Sunday 03 Feb 2008
Greeting from inside the SEOigloo!
After getting such a fine response to my recent Search Engine Guide list of 34 sources from which Google is pulling user review data, I thought it would be nice to follow up with a second article and some tips on getting good reviews for your hospitality industry business. We’re in great good luck to have retired Wine Country innkeeper, Donna Swain, chatting with us today.
Donna ran a small, elegant and successful B&B for a number of years, and she is also one of the valued moderators at Cre8asite Forums. Her graciousness makes it easy to imagine just how beautifully she cared for her guests’ needs, and I hope that innkeepers and their SEOs will make the most of Donna’s insights.
Miriam: Donna, before the Internet, innkeepers really only needed to concern themselves with professional reviews that would be written up in guidebooks. What were the most important guidebooks a B&B, inn or hotel could be listed in?
Donna: Triple AAA, Fodors and Frommer’s, Travel Guide and Michelin Guide.
Miriam: Clearly, what the pros said about a business would have a good deal of impact on a business’ profile, and yet, perhaps not as much as what is now happening online with user-generated reviews. The sheer visibility and number of these review sites really puts the data in the public eye – no need to buy a guidebook. If you were still operating your B&B, where would you be hoping to get user reviews from?
Donna: Definitely Trip Advisor and Bedandbreakfast.com. I also believe that certain accommodation directories have more “juice” than others thus being reviewed by, or even just being listed with them, might be placing your listing more prominently but I have not proven that theory.
Miriam: It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Google valued some sources more than others. That’s a good theory, and one for innkeepers and their SEOs to start researching. Now, obviously, one of the things we are starting to hear a lot about is the fear that a typical citizen reviewer (not a professional critic) might be apt to write an unfair review, thus damaging an inn’s reputation. In your experience, how would you say that the average citizen compares to the pro?
Donna: In general, perhaps a professional reviewer might be a bit harder to please as they see many more lodgings than one couple does and they compare you to the best ones they have seen of your type of lodging. Hopefully reviewers are not comparing apples to oranges / hotels to B&Bs. I’m guessing that professional reviewers are trained to be objective and might have a list of points they have to cover.
The average citizen might be more subjective about their experience compared to a professional reviewer. However, guests might have certain expectations/questions that they do not clearly ask or forget to ask the innkeeper and then become disappointed and annoyed after arrival. The guests’ satisfaction level also depends on good communications. Have the guests asked the innkeeper to address all the issues that are important to them? Has the innkeeper made all details available, answered questions that might not have occurred to the guest? To cover that base, an inn might want to reiterate the details in their confirmation follow up. You do not want a disappointed guest period and you especially do not want a bad review.
Miriam: That’s making sense to me. Likely, a person who stays in lodgings and reviews them for a living would be very skilled at detailing their express wishes to the innkeeper, but a failure on the part of the average guest to make their needs known BEFORE they arrive, could lead to an unhappy situation, and potentially, a bad review that wasn’t really earned. And, of course, the most frustrating part about that is that the review will hang around for years and years for all subsequent potential guests to read. That being said, do you have any tips for avoiding getting bad reviews from guests?
Donna: If you are soliciting a review, obviously ask only satisfied guests for reviews. If unsolicited, you had better love the business, be friendly to all of your guests, try to accommodate their requests and pay attention to the details of your establishment. Remember, guests are on vacation. It’s a special event for them. You are the emissary of your area. You should want to provide them with a wonderful experience while staying at your establishment and in your area. As an innkeeper, you are part of the tourism community. I feel you have a responsibility to your community as well, to make their stay a positive experience for them. If you do not like people and do not like to extend yourself to people, you should not be an innkeeper/dealing with the public. I have read some pretty scathing reviews of a few B&Bs in my area, on Google Maps and TripAdvisor. Ouch.
A suggestion I have is to answer the phones yourself if you are a small inn. I did not use an online booking service specifically because I wanted to speak to the potential guest in person. You can tell a lot about someone in a phone conversation. If I thought the person sounded odd in any way, I could choose not to book them. This discriminating procedure would keep some bad or unfair reviews at a minimum as does thorough communications. I would rather play down my inn and have the guests pleasantly surprised than over state my B&B and have a disappointed guest. It’s best to be clear and manage expectations.
Miriam: That’s excellent advice! The voice of experience talking. And, a point well taken that an innkeeper should be selective in asking for a review. Though it obviously wouldn’t prevent a guest from leaving an unsolicited review, I like the concept of being proactive about asking for reviews when you are positive your guests have had a wonderful time. Smart. Last, I’d like to ask if you have any advice to travelers about reading through the vast review data that is now available to them.
Donna: Be aware that sabotage is a possibility, though I’d like to hope it’s not – one B&B writing bad things about another and you writing rave reviews about your own place disguised as a real visitor. It’s the opinion of one current innkeeper I know that most people they have spoken to realize that you need to disregard the worst and the best reviews and pay attention to the rest. I would only hope this is true. Once a bad review is online it is impossible to remove it.
Miriam: Which is exactly why I would urge travelers to be really fair when they write reviews. Make sure a bad review is really deserved, and don’t write when you are angry. Well, you’ve given some super advice here, Donna. If I boiled it down into a short list, it would look like this:
Any last advice for us, Donna?
Donna: If you are positive that your guests enjoyed their stay, you can ask them, if they have time, would they write a review on Trip Advisor or you could give them a card upon check out with the site address with that request on it as a reminder.
All the members of my old association know the importance of an online presence, a well designed website and the value of optimization. Internet reviews are much easier to access than going to a book for a review. I quote a current innkeeper -“Those who are actively pursuing a new lodging business need to take TripAdvisor seriously, as the younger traveler relies on it. Knowing many of the innkeepers in town, I think the reviews on Tripadivisor are quite accurate.”
Miriam: Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Donna, and if any innkeepers would like to add their tips for getting good reviews and avoiding bad ones, I invite you to comment here.