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Prepare Your Hotel for Google Sidewiki Comments!

Tips on What your Hotel Should Do, and How to Monitor Reviews with RSS Feed

November 2009 - It’s been two months since Google introduced Sidewiki on September 23, but it hasn’t really caught fire . . . yet. When it was first announced, there was a lot of buzz on blogs and news sites, and it felt that the internet would be taken over by user-generated comments and opinions, but so far it hasn’t gained that much traction. We believe it will catch on soon, and that your hotel should be prepared for when it does.
What is Google Sidewiki and will it go mainstream?
Sidewiki is part of a Google Toolbar browser plug-in that allows users to open a sidebar on any website they are visiting and comment freely on anything they like; the website, the content, how they feel about the topic or the brand, or what they had for breakfast. These comments can then be seen by other visitors to the site (provided they have downloaded the Sidewiki toolbar) and they can leave comments as well. Users can also add links and videos, and share their comments through E-mail, Twitter or Facebook.
Will Google Sidewiki go mainstream?  We cannot predict the future, but given the success of other user-generated sites such as Trip Advisor, Yelp, You Tube and Wikipedia, we have reason to believe that it may.  As it is now, users have to sign up for a Google account and install the Google Toolbar to be able to see and write comments, and many people simply don’t know it exists.

However, Google has made an API available, which means that third party developers can access Sidewiki data and integrate it into their own applications or on their websites. Surely some tool will be developed soon that will catch the public eye and bring Sidewiki into the limelight.
People aren’t quite sure how to use Google Sidewiki yet, or what kind of comments they should be leaving. Really it all depends on the purpose and content of the website. Google recently wrote a blog post reviewing the first 50 days of Sidewiki, and shared 10 examples of ways users have written comments that will benefit others who visit the same site. For example Jason Young gave his own tips on how to tune a bass guitar on a guitar website, Matt Cutts from Google warned visitors about a deceptive website that claimed that Google is hiring people to work at home, and Jesse Poe added his personal reviews to a review of an iPhone application.
In a perfect world, the idea is great! If users can supply informative, relevant, quality comments that add knowledge and insight to the website content then that’s fantastic. We believe there will be some quality commentaries with useful information. People like to share their knowledge, or experience, on a topic they feel passionate about. We can just look at Wikipedia to see that.
However we don’t live in a perfect world and many companies see Google Sidewiki as a reputation management nightmare that will open up a new channel for malicious comments and reviews, or just create nonsense clutter. It could also be used by spammers. The companies and website owners have no control whatsoever over the comments. They do not have the right to approve or delete comments, as they can with blog comments, so they are really defenseless in a sense.
We also feel the temptation is too high and it’s too easy to write. Anyone could write anything just to be heard or to vent. What’s to stop people from airing dirty laundry, or bringing up personal information? I read one comment from a woman who owned a company and was concerned that as soon as her ex-boyfriend learns about Sidewiki he will surely try to bring her company down with his comments.
What about jaded employees, competitors? Sure they can write negative things about you on external sites but these will not likely be seen by the masses. To me, it is similar to a heckler during a speech. Who is to stop the Joe Wilsons of the world yelling ‘You Lie!’ everywhere.
Google is trying to control this, and has set up a voting system that allows users to vote if a comment is useful or not. There is also an option to report abuse where users can report a policy violation such as spam, illegal content, or any post that advocates hate or violence.
Google Sidewiki also has an algorithm in place that will put the highest quality, most relevant entries first, taking into account the votes, previous entries by author, and relevance to page.
Can I block Google Sidewiki?

There is currently no opt-out option for Google Sidewiki, but given all the controversy it has caused I would not be surprised if Google considers adding the option in the future.
Many companies have found ways to block Sidewiki, and they are selling their script. Google has actually found a way around some of these sidewiki blockers.
Some companies have even modified their server settings to block any user who even has the Google toolbar installed. This is probably not the best idea if you have a commercial website.
Other companies have elected to redirect visitors to a secure page. So when visitors type in they would get redirected to an https site with the same name. Sidewiki cannot run on the secure site.
Less extreme, some third party developers have created tools that can block spam from the sidewiki.
How will Google Sidewiki affect my Hotel?
In regards to hotel websites, we believe users will begin to leave reviews of the hotel right on Google Sidewiki. This should not scare hotels, as they have been dealing with user-generated reviews for years on popular sites such as TripAdvisor and Expedia. The main difference is that these reviews will be closer to home, and visitors will be able to see reviews without navigating away from your site.
As is the case with other review sites, Google sidewiki could be an asset to your hotel or detrimental, depending on the types of reviews your hotel receives. And as we discussed in a previous post about TripAdvisor, negative reviews can actually be helpful at times. 
Let’s look at the positives, the negatives, and how your hotel should manage these reviews.
The Positives
  • Good reviews will encourage visitors on your site to make a reservation
  • You will be able to respond to these reviews unlike some of the external review sites
  • Visitors who read the reviews won’t be distracted by ads from your competitors
  • Sidewiki content can rank in the Search Engines, which can drive more traffic to your site
  • Visitors who comment on your site can also share their comments through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook which can also rank in the Search Engines and contribute to your web presence
The Negatives
  • Similar to any review sites there is an opportunity for a guest to leave a negative or unfair review which you will be unable to remove It is just one more place you must monitor every day
  • Comments may be too general or unstructured. On a standard review site there are different areas that the guest has to review such as cleanliness or service. Sometimes a guest will give a top rating to one area and a lower rating to another, which will often balance it out. On sidewiki, a guest may just mention what they didn’t like. There may also be reviews mixed in with other comments or perhaps even questions.
  • Some review sites require proof that a guest has stayed at your hotel before they can write a review. This is not controlled with Google Sidewiki.
  • Some review sites threaten to blacklist competitors if they are found out writing false negative comments about your hotel. Again this is not controlled with Google Sidewiki.
  • On the flip side some review sites threaten to blacklist companies that write positive reviews about their own company. What is in place to stop you from enlisting people to write positive comments on your site, or voting on all the positive comments? Your competitors could be doing the same on their sites. Users may begin to distrust the comments altogether.
  • Who is to stop a competitor from writing a comment on your site trying to lure visitors away with their own offer?
What We Recommend Your Hotel Do
  • First of all install Google Sidewiki. It’s free and it only takes a couple of seconds. You must have the latest Internet Explorer or Firefox. For Google Chrome and other browsers you can use the sidewiki bookmarklet.
  • Experiment using Google Sidewiki. Once installed, you will see a blue box with arrows on the top left of the page. Click on this to open the sidewiki bar to see any comments. There is a ‘Write an entry’ option at the bottom of the bar which will allow you to write your own comment. Below is an example of sidewiki written on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website. The commenter highlighted the content on the website he was adding to.

  • Look at other examples of comments. As Sidewiki is still new there are not a lot of websites that have comments yet. You can see a list of 10 examples from a recent Google Blog post . You can tell if posts have been written on a page or not by the color of the sidewiki icon in your toolbar. If the icon is yellow there are posts about that webpage. If it is white with a pencil image no posts have been written.

  • Take ownership of Sidewiki by being the first to comment on your own site, and set the tone for future comments. Google allows the website owner to write a comment that will always appear first at the top of the Sidewiki page, and it will be highlighted in a green box. To do this follow the instructions in this webmaster sidewiki post.
  • Monitor comments on your site as you would any review site. You most likely do not have any comments yet as Sidewiki is still new, however you need to be on the lookout for comments in case they do come in. You aren’t alerted when there are comments, however Google has introduced an API feature where you can subscribe to have comments sent to you on your site, or any website, via an RSS feed. A third party developer has already created a site which makes this easier. You just need to enter in the URL of the website and it will give you a feed to subscribe to. You can then see when new comments are written.

You subscribe to sidewiki comments the same way you would for any RSS feed. I subscribe with my iGoogle. As an example, I subscribed the Mayo clinic sidewiki comments seen below. If you would like to learn more about how to set up an RSS feed we have described it in detail in our post on how to subscribe to blogs.

  • Think about setting up your own system on your website for guests to enter reviews. This could be more structured and allow them to comment on all aspects of your hotel, not just freely write anything.
In conclusion, what will happen with Google Sidewiki is a bit of a mystery at the moment. There have been other attempts from other companies to let people annotate websites which never caught on. However, those other companies were not Google.
There are many positives and negatives to Google Sidewiki, and a lot of controversy. Most companies do not like the idea of giving up control of what is seen on their website. However, the public likes to read ‘real’ comments and reviews of products and services, and that isn’t going to change. Perhaps Google Sidewiki will catch on, perhaps it won’t. Either way, Google Sidewiki is here right now, with no opt-out, and it is up to your hotel to start monitoring your comments.
If you would like more information about Google Sidewiki please feel free to call us at 978-465-5955 or write to us at
We would like to hear your opinion on Google Sidewiki. Have you tried it? Do you think it’s a good idea or a bad idea? Do have any suggestions on what hotels should do? Please feel free to leave a comment on our blog.


O’Rourke Hospitality Marketing
44 Merrimac Street
MA 01950

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