When it comes to marketing hotels or any other kind of business in search the first thing that most folks consider is visibility – and rightly so. Without visibility, there is no online awareness of your business with the people searching for what you provide. But, visibility, as important as it may be is still only part of the picture and it is reputation and what people are saying about that drives conversions and will turn browsers into buyers.
The rest of this post takes a look at online reputation primarily through the reviews and comments on your Google+ listing and the many third-party review portals.
Google+ and Five Golden Stars
Reviews are everywhere and you and your customers are being influenced by these reviews without even realising it. The following screenshot shows the top section of results for a search of ‘hotel in Birmingham’. Here we can see paid search adverts with their (self-appointed) star ratings and more hotel listings from Google Hotel Finder which in turn use reviews taken from Google Places for Business.
Every one of these listings has a star rating and the ability to easily jump in and take a look at the reviews left by previous customers. If we look a little further down the page we see the localised results from Google Places and a prominent part of these listings as are the links to ’13 Google Reviews’. Again, this provides a simple overview and drives search engine users towards more reviews that are hosted on the Google Places listing for that specific business.
It’s also interesting to note that the top listed hotel has no star rating and a business needs at least five reviews before the stars are added to the rating. The stars help make your listing stand out and drive potential customers from awareness of your business straight into a consideration stage where your past customers are hopefully advocating your business.
Just from this quick and simple look, we can see that reviews for hotels and reputation are a huge part of the picture. Clearly, visibility alone
may will not win you customers – reviews and reputation are integral to taking your visibility and turning it into leads and enquiries.
Brand Searches & Portals
Google though is not the be all and end all of the reviews and for hotels, in particular, there are several highly visible portal sites that also collate reviews for your business. In fact, when someone visits a Google+ page via the ‘X Google Reviews’ on your local listing or via a Google Hotel Search listing then they will often be directed to additional ‘reviews from around the web’. If you take a look at any hotel listing you will often see a small area like this above the Google reviews clearly signposting users to other reviews for that hotel allowing the user to find yet more relevant customer feedback.
If I am looking at a hotel then I will often follow up a Google for ‘hotels in location’ with a search for the hotel’s name to see what else I can dig up. This will return a set of search results with listings for many sites that have hotel reviews and often these results will themselves be marked up with an average star rating that steers people towards either the good (or bad) reviews.
One of my personal favourite hotels in Birmingham is the Hotel Du Vin and a brand search for ‘Hotel Du Vin’ or ‘Hotel Du Vin Birmingham’ shows a list of profiles on third party sites with nearly all listings showing an average 4-star rating which is pretty good. Additionally, the Google+ listing is prominently attached to the companies primary search listing.
Now I have never had anything but a great time at Hotel Du Vin but there are a couple of truly awful reviews on that Google+ profile and if it were the marketing team at Hotel Du Vin I would be looking to encourage more reviews on the Google+ profile to firstly bury any bad reviews and then to secondly drive the 3.8 star average up closer towards 5. It’s not so hard to find a couple of bad reviews and be put off with a total of 13 but were there to be 130 reviews those two bad reviews would be lost and lose credibility amongst the sea of opinions.
The Review Eco System
There are now a huge array of sites where your hotel can be reviewed and understanding the review ecosystem in general and as it relates to your business is an important factor in managing your online reputation. Trip Advisor is the big and obvious one but beyond that, we have several usual suspects that you should consider including Trip Advisor, Yelp, Yell, Expedia, Booking.com and many others.
My advice here is to firstly conduct a brand search for you (and your competition). Get an idea of what the first page of results looks like. No reviews is not great, bad reviews is worse, good reviews with five-star ratings is best. Understand where there are reviews for your hotel or business and ensure that you have a voice in the discussion. Often, where there is a pattern to bad reviews there may be important feedback to grasp so that you can improve upon things that customers are not enjoying – either way before you can improve your reputation you need to understand who is talking about you and where.
Building your reputation
So just how do you go about building and improving your reputation and reviews online? What is the secret? Well, like everything worth doing it takes a bit of strategy and some good, honest hard work. The following is a simple strategy you can modify and use to help build a solid base of reviews for your business.
- A day or so after visitors leave the hotel, drop them a quick email to ask if everything went well with their visit under the guise of a customer service enquiry
- When users respond positively get back to them with a thank you for their comments and ask if they would be so kind to leave you a review. In the email include a link to all of the places where they can leave you a review to make the review process as easy as possible
- Where a user responds negatively do all you can to appease that user and ensure that this person does not become another bad review.
This is obviously very high level and you don’t need to do this via email if you would rather use another strategy. You could also do this at the front desk and make those staff members part of your marketing machine. Simply asking users if everything was okay and provide a card that asks them to leave a review with details of where this is possible.
There are some creases to iron out here and certain sites like Yelp have very specific criteria for reviews they will publish but you are simply looking to provide users with the right options to make things easy for them – a user of Yelp will place a review on Yelp and it will be trusted. You can also skew this towards where you need (or want) reviews and a smart tweak is to steer users with a Gmail address towards Google+ as they will not have any need to sign up for a Google account and that user has a history with Google so the review will carry weight.
You can’t bury your head in the sand
When it comes to reviews and reputation you can’t simply bury your head in the sand. You have to start understanding where your customers are, where your reviews are, where you are being talked about and gently encouraging your customers to leave reviews. There is a hotbed of rules and regulations that can get you in trouble with the various portals and search engines so you have to do this the right way and encourage happy customers to leave reviews where you need them.
Additionally, always remember, it’s far easier to get a bad review than it is to encourage a good one so play the game now and ensure the reviews around the web are an accurate representation of your hotel and customer service.
If you have any questions or if I can help drop a comment below or get in touch. Also, follow me on Twitter @MarcusBowlerHat or on Google plus for more SEO and local focused Internet Marketing tips and strategies.