How Important Is Advertising on Google Things To Do? [Updated]

Ben Page

[Updated December 2023 to include new information about Travel campaigns.]

Google Things To Do is a popular topic in the tour and attraction circles because it’s the Google Platform built especially for our niche. It’s another tool in your marketing arsenal that allows you to engage with potential customers in the research phase of their travel journey — while they are looking for things to do in a particular location. Google TTD provides an opportunity to get visibility with travelers you can’t reach with traditional Google ads because of the highly competitive nature of these search terms.

Google Things To Do may not be the right platform for every tour or attraction business. Two of the most common questions we hear are, How important is advertising on Google Things to Do? And who is it for? 

Let’s unpack this topic. In this post, you will learn:

  1. Who is Google Things To Do for? 
  2. How Advertising Works on the Platform
  3. Why It’s Worthwhile to Advertise on Google Things To Do
  4. Google Things To Do isn’t Just Relevant for Big Tourist Destinations
  5. How Tours & Attractions Can Win Against the OTAs
  6. Choosing the Right Connectivity Partner Matters 
  7. Results – Tours and Activities 
  8. Future Evolutions and New Travel Campaigns
  9. The Opportunity for You

Who is Google Things To Do for?

Google Things to Do images

The platform works around points of interest and locations driven by a business’s product feed. Ticketed attractions like local landmarks and top attractions, like museums and buildings in key destinations, are points of interest. Official sellers of tickets can and should be set up on the Admissions “Surface” of Google Things to Do. 

For example, when someone searches for “Things to Do in Chicago” or a key attraction like The Shedd Aquarium or 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck, Google TTD allows users to click on tickets for that point of interest and see the Google Business Profile, including the business name, address, and phone on some Search Engine Results Pages. In addition, tours, like a Chicago food or walking tour, can be featured within the experiences module for specific, location-based searches because they may visit or pass by these points of interest. This Ultimate Guide to Google Things To Do article is a helpful summary of how it works.

Why Chicago is prime marketing for Google Things To Do Ads

How Advertising Works on Google Things To Do

The advertising platform is set up in a campaign structure much like paid search within the Google Ads interface. However, Things to Do Ads targeting works more similarly to Shopping campaigns, in that they are not targeted based on keywords, but instead Google infers which searches are relevant for your ads based on data in your product feed.

After the campaign is built and integrated with your Things to Do Product Feed, ads may begin to appear in various placements such as the admission tickets section (for specific ticketed attractions) and on the Things To Do Carousel that appears at the top or within the content of the Google SERP. Although the advertiser is unable to control where their Things to Do Ad will appear, they can set geo-targeting, budget, and bidding strategy parameters to achieve their delivery and performance goals.

Currently, reporting is fairly limited, and advertisers don’t get any reporting on the placement level. However, monitoring performance and testing structure and product data are essential to success.

The Attractions of tickets and tours in Chicago

Why It’s Worthwhile to Advertise on Google Things To Do

With Things to Do Ads, your brand has an opportunity to get in front of potential customers when they are at the top of the funnel (planning/research) phase of their purchase journey. If users click on your ad, you are getting direct traffic to your website.

These top-of-funnel searches (i.e. “Things to do in Chicago”) are often difficult for operators to win because of their high competition levels and the broader intent of the user. Even though the conversion rate is lower when targeting this phase of the purchase journey, there is enormous value in exposing your‌ brand front and center to a whole new set of people who did not previously have you in their consideration set. That’s why it’s a great tool within your search advertising strategy.

Google Things To Do Isn’t Just Relevant for Big Tourist Destinations

Google Things To Do can be beneficial for locations outside of a major center like New York or Chicago. A good gauge of whether your city or area is a possibility for this platform is to look at your location’s search results pages as well as your brand and core non-brand keywords or queries. You may have a business that fits outside a point of interest, but you are located in a popular location (i.e., Oahu). With the low cost of ads and the benefit of the first-mover advantage, we see some real advantages of testing ads for these brands on Google Things to Do for operators of all sizes.

If you see a “sponsored” ad with a carousel of activities, these are paid ads at the top of the search results. This is a good signal that Google is serving Things to Do results for this query, and would be worthwhile to test for yourself. We were surprised to find that Madison, Wisconsin (where Blend’s headquarters is located) has a Things To Do Carousel that appears at the top of the SERP featuring various area attractions, which means that tour & activity operators in the area should consider using an approved channel partner and building out Things to Do Ads for themselves.

Google Ads in Madison, Wisconsin

How Tours & Attractions Can Win Against the OTAs

Don’t be intimidated that online travel agencies are serving the majority of the ads. They were early entrants to Things To Do and have the resources and data to deliver advertising widely, as they do on other Google Ad formats. However, they’ve run mostly unopposed as individual operators are still in the early stages of the adoption of this newer format.

We see Google TTD as a defensive play to OTAs — would you rather bid and get that direct customer relationship than let the OTAs get the booking instead?

The key to winning at Things to Do is continually improving your ads by optimizing your data feed to create better-performing ads. This can be done through continuous testing of your product titles, images, descriptions, and offers. The OTAs are promoting thousands of tours. Even if they updated the top 10% of their highest-selling tours, that leaves lots of space for you to optimize your feed based on the information and content you possess to ultimately achieve better results.

The scale of your Things to Do Ad success will depend on how frequently Google shows “Things to Do” for a given location and how often it shows places of interest. Our goal is to maximize your coverage. Optimizing your data feed to generate better ads and performance is the best way to do this.

Choosing the Right Connectivity Partner Matters 

To participate in Google Things to Do, you need a partner to set you up and maximize your exposure. We recommend Magpie as your partner because they have an excellent interface. It’s easy to use and gives you and advertisers more control over optimizing your data feed, which, again, is your weapon in getting better ads that will appear on Google Things To Do. The easier the platform can optimize your data feed, the better the chances that Google will decide to show your ad.

Tours and Activities Results 

So far, we’ve seen varying results with our clients on Google Things to Do, which is no surprise, as the platform is still new and is constantly evolving. Some have seen as much as a 4X ROAS while spending a couple of thousand dollars in March 2023, while other brands are still barely delivering relative to their paid search campaign volume. 

Things To Do Ads don’t replace regular Search ads. However, Google TTD is an incremental business opportunity to complement your overall search strategy, and we expect their reach, visibility, and capabilities to continue to expand as Google both brings them into additional markets and points of interest as well as increases the frequency and type of delivery within the SERPs themselves.

Future Evolutions & New Travel Campaigns

If Google TTD becomes a successful advertising platform for Google, it will continue to improve the product so it’s good for its users, and it will build its advertising revenue. This company is notorious for testing its ad formats, and we are seeing evidence of that. 

One example of the evolution is that Google recently began to allow advertisers to prioritize the images they would like to show in their ads. If a product has multiple images associated with it in the feed, an advertiser’s ability to put the best one forward for the carousel card can have a big impact on the clickthrough rate.

Since we don’t receive asset or image performance data within Things To Do campaigns specifically, we use our learnings from our Google Performance Max (PMAX) campaigns to choose the top-performing images that we would like to prioritize. In the future, we hope to get this performance data to drive optimization and additional sales.

Another promising development is that Google recently shared it was testing a Tour Operator Booking Module—essentially allowing a direct book button on the Things to Do Carousel instead of clicking on a website. This is another example of how this platform is going to continually test out new features.

New In 2023: Google Travel Campaigns

Now, there is an easier way to get your campaigns live! Google Travel Campaigns can get you started quickly, and then your campaigns can be optimized later.  Here’s how you can get this rolling quickly within your Google Ads Account.

  1. To Create a Google Things to Do Campaign, go to “Tools and Settings” within your Google Ads Account.
  2. Next, click on the Things to Do Center

3. Then you get to this Linked Accounts section. To showcase your activities and tours in Search, press the link to the Things to Do Center.

4. Here, you need to add in the Feed ID that comes from your Google Things to Do Connectivity Partner, such as Magpie, our preferred partner for clients.

5. After these steps, you can now create your travel campaigns. Go back into your Google Ad account and go to your objectives (to the choice called “create a goal without guidance”, then you select the campaign type. Choose Travel Campaign. Here, this selection will allow you to build a campaign quickly to get you started even faster now on Google Things to Do. If you wish to start Google Things to Do this way, we can help you to optimize your campaigns here, or if you are getting stuck.

The Opportunity 

Google Things To Do is a platform that will become more important as the search engine giant infuses it into more search results pages and strengthens how users can interact with it. 

Your success will depend on where your ads appear, how they look, and how frequently they are shown. Despite all the news about this platform in our industry, there is still a tiny fraction of brands in the space, so the first-mover advantage is still relevant. Given this platform’s access and low cost of entry, there certainly is no risk in putting your most popular tour on it and measuring performance.

Is your advertising providing a solid return on investment?

We’ve managed advertising for tour, activity, and attraction companies for years, and we’d love to discuss how we can help grow your revenue. Whenever you’re ready, let’s chat.

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About The Author

Ben Page

As Blend's Director of Search Marketing, Ben leads strategy and execution of paid search marketing, including advertising on platforms such as YouTube, Google, and Microsoft Ads. Additionally, Ben’s depth in SEO supports tourism clients on organic search.

Email Ben

About The Author

Ben Page

As Blend's Director of Search Marketing, Ben leads strategy and execution of paid search marketing, including advertising on platforms such as YouTube, Google, and Microsoft Ads. Additionally, Ben’s depth in SEO supports tourism clients on organic search.