Shop like a traveller: keeping on top of your hotel's online image

The path to purchase for travellers is not as straightforward as it used to be – they may begin with Googling your region, a popular local attraction or even a conference venue rather than your city or part of town, or they might know your name from a friend, but not know your website address. Wherever they begin, at some point they will get their first impression of your hotel. What does this say about you?

If you have an Online Reputation Management partner, keeping track of this becomes an easier task, but nothing can replace a little direct market research every now and again to experience exactly what users go through before they find you, and to make sure that the image that a prospective guest gleans of your hotel from your online presence is an accurate one.

Let’s start at the very beginning: Google yourself.

This is the most basic part of managing your online image, but it is often overlooked. When you want to find out more about something online, your first port of call is usually Google. Remember that your prospective guests don’t know your website URL, social media handles, and where to find your online travel agent listings, but you can be pretty sure that they know how to use Google.

What appears on the first page of Google’s search results when you search your establishment’s name is what people will find out about you first online. Is your hotel website on the first page of the results? When you google your town or area, do you come up?

Top Tip: If you can't justify an AdWords expenditure, you should at least make sure that you are managing your listings on Google's own platforms such as Google+ and Maps, as if a "knowledge box" is shown on the search engine results page, a lot of the information will be pulled from Google's own network of websites.

First impressions count (especially when competition is so high)

Once you have googled yourself, click on the first five or so relevant results.

If you were a traveller, would you stay at your hotel based on those first few results? Make sure that everything you can control about them, such as the photos and descriptions on your OTA listings are as enticing and accurate possible.

Some questions that are good to ask:

  • Are the photos and descriptions for your hotel up-to-date, accurate and interesting?
  • Can you quickly get the essence of your hotel’s facilities?
  • Are your rates and specials consistent across all your channels?
  • Is it easy to book a night’s stay with you?
  • Is there someone looking after your users online and replying to their reviews?

Do your reviews help or damage your image?

Word-of-mouth is still one of the strongest motivators behind booking decisions, but a close second is online reviews. What impressions are yours leaving? Often hoteliers are tempted to only look at their ratings and rankings. But there are more elements that guests take into account, even if they are not that obvious.

Some questions that are good to ask:

  • Do you have recent reviews users can reference?
  • Do your reviews paint a balanced picture of your hotel?
  • Does your hotel show that you value your guests by responding to reviews?
  • If you do respond, do you respond to much? Or little? And are the responses generic or well thought out?
  • Is the tone of your responses consistent across all your channels?
  • Does your hotel look like it takes time to solve problems for its guests?
  • Do you respond quickly?

Unfortunately, when left to their own devices, often only the most impressed and most dissatisfied guests will post reviews of your property, leaving prospective travellers browsing through your reviews with an inaccurate image of what a stay at your hotel is really like. Many guests who were satisfied but not overwhelmed will still have pleasant things to say about your hotel if you ask them, so make sure you have a system in place to encourage them to leave you reviews.

Often, your ranking on OTAs and review sites (like TripAdvisor, for example) depends on review recency, volume and quality so if you want to climb the rankings it’s imperative to make sure you have a steady stream of new reviews online.

Are you capitalising on your hotel’s strengths?

When you search for your hotel online, is your brand image capitalising on its strengths? If you know where your unique appeal lies, you should be capitalising on that, especially if that can separate you from your competition. If you use an online reputation management system, you’ll already be on top of what your guests think are your best assets and you would also know where you surpass your competitors.

A quick look at your reviews and noting what your guests are ranting and raving about may also give you some new insights into what to promote more or less. Use these insights to ensure that you have highlighted what matters to real guests on your website, social media, OTA listings and other promotional material – not just what you think matters.

Is your hotel's online voice professional and personable?

While a lot of your online image is in the hands of review-writing guests, many online travel agents and review sites do give you the opportunity to speak up for yourself as well. When you search your hotel, are you wasting this valuable chance to connect with past and prospective guests or making the most of it?

In a world of technology, personal connections are becoming even more highly valued and giving the impression of a business that connects on a real level with its customers can go a long way. It may, for example, seem like a waste of a high-level team member's time to write to strangers online, but people need to see that someone with the authority to effect real changes is taking notice of guest feedback. Just remember not to take anyone for the fool, rather say nothing at all than use a generic response time and time again.

In short, is it clear that your hotel has real people running it who care about guest experience?

Don’t forget about social

If you have been focusing on looking at your listing on OTAs and your own website, have you remembered to look at your social media? For any brand, consistency is key, but it’s also essential to make sure that your brand image is working for that particular platform.

Level the playing field

Staying aware of your online image is by its nature competitive. Your prospective guests aren’t looking up just your reputation, they are weighing it against that of your competitors. While monitoring reviews as they come in is essential, sometimes one needs go back to basics and follow your own path to purchase to ensure that your establishment is not only putting its best foot forward online, but also measuring up to and surpassing the competition.