How Reviews Present a Growing Opportunity for Hotels
Guest reviews in the accommodations industry remain important, and the marketing opportunities and risks they present have evolved over the last several years. The players in the third-party review space are changing, and the uses for first-party reviews are growing as well.
Reviews that brands collect themselves have historically been dropped into the bottom of the page for Hotel brand and Online Travel Agent (OTA) sites. The hotel property gets a 1-5 average rating, and then a selection of reviews are listed. Today, a number of brands are now realizing the great potential of these reviews for building out better user experiences, content, and even brand visibility.
Many of the large sites have pools of hundreds or thousands of reviews for any given hotel, adding a tremendous amount of color to the often dry property details and photos that are similar for so many properties.
Below are examples of sites that have taken their reviews and used data mining to find unique features for these specific properties. The data is then used to create new types of content in areas such as the property detail pages.
The example above uses specific language from guests (“wonderful staff”) while telling visitors what stood out to previous guests.
Another similar tactic is using reviews to add flavor to existing content. For example, below are amenities sections which have been made more helpful by informing users of the quality of the amenities – not simply that they exist.
Knowing that 94% of customers were fine with check-in means it’s probably not an issue to worry about for users (the other 6% couldn’t wake up before noon?):
“Continental breakfast” is nice to know, but learning that the coffee is “great” is even better. Whether or not there is a waffle maker, you’ll just have to find out for yourself…
This kind of data can be developed in a couple of ways:
Brands can ask more specific questions of customers to easily see beyond the “4-star” review. How do you rate the service? Did you have any parking problems? These types of questions should be asked by every brand, but it takes time to collect the data.
Another method is a statistical analysis of user sentiment around specific topics. When reviews mention “coffee,” are they complaining about it or lauding it?
Expert ReviewsA different approach some OTAs take is a contrast from the user-generated reviews by replacing or supplementing them with “expert” reviews. It lends a more curated feel to the property details, but the question remains if users are any more or less likely to convert. Given the ubiquity of user reviews, users may have as much or more faith in the wisdom of the crowd. An important question for a brand to answer would be “what makes this person an expert?”
Another area a hotel can advance is to markup their reviews with schema tags in their pages’ HTML. The benefits are the potential for higher rankings (by leading search engines to better understand a site’s content), greater visibility in iOS search, and increased click-through rates from star ratings on search engine listings.
When the star ratings for hotels appear is dependent on the type of site, and the type of search.
For a destination-specific search (“Best Hotels in Paris”), below shows how the hotelier brand sites (Marriot, ) are given star ratings, while OTAs (Hotels.com, Booking.com) are not.
For a property-specific search (“Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk”), below is an example of how the OTAs are getting star listings, while the property site is not.
These trends vary by search somewhat, with some having greater or fewer listings with stars included.
While some of the sites are incorporating third-party reviews directly onto their site, only first-party reviews can be marked up with schema without risking a Google penalty.
While your brand may or may not collect user reviews, other sites like Facebook, Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor certainly are already.
For the hoteliers, this results in a significant amount of time spent monitoring and responding to the reviews. The best responses are custom responses, where you address the specific issue and let them know how you are handling it. While this takes more time, a canned “Sorry you didn’t enjoy your stay message” doesn’t send a great message to anyone.
Review sites such as these are so highly relied on, many hotel brands feed their star ratings and/or reviews directly into their site. If data shows users leave your site to go look up your ratings elsewhere, this may be a good move.
With it’s growing local efforts, Facebook gets a tremendous amount of reviews (657 vs. 97 for Google in this example). It can also be highly trusted when your personal friends have given a review.
Google’s reviews, however, play a crucial role in capturing nonbrand searches through their presence in the local pack/hotel ads section. For example, a lower score can keep a property out of the “resorts in Austin” results or reduce the click-through rate.
The bottom line is that first- and third-party reviews aren’t an either/or issue for hoteliers or OTAs. They both may need to be re-thought for the current digital landscape.
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First-party reviews are needed for social proof and unique content on your site. Given the increasing competition from even Google itself in the travel space, the more unique assets and utility you can provide to users, the better. Travel brands are finding ways to do this with user-generated and even expert reviews.
Third-party reviews are both a burden and an opportunity for hoteliers. Responding well can be great for branding, and they can be a great way to improve your hotel experience by correcting guest issues.
Adding these reviews to your site for OTAs or hotel brands is a catch-22. Users trust the ratings of TripAdvisor and Google, but that also means including their logos on your page and risking losing that customer. Proving the results with data is safe route than guessing the impact.