Friday, August 19, 2011

Updating and Monitoring Google Places

Google Places is going to play an increasingly important role in searches for the hospitality sector and it is important that product producers maximise their use of this free tool. If you need to understand how it's changing have a read of Google Places and Your Hotel.

The following was motivated by an interview featured in HotelMarketing's blog in an interview with  Laurian Clemence, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs with Google UK.

Updating Google Places

Ensure that your business’s name, address and phone number are listed in a consistent format across the web. The Company/Organization field acts as the title of your listing and should include the word “Hotel” and your destination if they are part of your official business name.Google doesn’t permit descriptors or keywords in titles.

Your property description is limited to 200 characters and needs to sum up what your hotel, product and key markets are. This 200 character limit is something that hotels and other businesses must come across on a fairly regular basis for online advertising, listings and other third party activity.

Why not therefore spend some time developing a few templated 200 character descriptions for different markets - business, leisure, golf, activity... makes sense and means that you keep a consistent theme and never miss out the obvious things. Remember who, what, why where, when and how. Keep it simple.

Use of Multiple Listings?

The Google Guy went on, “We recommend that separate listings should be created if the restaurant, lounge or spa within a hotel has its own name and telephone number, separate from that of the hotel. An individual website is not a requirement.”

The same principle therefore applies as you would for the creation of a separate web page for each of your product areas - Leisure Club, Restaurant, live music venue - create a separate searchable entity for each one in Google Places linking back to the relevant website or page.

Categories and Additional Details
You can choose up to five categories to describe your business. At least one must be standard; the rest can be customized. Google recommends being as specific as possible, as it will automatically determine the generic category as well. For example, if you enter “Country House Hotel” Google will know that you are also a hotel.

In the Additional Details section Clemence recommends hotels include “any additional information that would be helpful to potential customers as long as it’s specific and factual. Examples could be specific awards the hotel has won or a unique URL that leads to a menu for the hotel restaurant. The purpose is to help the user find all of the details about your business that might be useful to them.”

Imagery and Map
Businesses can upload a maximum of 10 photos and five videos, so make sure they are high quality, representative of your property and do a job for your sales conversion. You can't currently add captions but that may come in the future. The chances are that increased user photo uploads will follow in the future but you should keep an eye on them and report inappropriate photos.

It's obvious that you should ensure you place marker is in the right position as it will impact on Maps, Street View, Satellite View, Driving Directions and Hotel Finder in the future.

Offers, Updates and Analytics
You can also add offers and updates to your listing and again it is free and as with any content it is a positive means of ensuring that your business is seen as engaging with your customers and lead to increased conversion through your own website.
If you add an offer it will appear on your Places page and Google Maps listing. Similarly to share news, events or packages click the “Share an update” link.

Google now features room rates and availability data on Places, Maps and Hotel Finder but restricts access to a limited number of online travel agencies, GDS providers and brands with sizable inventories across multiple markets.

For your hotel, only a link to the hotel/brand website is provided. Some would argue that this is a deterrent to direct bookings but we'd argue that it's an awful lot less so than having OTA's buy your name in Google Adwords or flooding the searches with your product on their pages. In any case it is likely that an interface will emerge allowing hotel's to show their own direct rates - soon hopefully.

With the recent removal of third-party reviews from Places listings and the addition of a more prominent “Write a review” button, Google has embarked on a campaign to develop reviews from its own users and whilst the volume builds they may have limited effect but you should not ignore.With the introduction in the UK of Google+ and Google Hotel Finder and the integration of other products Google user reviews can only become a more important part of your online reputation management program.

We already know the many benefits of traveler reviews to search visibility and conversions. Says Google's Clemence, “Engaging with the reviewers can be a good way to get to know your customers and what they think about your business. Business owner responses allow you to build relationships with customers, but keep in mind that the responses are also public.”

Presently reviews are not monitored by Google. If you're concerned about the accuracy of a review, Clemence recommends clicking the “Flag as inappropriate” link to submit a report. “If we find that the review is in violation of our Google Maps policies,” he says, “we'll take the appropriate action since we aren't always able to remove or be certain of violations.”

What’s the Future of Google Places?

The opportunities for increasing direct sales for hotels is a real one and we see the new products as offering an opportunity for hotels to gain back some of the business lost to OTA's. It won't necessarily be easy but it is do-able if you put your mind to it.

Quick Links
Read more and some action points on a related blog Google Places for Your Hotel

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