When it Comes to Negative Reviews – Have a Plan

I’m going to go out on and limb and guess that most businesses have heard over and over again that you NEED to have a strategy when it comes to responding to reviews.  Most of the time, your reviews are great.  You hand pick some goodies to show case on your website and hope that those out there on Yelp, TripAdvisor and the like aren’t so bad.  And hey, don’t the positive typically stand out over the negative?

The way we function online has completely changed how consumers operate.  More and more, customers will visit those online review sites to see what your past guests have to say.  This is a great way to gain additional business or lose the reservation to your competition.  Online travel reviews give customers a place to lodge their complaint or praise and be heard in a big way.

Monitoring what is out there about your business is a very important part of garnering feedback and making improvements to keep yourself competitive in the game.  Negative reviews are something that you should not let slide and how you address them is important to your future success. By promptly replying, you can minimize the damage and hopefully sway future guests into booking their reservation with your business.

Here are a few good tips when it comes to monitoring and responding to those negative reviews:

  1. Write your own response and definitely don’t have someone outside the business reply.  Include your name, your business telephone number and TRY your best to use actual grammar and good spelling.
  2. Address the legitimate concerns of the reviewer.  Don’t make a deal out of something that you can’t truly fix like they didn’t appreciate the décor of the rental they stayed in.  You can pass that information along to an owner and if they are so inclined, they can make changes to their rental.
  3. Definitely explain what changes you have made or intend to change.  Or, make an offer to the guest that they can’t refuse.  You can make that an online response or private response.  Either way, letting the particular guest know those adjustments you are willing to make will get passed along or read by others.
  4. Remember to be patient, and let your feelings settle before you make any response publicly or privately.  Keep it professional!

Developing a strategy makes it easier whenever you have a negative comment or review to respond to.  By continuing to address your guest concerns and comments, you are acknowledging the human side of your business and encouraging more customers to book and past guests to return.

Reviews come in all shapes and sizes.  Read this story about a bizarre and sexist review on Yelp and how the business owner made the best of the situation.  Just make sure that you have a strategy and respond to reviews, both negative and positive.

Showcase Your Vacation Rental or Real Estate Listing with a Floor Plan

Adding a floor plan of your vacation rental to show potential guests generates a measurable improvement in your number of bookings.
TruPlace, formerly Mouse on House, commissioned an independent study of over 1,400 vacation rentals that demonstrates a 97% increase in revenue from bookings for properties using their interactive floor plan tours. The amount of time it took to book the property also was measurably shorter. Likewise, at Blizzard, we find that properties with interactive floor plan tours on their property pages generate more revenue.
floor plans increase reservations

The reservation revenue per property for properties with interactive floor plan tours was 97% higher than for those properties without floor plan tours.

virtual tours and floor plans

The booking lead time for properties with interactive floor plan tours is 12 days shorter than for properties without tours.

What the study could not measure was the cost savings in phone calls. The number of phone calls that it took to book the property was presumably smaller, because anyone with questions about the layout of the property was able to find out the answer to their question online. Let’s look at why this is the case. Your goal is to get reservations. Once someone finds your website, how can you turn a looker into a booker? The websites that anticipate the traveler’s questions, and answer them, get more reservations.
Travelers’ questions:

  • Where is it located, exactly?
  • What’s the place like?
  • How much is it?

When it comes to what is the place like, getting a bird’s eye view of the floor plan answers that question in  a split second. In a glance, your potential guests can answer such questions as:

  • How noisy does it look like it will be?
  • Where can I watch TV in the middle of the night without waking up my family?
  • Where will I be relative to the kids? The other people we are staying with?
  • Does my room have a view?
  • Where is the balcony/deck relative to my bedroom? Relative to the kitchen?
  • What is the kitchen like?
  • Are there stairs?
  • How many bathrooms are there and where are they?


What’s the difference between an interactive floor plan tour and a 360 virtual tour?

An interactive floor plan is a floor plan that is clickable. It combines still photography with a floor plan of the entire property so that the visitor can have a high level view and navigate through the home. A 360 virtual tour combines videos or still images in order to provide a simulation of walking through a location.

Interactive floor plan tours can be made just from architectural floor plan renderings; the property does not need to be built yet. Also they are mobile friendly and load more quickly than 360 virtual tours.

360 virtual tours, on the other hand, can provide  a full 360 degree view of the rooms, and if when done correctly, are more entertaining content to put on your website.

Unlike videos and 360 virtual tours, a floor plan gives the traveler a great deal of information in a single glance. That is not to say, however, that videos and 360 virtual tours do not do well. Everyone likes to be entertained. However, if you have videos or 360 virtual tours, make sure that they are actually entertaining; or your potential guest will quickly grow weary of watching them!

Having entertaining content on your website, such as videos and 360 virtual tours, can increase your website traffic and the amount of time that people spend on your site. These are good indicators for Google and can increase your website’s position in search results. Having floor plans and interactive floor plans on your website can help potential guests decide whether to book a specific property. For that reason, interactive floor plan tours can generate more revenue than 360-virtual tours, because the potential guest can click on the floor plan and quickly answer many of the questions that they have.

Do you have a property owner who wants more bookings? Ask them if they are willing to pay for an interactive floor plan tour.

Reduce the Overwhelm! Tips from Minimal Marketing Efforts 2013 VRMA West Roundtable

When I hosted the Minimum Marketing roundtable at the 2013 VRMA West conference in Denver, I said that I would type up the notes of what we discussed and send them out to everyone who gave me their business card. It was a lively discussion and I heard from a few people that it was the highlight of the conference to hear from their peers about what they do in their markets.

I am sharing it here too so that you, also, can have a chance to reduce your everyday overwhelm and focus on what is most important in your business.

At the roundtable, I started by highlighting 4 guidelines to streamline your marketing efforts:

  1. Know your target market well. The more that you focus on a specific type of person to go after, the less marketing you do, and the more efficient you can be with your time, money and energy.
  2. Make sure that you treat your existing customers well. This reduces the energy you need to spend getting new customers.

    • This goes for both homeowners and for travelers. If you can keep your existing homeowners happy, it’s easy to grow. If you delight each traveler that uses your services so much that they wouldn’t think of booking anywhere else, you minimize the number of properties that you need to fill with new travelers.
  3. Branding is easy when you know your target market and you listen to them. Branding tells you what channels you need to focus on, and reduces and the number of decisions you need to make.
    • On a side note: Google rewards consistent branding. The people who have chosen you will tell you why they chose you. They will tell you what you have to offer that your competitors don’t. The more that you know what you have to offer, the more you can get the word out to your target market. This is your brand. With regard to the online world, research shows that if you rank well for a keyword phrase on your website, your Pay-Per-Click ad campaigns perform better. This also carries through to the messages and posts you do in social media  channels. The more consistent you are in your messages and to whom those messages are relevant, the better your website will perform in Google.
    • Another note is that your branding should produce an emotional response in those who come into contact with it. Your goal is to pay attention to the feelings that your advertising, reservationists, and customer service employees evoke in the people that they touch. Branding is not about reality; it’s about what perception that people have of you and your company.
  4. Pay attention to your competition. None of us operates our businesses in a vacuum. Identify your competitors based on your target market. You don’t need to watch all companies, just the ones that provide services to your target market.

Next, we took a poll to decide which of the 2 markets, travelers or owners, that you wanted to talk about. Every VRM wants to get more owners, so we decided to focus on marketing to get more owners.

We discussed that marketing for any specific market often has 2 main channels that are the most effective for that market. We went around the table asking each person to identify their most successful marketing channels to get owners. The winners, by an overwhelming  margin, were:

  1. Marketing Channel #1: Referrals from real estate agents. (It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.)
    • Find out when the brokers’ meetings are taking place and ask if you can go and speak to them.
    • Bring donuts! Anytime!
    • Know where your owners are coming from. One person marketed to real estate agents in other states like Texas because so many Texans were coming to her area to buy vacation homes.
    • Give incentives to realtors for owners that sign with you. The referral price range mentioned at our table was a referral fee of $250-$300 for an owner.
    • Some VRMs provided an estimated rental income analysis for their area. This is good to share for any homeowner you want to sign with you; don’t forget to share this information with realtors as well. A realtor can possibly sell a home quicker if it includes a rental analysis at the For Sale sign. If it’s got your logo and contact info on it, that’s free marketing for you.
    • We discussed how all realtors want more leads and you have leads you could give them. However, it’s a double-edged sword. You don’t want to alienate any realtors because you didn’t send them leads. If there are ways to do this in a fair way so that you ruffle as few feathers as possible, do it that way.
  1. Marketing Channel #2: Direct mail.
    • Go to the title company and tell them who are you are targeting.
    • Do you know what homes rent well in your market? Send out mailers with valuable content to all of the homes in the best areas. Keep sending mail to those areas even if it’s a basic newsletter or tips every so often about how to “winterize your home” or other important information that people need to know.
      • If you include a landing page on your website for your direct mail piece, you can track how well your mailing did, and possibly find out who you should call. However you do it, the more you pay attention to the results of your marketing, the more efficient you become.
      • In any case, if you write it for the direct mail piece, share it on your website! This allows you to keep your website content fresh, which is important in ranking well, and also provides targeted relevant content, which is equally important for Google. Also consider sharing it with:
        • Realtors
        • Other partners of yours
        • Facebook
        • Google Plus
        • Twitter, if you tweet.
        • Email marketing
          • The most efficient marketers have this set up as a system so that they create content and blast it out in many channels. Talk about simplifying your efforts!
  1. Other marketing ideas to consider, if you find that the top 2 marketing channels do not work well enough for you.
    • Events. If you know where your target market is going to be, be at those events. You may even want to host your own events, such as a wine and cheese reception that tells all of the clients of your favorite realtors what you have to offer.
    • Your reputation. Everything you do is marketing, because everything you do builds your reputation, whether good or bad. Pay attention to how well you are doing things, and you will grow your business in the most sustainable and fundamental way.

If you remember anything, just remember this.

 You don’t need to do it all.

 If you can only do one thing, do this:

 Set up a distribution system to get your messages and value-added tips

out to as much of your target market as possible.


Integrate Your Google Webmaster Tool Data into Google Analytics

Connecting your Google Webmaster Tool account and your Google Analytics account provides better reports in your Google Analytics AND more convenience.  This feature was released last week on the Google Webmaster Central Blog.

I especially like having the “Queries” report right in Google Analytics which shows how many impressions my website received in Google search results (by Query), the Click-Thru-Rate and the average ranking. Pretty Handy.

Here are the step-by-step instructions… with a caveat: you must be in the “new version” of Google Analytics, not the old.  If your screens look different, you are in the old version.  The login to the new version is at the very top of your page.

Here are the step-by-step instructions to integrate these two accounts:

1) Login to Google Analytics and click on the gear to the right of the reporting tabs:

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Run a Contest or Promotion on Your Facebook Page

Many hoteliers are struggling with making their Facebook presence more effective.   Running a contest or promotion on your hotel’s Facebook Page is a great idea for hotel marketers who are looking to nudge up the effectiveness of their Facebook marketing results.

Contests can help you:

  1. Garner a larger fan base.
  2. Improve the interaction you have with you current fans.
  3. Give you a golden opportunity to collect emails and mailing addresses of your fans.

The problem that  a contest may pose is that it can attract unqualified Likes… people entering your contest just to win  may not have any intention of becoming a customer.

In order to mitigate this problem (if you think it is a problem), consider the following:

  1. How you promote your contest. Are you promoting it to the general public or are you promoting it to past guests, current fans, and potential guests?
  2. What you give away. An iPad can bring out the monkeys and pornstars.  A free nights lodging or weekend spa treatment at your property will only attract people with an intention of actually staying with you.

Blizzard can help you setup your contests right in your Facebook Page. Check out our sample contest to see what we can do for you.  In this case, we have made the contest so you must Like us before you  can enter the contest.

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PadiAct: A Tool to Grow Your Email Signups on Your Website

Getting more of your website visitors to self-register for your email newsletter is a pain-point for many business websites.  One easy solution you may want to try is to use a “popup” inviting visitors to sign up for you newsletter.  Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it and irritate your users, but you should probably at least test this more aggressive tactic.

For a quick and easy tool that delivers “popups” on your website, check out PadiAct.

PadiAct makes it easy to setup, configure and install this functionality right into your website.  Some advantages of PadiAct:

  • Direct connect Constant Contact, Mailchimp and more to push you subscribers right into your email system.
  • Reporting and statistics on your success.
  • Configure to “pop” after a certain # of page views, visits, and more.
  • Configure to slide in from the bottom, slide from the side, or pop up and cover your page.

Here is an example screen-shot of the pop up style window:

I really like the idea of a dynamic popup type call-to-action over a static “email signup” area taking up prime real estate on the website.  PadiAct also offers pretty cool segmentation and targeting cirtieria like referrer, # page visited, certain pages visited, geography, etc.

It looks like they will be adding some new features soon too that would be great… we would like to see multiple campaigns that go beyond Email… for instance, maybe ask someone along the way to Fan me in Facebook (or “like”… whatever), sign up for my RSS feed or accept a special offer.

PadiAct is $25 for small business size use and offers a free 30 day trial.

Google Analytics URL Builder

Tracking your referral sources accurately in Google Analytics is a big deal.

As the marketing person for a resort, you may increasingly rely upon the reporting that Google gives you to evaluate how your marketing efforts are working.

The problem with relying upon referral reports in Google Analytics is that:

  • Some or all of the data gets lost (Twitter can have this problem).
  • The referral website actually has several websites and your traffic gets spread around so it be hard to calculate.
  • The referral website has a paid and free component (like LinkedIn and Facebook) where your fee-based advertising gets lumped into the free version.
  • You are doing email marketing and the emails aren’t being tracked.
  • You are not tracking your 301 redirects or domain forwarding usage.

My favorite tool to solve this problem is the Google Analytics URL Builder which quickly and easily appends “campaign” data the  URL I use in some of my (Blizzard Internet) specific advertising campaigns.

So, for my LinkedIn Pay-Per-Click campaign aimed at Hotels… and specifically, the ad where I offer a consultation plan would look like this:

This ad would send traffic to this landing page URL: 
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The Ever Evolving AdWords Platform – Are you Keeping Up?

It seems like every week there are new features and formats appearing in our AdWords accounts.

The innovation and ease of use is astounding – IF – you have the time to keep up and keep tweaking your campaigns.  Just in  the last 14 months we’ve seen approximately 39 new features posts at the Google AdWords blog – that’s a crazy amount of changes to keep up with – 2.75 changes per month!

New features aside, just making sure the basics are set up right can sometimes be challenging.  The next month will see 2 new posts coming from me over at Search Engine Land.  Part 1 of a 2-part series posts today about taking advantage of Ad Extensions available to all advertisers.  Ad extensions were just ONE of the 39 new features mentioned above.

Here are just a few of the bigger developments that came with AdWords recently – are you taking advantage?

  • Probably the most significant and game changing update came in March of 2010 and has steadily become more and more effective for all advertisers.  Remarketing is becoming the new darling of the SEM world.  I advise EVERYONE to give it a try.  You can learn more about Remarketing for Everyone with Google AdWords or sign up and receive a new eBook:  Using Remarketing to Increase Display Ad Results I collaborated on from SearchMarketingNow and Aquisio.  It offers a step by step setup guide that is a must-have for anyone new to remarketing.
  • Manage your AdWords campaign from your mobile phone – live and direct to you anywhere in the world with a cell signal since April 2010.
  • June, 2010 also brought us the ability to add Ad Sitelinks into all campaigns and adgroups.  This gives the user 4-5 links to click inside every ad. Read more

Free Email Marketing Template to Match Your Website

Have you been looking for a way to increase your revenue in 2011? When done correctly, email marketing is an affordable way to stay in touch with loyal customers and find new patrons.

We are big fans of Constant Contact, and until the end of the month they are offering a fabulous deal for new clients.

Sign-up for a new email marketing campaign with us using Constant Contact and receive a free email template to match your website!

(Sorry current Constant Contact users, this is only for the new people.)

The deal is only being offered until February 28th, so don’t wait.

If you are interested, give Brian a call at 888-840-5893 ext. 119 or fill out the form on this page and we will get in touch with you.

TripAdvisor and Google Places Changes Good News for Lodging Businesses

Back in November we reported that the change in Google Search Results is GREAT news for lodging businesses because it emphasizes the business’s website over the giant lodging directory.

This good news would be bad news for those giant directories like VRBO.com or TripAdvisor.

As a followup, in December, TripAdvisor acknowledged that its traffic from Google dropped by more than 10% since Google made the changes to its search results that emphasized the Google Places content.  Curiously, this came on the heels of an October claim that “TripAdvisor benefits from Google’s new Place Search feature” which clearly proved to be mistaken.

We think the individual lodging websites are the ones that took that 10% back from TripAdvisor.

Meanwhile, TripAdvisor had pulled its reviews from Google Places.  It used to be that TripAdvisor dominated the reviews at Google Places… now websites like Hotels.com, Yelp, Travel.Yahoo.com, Travelpost, etc. are more important for reviews.

This is probably pretty good news for most hotels and lodging operations for two reasons:

  1. Many hotels had problems with TripAdvisor reviews and rankings and TripAdvisor DOMINATES the spots.  By removing TripAdvisor reviews from Google Places, hotel operators have a bit of a clean slate.
  2. Many hotels have been gaming TripAdvisor, but ignoring the multitude of other review spots.  Now those other review locations will have a little more importance.

If you currently dominate TripAdvisor in your market… this is all BAD news!