By Jonathan Opdyke, CEO of HookLogic More often than not, when a consumer seeks out information about a hotel via a search engine, he or she is looking to be nudged toward a decision. Whether it’s a great deal on pricing, an in-room Jacuzzi, or free Wi-Fi, an active shopper is ready and willing to spend money and the scores of search results are vying for those dollars. There’s no doubt that standard browser advertising tools like Google AdWords have been effective in the past. But just how effective are they now? With online travel agencies (OTAs) usurping valuable brand keywords, buyers are faced with more search results than ever, and hotels have to place even higher bids to have their Google Ads show According to a recent BrandVarity study, OTAs are bidding on hotel brand keywords in a big way, vying for top spots on search engine results pages (SERPs). This makes sense because according to recent studies we have conducted with our travel clients, most online hotel bookings take place on the first OTA search results page. But just how aggressively are OTAs moving in on hotel brand search strategies? The study found that on average, OTA ads outnumbered hotel brands’ ads on Google, Bing and AOL. In fact, hotel brands did not appear in the number one result position on nearly a quarter (23.6%) of SERPs on Google Mobile and AOL (24.9%). When hotel sites did not appear in the top spot, OTAs dominated that position, controlling it more than 50% of the time on Google, Bing and AOL. Why is it hard for hotels to compete? Pretty simple. When a hotel drives traffic to its own website, there is generally a limited choice of hotels in a destination, so if a visitor doesn't like the selections they move on to other sites. OTAs on the other hand are able to offer many alternatives, so if the initially advertised hotel doesn't convert, the OTA has a much better chance of converting with a different hotel. OTAs are simply more efficient at driving higher room nights booked per ad click. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em So what’s an advertiser to do to ward off these pesky OTAs dominating search engine results pages? Though it may seem counterintuitive, hotels should consider working with OTAs as part of their overall advertising strategies. Advertising directly on an OTA levels the playing field so that hotels are competing with other hotels, rather than with OTAs and other hotels. In fact, many OTAs now offer programs like Google AdWords that enable hotels to bid on granular trip attributes and win top search results placement, such as Expedia’s TravelAds and Priceline’s Sponsored Listings. These programs even provide a closed loop to see how many room nights are booked as a result of the clicks on a hotel's sponsored results. But do the economics work? The question of advertising on an OTA naturally raises the question of whether paying both a commission and advertising costs to an OTA makes sense. Commission aside, OTA programs can be surprisingly efficient, driving return on ad spend (ROAS) in an average range of 900% to 1,200%. That translates to $9 to $12 in bookings for every $1 spent in advertising. The full return on investment is less when commission is factored in, but often at a level that is still more efficient than expensive Google or metasearch options. But the economics don't stop there. In a world of last-click attribution, it can be easy to forget how people actually decide which hotel to stay in. Loyalty program customers often go straight to the site of their preferred brand and skip the research. But free agent bookers, those you find on OTAs and TripAdvisor, are doing their diligence to decide where to stay. And those sites actually contain the best sources of comparison information such as reviews, pictures, and amenity information. After narrowing down which hotel to book, many customers' next question is where they should book it. When a customer types a hotel name into Google it is often because they just selected it on an OTA or TripAdvisor, and now want to compare prices and incentives across booking channels. Net net: Being discovered on an OTA means more direct bookings, as well as bookings on other OTAs. Hotel marketing is ultimately about filling rooms at an acceptable margin. OTAs should be considered in the marketing mix as surprisingly efficient marketing vehicles for driving bookings. By incorporating OTAs into an online advertising strategy, a hotel diversifies its ad spend, which should lead to more effective results. Related Link: HookLogic