Here’s a prediction for you. The day is fast approaching when every prime spot on Google will be paid advertising. Nothing free, all organic listings pushed down the page. It’s been a long-term trend, first the ads down the side, then those across the top, three deep now, supplemented by the rise and rise of Google Maps, which occupies all the prime real estate for key accommodation based search terms. Then there’s fact that Google pushes Maps harder than any other travel tool and its motivation is always to make more money.

Speculation, sure, but the recent announcement that Google is testing a form of paid travel meta-search via Google Maps seems to confirm this line of thinking and for many the writing has been on the wall for some time now. That is, Google wants all “above the fold” listings on its precious splash pages – the majority of which used to be free – to be paid for by advertisers.

Hard to argue with the evidence that’s already out there, just see response to ‘Sydney Accommodation’ below.

Google - Sydney accommodation screen grab smaller

Everything above the fold either sponsored listings or maps (I had to crop right side sponsored column due to space). Not a single organic text listing to be seen. Good news for savvy suppliers, bad news for Online Travel Agents, which dominate text listings for this popular search term but have no relevance for Maps and so don’t appear above the fold.

So under the present scenario, which may change, OTAs must bid and buy top spot, enabling Google to make more money from the page.

Or in a neat piece of symmetry, OTA’s could one day soon sign up for Google travel meta-search, still in testing,  which offers hotel price comparison on Google Maps (and allows the company to make money from listings that are currently not driving revenue).  See example below.

Google - New York hotels with prices small

“Today we started experimenting with a new feature, visible to a small portion of users, by showing specific prices for selected hotel listings,” the company said last week.

“When you search for hotels on Google Maps you’ll be able to enter the dates you plan to stay and see real prices on selected listings.

“You can click on the price to see a list of advertisers who have provided pricing information for that hotel, indicated by the “Sponsored” text, and click through to reserve a room on the advertiser’s site.”

All Beta advertisers seem to be OTAs (Pricekline and Expedia to name two) which means that the hotels in question must now pay up to 30% in commission for a booking they would previously have secured for free.

Perhaps the hotel in question could also enter the ad bidding, meaning they’d be paying for their Google Maps listing which until that point had never cost them a cent.

Either way you cut it, it looks certain we are heading toward key Google splash pages filled with paid advertising and nothing else, a situation that will have a massive impact on the search marketing budgets and strategies of countless accommodation companies and OTAs.

The game has changed once again.

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