3 Reasons Every Hotel Brand Should Invest in Native Search Today

By Brett Tabano Senior Vice President of Marketing, MediaAlpha | September 09, 2018

While native advertising isn't a new idea in the marketing space, native search, or the search functionality inside different platforms or websites, is. However, you have probably seen a native search ad without even realizing it. Today, native advertising is predominantly used for top-of-the-funnel initiatives, often with the goal of increasing brand awareness. Native search differs from this in that it is used for lower-funnel initiatives such as conversions. It also differs from traditional search in the fact that it is specific to one particular product or service category – in this instance hotel and travel brands – versus the broad results you get from a traditional search engine.
 
In this piece, I will explore what native search is and offer my top three reasons why every hotel brand should invest in it. From enhancing the user experience, to generating a new revenue stream, to bidding on other hotel brand's sites as a new traffic source, brands that invest in native search will see unparalleled results.
 
1. Diversify Your Ad Revenue

In advertising today, display ads are riddled with nefarious activity and generate one of the lowest click-through rates in digital media. However, a majority of advertisers and publishers still place great value on this format even though they are presented with a number of serious problems: bot networks mimicking human traffic patterns and falsifying measurement, malware, inability to track ROI/ROAS, ad blockers, irrelevance – the list goes on!
 
Hotel brands that are using display as their primary ad revenue source should consider complimenting it with native comparison search. Native comparison search enables these brands to monetize every user that visits their website, whether it leads to a conversion or not, by displaying additional offers, including those from competitors, to give users more options to purchase. When a user clicks on the native comparison search ad, the brand is now generating ad revenue from that user via a cost-per-click ad model. This allows the brand to generate more ad revenue, recoup the cost of the keyword search and use this new revenue source to purchase additional traffic to their site.
 
For example, a user lands on Hotel A's website from a traditional search engine and is looking for a hotel room from July 2 - July 10. Unfortunately, every room is booked for the Fourth of July holiday. Instead of the user leaving the site to search for other options, native comparison search would enable Hotel A to showcase alternative hotels with available rooms, allowing them to capitalize on the sale. The end result being, Hotel A can now generate ad revenue from the user who is clicking on the native comparison ad to book an available room in another hotel. A win-win situation for the brand and the consumer. In this example, the user started with a traditional search engine via a keyword search, which Hotel A paid for, resulting in the user visiting Hotel A's website. Without native comparison search, Hotel A has no way of generating enough ad revenue to offset the traffic acquisition costs.
 
Alternatively, in a similar scenario, the brand could also showcase airfare or car rental options through native comparison ads. Let's say the user was able to book a hotel on the preferred dates. Once the booking is complete, why not take it one step further and offer airfare options as well? Expedia is an easy-to-digest example of this. When a user books a flight or a hotel through the Expedia website, it will then often show rates for the other, encouraging the user to make another sale without leaving the website.
 
2. Enhance the User Experience

When is the last time you booked a flight or accommodation on the first website, the first time you searched? Probably never. Users are searching and comparing more today than ever before, and this trend is only increasing. Websites such as Expedia or KAYAK provide the opportunity to compare different prices quickly and easily. As such, users will typically check Monday morning, again Tuesday evening, again the following week, etc., until they find what they consider to be the perfect price.
 
By investing in native search, hotel brands can become more like Expedia or KAYAK and can encourage users to book right then and there. This means that once the user lands on a brand's website, they stay there because they don't have to navigate back and forth between multiple websites. This is a huge benefit of native search in that it generates more relevant results and enables easier comparison shopping, leading to more immediate conversions.
 
It may seem counterintuitive to surface competitors; however, today's consumers want information fast. If your brand can become a one-stop shop for booking a hotel or flight, users will continue to return. Any time a user needs to book a hotel, they'll likely revisit your site to compare additional travel reservations. As a result, your brand will now be a portal for travel bookings versus just a one-off website for reserving a room.
 
The easier something can be done, the better the option in consumers' eyes. Not only will hotel brands streamline the process for the user, which helps in boosting brand loyalty, but they will also generate a new and profitable revenue stream from additional sales.
 
3.  Acquire New Users

With native search, hotel brands can now offer deals from competitors, and on the flip side, they can also act as a demand source and bid on competitor sites as a new traffic source.
 
This is beneficial for hotel brands as it enhances the scope and potential market of users. No longer is a brand limited to only those who are familiar or those that were directed from traditional search. Instead, the options are almost limitless. Native search enables brands to leverage real-time bidding technology via a programmatic platform to bid on granular user segments, so they are only buying traffic that has a high likelihood of converting. 

Why is this important? Most ad networks require advertisers to pay an average price for their media regardless of the consumer segments they are trying to reach. When forced into an average pricing model, advertisers pay the same price for everyone, even though each user/impression has a different value to each advertiser. Through a programmatic platform, advertisers can right price each source, each user and each placement to ensure they are only acquiring traffic that has a high likelihood of converting. Advertisers need to value what they are buying from all supply sources as granular as possible since each source and each user has a different value to each advertiser.

Without granularity, advertisers are forced to buy media on a one size fits all approach using an average price. Meaning, different prices should be considered for the granular consumer segments available to target through programmatic platforms. Being able to optimize bids for dozens (or hundreds) of different consumer segments in real-time is a benefit only a programmatic platform can offer, but it requires a change in mindset away from the simplicity provided through an average pricing model.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.