Everyone knows people are using reviews to find hotels. The real question is what they're looking for when they start evaluating those reviews.
If you suspected that customers are looking at a lot more than a star rating, you'd be correct. Take a look at what these real consumers have to say. Among them: professional travel bloggers, jetsetting CEOs, and experts on the lecture circuit, all people who travel constantly and who know what they want.
You can use this information to position your hotel in a positive way, and to develop a review strategy that gives you the most bang for your buck.
Some Guests Preferences Include Factors You Can't Control
Bad news first. Some people are more interested in your location than anything else, and are using reviews to evaluate whether they'll have access to things that interest them.
"I value reviews that state whether the location of a specific hotel worked for the reviewer or not. I like hotels that are close to city centers, where I can easily find restaurants or shops. If the reviews don't indicate the hotel offers this, I move on to the next option," says Snow Qu, CEO & Founder of Linking News.
Other customers are looking for different location-based benefits. For example, some might want a quieter locale. Adam McIntyre does. He travels across the country and lives in hotels for months at a time while running BrandPacks.com. He says he's always checking to see whether guests are complaining about a poor night's sleep.
"Hotels can have great pictures on their social pages or booking profile, but there's no picture that can tell you how quiet a hotel's surroundings are."
So what you can do is use the about section of your Google My Business profile to highlight the benefits of the location you've already got.
The above examples are good ones. The smaller hotel may not be as close to a famous landmark, but it offers a relaxed atmosphere with proximity to other points. Every place has its advantages and disadvantages.
You can also mention the location in your review generation materials. Remember, while you can't control what people say, you can influence it by bringing certain factors to the top-of-mind when you ask for reviews. Easy enough to mention location while you do so.
To Evaluate How Well the Hotel is Maintained
Maintenance is a big deal to seasoned travelers.
Just ask Daniel Gillaspia, founder of nationally recognized travel blog UponArriving.com.
"I try to avoid hotels that have had recent issues with structural problems. For example, when I see reports of issues related to things like plumbing and air-conditioning, I choose to move on."
To address this issue, make maintenance one of your top priorities. This won't be a problem for larger hotels.
If you're a smaller hotel with cash flow problems, you can mitigate the damage between repairs by responding to every review. Gillaspia also mentioned he wants to see hotels responding to these negative reviews in a way that indicates the issue was isolated.
Your answer could read thusly:
Thanks for reviewing our hotel! We're so sorry your AC was out. We've scheduled an appointment with our HVAC company to correct the issue.
If you would have moved the guest to a different room in response to a live report on the problem, you can mention that too.
A major maintenance issue to keep an eye on? Bed bugs. "Bed bugs are an absolute deal-breaker for me," says Ayanna Julien, Managing Editor for Effortless Insurance.
"If the hotel I'm considering has even one mention of bed bugs in the reviews, then I'm moving on to the next option, period. And the same goes for any other health or sanitation issues."
Repetition of Issues and Highlights
Here's a fine illustration of why you need to gather as many reviews as possible while delivering consistent 5-star service. Mike Falahee, Owner & CEO of the Marygrove Awning Company, looks for repetition.
"If it comes up more than once, it's probably true. If certain things show up in more than about four reviews, chances are they're accurate."
Customers are savvy. They know review spam is out there. Looking for patterns is one of the ways they defend themselves against it.
Your response to this point? Use your influence over the review process to help highlight your strong points.
Watch for repeating red flags, too. Falahee says he takes a pass on a hotel when he sees multiple instances of the words "horrible," "rude," or "nightmare." If you see words like these in even a single review, correct the issue immediately so they don't show up in subsequent ones.
Julien is paying close attention to customer service issues too. "Nasty front desk employees, concierges, housekeeping, and management are a no-go. Why stay somewhere that you know has poor customer service when there are so many options out there?"
Specificity in the Details and Review Recency
Author, activist, and speaker Dr. Tonisha Pinckney pays close attention to the date of the last review. "Some reviews are months old," she says.
"I want reviews that are recent, and that span time."
She also says she wants more than a star rating.
"I want actual, specific reviews that mention things like cleanliness, client service, accuracy, and friendliness."
In this case, it's all about your review management strategy. It must be consistent. You have to rely on more than telling your employees to ask for reviews. You need to send out emails or text messages, and you need to make sure your communications rotate out different features of your hotel so you get a nice profile of user-generated content which mentions some of these items.
Finally, you must respond to each review, including the positive ones. This will result both in generating more reviews, and in impressing future guests. Pinckney stresses she wants to see hotels with owners who answer concerns and thank positive reviewers.
Just a Little Bit of Imperfection
As I mentioned in The Hitchhiker's Guide to Bad Review Blackmail, a handful of less-than-stellar reviews can help you by making your total review profile look far more trustworthy.
Customers often gravitate to hotels with 4.8 or 4.9 stars instead of 5 stars for this very reason. Pinckney even says she wonders if hotels are moderating reviews somehow when she sees nothing but glowing praise.
Don't panic. Even negative reviews can be an asset. Just respond, correct the problem, and move on.
Don't be argumentative. Guests are watching for that, too. "It's a big warning sign for me," says Ben Taylor, founder of HomeWorkingClub.com.
"Unless it's clear it's a one-off and it's clear the person who left the review was being unjust. Knowing you'll face hostility if you have a negative experience is a big turn-off."
Other Signs of Review Authenticity For Future Guests
Josh Wardini from Serpwatch travels often, and as a savvy SEO professional he's looking for a few more signs that your review profile is not genuine.
"I pay attention to suspiciously positive reviews that seem like they are stuffed with keywords, such as 'the best hotel in London!' or 'the best luxury hotel with a spa in Berlin.' If there are too many fishy-looking reviews, I usually ditch the hotel and go with another one."
Don't assume SEO professionals are the only ones who are aware of these issues.
Real talk. Most Millenials know what SEO is, know what keywords are, and know what over-optimization looks like. Gen Z definitely knows, and some of them are already old enough to start choosing their own hotels.
Both generations value genuine communications from the companies they do business with. The slightest hint of manipulation or trickery leaves them cold.
This awareness works in your favor, too.
Most people are also well aware that unpleasant people, review blackmailers, competitors, and disgruntled employees try to foul the review pool. They look for signs you're being sabotaged, too.
Mom and travel blogger Jennifer Brooks is on the lookout for this very issue. "Sometimes if a review is particularly harsh, I will look at that person's review history and see if they frequently leave negative reviews at all the places where they've stayed. If so, I give them a little less consideration in my decision."
Tech-savvy members of Gen X, like me, feel the same way. If you've been less-than-honest in your pursuit of a positive reputation, it's time to correct course right now.
Tech Savvy Owners
It's 2019. If you haven't invested in fast, free WiFi yet, shame on you. Bad WiFi is a common cause of bad reviews. It's time for an upgrade.
McIntyre says he always checks reviews to find out whether a hotel's WiFi is strong enough. So, too, does just about anyone who is working on the road, or traveling for work.
Internet is a necessity, just like electricity and water.
Guests will scan reviews for the information they want
Any guest will have specific issues that are important to them.
Now all they have to do to sort through all of your reviews is to ask about maintenance, cleanliness, friendliness, internet, or amenities by taking advantage of the Google My Business Q&A portion of your listing.
The "suggested answer" feature will scan your reviews for matching answers to the question. Guests don't even have to complete the question to see all the related reviews. As guests catch on to the feature you'll need to be more aware than ever of the reasons they're choosing you, or are not choosing you.
Your ability to manage the review process will have even more of a direct impact on whether the discerning traveller chooses you. If you're not managing anything yet, it's time to start.
Otherwise, you're at the mercy of chance. That's not a good place to be when you're under the scrutiny of the entire Internet.