Four out of five travellers consult Google during their search and booking process (Beldona et al, 2012). Since hotels have limited ability and budget to play the paid search marketing game, generic search results are dominated by online intermediaries (May, 2018). But surely the situation is different when someone explicitly searches for a specific hotel? After all, since they are explicitly entering the hotel’s name, they should be taken directed to the relevant website? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 'Brandjacking' occurs when third parties make unauthorised use of hotel names in search, diverting highly qualified traffic away from the hotel's website (Paraskevaset al, 2011).
While accusations of brandjacking are often levied at OTAs, there is little factual evidence that such companies currently bid on brand names. Other potential culprits include affiliates of these companies, whose fluid legal status allows them to engage in questionable marketing practices (Tooke-Marchant, 2015). In any case, there is sentiment that traffic is being stolen. To address this issue, this paper empirically investigates whether brandjacking is prevalent in hotel searches today; to investigate which types of companies engage in such practices, and identify the characteristics of properties most susceptible to abuse.
A random sample of 2000 two- to five- star European properties was used for this analysis. Nearly half (45.2%) were branded and part of a hotel chain, with an average of 46 bedrooms. Automated searches were performed for the hotel’s brand name in Google.co.uk. Web scrapping software extracted the title, copy text and URL of the first five listings from each result. Paid listings were analysed to establish if they were placed by the trademark holder or a third party. Further analyses (by star-rating, branded vs unbranded, geographical location, type of bidding company and size) are currently being performed and will be included in the final presentation.
Initial results indicated that non-branded properties, smaller properties and properties in Southern European locations are the worst affected by brandjacking. One could speculate that this is because such properties lack both the expertise and the time to fight such practices. Recommendations as to how to counteract such actions by third parties will also be presented.
Beldona, S., Lin, K. & Chen, M. 2012, "Hotel Trademarks in Organic Search: A Longitudinal Cross-National Study", Journal of Travel Research, 51 (2), 227.
May, K., 2018, “How organic search is becoming ineffective for hotels on Google”, https://www.phocuswire.com/Google-SERP-online-travel-agencies(Accessed 5/5/18)
Paraskevas, A., Katsogridakis, I., Law, R. & Buhalis, D. 2011, "Search Engine Marketing: Transforming Search Engines into Hotel Distribution Channels", Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 52 (2), 200-208.
Tooke-Marchant, R. 2015, "Online travel agents (OTAs) and their dominance of search engine results", Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, 16, (3), 154-156.