By Ben Hanley
Shop on the web for a short time and you’ll quickly realize how integral social proof is to the online shopping experience. This social proof comes in numerous forms, from customer reviews and testimonials to star ratings and Facebook Likes. All of which let shoppers know that the service or product they’re interested in comes recommended by others.
In turn, this brings confidence and reassurance to the buying process, increasing the odds that a customer ends up making a purchase.
The power of social proof in travel
Today, virtually all travelers (95%!) read reviews before they book their accommodation. Major review sites such as TripAdvisor along with niche travel blogs, forums and social networks are all frequently consulted, each inspiring, informing and influencing where people choose to travel and stay.
While firming up plans, a lot travelers also visit the hotel website to conduct more research and check rates. But while a lot of hotels spend time nurturing social proof on third-party review sites, many neglect to do so on their own website, which is a major missed opportunity.
Travelers often head to the hotel website at a pivotal point in their buying journey. It’s a place where cementing trust and conveying value can influence the final booking decision, where a glowing testimonial from a past guest can tip the balance in your favor.
How can hotels do better here? In the following article, we’ll describe the forms of social proof that are especially useful for hotels, and provide tips on how to integrate them directly into your website to boost conversions.
1. Review stars and ratings
The power of online reviews can’t be overstated. According to a recent study by BrightLocal, 85% of consumers trust them as much as personal recommendations.
Clearly, getting lots of positive online reviews is great. But you can squeeze even more out of them by integrating them into your hotel website.
Sites such as Yelp make it easy to embed reviews from their site into your own with a simple line of code. TripAdvisor offers a similar service, enabling customers to showcase reviews, ratings and photos through their TripAdvisor Widget Center, while TrustPilot also features an embedding tool in the form of their TrustBox Library.
Another social trigger with big influence is Google’s review stars. You’ll often see these stars beneath a search result on the Google search results page, and their persuasive power is also substantial—TripAdvisor along with many of the major OTAs already feature them within their Google search result. A study by ConversionXL found that stars on a search engine result listing boosted traffic by 35%. By integrating reviews into your own hotel website, you can also get your star rating to appear on your Google listing as well.
If you’ve found a handful of especially positive testimonials on a review site, you can make them work twice as hard for you by prominently featuring them on your website. A small selection of comments can quickly give potential guests added reassurance that your hotel is perfect for their needs.
In particular, testimonials have been found to be most effective when they’re accompanied by a photo of the reviewer. In another user experience test by ConversionXL, they found that “testimonials with photos were significantly more effective at generating viewer recall than testimonials with no photos.”
So while words alone are powerful, photos add credibility to comments and are more likely to be remembered.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking the time to ask past guests if they’d be willing for you to share their feedback and a photo of them on your website—around 4-5 different guest comments should be more than enough. As an act of encouragement, you could always offer a reward in a personalized post-stay email, such as a room discount or free evening meal during their next stay with you.
In the digital age, social influencers have become online celebrities in their own right. With cult-like status and thousands of loyal followers, hotels are now working with high-profile YouTubers, Instagrammers and bloggers to market themselves and connect with niche audiences.
If your hotel is already doing work with social influencers, make sure that whatever content they create (e.g. photos, posts, video) is also integrated onto your website to maximize its impact.
For instance, you could showcase your influencer’s content in a dedicated blog post, like Refinery Hotel in New York often does with its #InBedWith series, and then promote this content through your social channels. To enhance your SEO and drive more direct traffic to your site, be sure to ask your influencer to link back to your content from their own channels.
To get more long-term value out of your brand ambassadors, consider integrating their content on your homepage or in a dedicated section of your website.
Social proof can also be leveraged to great effect when used to indicate popularity and scarcity. OTAs are especially adept at using this tactic by featuring recent booking stats and room availability levels as customers browse their site.
On-site messages such as “10 people are looking at this hotel right now” and “40 people recently booked” are frequently used to add urgency and increase desirability from shoppers. This technique plays upon the scarcity heuristic, which describes how items or resources are perceived as more valuable when they’re limited in supply.
Just like the OTAs, hotels can use similar technology to let a customer know that a property is “hot” and liable to sell out soon.
Below, you can see an example of a popularity prompt on the website of 24 North Hotel, designed by Travel Tripper using our RezTrip booking engine.
In this instance, a prominently located message lets potential bookers know the hotel they’re interested in is extremely popular with other travelers. Used in this way, social proof can boost desirability and act as a powerful conversion trigger at a pivotal point in the buying journey.
Harnessing social proof on your hotel website
In the travel industry, the power of social proof is undeniable. The vast majority of people only book a vacation after seeking out reviews and recommendations from friends, family, and like-minded travelers.
TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp and Facebook are common go-to resources. But along the path to purchase, many of your potential customers will visit your hotel website. For that reason, it’s vital to build social proof into your online experience—especially as customers approach an all-important booking decision.
Review site widgets, customer testimonials, social influencer content, and real-time room and booking stat tools are all great options, and each has the ability to prove a decisive trigger that convinces someone to book.