Travel planning service Gogobot has been moving swiftly with new features, such as last year's group feature called Tribes.
Today, Gogobot has announced new meta search capabilities for users looking for hotels on site.
The new feature will allow users to search for hotels across booking sites for a particular trip, allowing Gogobot to keep the user on site while still offering the meta search experience that travelers have become familiar with.
Gogobot points to a recent study by Cornell that found most travelers checking 15 hotel sites before booking - with a small minority (5%) actually checking an impossible 150 sites before booking.
Meta search is clearly a tool to alleviate this search process, as it allows users to quickly make comprehensive searches.
The meta capability follows on from what was a great year of growth, according to the company, with site visits up 115% in 2013. As far as revenue numbers, the company doesn't disclose specifics but says that it is satisfied with the numbers coming in from its current hotel booking capability.
Meta is also a chance for the company to more fully leverage both the social and travel style data that the company has been steadily amassing over the years.
Tnooz spoke with Gogobot CEO Travis Katz about the new feature; namely, how meta will fare within the company's current revenue structure.
Why meta, why now?
The big reason is that we still see a huge pain point for most consumer travelers.
Google says that most users are doing 32 visits per travel bookings - our singular goal at Gogobot is to bring that number down. At Gogobot, we've built an incredibly rich research platform that brings together high quality photos and reviews, and we now have over 650,000 reviews which is more than what Travelocity has - even with the decade long head start. We also have more than 4 million photos and we've built intelligent search capabilities on top of that.
We let consumers filter things not just by price and hotel class, but things that are popular among friends in your network and Tribes. And all this feeds into meta.
How is this different than other meta offerings out there?
This is a very different value proposition than other meta players which are all basically doing the same thing: comparing prices across the web. We know that price is important but thats only one of many factors.
We're pricking what we do best, which is recommending places and smart intelligent search for travel, recommending places based on both social data and on the traveler with Tribes, and then marrying that with meta functionality so once you see the place that you want, you have full transparency on what price people are charging across all major bookings site so you can feel confident that you are getting the best deal before you transact.
Meta is on every city that we support, and can be combined with the Tribes filter. Say you're looking for a stylish, hip hotel, you can do a search that is based on your own travel style and see hotels that fit this need and also the desired pricing.
You can see how many in your network that have been there, and then see comparison across different booking sites. You can also compare different room rates across different booking sites, similar to what you'd be able to do on Kayak but leveraging data from Tribes and data from people that travel like I do.
This is the secret sauce that Gogobot has been working on to help do a smarter job searching and narrow choice to suit tastes and interests. We think of ourselves as more of a search product, and that social is part of search, price is part of search, Tribes is part of search. We want to reduce the number of sites necessary to book, because nobody has time to visit so many sites.
We want to simplify and help make decisions quickly. For us, metasearch is a very natural next step in that journey. We're finally at a point where the depth of our reviews are quite good now - that's a lot of information and takes time to build up that critical mass. But we're now one of the biggest review providers on the web, and we have enough content that users can really dig in and learn about places and dig in without going to another site.
There seems to be a bit of Google Hotel Finder in this deployment, especially as Google pushes into travel from all sides. Would you agree?
If you listen to what the big players, such as Google and Facebook, on the future of search, they talk about trying to figure out how to differentiate results based on who a user is as a person; about using the data they are tracking about a user to make it more intelligent.
That's what we've been working on at Gogobot for years now. For example, Facebook's Open Graph.
We've seen that the social data is incredibly powerful but you cant rely on it in all use cases - you may want to go to a place that none of your friends have been or you may travel differently than your friends. Say they have kids and you don't - so the places they are going have no relevance to you.
The idea behind Tribes was to start personalizing the search, and this next step with meta allows for integration into the personalized search for hotels and layered price transparency. What we're seeing is that consumers are increasingly coming to expect to be able to compare prices amongst different sites. We don't see cross-comparing and meta search as differentiators as so many others are doing it: Google, Trivago, Kayak, everyone is coming in to offer that transparency.
Where we see the differentiation at Gogobot is that we add all of this other intelligence that only we have.
You've spoken before about growing traffic organically. Have you been satisfied with your current growth trajectory?
What's exciting is having all that rich content is already driving a lot of people to Gogobot. We had 15 million people visit Gogobot in the last 12 months to research their trips, and our traffic numbers in February were up 170% versus February a year before. Those numbers are almost entirely organic traffic - 93% of that traffic is organic, we are not paying to acquire it.
Being able to take all of that organic, qualified traffic and better monetize it through meta is a great business proposition for us, and a great experience for our consumers who want to be able to price compare.
How does meta slot into Gogobot's monetization strategy?
Hotel booking has been a major part of our monetization from Day 1, and it still accounts for a substantial chunk of our revenue. And that revenue is growing dramatically - the number of people clicking off to our hotel partners grew almost 10 fold in the last year alone. With meta, we think that number will continue to grow.
We know based on exit polling that a significant number of people today will often go check other sites beyond the booking.com results we've been showing. There are a portion of those people that are ready to transact, but need to be comfortable that they are getting the best deal. So those people are opening up new tabs to ensure that there isn't a better deal elsewhere.
With meta, we will be able to send more qualified leads to our partners and they will be making a more informed decision when clicking on the book now button. We're seeing that all providers don't have the same prices - there are some pretty dramatic differences. The savings can be significant, easily saving 25% and often more than that.
Volume is essential to the meta game. Do you agree?
Volume is absolutely important. The nice thing about where we're starting out, is that we aren't acquiring traffic.
We're starting from a place where we already have more traffic than some others in this space even on Day 1. And that traffic is growing at a pretty rapid clip. If we look at our numbers without meta search, our revenue has been growing at 50% per quarter for the last 5 consecutive quarters, and we expect that trend to continue as our site gets bigger and the experience gets richer for users.
For someone like a TripAdvisor with massive volume, they spent hundreds of millions on paid traffic last year - we're spending almost nothing on this, and we're still seeing strong growth. The potential upside for us is very high, and we're start experimenting more with paid acquisition more in the next 6 months as we get the meta funnel tuned.
I wouldn't rule anything out - we'll be experimenting with different things to see what makes economic sense for us. We deploy our money where we see our ROI and won't be spending blindly trying to acquire share.
NB: Hotel search image courtesy Shutterstock.