How to increase sales and maximize revenue with traveler reviews

UPDATE:

Tnooz-TripAdvisor webinar: VIDEO for Reputation management and beyond – webinar on which these article was based.

NB: This is a guest article by Josiah Mackenzie, director of business development at ReviewPro

We all want to establish ways to increase direct sales and maximize revenue using reviews and customer-created content.

As Adele Gutman of HK Hotels recently noted: “Reputation IS revenue”. This is something that plays a key role in creating inbound demand.

review book

But let’s take a look at how this process works.

1. Reviews: Your most powerful sales tool

The hotel and travel industry is increasingly recognizing online customer reviews as a very powerful way to measure and improve quality.

With technologies such as the Global Review IndexTM and semantic analysis to understand sentiment, managers have more tools than ever to understand their customers, increase satisfaction, and create loyalty.

But reviews and user-generated content also present a significant opportunity to increase the number of people coming to your website, and to convert more of those visitors into buyers. It could be one of the most powerful sales tools in your arsenal.

2. Benefits of UGC and guest reviews

User generated content (UGC) has been defined as any data or media that is contributed by the users of a website – rather than being created by professional journalists and editors.

In the travel industry, UGC commonly includes online guest reviews, photos, videos, social networking posts, and a wide range of other digital content.

These pieces of content can increase sales two ways:

  • indirectly: by increasing rankings in search engines, bringing more traffic to your website
  • directly: by increasing sales conversion rates by increasing consumer confidence

“Consumer confidence” is simply how much a potential customer trusts you. Over the past few years, a significant shift in communications authority has taken place.

According to Yankelovich research, 75% of consumers do not believe companies tell the truth in their advertisements. Further, emarketer discovered that consumer reviews are trusted 12 times more than product descriptions by the company.

When making a purchase decision, people are increasingly turning to people they trust and other consumers for advice and guidance.

3. Use user-generated content for search engine optimization to create inbound demand

For years, the primary search optimization benefit of reviews and UGC was that they provided a source of fresh content – something search engines needed and rewarded.

This is still true: Content is king. But now, search engines are rapidly integrating social data to put content into context. Online reviews and UGC are an increasingly important factor in the search algorithms that determine how web pages are ranked.

  • Google is emphasizing consumer reviews to reward local businesses that the community finds helpful (especially through the new Google +1 buttons)
  • Bing is reaching into their users’ social graph on Facebook to suggest content they will love

Bing announced integration of Facebook data in their search results pages in a blog post that included this short description:

“Not only [will you] see the individual pages or stories your friends like, but the overall sites they like related to the topic you’re searching for.”

The new functionality will display personalized results based on that person’s social network – such as links or content their friends have Liked.

When the person’s friends have not shared any content related to a search, Bing will prioritize content that is popular with the Facebook community at large. This means search engine optimization is now not exclusively all about building inbound links, but improving the overall sentiment and engagement toward your brand on the web.

Google also takes user-generated content very seriously. Their local business listing – the “7 box” very familiar to search engine marketers – is determined primarily by reviews and user-generated content. Recent Google patents seem to suggest that:

  • the quality and quantity of your reviews
  • how many websites contain customer reviews
  • and the sentiment behind the customer reviews

All play an important role in increasing search engine visibility today. If for no other reason, these factors would make a strong case for investing in online reputation management.

4. Why are search rankings important for sales?

According to Rob Torres at Google: “The average travel purchase online involves over 50 unique search queries and 2.5 hours of research time.”

Each of these web searches is an opportunity to introduce your brand – but only if people see you.

Hubspot research suggests that:

  • The top search result on a search page gets clicked 42% of the time
  • The top 3 results get 79% of the total clicks
  • The top 5 results get 88% of clicks
  • Only 3% of searchers go beyond the first page of results pages

Clearly, placement in search results plays a very large role in how much website traffic your company receives.

5. Use guest reviews to increase direct sales by building trust

Encouraging more direct sales takes place through three basic categories of activity:

  • Driving traffic to a website
  • Making sure visitors stay on the website
  • Converting that website traffic into sales

Since we covered the first point by looking at search engine optimization, let’s proceed to the other two areas.

First, making sure visitors stay on your site. Depending on the hotel type and a number of other factors, between 25-40% of people who leave a hotel website do so to read online reviews. Publishing reviews directly on your hotel website fights this loss of traffic, making that direct booking a higher probability.

Second, converting more traffic into sales – turning more more website visitors into buyers. Improving consumer confidence is a key factor in improving those conversion rates. Hotels that place guest reviews on their website typically find it much easier to get new visitors to trust their sales message.

This approach is especially important for small and independent hotels that may not have the recognition of a large chain brand.

Business travelers in particular tend to choose large hotels because chain brands offer a consistent experience. The chance of having a horrible experience is perceived as lower.

For small and independent hotels, developing a positive online reputation increases confidence that your hotel has been approved by dozens of other travelers. Trust is established through credibility, and today credibility is best built through the words of others.

6. Publish reviews in a mix of formats

Sharing reviews you receive online as written text is a powerful tactic. But mixing formats of user-generated content can make the testimonials even more effective.

Many hotels that deliver remarkable experiences for their guests receive notes of appreciation back from these people. If people send your hotel staff a postcard or letter talking about how much they appreciated their stay, get permission to scan it and upload the positive feedback to your website. Hotel SO in New Zealand shares their guestbook online by uploading images to a separate domain – WeLoveSo.com – for easy reference. How difficult would it be for you to do something similar?  

Video or audio testimonials can be the most difficult type of content to create, but can make for a very compelling sales tool. If you ever have the opportunity (and permission) to record positive feedback from guests in video or audio format, do so. Showcase it on your blog. Feature it on your website.

You may find the best way to create video is through events hosted at your hotel. The Roger Smith Hotel in New York City makes hosting live events and meetups a strategic part of their digitial media campaign for this reason.

7. Test, Test, Test

Once you have positive reviews, testimonials, and other pieces of user-generated content, place it anywhere on your website where you need to build credibility.

Look at your website analytics for pages with high bounce rates and high exit rates. This could reveal good opportunities.

As with any sales or marketing activity online, testing is crucial to see what is working for you. I recommend continually experimenting, and watch how these experiments impact factors such as:

  • Time on site
  • Bounce rates
  • Page exit rates
  • Sales conversion rates

8. Cultivate and work with your brand ambassadors

Whatever goal you are trying to obtain with public relations or marketing communications, work to have your guests and customers become the spokespeople and share the message for you.

The greatest selling tactic in the world is the similar situation story.

Consumers find stories from other travelers like them to be most credible and helpful as they make their buying decision.

  • Collect and share stories of delighted guests.
  • Leverage social proof in the form of testimonials.
  • Put guest feedback on every page of your website
  • Focus on putting positive reviews and testimonials in the website sales process, as this may increase conversion rates.
  • Consider creating a separate website page or mini-site where you publish all guest feedback in one place for easy reference.
  • Mix up the media formats – text, photos, and video – to achieve best results.

NB: This is a guest article by Josiah Mackenzie, director of business development at ReviewPro, an online reputation analytics service to more than 2,000 hotels worldwide.

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Viewpoints

About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.

 

Comments

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  1. Robert

    Very helpful article. Small entities such as VRA, boutique hotels and mom and pop operations have a huge challenge when it comes to advertising. With pages like this one we can learn to turn hard work into profit rather than throw money at anything and everything.

    Thanks
    Robert
    vacationrentalauthority.com

     
  2. Norma Daniel

    HighFields Country Inn & Spa is an intimate family owned and operated facility which relies on repeat clients and referrals since we don’t have a large advertising budget. I found your article very re-assuring as we have just entered into the world of social media and search engine optimization. We were delighted to be able to host some new guests for overnight accommodation, spa services and dining this past weekend.

     
  3. Bill Rowe

    I found this interesting that Hubspot reports the top search result on a search page gets clicked 42% of the time and the top 3 get 79% of the total clicks.

    It tells me that people are reading the title and description a little more than I thought.

     
  4. Druk Tshering

    Nice and very useful article. Thank you for sharing.

     
  5. Conor O'Neill

    Excellent post Josiah, it matches all of our experiences of providing the LouderVoice customer reviews solutions to hotels and other hospitality sites.

    One big change we are seeing in 2011 is that even small hotels are finally understanding the power of Social and are actively seeking out integrations between reviews on their own sites and Facebook/Twitter.

    It will be interesting to see if similar happens with Google+. Our expectation is that the upcoming Google+ Business Profiles will be integrated in some way with Google Places Pages.

     
  6. Jennie Carr

    Great article, Josiah. As a travel review, advice & information site, we really liked your ideas and great to hear you are influencing the hospitality industry. JGC

     
  7. Jackson Siv

    This is an excellent article Josiah, but I just have a question that I don’t understand. Everything that is outlined in the article is phenomenal and ideal. what I’m trying to get at is that there are many chains that is not fully putting this into use. It kind of reminds me of watching the show “Undercover Boss”. Until some variable of a huge magnitude happens, then we scramble to apply this article. Overall, I love the article and this article defines what the Standard and Procedure of any Hotel in the Hospitality Industry should follow.

     
  8. Andreas

    Great article, any feedback on our Guestbook is welcome 🙂

     
  9. Jonathan Alford

    good article, Josiah

     
 
 

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