If you’ve noticed that you used to be in Google’s Local 3-Pack results on a a consistent basis, and you no longer see your listing there, here is most likely the reason.
As of April Fool’s Day 2016, and no, this is not a joke! Google began determining the 3-Pack and Local Maps placement on both Desktop and Mobile by including OTA (Online Travel Agency) availability.
With Google expanding Ad displays up to 4 listings at the top of their search results, and then displaying the 3-Pack directly below the Map, your Organic Placement (Controlled by your Website) is pushed pretty far down the food chain.
- If you are in an area where NONE of your competitors are using OTA’s to help them sell their rooms, you have a bit of time to get prepared.
- If you are in an area where SOME of your competitors are using OTA’s to help them sell their rooms, you are already behind the 8-ball.
What we do know is that Innkeepers that appear in the 3-Pack have increased traffic to their Business as compared to those who do not appear in the 3-Pack.
So – What does that mean for your Business?
If you’ve lost 3-Pack placement to competitors that do participate in OTA programs, you are going to want to investigate participating in an OTA program yourself. One that makes one or more of your rooms available to Google, via OTA providers such as Expedia, Booking.com, etc.
There are a variety of different ways to participate in the OTA world. You can go directly to the OTA, or through your Reservation Company (if they offer it), or possibly a Directory that supports an OTA feed. But do make sure of one thing. You must make sure you minimize the possibility of double bookings. You can do this by making sure your OTA rooms available are always are in sync with your own Reservation system’s rooms available. Hand keying this data back and forth, though it may save on the % you pay for these bookings, will leave you at risk. So make sure to ask all the right questions as you begin to investigate participating in an OTA program.
Ultimately the commissions and fees you pay, however you plan to handle participating in an OTA, are going to be quite similar, though pricing details vary from provider to provider.
We have many Acorn University students, some of which who have been our clients for years and years. One of these clients, who has been with us for over a decade, truly understands the value of watching their Google placement on a daily basis. This Innkeeper checks their Local and Organic Placement daily (very similar to weighing yourself daily), and they log where they are listed in a clean browser, logged out of Google. They are the ONLY reason we have the statistics below! Thank You!
What our Innkeeper tracked Leading up to April 1st, 2016
- January, February, through early March 2016, they were holding steady in their 3-Pack and Maps Local placement.
- On February 23rd, they went missing out of the 3-Pack for 1-2 days, and returned on the 25th of February.
- On March 9th, they fell out of the 3-Pack completely.
- From March 9th - 20th they remained out of the 3-Pack.
- Then, on March 21st - through the end of the month of March, they were back in the 3-Pack and Maps Local listings.
- On April 1st they fell out of the 3-Pack again, and have not yet returned.
Coincidence? If you are an NCIS fan, you know Rule #39 is – “There is no such thing as Coincidence!”
This Innkeeper currently DOES NOT participate in an OTA, though many of their competitors in their town do. On or about April 1st, 2016 Google did “SOMETHING” because many Innkeepers and other Business Owners were finding their GMB listings had vanished completely from the 3-Pack, Maps and the Knowledge Panel. Did this have anything to do with the new OTA availability changes being applied in the 3-Pack and Local during the same time-frame? Or was it just a Coincidence?
We'll know very soon, as this Innkeeper has just begun their due diligence process to opt into an OTA program. Once they are set up properly, I expect that they will return to the 3-Pack as they begin to provide availability to Google through their chosen OTA. Just as you will see in action in our case study below.
- I chose 2 Inns, both friends and neighbors who have been vying for top placement in the town of Hershey, PA.
- Sometimes Inn at Westwynd Farm is in first place. Sometimes 1825 Inn.
- These two Inns have been #1 and #2 for "Hershey PA Bed and Breakfast" the majority of the time, for the past few years.
- Both of these Inns currently Participate in OTA programs.
You can see from the graph below how the results now change in the Local Listings, based on Google's Filter Dates. When there are dates available via the OTA, Google appears to be placing those properties higher than those who don't have dates available via the OTA.
That said, I realize I've made this sound really simple, but it's not. If you weren't already consistently placing in the 3-Pack before the 1st of April, don't expect that opting into an OTA program will solve your problems. It won't.
Google still has 200+ things they consider when determining placement. This is just one more thing they appear to have added. And if you stop to think about it from a Guest's point of view, and we know that Google is all about a Quality User Experience, it only makes sense that Google would only show what they think is available.
Hands down, Google is your largest Search Engine provider, not to mention they are typically in the top 3 of all your referrals tracked in Google Analytics. If Google continues down this path, and your competitors participate in OTA’s and you choose not to, then keep an eye on your Google Analytics. If you see a drop in your bookings, or your overall revenue, you may want to look into the best way for your business to participate in an OTA.
What can you do?
Join Acorn University and attend our May 10th session on this topic. Based on these latest changes, we’ll be going step-by-step through the OTA's influence on 3-Pack and Local listings, how to best position yourself in Local and setting expectations regarding the 3-Pack.
Attention Acorn IS MarketWatch Clients
Watch for this topic to be discussed on your next MarketWatch report and review.