Google Flights is changing the way it makes money – and it could have significant implications for travelers, online travel agencies and airlines.
For example, when the series of changes is implemented by the middle of next month, consumers looking for “United flights” on Google may be able to view a free link from United.com or Kayak.com located higher on the page. or on the screen compared to Google’s flight search results form. Today this never happens; Google blocks its flight form above all organic results.
Although the extent of the changes remains to be seen, Google’s altered display algorithm could potentially be an important change for online travel flight vendors who suffered while Google downgraded their free results down the page and practically out of the way. view.
According to Google, as of this month airlines will no longer be charged for booking links to their websites as part of its price comparison feature. (Some airlines paid but most likely not.)
And in mid-February:
- Google Flights, which has favored airlines over online travel agency partners since it debuted in 2011, will remove ads from online travel agencies that appeared priceless at the bottom of Google Flights on the desktop. Google felt that these ads did not meet the needs of most users and partners.
- On Google’s search results pages, airline links in the canned flights form, which have always appeared above the organic results of Kayak, TripAdvisor or Skyscanner, for example, will no longer be labeled sponsored. And booking links within the Google Flights metasearch feature will no longer be designated as ads.
- With paid booking links disappearing within Google Flights, Google plans to explore introducing new ad formats for partners to promote their fares. Google did not provide details of what these new ad formats could be.
“Starting this month, we will no longer charge partners for referral links on Google Flights,” said a Google spokesman. “Results within Google Flights will continue to be ranked based on user relevance, based on factors such as price and convenience.”
These changes will not have a material impact on Google or most of its airline partners.
The changes, what the news is and where they will take place, could be confusing. To understand, you need to know the various ways in which Google currently sells flights in Google Search and Google Flights.
Sponsored links in Google Search
Apparently nothing is changing in the Sponsored Links of Expedia, CheapOair, CheapTickets and Kayak which are labeled Ad at the top of Google’s search results pages when someone searches for “flights to Chicago”, for example.
Google Flights Module in Google Search
But a “flights to Chicago” query in Google Search activates a Google Flights module that has always been the first result above all organic results and right below the ads sponsored by Google AdWords.
Among the changes, Google will no longer label airline results within its canned flights form as sponsored. This is because if a consumer finally clicks on the Spirit, United or Delta links, navigates from Google Search to Google Flights and then clicks on the airline’s website again to make a reservation, Google will no longer charge the airline from January air booking connection. It is now a free and non-sponsored link.
Many airlines refused to pay for these connections, but Google still showed their fares because Google must be complete in showing consumers the breadth of available flight search results. Making all these booking links free eliminates the hassle of Google having some airlines paying for referral links, while others, perhaps most, have the market power to request them for free.
With the changes, a free airline connection from Delta or an online travel agency or a metasearch link from Expedia or Kayak may appear superior to Google’s boxed flight form in Google Search, depending on relevance and convenience for the user.
Google has received much criticism in recent years for giving its travel products too much preference to competitors, so it would not be inconceivable that some of the changes announced by Google on Wednesday stem from pressure from the U.S. federal government. The Justice Department is believed to be investigating Google for competition concerns.
Google flights within Google travel pages
Changes to airline compensation also affect Google Flights, which is the shopping comparison feature, or metasearch, on Google.com/flights. Travelers who have clicked on the links within the Google flight form within the Google search are directed to Google Flights within the Google travel pages.
The “Best departing flights” label includes the clause: “Google may be compensated by some of these travel partners, but this does not affect the ranking of results.” When users click on one of the airline’s links and view booking options, such as Book on Google with Spirit or Book with Spirit, the booking options have been labeled as ads. That label will go away.
In another change on Google Flights on desktop, ads from online travel agencies of the likes of Orbitz, Priceline, Cheaptickets, Expedia and eDreams will be removed, for example.
So airlines are benefiting from Google’s changes in several ways: carriers who paid for booking links no longer have to pay, and advertising for online travel agencies on Google flights is beheaded, reducing competition.
The devil is in the details
Most of Google’s changes, such as allowing airlines, online travel agencies, and free metasearch links to sometimes appear higher on the display than Google’s flight activity, have not yet been implemented. So the depth of the impact on travel brand search engine optimization efforts on flights remains to be seen. It will be a change of game or a barely noticeable advantage.
What is clear for now is that while Google is making significant monetization changes in Google Flights, those changes are not immediately in preparation for Google’s hotel search products, including Google Hotels.
Unlike its flight business, Google Hotels is a major money maker for the search engine. Monetization will not disappear soon.
Correction: booking options within Google Flights are labeled as ads and Google will remove that label. The best flights departing within
Google Flights did not have this ad tag and we erroneously reported that it was.
Photo credit: Los Angeles International Airport gets passenger screening improvements. Pictured is a United Airlines drop bag. Google is lowering the costs it has asked airlines to pay on Google Flights. United Continental Holdings