by Nancy Huang
Online guest reviews are more important than ever. In researching hotels, potential customers are proactively seeking information about the experiences of previous guests. Reviews and star ratings on websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, and Facebook all play an extremely important role in getting new customers to book. The more reviews available, the more trustworthy a hotel will appear.
Today’s traveler arrives well-informed, with a huge 95% reading online reviews before they book their accommodation. Furthermore, younger generations are more communicative than their predecessors, so building a strong online reputation through social proof has never been so important.
Adding to this, a survey by BrightLocal found that 84% percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and 70% will leave one if a business asks them to.
In terms of the most influential sites, TripAdvisor remains the biggest player in the travel review space, with 500 million reviews and an average 390 million monthly unique visitors. But sites such as Yelp, Google’s own review platform, and Facebook’s expansion into the travel sector are challenging this dominance.
As booking decisions are increasingly driven by peer-to-peer recommendations and social connections, understanding how to encourage reviews across multiple platforms is now vital for all hotels looking to gain a competitive edge.
With that in mind, let’s look at four of the main platforms out there and the opportunities each has to offer.
Facebook has been extremely busy expanding its presence in the travel space of late. Its City Guides and “Places the Locals Go” feature (launched earlier this year) provide new ways for users to get recommendations on hotels, restaurants, activities and tours.
And now, Facebook is branching out with dedicated tools for posting feedback and reviews.
For instance, when guests post a photo of your hotel and tag their location, they’re now asked, “Are you recommending (place)?” with the option of a yes and no answer. Given that these ratings and photos will be posted on-property, offering great service from the get-go is an obvious way to encourage positive feedback.
Users can also add comments and star ratings on your Facebook Page, adding invaluable social proof in front of potential guests. You can easily set up star ratings and reviews through your Facebook Page settings.
As for the best way to ask for reviews? You don’t actually have to. You can simply ask your guests to “check-in” on Facebook. Facebook will then automatically send them a message some time after the check-in asking if they want to review the business.
Asking a guest to check in or tag your location on Facebook is something your front desk can easily do on arrival, perhaps with a simple incentive such as a complimentary cocktail or free Wi-Fi. You could also add signage in the lobby or in guest rooms to act as further reminders.
Post-stay emails offer yet another opportunity to ask for Facebook feedback. Simply add a link to your Facebook Page at the footer of your email and politely ask guests to share a review if they had a good experience.
A huge 81% of people prefer to use Google for a hotel search. Given this dominance, acquiring plenty of positive reviews on your Google My Business page is critical.
In terms of developments, Google recently launched a new graphical interface for hotel search and reviews. Reviews are now presented in a much cleaner, easy-to-compare format and include a carousel of third-party review sites. This allows users to compare feedback from different OTAs all in one place.
The implication here is that you should gain guest feedback on every site your hotel is listed to ensure your property is portrayed in the most favorable light.
Often, Google search results also feature review stars next to a business, and they can be extremely influential. A recent study found that review stars can boost click-through rates by up to 35%. This dedicated article describes how to get your star ratings onto Google’s search results pages.
So how you should you start acquiring reviews? First port of call, you’ll need to verify your business. It’s also essential to ensure your Google My Business information is up-to-date—Google’s Quick Start Guide for Hotels offers specific tips for the hospitality sector.
Also, make sure your hotel’s details are consistent and accurately listed on all online directories and review sites — this has a major impact on your search engine rank.
Finally, it’s worth noting that leaving a Google review can be quite long-winded. Users need to set-up a Google account, log into their account, then search for your business before leaving their feedback. So make life easy for them. Create a special link for your customers to write reviews on your Google My Business page and link to it directly in emails and communications to guests post-stay.
While not the biggest of the review sites, Yelp still attracts 84 million unique visitors on desktop and 74 million on mobile each month. Those numbers mean investing time into cultivating reviews here is time well spent.
Yelp’s “guide to success” comes with a few quick tips worth observing. One of the main ones includes refraining from offering incentives (e.g. freebies and discounts) for reviews; doing so can lead to your hotel being penalized. Yelp has also recently been cracking down on businesses seeking solicited reviews.
However, there is a way to request reviews without infringing these rules. By using Yelp’s Check-in Offers, you can advertise rewards to guests who “check-in” to your location. When users do this, they’re prompted to leave a review on the Yelp website.
Given the relative ease of checking in, rewards needn’t be extravagant. Simple ideas include offering your guests a free drink at the bar, discount on a spa treatment or excursion, or even free upgraded wifi (all the better for them to write a review about the place).
Yelp also lets you add Review Badges to your website, which includes the option to embed favorite reviews on your site and an automatically updated review counter. It’s a simple but effective way to alert others to your presence on Yelp and prompt even more reviews.
Finally, it goes without saying that like on any review site, responding to feedback is critical. Yelp lets you do this both publicly and privately through its Business Owners feature.
While social media and other review sites continue to gain prominence, TripAdvisor is still widely regarded as the number one travel review site.
Like many of the major sites, TripAdvisor has a free online widget that you can embed on your website. Adding a widget saves your guests from having to separately navigate to TripAdvisor. Instead, they can click the widget and head straight to TripAdvisor or write a review directly from your site.
In addition, TripAdvisor’s review collection tools offer a powerful way to gain feedback. For instance, its Review Express tool lets you send out bulk emails asking for guest reviews after they check out. An automatic reminder also gets sent to those who haven’t responded.
As testament to its effectiveness, properties that consistently use Review Express are reported to achieve a 28% boost in TripAdvisor reviews.
If your hotel works with an internet booking engine or PMS, you can also take advantage of an enhanced version of this tool that automatically sends out review request emails on your behalf.
Other important tips
One of the best strategies for getting great reviews is simply to give outstanding service. The more memorable you can make your hotel, the higher the likelihood that a guest will leave a review. Of course, a little nudge always helps. Here are some other important tips for encouraging reviews:
Wait until the guest leaves to ask specifically for a review. Although you can always encourage check-ins on social media, you should never explicitly ask for reviews while the guests are still on property. In fact, too many reviews coming from your hotel’s IP address can trigger warning flags on review sites, leading to your reviews being taken down.
Send an automatic email a few days after the guest leaves. A heartfelt email thanking the guest for their stay and inviting them to provide feedback can be extremely effective in getting reviews.
Give a goodbye gift with a reminder to leave a review. Offering a simple gift at checkout, such as a postcard, branded notepad, or locally made candies, along with a simple message asking for a review can be a memorable way to leave a lasting impression on your guest, ultimately increasing the chance that they will leave some kind words online for your property.
Take a broad strategy to nurture reviews
The combined influence of TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google and Facebook is vast. Each has enormous sway over the opinions and booking behavior of your potential guests, and their persuasive power only continues to grow.
While TripAdvisor remains the industry leader, both Facebook and Google continue to enhance their own travel review tools and interfaces. Yelp’s extensive base of users also makes it a platform with serious sway over the decisions of your guests.
As the travel review space evolves, taking a broad approach and understanding how to encourage reviews across these unique platforms is the ultimate key to success.
A final note…
Did you know that having more user reviews can improve your hotel website’s own search ranking? Read our Hotel SEO 101 article to discover more best practices on search engine optimization.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been revamped and updated to include recent developments.