July 13, 2015 · Meisha Bochicchio

Dear Google, Volume 1: Why Does Your Hotel Review System Suck?

This might seem like a harsh allegation, but hear me out.
Working in the hospitality industry, it has always been important to us to maintain realistic expectations and to manage those expectations effectively – both from a services to client perspective and from a hotel to customer perspective.
A great majority of issues that hotel guests come across happen when they have unrealistic expectations about the product or services that they have purchased and mitigating these expectations up front can save your property a boatload of heat in the long run. This can happen for a variety of reasons, marketing and advertising being primary sources, and balancing the true state of a hotel with appealing photography and messaging can be tricky. How do you manage these expectations without selling yourself as the absolute best?
Some hotels are taking a bold approach and are embracing their less than desirable aspects, like the Hans Brinker Hostel which boasts being the “world’s worst hotel”. They bluntly advertise sub-par rooms but also point out their ideal location and cheap rates. Despite the initial shock, they are pretty black and white about what they have to offer and you almost have to applaud their up front approach. Honesty in advertising is slowly but surely becoming more and more prevalent.
We all know that reviews are king these days and hotels are constantly battling with online travel agents and meta search sites for both search engine real estate and for direct bookings. Though there are now hundreds of these websites, all seeking a chunk of your profits, a select few come to mind in the hotel review context – notably TripAdvisor and Google itself. TripAdvisor enjoys solid brand recognition earned through mass advertising and aggressive sales while Google enjoys, well, the fact that they are Google and can essentially do what they want with their search engine. This is where things begin to get interesting.
Google reviews show up in multiple places across their platform. If one were to search for a branded hotel name, the reviews would populate into a knowledge box on the right side of the screen and on the SERP itself under the branded hotel site. These reviews also appear across the Hotel Ads platform and on the brand’s Google Places Page.
The interesting thing is, Google seems very selective about how they present review snippets – questionably selective, in my opinion.

Take Coral Beach Resort, for example, a family-friendly Myrtle Beach resort.

A quick branded Google search (“Coral Beach Resort”) lends this organic search result:

Scanning the page, the results don’t look too shabby, particularly from a review perspective.

  • 4.5 / 5 on MyrtleBeach.com – a local hotel authority
  • 8.2 / 10 on Booking.com
  • 7.8 / 10 on Expedia.com
  • 4 / 5 on TripAdvisor

Though Google reviews present the lowest number, 3.5 / 5, that is still a well above average rating.
The real fun begins when we begin to dissect these tricky Google reviews. Take a look at the knowledge graph result on that same SERP:

Here, we can see the review snippets that Google has chosen to present… and it doesn’t look good. These selected statements are pulled from reviews in some mysterious fashion (seriously, we could not find ANY documentation available on how these are pulled – aside from broad algorithm based explanations) and can be quite misleading when taken out of context.
Case in point, if one were to take the time, select “view all Google reviews”, and search for the three snippets, this is what one would find:

Review #1 – 4/5 Stars

“Expect the hot tub to have females mounted upon males.”

This review was a bit confusing, I admit, but at the end of the day it is still a 4/5 star review. Google choose the absolute WORST statement in the entire review for their snippet. Not to mention this review is over two years old… and Google supposedly values freshness and recency?

Review #2 – 5/5 Stars

“If you are going for the rooms STAY AT HOME!”

This review snippet is 100% taken out of context when the rest of the review is left out. This 5/5 star review touts clean rooms, amenities, and a friendly staff and simply points out that the rooms are not comparable to a more upscale option.

Review #3 – ???

“A resort is only as good as it’s guest services.”
After several search and find attempts, this review remained a mystery. We expanded every single review to expose the full text, sorted the reviews in every way possible and were still unable to find where this review was located and where it was pulling from.

Though this particular array of review snippets could be a sheer coincidence, they are inarguably reflecting negatively on a hotel property that does not deserve to be put in that negative of a light. The reviews as a whole are a natural mix of great, good, and bad and this should be reflected throughout the search experience. In this case, however, searchers get a bad taste in their mouth right off the bat.

So, now that we have called Google out on their nonsensical review system…. Now what?

Well, unfortunately, there are no smoke and mirrors here. The best way to combat these shady practices is to incentivize more reviews to even out the playing field and get the needle moving to change out those chosen snippets. Pick your target (in this case, Google) and get to work!

Your hotel can increase hotel reviews by:

  • Reaching out to past guests via email; this process can also be automated as part of your overall email marketing campaign
  • Reaching out to your hotel’s Facebook fan base from time to time
  • Soliciting reviews in house at check-out and at various points during the stay
  • Adding calls to action throughout property and on the hotel website to remind guests to write a review
  • Offering a reward or incentive for reviews

And, once these new reviews start rolling in – on any website or online platform – don’t forget to respond to the reviews and employ a solid online reputation management strategy to keep your customers happy.

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