information of course.
As for travel, recall that in 2011 Expedia accused Google of stopping other sites from competing for top placement in search results. Products like Google Flight Search and Google Product Search allowed Google to compete with their advertisers. Google customers made accusations and even attempted legal action against the search engine giant. Prior to Google acquiring ITA in 2011 the flight search technology was available to companies like TripAdvisor and Orbitz among other travel sites.
Google was challenged in 2011, by the Justice Department, after their acquisition of ITA “as a violation of the antitrust laws and obtained a judicial decree that limits Google’s ability to use its control over this key technology to undermine competition for online travel search” (Kelly, 2011). Google launched an online travel search service anyhow. The added travel features of Google Flight Search have trickled in over the last 4 years. After the Justice Department’s consent decree expires in October Google will be able to do what it pleases with ITA (Elliot, 2014).
Flight Price Tracking, one of Google Flights latest features helps travelers stay on top of fare changes. Google Flight users can “opt in to track fare changes for a date and route combination or track specific flights being considered”. This is rolling out over the next few weeks in 26 countries according to Google. (Google, 2016).
When you search “flights” terms you will still be served 1 to 3 ads before Google Flights appears. I personally think the new feature does benefit users other than the fact that the technology itself is just a bridge page to the airline. As long as Google continues to offer links to Expedia, Yelp and other valuable resources the consumer stays well informed and has options. I doubt Google anticipates users won’t become annoyed with this and are just waiting until October to rock this baby.
Whether the additions to Google Flights is a conflict of interest or not one thing for certain is these additional features will change paid media account management among the travel industry forever. Business owners will begin to rely more heavily on paid search experts as Google continues to roll out more features to shopping ads and hotel/travel search. Google Partners will benefit from these rollouts in the near future and should keep a close eye on travel search as a whole.
Elliot, Christopher. (October 2, 2014). Google Flight Search, four years in: Not the competition-killer critics feared
Google. (July 12, 2016). Making Travel and Shopping Easier for the Seasons Ahead.
Martin, Kelly. (September 22, 2011). Expedia Accuses Google of Maniupulation and Deception. Travel Trends. Retrieved from http://www.traveltrends.biz/ttn555-expedia-accuses-google-of-manipulation-and-deception/