Google’s signature business is selling advertising space atop its search results. But as it becomes all-pervasive, the company has had to dig for fresh markets to sustain growth.
So Google is targeting under-penetrated industries to sell more “blue links” ads with a team that is separate from its travel advertising and products unit.
This team has agreed to begin a project with RedAwning, a technology and marketing vendor for small and mid-size property management companies.
Google’s project with RedAwning will make it easier for managers of vacation rentals to buy AdWords. Managers can use the ads to drive more traffic to their own websites.
By early 2019, the tool will let managers run ads that drive traffic to specific property listings, not just to company sites.
Property managers can try to win future direct bookings if they advertise on Google and then persuade the customer to book directly the next time. This matters because repeat visits are more common for vacation rentals than for hotels.
The Emeryville, California-based RedAwning offers franchise-like branding, website design, and digital marketing to companies that run tens of thousands of properties in North America and Europe.
It also lists properties on Airbnb, Booking.com, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, and other channels — including on Choice Hotels’ websites, as part of a deal announced in spring 2018.
Property management companies who use RedAwning’s marketing services to run their websites can now use its new tool for running AdWords campaigns. The startup said it offers an automated process that reduces the time managers spend running a paid search campaign and to increase the booking generated from such campaigns.
Up until this announcement, managers wanting to run paid search campaigns would typically use Google’s self-service tools for bidding.
However, choosing the right keywords to bid on often proved tricky. With giants like Booking.com and Airbnb bidding on destination keywords, it has often been too expensive to bid on the most obvious terms, like “Lake Tahoe vacation rental.”
RedAwning CEO Tim Choate said that his company’s software would make it easier for property managers to capture the occasional long-tail search terms, such as “three bed two bath Lake Tahoe with air hockey table.” While such specific searches aren’t frequent, they are cheaper to bid on. Plus, the online shoppers searching on those specific terms are more likely to be ready to book — making the ad expenditure worthwhile.
The software will account for factors such as supply and demand, too. Next spring, functionality will be added to make it easy for companies to run paid search campaigns to drive bookings for specific properties within specific time windows where demand is weak.
A year ago RedAwning raised $40 million in a Series A round.
The startup risks facing competition from industry giants. Airbnb has been borrowing ideas from the hotel industry to make it easier for vacation rental property managers to manage their listings on Airbnb and make property management more profitable. Expedia has also hinted it may expand the business-to-business services offered by its HomeAway division.
Google Versus Online Travel Leaders
Google’s separate travel unit has been testing an expansion of its price-comparison service for hotels to also include vacation rentals. In July 2017, some Google searches began offering an option to comparison-shop vacation rentals alongside hotels in selected European markets.
Any expansion there would compete with existing rental metasearch companies, such as HomeToGo and Tripping.
Notably, RedAwning offers managers the ability to list their properties on HomeToGo and Tripping via those search companies’ instant book offerings — meaning that RedAwning and the platforms only charge hoteliers commissions for bookings generated as opposed to ads clicked on.
Google’s adoption of rental search has been slow. Perhaps property managers are reluctant to engage in buying cost-per-click advertising, which is still the most prominent Google model for working with online travel companies — though Google also has instant book functionality and click-per-book business models for hotels.
Regardless, Google will likely find a way to expand in rentals in response to moves by the giants of online travel.
As of the end of June 2018, Expedia reported that its HomeAway vacation rental division now has 1.7 million listings in total. Earlier this year Booking Holdings said that it expected to have topped 5 million rental listings by end of June. Incidentally, RedAwning claims it is the largest U.S. supplier of listings to Booking.com.
Hotels pay much higher commissions than vacation rental property managers, on average, to list their properties on online travel agency websites. That commission differential is probably due to the travel giants still eagerly competing to sign up rentals as a new product.
Over time, commissions may rise for rentals, too. Some vacation rental companies are interested in how hoteliers use direct booking campaigns — such as by advertising via Google ads to lure people to click to try to drive demand to avoid paying high commissions.
As a side note: Some industry veterans may find it odd that the travel industry continues to focus on Google search ads after all these years. In recent years, Facebook and Amazon have intended to shrink Google’s long lead in digital advertising. Facebook has believed it has an edge because of what it knows about users’ identities, while Amazon has worked to build its ad business in ways that take advantage of its transactional relationship with users.
Ultimately Google still has a distant lead in running the world’s largest advertising business. When brands like Airbnb, Booking.com, and HomeAway want to attract customers, they pay for Google AdWords to help get them. So the search giant profits even from indirect bookings.
To drum up AdWords spending, RedAwning has begun to offer a dollar-for-dollar match of paid search spending by its clients. If a property manager pays $500 of AdWords for the month, RedAwning will provide an additional $500 worth of AdWords spending.
CEO Tim Choate said his startup could manage the cost of this promotion because the company expects the ads will drive more bookings which will generate commissions.
“We’ll be money ahead,” Choate said.
Google will be money ahead, too — as is usually the case in online travel.