Beware Review widgets that steal direct bookings

Our friends over at cobooking.com have shared their recent blog on the danger to direct booking posed by third party review widgets.

Cobooking exposes review widget dangers.

Image showing leaking pipe and text "Bad Review widgets leak direct bookings"
Bad Review widgets leak direct bookings

For far too many years we have put up with dodgy review widgets that cheat properties out of direct bookings. Widgets, badges and awards touted by large “reputable” businesses and placed on websites in good faith “trusting” these big corporations that pretend their main function is to “display” reviews, nonsense they are not to be trusted.

Cobooking and many others know that accommodation owners have been cheated because the hidden effect of these widgets is a significant loss of direct bookings. We are dedicated to the promotion of direct bookings so together lets call out the cheats and help remove these bad widgets.

Reviews are good but not all review widgets are good.

The value of having great reviews is undeniable. Almost all guests looking to book are keen to know what others think and reviews do a great job, so naturally you want to display them with widgets, buttons and awards.

However, there is a real danger of losing direct bookings from review widget links on your website and these could cost you a lot more than a bad review!

What do you mean, how do I lose?

The most common loss occurs when a review widget or badge is put on your website. Your guest naturally clicks the widget and is then led off to the review website. Now “your” guest is away on the review website where that website earns money by encouraging “your” guest to make a commissionable booking.

When you feed these review websites “your” guests (via the review widget) you lose direct bookings. In fact, it’s worse than that because they don’t care if “your” guest books your accommodation on their website, they earn commission on any booking “your” guest makes. So most websites offer your guest other accommodation options in order to increase their conversion.

Simply put, you sent your guest there to look at your reviews but they end up booking while there and not on your website. You’ve now lost a direct booking and have to pay commission, or worse still, they book somewhere else and you lose the booking entirely.

What is a direct booking unfriendly widget?

An unfriendly widget has links away from your website to another site where they offer your guest somewhere else to book or encourage them to book with a commissionable agency.

A friendly widget shows your reviews but does not send guests away to book with commission.

How do I know if the widgets, awards and buttons on my website are unfriendly?

Visit your website and follow the links just like a guest. By thinking and acting like a potential guest you’ll see exactly what your guests would see. Ask yourself what you’re being encouraged to do on that site and you’ll see just how direct booking unfriendly the process is.

Review widgets, buttons and awards are free?

Yes, they are free because the review website wants to get your customers onto their website. Is the cost of losing your customers worth the value of displaying reviews on bad widgets ? We are certain it is not.

Trojan horses have much in common with review widgets.

These buttons, awards and widgets are just like Trojan horses. They look like a gift, displaying your fabulous reviews but they contain a link that costs you direct bookings. Your great reviews are a result of your hard work and dedication so please don’t lose out from your hard work.

Review websites play heavily on the temptation to show off your reviews and that’s when they get you to put their Trojan horse on your website and you start leaking direct bookings.

How to fix it …

The simple rule is to never have a widget on your website that takes guests away to book with a commissionable source.

Remove widgets, badges and awards that lose direct bookings.
Replace unfriendly review widgets with friendly ones.
Show your review score or awards in an image with no links away from your website.
If you don’t understand how to fix it you should give your web designer a link to this blog, they will be able to fix it for you and stop you losing direct bookings …

At cobooking we believe that review websites have been abusing the good will of accommodation owners for many years by requesting they put bad acting widgets on their websites without adequately explaining their function.

Let’s campaign to spread the word and encourage companies to create direct booking friendly widgets, good honest widgets. Lets stop this loss of direct bookings.

Cobooking will be looking to create a direct booking friendly widget to help accommodation owners fight back.

Get going, become a partner and join cobooking if you have not already done so – sign up !

If you have already joined cobooking you can get involved in helping on the cobooking users facebook group (closed group for cobooking users only)

TripAdvisors’ Best

Travellers Choice awards 2020
TripAdvisor awards 2020

Congratulations to all the properties that have been featured in this year’s Travellers’ Choice Awards.  We all know the hard work and effort required to achieve excellent guest feedback so it’s wonderful for that to be acknowledged.

We’d like to give everyone a GREAT BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE.

There are various award categories that work across every location and it’s great to see freetobook properties pretty much make up half of the UK’s top 25 B&Bs !  That’s 12 B&B’s in the top 25, a huge chunk, and we’re so proud to be working with the very best in the business.

Ensuring every guest receives the highest levels of hospitality day after day requires focus, passion and a commitment to continual improvement… well done.  Our congratulations also go out to everyone that received a Certificate of Excellence.

We’ve spotted a few more freetobook customers in various categories and locations elsewhere but please let us know if we’ve missed you out….. it’s not intentional!

UK & Channel Islands

**Best B&B & Inns Category**
Riverside Bed & Breakfast – Ambleside #3
The Redholme B & B #4
Avenue Guest House #5
The Old School Bed and Breakfast  #6
The Albaston #12
The Seacroft – Blackpool #13
Grendon Bed & Breakfast #17
The Old Parsonage #21
Alcuin Lodge #22
Fairhaven Country Guest House #23
Saxon Villa Bed and Breakfast #24
Bure Lodge #25

**Best Small Hotel Category**
Oceanic Hotel #2
The Rowborough #7
Marine Court Guest Accommodation #17
Tigh na Sgiath Country House Hotel #23

IRELAND
Avlon House #21 Best B&Bs in Ireland

COSTA RICA
Casitas Tenorio B&B #1 in Best B&Bs in Costa Rica and #2 in Best B&BS in South America

FRANCE
Carcassonne Bed and Breakfast #15 in Best B&Bs in France

CANADA
Brookside Inn Boutique Hotel #1 Best Small Hotel in Canada

MEXICO
Baldwin’s Guest House Cozumel #19 in Best B&Bs in Mexico

Traveller’s Choice 2020 awards
Newminster Cottage Bed and Breakfast
Min-y-Don Guest House
Upper Clements Cottages & RV Park
Reads Court Holiday Apartments
Pitfaranne Guest House
Bleriot’s Dover Bed & Breakfast
Ashburn Guest House
Voortrekker Shetland
Arundel House

While we certainly don’t do the hard work that earns these fantastic awards, freetobook does provide the smooth working, all in one booking solution that provides seamless guest service and gives these properties the free time to do the most important thing – look after their customers – because that’s what makes happy customers which in turn wins awards …

I’m also going to put a warning sign on these awards because they can drive traffic to the TripAdvisor website. This is not a good thing for accommodation owners (it “leaks” bookings) so please be careful of adding links on your website that take the guests away from your website. By all means trumpet your fabulous success but remember it is your award so don’t leak customers away.

As an update, we now find that Google and Facebook reviews are probably as important for guests. There is no longer a monopoloy in reviews so make sure you encourage guests to review you on other platforms (Google and Facebook) too.

Some links to related blogs from our past, might be interesting..
TripAdvisor ranking tips
10 Do’s and Don’ts for managing reviews (2013 but still good advice)

Maximise direct bookings

7 Pledges, here’s how you voted….

We asked you to prioritise these 7 Pledges, to re-order them according to your needs and your ambitions. That was no easy task… as many of you said, but that forced focus is what every good business requires if it is to improve.

So here’s how it unfolded, drum roll please…

Maximise direct bookings above all other bookings (35% of the vote)

This is music to our ears, we created freetobook to enable direct bookings on websites. We wanted to build a booking engine so any accommodation anywhere in world could get an account, set up and take direct bookings in under an hour – for free. That was case in January 2011 and it’s still very much the case now, indeed that’s why we called it “Freetobook”.  But there is so much more to do and we’re working on it. (some free direct booking images for you)

Continually develop, upgrade and improve functionality came second (with 26% of the vote)   

Advanced Messaging
keep developing never stop

We are here 21 years down the line simply because we’ve always believed we can do it better, we must do it better.  Our “creative” drive demands that we look for solutions to difficult problems. We also enjoy that process, it’s terribly rewarding. This means that we don’t accept and settle in a comfort zone but continually look around appraising the changes to your environment.

Listen, care about, support and advise your business (17%)

This is the “easy” bit for us, as a family business we find it a very natural function yet we value the importance of it. Our support team have an amazing record only because they care. We are not here to serve ourselves so it’s important that we listen and feel confident to advise when required.  Having the commercial freedom (of a family business) means we don’t compromise in our service and advice we offer.

Keep learning to be the best booking system possible (9%)

everyday is a school day !

We will. Aiming to do your best is always a great place to start and we are fortunate to work with 1000s of customers who believe the same. Over the 21 years we’ve seen a lot of changes so we’ve had to keep learning new things.  We have always looked for and admired great technology.

Protect you, keep things optional for you and not tying you in (altogether got 13%)

Our independence is a choice, just like yours. We have seen enough stuff that does not impress us to know that we must always be clear, open and genuine in what we do and what we offer.

Protecting independence results in more money staying local and being re-invested locally in businesses. We live in times where technology is enabling money to move across oceans far far away from where it was generated and without any chance of businesses or governments being rewarded for their investments.

So where do we go from here?

smart messaging for accommodation owners
smart stiff to boost your connection with customers

The great news is that we are already working on some new technology to help increase direct booking, this includes better measurement and analysis of the current situation. Other developments will become clearer next year and we trust we can count on your support to get them moving.  There is much work to do!

Thank you again for voting and for your many appended comments. As usual there were masses of amazingly supportive ones, as well as some great suggestions.

Here’s a small selection of what people said against the various votes….

“We know you are the best out there, you have been amazing for us. Helpful and progressive.”

“All of the above are highly important. Thank you for giving them focus.”

“… really excellent customer service, feel like I’m contacting someone in my own company!”

“Would love it if freetobook was more mobile friendly or had a full App.”

“Good to see an honest and ethical organisation.”

“Still love freetobook and even more so since I joined stripe.”

“Thanks so much for your amazing service you have revolutionised the way we do business…”

“More reports, like annual and monthly.”

“Get the OTAs out of the booking loop as the charges are criminal.”

“Best booking system on the net.”

“…great system – tried all the others !!!!”

TripAdvisor Ranking Tips

Recent research on reviews makes interesting reading and helps guide you on how to improve your ranking within TripAdvisor, Google and any other review sites.

TripAdvisor for business

Good reviews are important, we all know potential guests read and compare reviews before making a decision to book. Maintaining this good reputation has a significant bottom line impact.

Giving good service is always going to be the best way to get great reviews. As the host you’re the one in front of the guest and that makes all the difference … giving you a real advantage over corporate hotel chains. There are however a few tricks that can help bend the curve in your favour because having brilliant service on its own might not generate enough reviews. There may be some gentle prodding required to keep a fresh flow of reviews.

Let’s take a look at a few of the issues. Firstly, WHY you should have a good set of recent reviews, HOW to get them and finally a trick or two to encourage those that you know will REVIEW YOU WELL. We’ll also touch on the danger of putting review links on your website that take possible guests off to another website (where they’re encouraged to book an alternative!)

Why should you try to get a good set of recent reviews ?

1) Fresh reviews are the most important, about 40% of customers only look at reviews from the last few weeks (huge increase from only 18% in 2017). This has a positive impact on hosts that encourage guests to review because they tend to have a constant stream of recent reviews.  

2) TripAdvisor gives higher weighting to the most recent reviews and lowers the importance of older legacy reviews. Favouring newer reviews makes sense because guests want the most up-to-date picture of their potential stay.

3) Getting lots of recent reviews acts as a kind of insurance policy against the (inevitable) odd bad one. If you are unlucky enough to get a poor review amongst all your brilliant ones, it’ll soon sink out of sight if you keep getting new reviews.

4) Properties with more recent reviews will rise-up the ranking compared to those with the same score but older reviews.

How do you encourage guests to post reviews?

A certain number of guest will be regular reviewers and won’t need any nudging, but the majority might need a little prod to post a review. There is no shame in asking for a review, every business needs to know how they’re performing – your guests understand this.

To encourage reviews you could print little business cards with your TripAdvisor link (and maybe an direct booking discount offer for next time they book). Alternatively, you could email or message them after their stay. A little bait sometimes helps so why not use a PromoCode to give them a special returning guest discount?

How do I filter out the best customers to ask for a review?

Your booking system may have its own automatic guest feedback built in? A very effective strategy is to use this initial feedback by thanking them for the great review and asking it to be placed on TripAdvisor. By doing this you are filtering out the best reviewers which will over time boost your review score.

Top Tip: Respond to your reviews on TripAdvisor, Google and others.

Did you know that 89% of guests read the responses to reviews? Replying shows you care and helps you understand precisely what made the difference in the eyes and words of your guests … marketing gold.

This is great news for independent properties because it’s usually the “hosts” that are the differentiator, it’s not the free wi-fi, parking or the marble lobby that get mentioned, it’s YOU the host that makes the stay truly memorable.

Top Tip: Use technology to free yourself to do the important things.

The best hosts use technology to the max – they let their booking engine do the bookings, process payments, update channels etc. investing the time saved delivering a unique memorable experience.  This pays off with a great reputation, more bookings and higher prices.

Top Tip: Review widgets on your website can be tempting…. and costly!

We all want to show off our great review scores but please make sure your review widgets don’t lead guests to a page where they book another accommodation. So many properties just put the review link on their website, leading potential guests off to book with an OTA (at commissionable rates) or not at all. Check your website today, follow the links to see what your web visitors see and where they go, you might be shocked.

Direct booking review widgets are good and freetobook have just launched their new responsive and customisable review widget. 

At freetobook we’re constantly working to free up your time so you can spend it giving guest an amazing experience. We automate payments, guest feedback, online bookings, sending messages, channel management… and so much more.

share best practise

We’re family run and independent to the core, always searching for ways to support direct bookings.

TripConnect Instant Booking a Global First

Freetobook is TripConnect Instant Booking’s First Approved Partner – Worldwide first in technology.

TripConnect Premium Partner
TripConnect Premium Partner

Press release (September 15 2014 – Glasgow)

Freetobook, one of the UK’s leading travel technology companies, announced today that it is the first Internet Booking Engine to be a fully approved and certified partner for the upcoming TripConnect instant booking feature from TripAdvisor.

TripConnect instant booking is being developed to increase direct bookings for independent hotels and scheduled to launch officially later this year. This instant booking will enable accommodation owners worldwide to leverage approved connectivity partners, such as Freetobook, to update rates and availability and take bookings directly into their online diary.

The TripConnect instant booking API has been approved and tested and Freetobook will enrol a select few customers in a live beta test ahead of the full launch when the feature will be available to the global independent hotel sector.

Its exciting to be at the forefront of this new development. We are looking forward to getting our customers’ feedback in the first instance before TripConnect instant booking is rolled out globally,” says freetobook’s Director Iain Stewart. “

Other blogs and links about freetobook TripAdvisor connection

What is TripConnect ?

More TripAdvisor reviews automatically

What is Trip Connect the video ?

Reply to reviews for a 21% booking boost

Say something back to your customers

TripAdvisor research* finds that accommodation owners that respond to their reviews benefit with more booking enquiries, they say 21% more likely.

Ever been an ignored customer at a coffee bar or restaurant, seen but just not important enough to respond to? Well that’s how it looks when a customer reads your reviews and finds no responses. They have to assume you don’t care as much as the properties that do take the time to respond.

Perhaps you are extremely busy or don’t need the bookings, so just like the coffee bar,  ignored customers will go and find somewhere they believe does care. According to TripAdvisor’s research it’s exactly what happens, they say up to 21% more bookings go to properties that take the time to respond.

When you do answer reviews (both the good and bad) it *shows* …..bang ! right there and then in front of them – this accommodation is engaged, caring, listening. Displaying this level of engagement is of course

Review sharing widget for hotels

quite different from just *saying* it on your website or in emails.  If you really want customers to believe it then you have to find ways of *showing* it. The ability to respond to reviews is a marketing gift so use it to show how engaged you are.

You might not love TripAdvisor but can you afford to ignore them ? They undoubtedly have a vested interest in getting you, the property owner, to engage with their site (respond to reviews) but even with this in mind we still agree that reviews count.

At freetobook we have been developing review and feedback technology for years, you can already tweet, facebook or place your freetobook reviews on your website and of course you can respond to them. Our customers can make full use of these and many more functions in their “Home” tab by clicking “Reviews” on the orange bar. If you are not yet a customer, what are you waiting for? Join up today for free, no risk and let us show you what you are missing at freetobook.

Related blog articles from the past

Share your reviews online for direct bookings

10 Tips on managing good and bad reviews

Customer reviews a winning strategies

Review Express by TripAdvisor

* TripAdvisor press release Sep 3, 2014

Share your reviews online

Freetobook review sharing widget

Share hotel reviews
Share your Reviews

Isn’t it great to get fantastic reviews! You work so hard looking after your customers, naturally they give you fabulous feedback that influences potential future guests. To find your reviews in freetobook simply go to your “Home” TAB and select “Reviews”.

Share your great reviews with the world. Freetobook is about to release a new review sharing system so you can get your reviews out there and read by potential guests.

Sharing reviews is easy with :

  • a simple to install review widget for your website, available in a variety of formats and the ability to resize and customise colours
  • freetobook’s new “click here to share” a review instantly on facebook and twitter.
  • linked to your booking system for instant direct bookings.

Review sharing widget for hotels
Review sharing widget various sizes

It gets better…each review widget will give guests instant access to your freetobook reviews and link them directly to your booking system, making it easy for impressed customers to make a direct commission free booking there and then.

Keep an eye open for the launch of the new review sharing system… another great idea from freetobook giving you more for less. As soon as the review sharing system is available you will find it in the same place as your current reviews – go to your “Home” TAB and select “Reviews”.

Social Media review sharing for hotels
Social Media review sharing

We expect to launch the new review sharing system before Christmas 2013 so it won’t be long before you can show off all your best reviews across your website and social media platforms.

In the spirit of sharing please feel free to tell others about your experience of freetobook the internet booking engine with more for less.

Get more TripAdvisor Reviews automatically

Fast, free and easy way to get more TripAdvisor reviews.

TripAdvisor for Business
Business Services from TripAdvisor

With freetobook you always get a competitive advantage from our cutting edge technology that keeps you in control and fully armed with a variety of tools and services, all created to maximise your bookings, marketing and reputation.

TripAdvisor Review Express
Review Express automated TripAdvisor reviews

Using this new function freetobook gives you the option of connecting TripAdvisor’s automated review request system to your customer’s email address and checkout date. If you opt into this service (in your TripAdvisor account) then TripAdvisor will be given all of your customer’s email addresses along with their checkout dates (future bookings). If you authorise TripAdvisor they will then send out automated review requests after your customer has checked out.

This service is available free of charge to all freetobook customers. It is available to all accommodation properties except those listed as Vacation Rentals by TripAdvisor.

How do I switch on Review Express automatic emails ?

1. Simply login to your TripAdvisor account on TripAdvisor’s website, click on the “Review Express” logo and select the “Send Emails Automatically” TAB (there is no need to contact freetobook).

2. Agree the Review Express conditions and confirm that freetobook is your internet booking engine.

That’s it! This is a do it yourself service and there is no need to contact freetobook.

How does Review Express work ?

If you have agreed the terms on TripAdvisor then freetobook will check all of your future bookings and send the email address and the checkout date for each booking. TripAdvisor will use this data to send automated review request emails to your customers a few days after they have checked out. (note this service is completely optional, no data is sent without your authorisation)

How much does it cost ?

Freetobook makes no charge for this service and TripAdvisor do not charge. It is a do it yourself service, simply opt in by logging into TripAdvisor, no need to contact freetobook.

What freetobook does when you sign up to Review Express.

Review Express example email
Example of an automated review request

Within 24hours of signing up to Review Express the freetobook system will automatically send TripAdvisor the guest email addresses and checkout date for all your future bookings. If a booking is later modified we send TripAdvisor the new data. If a booking is cancelled we let TripAdvisor know not to send an automated review.

TripAdvisor have let us know that if a property later opts out of Review Express they will not send any automated reviews using the data you have given them access to. You opt out from your TripAdvisor account and freetobook will know within 24hours.

Freetobook provides the Review Express service automatically there is no need to contact us as the service is activated using your TripAdvisor account. Like many services offered by freetobook it is free and optional. Freetobook also offer some premium paid for services like Channel Management and Mobile Website and Booking – find out more.

Click here to visit TripAdvisor’s page and find out more about Review Express

What is TripConnect ?

TripConnect now live World-Wide for Hotels, B&Bs and Guest Houses

TripConnect Premium Partner
TripConnect Premium Partner

As of today independent hotels, bed and breakfasts from all corners of the world can advertise directly for bookings on TripAdvisor. Owners will be able to drive direct bookings with zero commission from their TripAdvisor pages. They will be able to bid for clicks on a PayPerClick basis.

This is nothing short of a revolution in the way TripAdvisor promotes accommodation, a new way to get direct bookings.

TripConnect video

If you are a property owner you can use the TripConnect system to show real-time rates and availability with a booking button for the customer to complete the booking.

What will you need for TripConnect to work ?

1. An approved Internet Booking Engine (IBE) like freetobook.

2. A business listing with TripAdvisor

3. A TripConnect account to pay for your clicks

When you have all three of the above you can set your PayPerClick budget and get started. You will be able to set a daily cap on your spend and you can do it for as long as you want. TripAdvisor will give you a forecast for monthly spend so you get an idea of costs.

What is TripConnect ?
TripConnect Premium Partner

As each booking comes in freetobook will show you that it came from TripConnect. You will also get a report from TripConnect showing your click costs and the booking revenue you achieved. This way you will be able to analyse the return on your advertising spend.

Freetobook is a Premium partner of TripConnect and can offer the service worldwide. If you already have a freetobook account you just need to contact TripConnect to setup your account. If you don’t yet work with freetobook this is an ideal time to signup.

 

 

More information on TripConnect click here

To signup with freetobook click here

To register with TripConnect click here

 

 

TripConnect PayPerClick vs Google

Hotels will switch adverts from Google to TripConnect

Google will lose PayPerClick advertising revenue to TripConnect.

Google PayPerClick vs. TripConnect
TripConnect PayPerClick vs Google

In the real world of limited marketing budgets one company’s gain will be another’s loss. The much awaited TripConnect system is a new way for properties to spend advertising money. (previous blog What is TripConnect ?)

Here at freetobook we are predicting Google will lose advertising revenue from property owners. We are already getting a significant number of property owners telling us they plan to switch their Pay Per Click budgets onto TripConnect. It makes total sense to us when you look at the logic, if your money is limited it is probably better spent on TripAdvisor’s new TripConnect system.

Why is Google Pay Per Click inferior to TripConnect ?

1.Google Pay Per Click is wasteful : TripConnect will not show adverts when the property is unavailable. The TripConnect system checks availability and rates with the properties Internet Booking Engine (IBE) before showing the advert. By comparison Google Pay Per Click adverts are not “availability dependent” and will always show, costing clicks when a property is unavailable.

2.Direct into the booking process: TripConnect puts the customer directly into the booking process cutting out wasted time spent browsing, you have all the information to make the purchase…. price, price comparison, availability and a quality ranking. A Google advert provides none of these.

3.Customer purchase point: When a potential customer is searching on TripAdvisor they are beyond the simple Google search “London Hotels” they are looking for “Which London hotel” where would you rather put your money ?

4.Easy ROI Tracking: TripConnect has built in tracking to show bookings completed alongside the costs so properties can easily tack their Return On Investment (ROI). Yes, Google has their analytics but they can require some specialist knowledge TripConnect tells a property what they want to know booking revenue vs. advertising costs.

5.Content rich : A TripAdvisor TripConnect advert is on the property’s TripAdvisor page, content and context rich.

TripConnect Premium Partner
TripConnect Premium Partner

The battle for Pay Per Click advertising revenue from accommodation owners is going to get more interesting with the launch of TripConnect. The freetobook Internet Booking Engine (IBE) is a premium partner of TripConnect so all our customers will be able to participate in TripConnect right from the start.

Our guess is that Google Hotel Finder will be watching TripConnect with their data microscope, after all not even Google wants to see their click revenue start to shrink. However, the lack of connectivity to the world’s property owners, their booking engines and inferior review data are three weaknesses they would need to rectify before a realistic chase can commence on TripConnect.