28 Feb 2018

How innovation in audience data is changing travel metasearch

This is a viewpoint from Eric Bamberger, SVP, Hospitality, IgnitioneOne.

In September, Guggenheim Securities posited that Priceline may be backing away from the hotel metasearch channel and instead emphasizing brand marketing and building direct relationships. A casual search shows that Priceline occupies the top ad spot on TripAdvisor and Trivago less frequently than in the past, and far less frequently than competitors like Expedia.

Priceline and its Booking.com metasearch engine’s move away from metasearch may stem from a desire to invest in other marketing areas. This decision could make it harder for the company to book room nights, hurt the revenue of the metasearch engines, and put money directly into the pockets of its competitors.

While Priceline may see this as a move that will help them save marketing budget. the truth is that recent innovations in audience targeting could actually allow them to both boost their rankings in metasearch and maintain a higher return on investment (ROI) from their marketing dollars.

How to do better metasearch

The troubles with metasearch are hardly unique to Priceline and Booking.com. We frequently see hotel chains unable to buy ads against their own brands because they lack the budget or margins to outbid the online travel agencies. Sometimes, they’ll fall as low as ninth for their own brand names.

The trick to an effective metasearch strategy is for advertisers – whether the OTAs or hotel chains – to better understand the audiences completing the search and use that insight to inform their bids.

Right now, nearly all online advertisers are gathering data on their customers and/or investing in third-party segments to help them better reach their targets.

The practice is used for video and display ad targeting, but recent innovation makes it applicable to metasearch as well. Now, it’s possible for travel advertisers to use insights gathered from their first-party data to inform bids for sponsored listings.

These audiences are evaluated and segmented based on their destinations of interest, as well as online engagement and behavior, then made available for targeting and bid optimization. For an advertiser like Booking.com, this would mean looking at the various users conducting searches on sites like Trivago and TripAdvisor and using certain signals to determine how much to bid.

If a customer has made several purchases through Booking.com in the past, then they’ve exhibited a high engagement score and become a very desirable target. In that instance, Booking.com would want to increase its bid to rise to the No. 1 spot in the paid listings.

Priceline can also use these audiences to determine which customers are closest to purchase when conducting their searches, again using the intelligence to adjust their bid so that they occupy the top spot and are front and center for in-market consumers.

This is obviously good for the advertiser because it yields a higher ROI. But it’s good for the metasearch engines themselves as well. When advertisers have access to more intelligence to adjust their bids, it results in higher effective CPMs, higher click-through rates, and higher cost per click. All of this creates more revenue for the metasearch engine from selling the same inventory.

Metasearch is an important part of travel advertising, and it can be expensive if advertisers fail to approach it strategically. By leveraging audience segments and automated, adjustable bidding, travel advertisers and metasearch engines will find themselves in a win-win situation.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash