Let’s be honest, Google user reviews aren’t very helpful when compared to reviews on other review sites. They’re sparse, random and mostly anonymous. You can’t sort them, filtering options are minimal, and the rating system is a moving target.
But that’s all changing.
Reviews and ratings appear to play an increasingly critical role in Google’s master plan for world domination in online travel planning. They now show prominently in Search, Maps, Local, Google+, Hotel Finder and the new Carousel—and on desktops, mobile search and mobile applications.
And then there’s the near-ubiquitous “+1” button, a way for Google+ users to endorse a business, web page, photo or post.
These products are increasingly integrated, allowing traveler planners to view rates, availability, location, photos and reviews without leaving the Google ecosystem.
This all makes Google reviews difficult to ignore—for travelers and hotels. So what do hotels need to know? In this final instalment in ReviewPro’s popular Google For Hotels series, we answer questions from webinar attendees related to Google reviews.
Can you explain Google’s rating system?
Registered Google users can rate a business by visiting its Google+ Local page and clicking the Write a Review icon. Google adopted Zagat’s 30-point scoring system after acquiring the company in 2011, but recently announced it is reverting to a simpler five-star rating system. All ratings will be converted in the coming months.
The new system allows users to rate a business as follows:
1 Star: Hated it
2 Star: Disliked it
3 Star: It’s okay
4 Star: Liked it
5 Star: Loved it
It seemed strange that Google purchased Zagat, adopted and then quickly abandoned its scoring system. And that it purchased Frommers in 2012, only to sell it back less than a year later. But it appears that Google only had eyes for the companies’ content, which is now populated throughout Local pages, Maps and other products. This adds a layer of user and expert content, which is critical to credibility and conversions in today’s travel planning.
What’s different about the new Google Maps?
Google is in the process of rolling out a redesigned Google Maps, which it describes as immersively interactive. Not only is the new layout more user-friendly and visually rich, it allows users to personalize the search experience and makes suggestions based on previous activity. Flight Finder is built in to Directions results, and most likely we’ll see Hotel Finder soon integrated too.
In the image below note the new star rating in the info box. When you click the blue reviews link you’re taken to the hotel’s Google+ Local page (or, if the hotel has merged pages, its Google+ page). Click in the bottom corner and a photo carousel of local sites, businesses and attractions appears.
Do reviews affect my hotel’s search ranking?
Reviews and ratings are widely believed to influence Google’s page rank algorithm, but during the webinar David Zammitt, Google’s UK Travel Industry Manager, dispelled this myth by telling us they in fact have no impact on organic search results.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that reviews don’t influence traveler decisions. And this will only increase as Google stockpiles reviews and, let’s hope, adds ways for users to sort and filter them according to preferences. Already we’re seeing fewer anonymous reviews and more reviews tied to Google+ user profiles, adding credibility by putting a face behind the opinion. And for Google+ users, reviews from people in your Circles are listed first.
Moreover, reviews earn more “real estate” in search. In the screen capture below of a search for hotels in Toronto, review information is populated into the Hotel Finder box and below, in organic results. Click on the blue reviews link and you’re taken to the hotel’s Google+ Local page.
If your hotel has five or more reviews (the limit used to be 10), your rating will show too—more real estate. And the higher your property’s rating, the more clicks it will likely to receive.
How can we increase the number of Google reviews?
Many hotels struggle with this. If you want to take a proactive approach, you can try the usual tactics: ask guests, give out a business card, display signage, add a link on your website and Facebook page, or send a post-stay email.
Unfortunately, from what I’ve been told these tactics don’t reap significant results. Writing Google reviews isn’t as popular a pastime as with TripAdvisor. Your best bet is to have an active Google+ page because it allows you to interact with Google users who are more likely to write reviews.
As Google reviews grow in prominence, more reviews will accumulate naturally. A big reason for the success of TripAdvisor and Yelp is the frequency in which they appear in search results. As Google increasingly favors its own products, it will pull traffic away from these sites and build a larger arsenal of user reviews.
Can I respond to Google reviews?
Once you have claimed and verified your Google+ Local page, you can respond to reviews directly from page or from your merged Google+ page. Sign in, scroll to the review and click Respond. For instructions click here.
As with other review sites, responding is an opportunity to clear up misperceptions, to thank advocates, and to show that you’re listening. For tips, check out ReviewPro’s new guide, How to Respond to Reviews.
Lastly, Google Alerts will help you track new reviews, but it won’t catch everything. ReviewPro will do a comprehensive job of tracking, aggregating and scoring reviews and mentions, not only from Google but from all major review sites and social networks.
Google+: Is It Time for Your Hotel to Create a Page?
Managing Your Hotel’s Presence on Google Local
Google for Hotels: Hotel Finder, AdWords and Brandjacking Demystified
New ReviewPro guide for hoteliers: How to respond to reviews