43 – Making Moves On TripAdvisor

by | February 26, 2020

In this episode of the Suite Spot, we discuss how to improve your hotel’s city rank on TripAdvisor, no matter where your property currently stands. Host Ryan Embree is joined by guest Patrick O’Brien, TMG’s Product Director and reputation solutions expert.

Ryan and Patrick explain how to achieve both short- and long-term reputation goals for your hotel. Patrick walks us through how to rise into the top 10, top 5, and eventually top 3 of your market on TripAdvisor. He also shares best practices on how to sustain reputation excellence once your hotel is at the top of your city rank. Ryan and Patrick also discuss redefining reputation success based on market size.

To learn more about improving your hotel’s city rank on TripAdvisor or to submit a question for future episodes, call or text 407-984-7455.

Episode Transcript
Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello and welcome to another episode of the Suite Spot. This is your host, Ryan Embree. Today, we’ve got a great episode for you today. Some of our most popular episodes and educational content really surrounds TripAdvisor. We know the importance of TripAdvisor and what type of impact that can make on revenue. Your hotel’s reputation is one of those things that can really impact a traveler’s booking decision. So I feel like the educational content we put out about TripAdvisor, that’s why it’s so well received. So in tune with that, I have invited in our product director, Patrick O’Brien, who will be joining us – you’ve been on the Suite Spot a couple times now.

Patrick O’Brien:
Yes I have, thanks for having me.

Ryan Embree:
Absolutely, so today we’re going to talk about TripAdvisor. You know, we’ve done a lot of episodes around optimizing your TripAdvisor account and really getting the most out of it. I thought a great idea for an episode today would be really how can make some movement, because that’s what we’re constantly looking to do, right? Is improve our reputation online, see that city rank go up the ladder, and get into a competitive space where you are at the forefront of a traveler’s booking decision and tip the scales in your favor. Let’s go ahead and start a hotel that’s out there. They’re just now getting into TripAdvisor. You know, they’ve listened to a couple episodes on how to optimize their TripAdvisor, but you know, they haven’t really focused on their reputation much, but in 2020 they’re looking to really improve their reputation right away. So these hotels in maybe in the bottom 25% of their city, what are a few easy steps that they can do to start seeing improvement right now?

Patrick O’Brien:
Well, first and foremost, I think, you know, don’t throw your hands up in the air and be like, “Okay, we’re at the bottom of the pack, there’s nothing that we can do.” It is simply just about getting more positive reviews. If you are at a 2.5 star rating, every four or five star rating that you get is going to have a significant impact and it’s going to have a significant impact fairly quickly. All of that is going to help increase your average because the average really is a kind of a compound equation. So you know the more of those four and five star reviews you can get, you’re going to lift that average up pretty quickly. In addition, part of TripAdvisor’s city rank algorithm revolves around recency of reviews. So the more recent the review is, the heavier it is weighted. The idea there really being around that this is the experience that a guest coming today would have. So, you know, you’ll start to see a faster kinda growth and impact by those more positive reviews. So it is coming up with a strategy to go out and, you know, work with your guests to get more positive reviews and you’re going to start to see an immediate lift. And especially if you haven’t been doing anything in the past, it’ll kind of be, you know, like a little kick in the butt and growth right there.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, we echo that sentiment all the time to our hoteliers. This is not something that you keep your head in the sand. TripAdvisor can be easily impacted because of that new algorithm of recency. So they’re trying to get the best idea of what your hotel is today. So getting a couple, four and five stars and getting that momentum going, you know, can really push you in the right direction. Now, a lot of the hotels, you know, might be in the middle of the pack – they’re stuck right there. What are some tips to get these hotels over the hump and into the top 50% of their market?

Patrick O’Brien:
Well, I think at this point when you’re kind of sitting in that section you probably have some type of reputation management strategy or you’re at least paying attention to it. So, you know, at this point, what you really want to start doing is responding to reviews, especially if you have not been responding. You know, I think there’s different theories out there about, you know, how many reviews you need to respond to and should you respond to all of them. You know, a lot of people say you shouldn’t respond to all your positive reviews. I have a much different take on that and I feel like no matter what, you should respond to every review and not just to make it a, you know, kind of a checking the box off and getting those responses in. You should be responding because you don’t know which one of those guests is going to go on further and talk to people. So even when they’ve had a good experience, you know, when they were checking out, you wouldn’t ignore them. You would still say, “Thank you so much for coming, you know, and staying with us” And you know, trying to get some feedback from them. So respond to every review. And one of the things that we have seen as well is that by responding to reviews, you end up getting more reviews because people feel that, you know, their feedback is going to be heard and it’s going to be seen by the hotel. You also start to see that when you’re responding to reviews, that guests also leave more feedback and the reviews are longer, but they also don’t go to the extremes quite as often. You’re not going to get necessarily “trolled” by somebody who just, you know, maybe thought they paid a little bit too much so they’re going to go in and say something really bad, because they know that you’re going to respond and potentially refute that. So you start to see, you know, an easement of maybe some of those more negative reviews and you’re going to see more reviews by doing that. So this becomes a good strategy to, you know, to kind of lift yourself up. And again, when you’re in that section on TripAdvisor, you’re gonna have varying degrees of hotels that are responding. And some, you know, will respond – you know, they’ll go for like a week or two and respond to everything that comes in and then they go like three weeks without responding. But if you can come up with a consistent response strategy, you’ll start to see movement when you’re in this pack of hotels.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, and you can learn so much from review response, taking all that feedback in and responding to those reviews. Sometimes you learn a little bit more about your property than you thought. You start to uncover these trends or patterns that you didn’t realize were out there. So that is definitely a differentiator between your hotel and the hotel a spot ahead of you, two spots ahead of you. That review response might be the difference and it’s taking that extra care and time that again, might push you a little bit further into your goals. Now, speaking of goals, when we talk to hoteliers: top 10, top 5, these are goals we hear every single day. These hotels that are on the fringe of these spots, they could be ranked anywhere from, you know, 11 to 15 and they’re just looking for that top five or looking for that top ten. What tips would you give these hotels to get the extra edge on their competition and obtain those coveted spots?

Patrick O’Brien:
Well, at this point when you’re kind of sitting at those levels, you’re again most likely already have some type of reputation management strategy in place. Hopefully you are, you know, you’re responding to your reviews and so those kind of boxes are checked. At this point, it becomes important to start, you know, looking at analytics, looking at business intelligence, and trying to really understand maybe what those people who are ahead of you are doing and doing well. And so with our program, one of the things that we look at is benchmarking against, you know, up to five competitors. And one of our analytics is market share. So when you’re thinking about it, you know, let’s just say you and five other hotels, 600 reviews come into market, everything being equal, each of you should have received a hundred reviews. Now what you want to start doing and ultimately what’s going to happen is some of those hotels are getting a little bit more or maybe getting 150 reviews. So that means that those reviews that they’re getting extra are coming away from somebody else. So what you want to start looking at is, are you trending above your competitive set? Are you taking share in reviews? And hopefully positive reviews, but away from your competitive set. And when you’re doing that, you’re going to start to see the growth. And so you can start to look at who’s right above you. Are they getting 30% of the reviews and you’re getting 25% of the reviews in your market? So now you need to start kind of going after them and being very precise about it, you know. And so now I need to – they’re averaging 40 reviews a month – I need to be averaging 50. How am I going to be averaging 50? And you know, kinda continue to sort of pick away. It definitely becomes a little bit more of a game at this point, but you really need to understand what people who are ahead of you are doing and how you can kind of make strides there.

Ryan Embree:
I think this is such an interesting spot to be in because it’s exactly what you said, “You have to be more targeted and precise” about this type of movement because there isn’t much when you get into the top 10 or top five, especially in some of these big markets. And it’s frustrating for hoteliers because we hear them say, “Look at my TripAdvisor page, I’ve got five star reviews on my TripAdvisor page, filling up my TripAdvisor page and I’m not moving. I’m frustrated. I don’t know how to take that extra step.” And it’s exactly what you said, if you’re not seeing what your competition’s doing, you’re pigeonholing yourself, you have tunnel vision and you’re only focusing on you. At this point, you need to focus on the bigger picture. You know, this is an extreme analogy, but I like to use it because I think this is a great way to illustrate it to hoteliers. You might be getting those five star reviews, but your competition’s getting three times, four times that, they’re going to stay ahead of you. Almost like if you were in a race and you’re riding a golf cart and they’re riding a race car, you know, you’re never going to catch up to that race car without knowing that you’re in a race against them. So upping that positive reviews, but the other thing that I think our reputation tracking does for hoteliers is also shows you what share of negative reviews you’re getting, because you have to focus on both of those, right? If you get all of those five star reviews, but yet you’re still getting above the market average in negative reviews. It’s almost like more weight on that car, right? And it’s slowing you down. So not only do you need to be outperforming in positive reviews, but you also have to be outperforming them in the number of negative reviews that you’re getting.

Patrick O’Brien:
Exactly, and kind of on that as well, so ultimately if you’re getting more reviews, you’ve got more people going to your TripAdvisor page. And so sort of an organic byproduct of that is, you know, TripAdvisor’s about making money and they want to get conversions and they want travelers to be looking at their content and then ultimately, you know, making some booking decision. And so if you’ve got more people going to your page and hopefully, you know, all the reviews are great, you’ve got more people going to your page as well, then you are perceived as more popular. And if you’re more popular in the market, well that’s obviously going to impact your city rank. So, you know, it kind of works in both ways, not only are you getting more reviews, but you’ve also got more people shopping you and you know, your popularity index goes up. But, you know, ultimately you’re also going to see sort of that gap widen between you if you’re able to, you know, get less negative reviews each month in your competitive set and ultimately still be outperforming in positive reviews as well. But, just by, you know, even the sheer volume of reviews you’re getting every month, that just means that typically you’re going to have more people going to your page, which gives you the perception of popularity in the market.

Ryan Embree:
And that’s just all fuel, feedback is fuel for the tank, right? In this race on TripAdvisor. So let’s say we’re a hotelier now and we’re in the top three. This is where it gets extremely competitive and that movement, as we’ve mentioned, is not that easy. So what advice do you give a hotel in the top three of their market? But can they get that number two or not number one spot?

Patrick O’Brien:
So this is obviously the most difficult place to be in and there’s less room to move. There’s less room to make strides and, you know, you have to realize at this point, if you’re sitting in that area, you’re probably well over a four star average. You may be a 4.3 or a 4.4. So you have to realize now that everything that’s not a five star rating, even a four star rating is great. Like, “yeah, this is great.” That’s bringing your average down, this is a very difficult place to be. And so you have to take that sort of business analytics and business intelligence a step further. We started our respond and resolve program and it was important for us to look at more than just physically taking responses off the hoteliers plate, we’re going to start looking at sentiment in every review because there’s so much knowledge and so much data involved in every review. And so my team goes in and we’re looking at over 45 different elements of sentiment in every review and scoring those. And so what you can start to see now is things that are basically detracting from your score. So it’s important now that we’re all only getting five star reviews because everything else is hurting us. So you could look at things and you may see that, you know, overall the sleep quality at my hotel, my guests are rating that, let’s say a 3.2, but when they’re mentioning sleep quality, that average star rating for those reviews is maybe a 4 or even a 4.5. So what I need to start doing now is coming up with a strategy to fix sleep quality and if I make those operational improvements, then I’m taking out those elements in those reviews that are bringing that review from a five star down to a four star, four and a half. So you know, this is when I need to start looking at, okay, “I’ve got to invest in new beds.” And it could be anything, it could be the lobby, it could be the front desk, it could be housekeeping, you know, it could be Wi-Fi. Any of these things that are averaging a rating that’s lower than the rating that they’re part of, is bringing that down. So if you can start making those operational improvements, you’re just organically going to get better ratings. And also, you know, here is where you just, you learn about your business and you learn, you know, what you’re doing right, what you could improve upon, but even more importantly, why people are even interested in you. And so when you understand, you know, why people are choosing your hotel potentially versus another hotel, you’ve started to understand, you know, your marketing opportunities as well. And, you know, then you can also look at your competitors like, why are people choosing to stay with them? And you know, as you understand that, that’s where you can again, it becomes a game and, you know, how can I do whatever people whatever reason people like that hotel, how can I do that, but better. And ultimately make the changes at my own property to be the best that it can be.

Ryan Embree:
You know, reputation management, it’s not something passive. You have to work at it. But if you are serious about becoming number one in your market, then you have to work at your reputation. Those number one hotels can identify exactly what you’re talking about, can identify the things that are bringing guests back to their property and the things that they need to fix in order to take that next step. So if you’re serious about your reputation, that’s where you need to get into. You need to get into the nuts and bolts of your business and figure out what is bringing business in and what potentially is hurting your reputation online. And when we talk about reputation management, you would think that a lot of the hotel partners that we work with are hurting when it comes to their reputation that need help. But it’s actually the opposite. We work with a lot of hotels that are very successful in their reputation management, but they’re very serious about their reputation. And so we work with a lot of properties that are number one, when you’re in that coveted spot, everyone is gunning for you. They want that number one spot. Just like you wanted it before you were there. So what advice do you give those properties that are number one in their market and want to keep that position, maintain that position? Because once you’re there, you gotta work at it. So what advice do you give those hotels?

Patrick O’Brien:
The best advice I can give you is don’t get comfortable because, you know, like you said, everybody’s going to be gunning for you. So you look at the things that got you there and it is working with your guests to engage them to leave good reviews. It is, you know, understanding what your competitors are doing. It’s responding to every review, kind of upping your level of customer service and guest satisfaction. And at this point like don’t take a day off. Don’t stop doing that. You know, we’ve seen some hotels that put reputation kind of on the back burner because I’m doing good, it’s kind of coasting and then all of a sudden you start to see a quick nosedive. It’s one of those things, like exercising, you know, you start exercising and you’re doing really good and you’re like, “I’m in great shape.” And you stop and then, you know, two weeks later you go back out to run and go back out to swim or do whatever and it’s like, “Oh, this was a lot harder than I thought it was.” So, you know, you just gotta make sure that you continue doing what you’re doing. You’re gonna keep looking at those analytics and just starting to really dissect at a very micro level your business and, you know, where you can continue to get better.

Ryan Embree:
I love that analogy of exercising because it’s so true. Reputation for your hotel, you have to work at it. It’s not something like a renovation, where it’s this six month renovation process and then it’s done. It’s complete, right? And then you sit back, you kind of kick your feet up and say it’s over. And I can see all of my progress. You can’t do that with reputation because travelers are looking at this, at these reviews every single day. So if you’re not on top of it, it’s exactly what you said. You start to see that slip and your competition is right there behind you, just waiting for you to get comfortable. So great tip there. Now market size, we know plays a huge part in this city rank. Being in the top three, that sounds great, until you go to your city rank or your market and you realize there’s only four hotels in your market. Talk to us about how to measure TripAdvisor success in a small market.

Patrick O’Brien:
Success in a small market really comes from your ability to differentiate yourself. In a small market, there’s not as much noise. You’re typically also not going to have as many travelers. There’s less likelihood in a small market that a traveler coming to the area is going to several hotels or several of your competitors, not having any occupancy. So, you know, you start to get to the point of, “Okay, how can I differentiate myself and be better than my competitors? Because at this point, I can’t hide on page two.” Everybody’s going to see my good and they’re gonna see my bad. You know, there’s only four properties in there and so they’re probably going to look at all four properties. So, you know, reputation management obviously still plays a huge part in this and it’s gonna still be the same strategies of making sure you’re getting as many reviews. It’s going to be responding to those reviews, setting that expectation for that potential guest. By managing your reputation, you’re not going to be changing the ebbs and flows of travelers coming into the market, but you are going to start helping yourself get more conversions and take more of that share of market. It’s going to be easier in a sense, you don’t have as many people to look at and figure out what they’re doing well and you probably know those hotels and those hotel owners pretty well. So, you know, you start playing on your strengths and their weaknesses. But again, all the same strategies are still going to be in effect. It’s getting more reviews, it’s responding to all your reviews, it’s understanding what your competition is doing and, you know, understanding where you have room for operational improvements.

Ryan Embree:
You have so much visibility, right? So if you have a good week of good reputation, that’s going to be very, very visible in the eyes of a traveler. But the cons are sometimes if you don’t have that good a week, it’s again, very visible. Now it’s kinda the opposite in a large market, right? We’re in Orlando here, there’s 200, 300 plus hotels here. That visibility might not be as apparent, so maybe you can have an off week or something like that and it won’t impact you that much. It’s also tough to not get lost in the fray. Talk to us about being in a large market like Orlando. How do you distinguish yourself and create that visibility like you would in a small market?

Patrick O’Brien:
So first and foremost, you know, when you’re in a really large market, realize that, you know, there may just be some operational restraints that are going to keep you from being number one. Typically number one in a large market is going to be sort of your resort types of properties, really upscale properties, which is fantastic. So it’s not necessarily about being number one, it’s about being number one or the top of your segment, because not every traveler is coming to a large market, is looking to pay $400 a night. You know, and TripAdvisor makes it very easy to, to filter out by, you know, traveler ranked by scale, you know, price ranges, stuff like that. So, you know, what you want to do at this point is then really kind of dissect where you sit in your actual competitors. Because if I’m a midscale property or an upper midscale property, I don’t have the same travelers looking at me as are looking at, you know, a diamond resort. You know, it’s a very different audience. So I need to just understand my market and then make sure that I’m at the top of that market segment. So even if I’m number 30, that’s okay, if I’m number one in my scale and in my market. And that’s really what you have to be focused on. You know, versus, “Okay, I need to be on page one of TripAdvisor.” Because there’s so many different filters and so much different sorting that can happen on TripAdvisor. That’s not necessarily going to be quite as much of an impact as you may think it is. So, you know, that’s really my advice there is just making sure that your the best in your segment.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, It’s all about the knowledge of who your true competition is and where you stand in relationship to them. And again, it’s exactly what you said, if you’re in a large market that number one spot, that might just be a pipe dream because you’re dealing with a hotel that has over a thousand rooms and you’re a 70 room property. So you’re not going to get that quantity of reviews to compete with them, but you are competing with maybe five or six other hotels that are within your price range, very similar amenity type, and a very similar location. So you want to make sure you’re in the best position to compete against them. Now to wrap up, we talked a lot about longterm goals and overall city rank over time. Talk to the importance of short term TripAdvisor success and first impressions that a guests can get and see and feel from your hotel’s TripAdvisor page.

Patrick O’Brien:
There’s the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And several years ago I wrote a white paper and kind of looking at the traveler’s journey and kind of understanding that and realizing that for a traveler, the purchasing decision doesn’t happen in a bubble. And there are so many micro-decisions and so much information that they’re researching in a very fast way to make that final purchasing decision. And unfortunately for the hotel, they don’t know that they’re even part of that decision until it’s been made. For me, when you start looking at content marketing becomes the big strategy here and it’s how do you frame your hotel to have the best first impression and coming up with strategies there. Because you’re not necessarily going to be involved in every step of that traveler’s decision process, but when you’ve got good content marketing strategies and you’re doing those types of activities, then you at least have some influence in those decisions. You know, obviously pre-stay and you can start to help impact those conversions. It is really important, you know, that you’re making sure that you’re doing everything well. And I think if you kind of develop this very strong content marketing solution, which reputation is 100% a key factor in that, all of these other things fall in line. But again, you can’t expect to get that guests attention unless, you know, you just kinda set a strategy up in place for it.

Ryan Embree:
Those biggest “aha moments” that we get with hoteliers when we talk about their reputation and the importance it, I think in 2020 the modern day hotelier understands the importance of reputation. But you know, the biggest “aha moments” are when we really put them in the eyes of the traveler. And right now as you’re listening to this episode, there are a dozen or more travelers that are looking in three months down the line to stay at your hotel, there are dozen travelers looking at today potentially staying at your hotel or the hotel next door, and there’s been more than a dozen travelers that are checking out and are in the post stay. And all three of those are using your reputation in different ways and are calculating their decision, confirming whether they made the right decision, if they’ve left your hotel. That’s where Travel Media Group does such a great job of at every single stage of a hotel’s reputation, we can help with the tracking, the review response, and post-stay helping influence reviews and getting, generating more reviews. Our solutions help a hotelier at every stage of their reputation. No matter if you’re ranked at the bottom of your market and you’re just trying to get to the 50% or you’re in the top three or number one, trying to maintain those positions. As we wrap up here, you know, I always like to ask just any final thoughts about the episode. I think this is some great advice and tips for hoteliers. Again, no matter where you are at in your reputation management, but any final thoughts?

Patrick O’Brien:
More and more hoteliers are definitely paying attention to reputation, but just know it’s never too late to start. Even if you’ve amassed years and years of, you know, not a great strategy, it’s never too late to start a strategy and never too late to refine your strategy, but realize that this isn’t just a short term fix. This becomes a way of doing business. And if you want to be successful, this really becomes your new reality and you have to continue to build on all the things that are working and identify the things that aren’t. And again, make sure that you’ve got a strategy to highlight all of those factors in there. So if you’re not already doing something, start if you’re doing something, get better.

Ryan Embree:
Absolutely, you couldn’t have said it better. So Patrick, thank you so much for being on. If you are interested in partnering up with Travel Media Group, joining our family and utilizing some of our reputation management solutions that Patrick and his team do such a great job at, reach out to us (407) 984 7455. You can also visit us at travelmediagroup.com. We have tons of educational content on TripAdvisor. We will see you next time on the Suite Spot.To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group, our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host, Ryan Embree and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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