Google repositions Hotel Finder atop organic search results

Google is repositioning its Hotel Finder product to a spot just above organic results on search results pages for users in the US.

The new position for Google Hotel Finder was being phased in April 30 or possibly into May 1.

Previously, if you did a search for “San Francisco hotels,” a comparison ad for Google Hotel Finder would appear above sponsored results in the shaded area above organic results, like this:

With the change, Google Hotel Finder, with its “book hotels” button and ability to search for two-, three-, four- and five-star hotels with pricing, appears in a white box above organic results and is labeled “Sponsored.” Here’s an image of the new look and positioning of Google Hotel Finder on US search results pages:

The “Sponsored” designation means participating hotels or online travel agencies, which get booking links, may — or may not be — paying for the ad.

Despite the “Sponsored” label, the new positioning of Google Hotel Finder leaves Google open to the charge that Google is favoring its own products above competitors’ solutions.

And, it goes without saying, regulators on several continents looking into Google’s search practices will take note of the change.

However, Google Hotel Finder at this juncture remains a product for users in the US only.

For its part, Google has a benign explanation for the change.

Google states:  “We’re changing the design layout of our hotel, flight, credit card and bank account results, which help users complete actions such as booking flights quickly and easily.  We’ve always disclosed that Google may be paid when a user completes such an action; we want to be clear and consistent in how we do that.”

Google Flight Search results on search results pages already were positioned above organic search results, but were not labeled “Sponsored.”

It is believed that Google Flight Search results will be modified with a “Sponsored” label as the new slot for Google Hotel Finder gets rolled out today and tomorrow.

This, in Google’s view, makes these comparison ad products “distinct” from organic results and consistent across its travel and financial verticals.

Expedia is one of the online travel agencies participating in Google Hotel Finder.

Expedia officials recently stated they are pleased with the business the OTA is getting from Google Hotel Finder, although volumes are low.


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Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.



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  1. Jenny Mendoza

    Wei – in response to your questions, Seekda has thousands of hotel clients throughout Europe and is just now making it’s technology available in the US through Woodcrick Ventures. The technology is mature and the Google channel integrations to date have been quick and seamless. We cannot share proprietary data on individual hotel CTRs and conversions, but we can state with assurance that the Google channels appear to be growing rapidly in terms of visibility and user base.

  2. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    For the record, Google Hotel Finder does offer some pricing from the hotels, although I believe it usually is facilitated by a third-party, such as Trust International.

    In the following link, if you click the “book” button for Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco, you may be able to see that is offering the room for $194, lower than the OTA pricing. (Rate parity anyone?);l=hotels+in+San+Francisco;d=2012-05-13;n=2;h=4980248186393685881;fv=1582122678773930646;si=4627923;ss=3882041609045373366,4

    However, since hotel pricing is dynamic, it may change by the time you view this link.

    This link may self-destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. 🙂

    • wei

      The rate could be different for many reasons. First, hotel and OTA may offer different rates intentionally. But this is highly unlikely for large chains and OTAs because they have rate parity agreement. Most of the time, the rate parity is caused by connectivity error, either between OTA and hotel, or between Google and suppliers. Some level of error rate is unavoidable, some has as high as 40% of error, some has less than 1%.

      Disclosure: I work for Derbysoft, a major hospitality connectivity service provider for large hotel chain and OTAs. We also connect and manage price feed to Google and major meta search sites.

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  4. Matt

    We’ve covered this too here:

    My main question is: why no pricing from the hotel directly? Whoever can answer that for me wins the Internet.

    • Xisco vicente

      I think is a matter of time and priority, so, as a guest they will certainly need this ,and google knows this, so hotel lweb sites must be ready to integrate easily , in my opinion using xml, ws or ota language…up to google.

    • wei

      Google already had an API based on XML. Some hotels already send price to Google. I think there are two problems: 1. It is not easy to connect. 2. It is not easy optimize and bidding for the top 4 positions on Google. We have done that and we know it could be tricky.

      • Xisco Vicente

        Hi Wei, don’t undestand what you mean , if its an API based on XML , and some hotels already send the pice to google , easy to conect , must be technicall problems, about the optimization and bidding for the top position , i think is up to google again , as they showed few IDS incluidin in it the official web booking engine prices.

        What do you mean with Tricky , if you have done , what did you find does’t work fair.¿?

        • wei

          maybe Tricky is not the right word, but it is not easy as you think, especially for large scale implementation. For the starter, mapping to the right hotels could be difficult for a large chain with thousands of properties. Sending price is one thing, sending accurate price and availability is another thing, with tax and fee, in various currencies. That’s why you could find many wrong prices. The sheer volume of data could be big, if you want to send 7-14 days of stay, 180-360 days of price. Then once you send price, your price may not show up at all, because you are out bid by these OTAs. You could participate the bidding for these top 4 positions, but it is not easy and could be expensive if your property is in hot area. That’s why you don’t see many hotel’s own price link now. Have you done that? What are other hotel’s experience?

    • Jenny Mendoza

      Google recently has given hotels the opportunity to put their direct hotel prices with links to their own website but hoteliers must go through a selected booking engine technology provider like the one my company, Woodcrick Ventures represents. Seekda is a web-based, flexible booking engine platform and one of the very few that has been selected and vetted by Google to provide rates and inventory for hotels to post their direct rates under the hotel owners name on Google Hotel Finder, Google Maps & Google Places. This is definitely good news for hoteliers to be able to promote their hotel on equal footing with the OTAs already bidding for their name on such a popular distribution channel as Google, where travelers are obviously searching.

      • Xisco Vicente

        Jenny , i congratulate you to be one of the selected one to provide rates .. but it seems there is an API for it and any tech company should manage to conect with.

        From my point of view the hotels doesn’t have to change their tech provider just becouse of it , and google must offer the conectivity for each one wia the API .

        • Jenny Mendoza

          I agree with you Xisco that hotels should not have to change booking engine providers to be included in this program, and our web based technology doesn’t mandate that hotels must be using our booking engine for more than this program. By flexible, I mean that hoteliers can choose which of the Seekda products they wish to use and those that already have a booking engine they are happy with can use our system as the conduit to connect to Google. Perhaps someday Google will open this up to all via an API, but for now there are very few choices, and most others mandate that you use their booking engine for all of these services.

          • wei


            You might be in sales and marketing. How many hotels have your company connected so far? What are the experience and problems from hotel and your perspective? Do you get a lot of clicks and bookings?

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  6. Justin Francis

    I think this means many businesses will now see Google as a competitor as well as a source of business. In the short term this might not matter, but in the longer term as cost effective alternatives to PPC (especially Facebook) develop these businesses will actively want to disinvest in any business that competes with them – Google. I assume Google does not care about losing money from the OTA’s, which it now competes with, and expects to make up this income from hotels down the road…

  7. Pedro Colaco

    To me, it looks like Google is replacing results from Google Places with HotelFinder. One step closer to mixing organic and paid results, reminds me of, where people pay for placement. What happened to “do no evil”?

  8. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Robert: If you currently search “flights Los Angeles to Chicago” on Google, you’ll see no organic results above the fold, so to speak:) Google Flight Search, which now has a “Sponsored” label, takes up a lot of space.

    • RobertKCole

      Good point – the flight search example you provided yields a 2:12 ratio of organic to ad-infused results above the fold (kudos to FareCompare for grabbing the top slot.)

      Again, under 15% organic results above the fold may be the kind of fodder Google opponents seek to convince regulators that, for example, information search needs to be structurally separated from product.

      I remember when people said the government would never break up Ma-Bell… Hopefully Google will get creative and find a better balance to keep more organic results above the fold before some regulators (inevitably spurred on by lobbyists) decide that they will take responsibility for the formatting of search results pages…

  9. RobertKCole

    Google may be starting to cross the line between providing relevant organic results and monetizing the results page.

    Using San Francisco Hotels as the search query, on my desktop, looking above the fold only, there are now only 3 organic results listed, surrounded by 9 paid ad placements above and in the right sidebar.

    This is in addition to the real estate dedicated to Google Hotel Finder and Google Maps (which ultimately links to Places pages.)

    Scrolling down, immediately below the top three organic listings are 7 Google Maps/Places sourced hotel listings, with six of the seven including rates linked to advertisers and all featuring review links to Google Places pages. Two more sidebar ads are also revealed.

    At this point, the ratio of organic to advertising-infused content is a staggering 3 out of 20.

    With the remaining 7 organic listings trailing at the bottom, the ratio improves slightly to 10 out of 27.

    Note that I am generously excluding the one hotel in the maps listing that lacked a Hotel Price Ad.

    Ranging from 15% to 37% true organic content on a web search results page is getting pretty slim.

    One has to think that further page saturation will negatively impact the user search experience, if it is not already doing so. Many people may start searching for hotels on a less ad-cluttered and more content rich OTA or meta-search site.

    A tragically lost opportunity for Google if that occurs.

    • wei

      Sponsor supported link does not equal to bad experience, in fact, done correctly, it could help users. Google’s place page always include a FREE link to brand web site. The most important for users is good information.

  10. Louis Tan

    It seems like Google slyly removed the background colors of the sponsored placement to make the Google Hotel Finder seem like part of organic results. Cheeky!

  11. Pete Meyers

    It sure seems like Google is creeping closer and closer to a paid inclusion-style model, a la Yahoo in 2002. Given the finicky nature of users / searchers, it’ll be interesting to see how search share shapes up (or down) as this approach rolls out beyond travel and across more categories.

    I would love to see a graph that shows the % of organic clicks per search over the past 2-3 years as Google Places, Hotel Finder, etc. have been launched. Bet that’s one seriously downward slope.

  12. Oz Har Adir

    There are two issues to note here:
    1. Google was labeling the Hotel Finder traffic as acquisition which is paid for by that product. I am not sure if that is the case in this setting.
    2. This seems to be ‘fair game’ or at least the common practice in the US market, as Bing (15% market share) and Yahoo (13$) do even more than that: they show search box, map and links to specifically highlight hotels. See (under US settings):


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