Google is repositioning its Hotel Finder product to a spot just above organic results on search results pages for users in the US.
The new position for Google Hotel Finder was being phased in April 30 or possibly into May 1.
Previously, if you did a search for "San Francisco hotels," a comparison ad for Google Hotel Finder would appear above sponsored results in the shaded area above organic results, like this:
With the change, Google Hotel Finder, with its "book hotels" button and ability to search for two-, three-, four- and five-star hotels with pricing, appears in a white box above organic results and is labeled "Sponsored." Here's an image of the new look and positioning of Google Hotel Finder on US search results pages:
The "Sponsored" designation means participating hotels or online travel agencies, which get booking links, may -- or may not be -- paying for the ad.
Despite the "Sponsored" label, the new positioning of Google Hotel Finder leaves Google open to the charge that Google is favoring its own products above competitors' solutions.
And, it goes without saying, regulators on several continents looking into Google's search practices will take note of the change.
However, Google Hotel Finder at this juncture remains a product for users in the US only.
For its part, Google has a benign explanation for the change.
Google states: “We’re changing the design layout of our hotel, flight, credit card and bank account results, which help users complete actions such as booking flights quickly and easily. We’ve always disclosed that Google may be paid when a user completes such an action; we want to be clear and consistent in how we do that.”
Google Flight Search results on search results pages already were positioned above organic search results, but were not labeled "Sponsored."
It is believed that Google Flight Search results will be modified with a "Sponsored" label as the new slot for Google Hotel Finder gets rolled out today and tomorrow.
This, in Google's view, makes these comparison ad products "distinct" from organic results and consistent across its travel and financial verticals.
Expedia is one of the online travel agencies participating in Google Hotel Finder.
Expedia officials recently stated they are pleased with the business the OTA is getting from Google Hotel Finder, although volumes are low.