James Perrin

Why Hotels Should Encourage Customer Reviews

17th Mar 2011 SEO Blog, Local Search, SEO Blog 4 minutes to read

The last couple of years have been incredibly interesting when it comes to online travel marketing. It’s a competitive industry; as a result SEO and PPC are taken seriously as any optimisation can dramatically improve business – visibility is everything.

Various SEO and PPC campaigns are utilised within the travel and leisure sectors. Last year, Google updated their SERPs to integrate Places [see: What Does the Google Places SERP Update Mean for Local Search?]. The changes were incredibly significant to local businesses, and optimisation in local search has now become important in many industries – not least for those who run hotels or restaurants. Part of this optimisation that shouldn’t fall by the wayside is customer reviews.

Free Speech

Reviews and comments can play an important role for any hotel or restaurant. They can bolster your business as they may be the difference between gaining custom and not. Perform a search for ‘Hotels in Paris’ and you’ll notice the significance of Google Places.

As you can see, the name of the Hotel, their rating and number of reviews head up the SERP (as shown below).

When you click on the reviews  you’re presented with the page shown below. This is an amalgamation of all reviews from across the web, presented with highlights at the top of the page, and more detailed reviews beneath.

In an increasingly competitive online travel and leisure industry, are companies making the most out of a comment or review? Think to yourself, has any hotel ever asked you to leave a comment or a review? In my experience I have been asked many times to write in a guestbook, but only once to leave an online review.

Where’s the logic in that? Guestbook’s are only ever read by guests who have stayed in that accommodation, not visible for the entire world to see. It could be time for hoteliers to encourage guest to leave more online comments.

Okay, so it’s hardly a ground breaking and innovative development – reviews for hotels have been around for a while, as well as the emergence of review sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp. However there has been a growing tendency to shy away from reviews recently.

Here’s why…

Most infamously Duncan Bannatyne from Dragons Den fame, who owns a range of self named luxury Hotels, accused Trip Advisor of publishing ‘dishonest’ reviews. The problem I guess for hoteliers and restaurateurs is that anyone can publish a review, whether it’s positive or negative. Worse still, this is entirely beyond your control and will remain visible to the public.

As long as the comment or review is genuine, i.e. from someone that has actually stayed at the hotel, then where’s the problem?  I mean you wouldn’t prevent someone from speaking their opinion, so why should it be any different with online reviews? Unfortunately, in the Bannatyne example, the review was indeed left by someone who had stayed at the hotel.

It’s a subjective business. People’s opinions are part and parcel of this industry; we rely on them all the time, for example, asking our family and friends, ‘Any hotel in Paris you suggest?’ From time to time hotels WILL receive negative comments, if you provide a service that’s not up to scratch, you will hear about it. As a side note, Google are developing ways for users to only read trusted reviews from friends and family [See: Google Hotpot: Local Search Gets Personal]

Understandably, people are worried about spam comments from disingenuous users who have never even stepped into the hotel they are reviewing. However websites such as Trip Advisor have come up with ways of monitoring this kind of behaviour, so that only genuine reviews are accepted. Another way is to integrate a comment service similar to HRS.com – only people that have reserved a room and actually checked are able to leave comments on any of their hotels.

The Benefits

From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense. By encouraging people who have had a nice visit at one of your hotels to tell others, is probably one of the most fundamental ways hotels generate business. The same should be applied online too. The more positive reviews that outweigh the negative ones should surely be an incentive in itself.

If you’re not convinced, then there are SEO benefits too. Adding original content to websites, such as reviews is a great way of making your website visible. Every time a page is updated, search engines have to search for it and index it. They like current, updated and original websites. It shows they’re not stagnant.

This type of marketing is invaluable and should be looked into further. Perhaps creating a link between a review on hotel’s website (from someone you know has stayed at the hotel) to a website such as Trip Advisor – that way you know its genuine. The advancement of Social Media will also play a significant roll. In other words, as the internet becomes more social, its going to be harder for places offering accommodation to shy away. Reviews need to be embraced!

Every hotel should be making the most of reviews; especially small to medium sized businesses. Guests who have positive things to say should be encouraged – it’s free, so there’s no expense, and you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.

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