Google are warning business owners, including hotel and B&B owners, that “fake glowing testimonies” written by reputation management companies on Google+ Local pages will be taken down.
Google+ Local used to just be called Google Places. It’s essentially just normal Google search with a location slant. These local search results appear anytime an online user combines a search item with a geographical modifier, i.e., “B&B York.” The results appear as a listing and as pins on a map. They are sorted by their relevance, which is determined by how close each B&B is to your current location when you search.
Travel marketing gurus have been predicting the demise – or, at any rate, the weakening influence – of Internet search for a long time now. They argue that the trend of customers finding accommodation through social media recommendations is on the rise, while the traditional method of typing a search term like “B&B in …” into Google is declining.
However, as the wonderfully named Max Starkov (of hotel marketing company HeBs Digital) points out, the true picture is mixed at best: “In spite of all the new and trendy digital marketing initiatives and formats that overwhelm hoteliers nowadays, the reliable old search engines generated over 55.6% of website revenue for (our) client portfolio consisting of thousands of hotel properties… Google in particular dominates hotel search; results provide deep and relevant information, the best mapping and directions, extensive customer reviews via Zagat’s acquisition and now provide real-time hotel availability and pricing via Google Hotel Finder. No other meta search or travel site comes even close to match the richness and relevancy of hotel information provided by Google.”
Getting found is a big issue for the owners of B&Bs, guest houses and small hotels these days. Once upon a time, just having a website gave you an advantage. And if that website was even half-decent – with relevant, albeit thin content – you had a good chance of performing well in Google’s “organic” (i.e. unpaid) search results. Google advertising itself was also much more affordable.
BandBers trying to get found by guests on the internet will know only too well how much Google’s sponsored search results can work against them. Even hotel brand names, like Hilton and Marriott, can find themselves less prominently displayed than results from big Online Travel Agents who plough the commission they get from those extra bookings back into maintaining their marketing dominance.
Hospitality website HotelNewsNow suggests that if smaller properties still want to compete for sponsored search results (e.g. Pay Per Click), the only effective way is to target search terms that the big OTAs either aren’t interested in or haven’t thought of. They quote Paul Wood, from the small(ish) hotel management company Greenwood Hospitality, who says:
Given the uncertain weather we’ve been having in the UK this summer, it’s not surprising that more and more people are booking their trips at the last minute. But something every B&B owner who is keen to get business online needs to be aware of is that more and more of these last-minute bookings are being done via mobile devices, like iPhones, Androids and iPads.
As travel tech website, Tnooz, notes: “Google has recorded quite a spike in queries for last minute travel products from mobile devices in recent months. Figures for the UK drawn from the second week of July show… 33% of accommodation queries were on mobile. The figures demonstrate a hike compared to the same period last year when… 6% of accommodation queries were made via mobile.”
Many B&B owners who have relied on “natural” searches to bring them business via their website in the past but are now seeing traffic declining will not be surprised to hear this…
According to Larry Kim, founder of search engine marketing company WordStream, “The click-through rate of paid search advertisements on Google now outnumbers ‘free’ organic search result listings by nearly a 2:1 ratio for high commercial intent keyword searches…”
Christine Slade is an experienced “BandBer”. For the past 11 years, she has owned and run the highly praised Kiddicott Farm (ranked 2nd out of 77 Exeter B&Bs and Inns on TripAdvisor). Having started out with Yellow Pages and postcards in the windows of local shops, she has seen all the ways in which marketing a B&B has evolved over the years.
Her lovely property is set in 55 acres of glorious East Devon countryside, just 3 miles from the historic Roman Cathedral City of Exeter. All the en-suite bedrooms have rural views and the dining room overlooks the gardens and orchard. Surrounding the property, the pastures and meadows are home to deer, badger, fox and many native birds, including resident families of buzzards, sparrow hawk and kestrel.