By Daniel Edward Craig, Reknown
With user-generated content commanding so much attention these days, are travel shoppers paying attention to hotel-generated content anymore?
You bet. In a recent article on Tnooz, TripAdvisor’s head of travel industry relations, Brian Payea, cites a recent survey: “According to respondents, 92% of travelers are more likely to book accommodations that post a detailed property description and photos. Travelers want to see the value they’re getting for their money.”
Hotel-controlled content on review sites and social media channels can have considerable impact on visitor traffic and conversions, and yet so many profiles are incomplete, blank, bland, outdated or inconsistent across platforms.
Why the neglect? A critical part of online reputation management is to optimize listings with relevant, keyword-rich information that adds value to and reinforces the stories travellers are telling. “Most content on TripAdvisor, including owner-submitted content, is crawlable by search engines,” says Kevin Carter, TripAdvisor’s Manager of Business Trade and Public Relations (pictured below).
In this segment I’ll focus on TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, but the guidelines apply to all types of listings and profiles, from Google Places to Yelp to Facebook, and even to your website.
Which content is hotel-generated?
“Once registered through the Owners’ Center,” says Carter, “owners control the Property Details section and can update the property description and amenities.” He describes a fully optimized listing as “a detailed property description, a large number of photos and reviews, management responses and a Business Listing.”
This is your opportunity to tell your property’s story in your own words—why the silence? Your description should be consistent with other marketing materials but tailored to fit the informal, conversational tone of TripAdvisor. That means no marketing babble, questionable claims or meaningless clichés, like “indulge your senses at our premier boutique hotel nestled in the heart of the city, where your business is our pleasure”. Blech.
Rather than try to cram every conceivable feature and benefit into your description, select a few key value propositions and weave them into a story. (Nonfiction, that is, not fairytale or fantasy.) Traveler reviews are most compelling when they have a gripping lead, a strong point of view and practical information. Borrow these elements, and make your story keyword rich, grammatically immaculate and brief, ideally fewer than 100 words. Not enough? Take inspiration from Ernest Hemingway, who told this powerful story in just six words: “For sale. Baby hoes. Never worn.” But try to keep yours a bit more upbeat.
Next fill out the Property Amenities section. When travelers click on amenities they’re taken to an OTA site. That’s not ideal, but there’s no getting around it for now.
Photos and videos
You can’t write your own reviews, but you can submit your own imagery. “You can upload as many photos and videos as you like, as long as they meet formatting requirements,” says Carter. He adds that “travelers are 150% more engaged with listings that have 20 or more photos than with those that only have a few photos.”
Recently, TripAdvisor made changes to how photo content is organized, so now’s a good time to refresh. Your primary photo is the most critical, and it’s selected by you, so no excuses for a bad one. If you don’t submit one, TripAdvisor will pull a photo from another site.
Imagery should be high quality, authentic and functional. Save the shots of clinking champagne glasses and supermodels in bubble baths for those glossy brochures you’re wasting money on. Travelers want to know what to expect, so showcase the rooms, exterior, lobby, facilities and local area, and add descriptive, keyword-rich captions. If you’ve renovated, say so in the caption. Owner photos are tagged “provided by management” and appear after traveler photos, and recent uploads are tagged “new”. Members can vote on images, so no faking the size of that pool.
“Owners may commission third parties to produce and distribute Virtual Tours content for a fee,” says Carter, “but posting these videos on our site is free of charge.” VFM Leonardo does a great job of this—check out the examples below. You can also create a slideshow of still photos using TripWow, Windows Movie Maker or another free application and upload it as a video.
I’ve written a lot about responding to reviews, as have pretty much half the hotel industry, so I’ll just say this: 1) responding to reviews shows you’re listening and you actually kind of care; 2) it’s a way to reinforce the positive and change perceptions when negative; and 3) the volume of reviews affects rankings. Also, if you don’t respond you’re not allowed to whine about nasty reviews (my rule).
If you want direct links to your website, email or voice reservations, you’ll need to purchase a Business Listing. “Business Listings is a paid subscription that encourages more direct bookings by allowing owners to add direct contact details to their listing and post special offers on high traffic pages on TripAdvisor,” explains Carter.
Does it make financial sense for your property? Probably not if many of your reviews warn travelers to run in the opposite direction. But if you have strong reviews and a decent rating it can be an effective way to divert traffic away from those commission-thirsty OTAs.
“After signing up one of my properties, I was so pleased with results I signed up all twenty,” says Matt Hildebrant, Revenue and Marketing Manager for Ayres Hotels. “Since then, we’ve enjoyed returns that rival our pay-per-click campaigns as well as increases in TripAdvisor page views, traffic to our website and phone call volume—all attributed to our business listing.”
A few more notes
1. Location is key for travelers, so verify that the Map tab doesn’t place your property on an iceberg drifting in the Arctic Sea (unless you are).
2. Now you can post review widgets and badges to your Facebook page.
3. If you’ve fully optimizing your listing you may be eligible to upload editorial articles, which are displayed in the lower right-hand section of the ‘Traveler Reviews’ page. Submit them via the “Manage your Listing” tab.
4. You need to experience the phenomenon that is Instant Personalization: connect your personal Facebook profile to your TripAdvisor account.
5. For more info and insider tips check out TripAdvisor Insights.
“Based on owners’ feedback,” says Carter, “we are enhancing the Owners’ Center to make its resources and tools more accessible and easier to use, as well as streamlining the customer support process.” Enhancements will be rolled out in phases over the next several months.
It was difficult to track down listings that were fully optimized, but here are a few examples of parts that are done well.
1. Andaz Hotel in New York tells its story in the Property Details section from the guest’s point of view.
2. Casa Calma in Buenos Aires highlights health and wellness.
3. Protea Hotel in Cape Town injects punchy phrases, humor and personality.
4. Pacific Sands Resort in Tofino highlights views and nature in its description.
5. Mauro Mansion in Amsterdam focuses on its positioning as a small, independent property.
6. Library Hotel in New York reinforces its unique theme with striking imagery in the Virtual Tour section.
7. InterContinental The Clement in Monterey showcases floor plans, meeting rooms and local scenery in the Virtual Tours section
8. Seven Bridges Hotel in Amsterdam features editorial articles in the Professional Advice section on its Traveler Reviews page.
9. Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Ireland – General Manager Adriaan Bartels does a great job of responding to reviews.
UPDATE: JULY 9, 2011. If you have recently noticed things are a bit wonky with your listing, it might be because TripAdvisor is in the process of upgrading the site. Here’s an update from Kevin Carter:
“We are in the process of rolling out a number of new enhancements to the site to make navigation and travel planning easier and more inspiring for travelers. For example, we have made property photos much larger—all the more reason for owners to upload a great photo of their property—and we have also made the Amenities link more prominent, as it is now directly below the hotel name and address. On the destination hotels page, the site now offers a greater range of search options, including an enhanced Map View.
While the property details tab is not visible on all pages at the moment and we’re currently testing new designs, all the information currently in the details tab will remain available to users and owners.”
Also see my articles Google Is Going Places – Is Your Business Ready for the Ride? and Help with Yelp for Hotels.