Tips to improve your Google business listing

Google My Business is a free tool that allows you to promote your business on Google search and maps. From your Google My Business (GMB) you can update your business profile and engage with guests.

Your Google My Business (GMB) profile is at the heart of Google bookings, managing this will increase your visibility on Google and give guests greater trust in your business.

By keeping a great business profile you’re giving Google all the data they need to trust your business, which means they’ll make you more visible than those they’re “not so sure about”.

Google is always looking for content and they’ll take it from anywhere, including the OTAs, so if you’re not providing it then you’ll have little or no influence over what’s shown to guests.  Managing your Google My Business gives you more control.

3 Key things Google really loves:


1) Complete hotel information including all available amenities.

2) Regular updates to your business profile, like adding quality photos.

3) Reviews that are read and responded to by you (the more the better).

Google uses this information and activity to understand and measure just how engaged you are with your guests. Google’s business is about providing what their visitors are looking for – relevant, original and up to date information….at speed.

So, by managing your hotel information you’re giving Google many great reasons to make you more visible on their Search and Maps.

Most businesses already have Google My Business but if you don’t then do it now here:
Sign up for Google My Business – Google My Business Help

If you haven’t logged into your Google My Business for a while then here are a few things that you can do now to improve it.

Is your Google My Business listing 100% accurate?

Your details must be 100% correct – use exactly the same format for your business name, address and contact information across all your internet listings.  This makes it easier for Google to map and trust your listing because they can check and exactly match it to other listings.

Make sure you have the right business category (Hotel, B&B etc.).

Your Google Maps location is as precise as it can be.

Check the Hotel Attributes section to ensure your hotel listings, services and amenities are up to date and complete. Google looks at these to decide when to show you in search results, especially when guests use a filter i.e. pet friendly, free wifi, parking, room details etc.  If you’ve never provided or set these attributes they will have been set by the OTAs. You can update and modify them but it can take a while before they are updated.

Use your listing to provide as much information as possible, so as well as amenities there’s the opportunity to add your COVID-19 policy, property highlights, property rating, check in time, policies etc.  Make sure you’ve added in all the details.

A fully updated business page is more likely to be shown to potential bookers and therefore get more bookings.

To login select Manage on this page: Google My Business – Drive Customer Engagement on Google

Reviews help you engage with guests

The more engaged businesses are with their guests the more likely their content is accurate and up to date. Simply put, it shows “you care” about the guest experience – which suits Google, they know businesses with current and relevant content engage more with their guests so get more clicks. The guest wins, the hotel wins and Google wins.

Reviews are critical here, get as many as you can on Google.  Many of you will have seen Google’s many review adverts on TV encouraging the public to review local businesses on Google – they are a clear indication of the value Google places on reviews.

Reply to every review you can. Responding to reviews builds trust, indeed guests view hotels that respond to reviews as nearly 2x’s more trustworthy than those who don’t.

Note: Google also imports reviews from other sites, like the OTAs and you won’t be able to reply to these so encourage your guests to review you directly on Google.

Answer questions from potential guests in the Q & A section and in some countries you can chat directly with them before they book.

Regular updates keeps your content current

Add more high quality photos and videos to keep things fresh and promote your best services.

Check your photos regularly and remove your old photos.

Photos play a huge role when guests are deciding where to book so make sure the gallery always makes you look enticing. You can report poor quality photos added by other users (including guests).

Add changes or updates to property or processes i.e. your increased hygiene standards, special check in procedures or local food and restaurants.

If you are not actively managing your Google My Business page, you should be!  It is now even easier to manage via their GMB app.

If you can provide this information along with real-time prices and availability (Google’s free booking links) you’re going to reach guests when they’re ready to book and benefit from more direct bookings!

You’ll find more information here: Google My Business – Drive Customer Engagement on Google

And here: https://support.google.com/business/answer/9177814?hl=en-GB&ref_topic=9178355

Celebrating TripAdvisor’s Best of the Best 2021

TripAdvisor awards 2021 – Best of the Best Use freetobook

Tripadvisor awards 2021
Best of the best on Tripadvisor

Congratulations and jubilations to all of the UK properties that have been featured in this year’s Travellers’ Choice Awards. We all know the incredible hard work and effort that’s required to achieve excellent guest feedback so it’s wonderful that you have been acknowledged for this. We have also spotted some of freetobook’s international properties highlighted in this year’s awards, again a huge round of applause. We are so very proud to be working with each and every one of you. (full list at the bottom of the blog with links to accommodation, if we have missed you out let us know in the helpdesk and we will add you in)

While we can’t claim any of the credit for the hard work that went into earning these fabulous reviews and awards, freetobook does provide the smooth running, all-in-one booking solution that provides seamless guest service and frees up properties owners to focus on what’s important to their guests – top notch hospitality.

If you too want to get into the top hotel or B&B listings on TripAdvisor or Google here are a few tips about how to handle reviews in articles that we posted some time ago …

**Best B&B & Inns Category**
The Toulson (World Number One)
The Torcroft (World Number Three – UK Number Two)
Dorset House (World Number Four – UK Number Three)
Torlinnhe Guesthouse (World Number Six – UK Number Four)
Haven Cottage (World Number Twelve – UK Number Five)
Avenue Guest House (UK Number Thirteen)
Rudha-Na-Craige (UK Number Twenty Two)

France
La Villa De Mazamet (France Number Twenty Four)

**Best Small Hotels***
The Ship Inn (UK Number Eight)
Rowborough Hotel (UK Number Twenty One)

Google Zero is here!

google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

Google, the mighty search engine, offers accommodation owners the possibility of listing in their free booking feed. Connect your availability and rates to the free feed on its own and get zero commission bookings from Google. Get in early and take advantage of this Google giveaway, it might not last forever, who knows?

The facts ….

  1. Have the free feed on its own (no need to pay Google anything)
  2. Google free feed is 100% independent of paid advertising
  3. Free Google feed is available world-wide
  4. Free feed bookings are direct bookings
  5. OTAs and review sites are also in the free feed
  6. Google free bookings are only for serviced accommodation (not cottage, villa, or vacation type accommodation – sorry!)

Speed is the essence, maximise your direct bookings, take advantage of the free feed quickly and be the one that gets the most free direct bookings. Experience has shown us that these opportunities get diluted over time so early adopters get the most bookings.

Freetobook has always been at the forefront of technology to get you more direct bookings. We have pioneered availability with Google since 2018 (which is why we can launch this free feed only service quicky).

We introduce freetobook “Google Zero”, with this service you will be listed ONLY in the free feed. In order for us to provide, map and maintain live rates and availability to Google we will charge a small subscription fee of £49 per year, act quickly for limited free trial until 10th June 2021.

How can I get Google Zero?

Log in to freetobook and click on Tab “Plus” then select “Google Zero”

Google free booking feed by freetobook - join the direct booking revolution

Other useful information about Google free bookings…

How do I get to the top of the Google free feed ? (top tips from freetobook)

What does Google free booking link look like and why are Google doing this for free ?

NEW SECURITY FEATURE – Multi Factor Authentication

Protecting your freetobook account is critical to your business and is one of our top priorities. Almost half of businesses (46%) in the UK report having cyber security breaches or attacks in the last 12 months according to the annual report from the UK Government on cyber security breaches for 2020. Our new security features help to protect you from the likelihood of a major phishing attack and serve as a major deterrent.

What is Phishing? It’s the most common way for hackers to get access to your account. How do they do this? By pretending to be someone else (up to 81% of all cyber security breaches are now phishing attacks).

For example, they will send you an email that looks like it’s from someone else such as your bank, freetobook or your email provider. In that email they’ll ask you to follow a link to page that looks familiar to you and then ask you do something like login or provide some password information.
Every business is a target for a phishing attack because they’re looking for information they can use to steal money.

Phishing emails often include these things:
1) Urgency – they create a sense of urgency so that you react before looking more closely i.e. “Account suspended – Log in now” or they say you need to log in to fix, pay or agree something urgently.
2) Offers – these sound interesting or enticing, this could involve getting more business or some “easy” money i.e. we have a group reservation request waiting.
3) Errors, spelling or grammatical errors – the language, tone or layout may look different, unusual or even suspicious.

Our Solution – Multi Factor Authentication (MFA):

What is MFA? Simply put, MFA creates an extra layer security by requiring the user (you) to provide at least two pieces of evidence to prove their identity.  This barrier prevents potential fraudsters from gaining access to your account and also acts as MAJOR DETERRENT.

We are now asking you to set up an extra stage (layer) of security at the login process to your account. There are 3 options –  Questions – Email Code – Authentication App. Choose 2 of these to set up your MFA.

Once set up, you will only be required to complete one of these methods during a login if we detect you are logging in using new device or browser.

We have added this new MFA security feature in the SECURITY tab in your account which draws together existing security features in your account (Password/Password Changes/Security Levels).

Here at freetobook we are constantly rolling out new software features to ensure you have all the tools you need to help run your business effectively and successfully.

Google free feed on freetobook – How ?

Google Free Hotel Ads
Google Free Hotel Ads free feed

How you can participate in that free booking link with freetobook.

In a related article we explain Why do it ? What’s in it for accommodation owners, and why we think Google is doing it.

Who can take part? The free booking link is part of Google’s Hotel Ads system, so you can see right away that Google are looking for “hotel” type accommodation.  Hotel type includes guest houses, bed and breakfasts, hostels but it specifically excludes vacation rental type accommodation, cottages, villas, lodges.

Eligibility

YES: for hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast, hostels and apart hotels (hotel type).

NO: for cottages, chalets, villas, lodges (vacation rental type)

What do you need? You will need a booking system like freetobook that’s connected to Google, that connection (feed) sends your rates and availability with a link directly to your booking process. Freetobook have been providing this feed to Google Hotel Ads since September 2018

You also need a Google My Business listing, almost every business in the world already has one and it’s free (they look like this, see freetobook’s here).

The situation NOW: Remember there are two parts to Google Hotel Ads the free bit with, we reckon, about 10% of the traffic and the paid section with roughly 90% of the clicks. (Read the blog for further details)

Google Hotel Ads on freetobook : freetobook are already connected to Google Hotel Ads (since 2018) and we provide a managed advertising service for more than and thousand properties in the UK. This advertising service is active now and we’ll continue managing it.

Good news: All properties using the Google Hotel Ads to advertise automatically get the Google free booking link. You can see how that works on this Google blog…

I want free booking links now: if you are eligible (i.e. Hotel type accommodation) and in the UK you can subscribe for our Google Hotel Ads service in your Plus tab this will give you paid and free feeds.

Only free booking links (Zero): You will need to wait a week or so for us to make this option available for you.

HOW? Google Zero will be available in the Tab “Plus” shortly.

The situation SHORTLY:

We’re already busy creating a Google free ONLY service that’ll be available worldwide. This will use our existing feed to provide Google with your rates and availability and the link for bookings at Zero cost. You will not have to pay Google anything for the bookings.

This will be available shortly to all eligible (Hotel type) accommodation worldwide. We will charge a small annual subscription to provide the feed to Google (from freetobook) and deliver the bookings directly into your freetobook diary with reporting.

Google’s own blog and information March 2021 : free hotel booking links and Google Hotel Ads the overall picture from Google

Staycation Tsunami 2021

When lockdown ends, bookings dramatically spike

Get ready for a tsunami of bookings this summer. #StaycationTsunami Savings levels are at a record high. Through the lockdowns money that would have been spent has been saved. International travel is likely to be difficult/impossible.

Staycations at unprecedented levels are predicted and most likely to happen this summer. Added to this, there’s been far fewer bookings this year so there’s loads of availability to book into when things open up.

Frustrated, locked down bookers are out there waiting for somewhere to go. The instant that lockdown is lifted you’re looking at a situation never seen before.

Lockdowns have devastated accommodation businesses so here’s a great opportunity to rebalance that, but only if you’re ready for it by being prepared.

Summer 2021, are you ready for it?

Get ready for a record summer

Maximising your profit will help recover such a terrible past year. Minimise commission paid. Demand will likely outstrip supply so don’t pay commission when you can get more direct bookings.


Preparation Checklist

  1. Get your booking technology in order now. If you don’t have it running efficiently you’ll lose out on that record number of bookings coming in. Get your payment system setup and have your messaging fine-tuned. Reduce the risk for double bookings by getting it lined up and ready now.
  2. Think about your prices for summer now, should you increase them? Inflation is likely in your costs and you’ve lost a year of income so use the demand to recoup some losses. Businesses that have increased their prices understand they can reduce them later if it’s necessary.
  3. Get available now for direct bookings, prioritise early direct bookers. Give a preference to getting your early bookers in direct. Use commissionable bookings to fill gaps later. There will be a record number of bookings, you want them to be direct. You can always open to non-direct bookings later if you have to. Check you minimum stays and cancellation policy always entice direct bookings.
  4. Makes sure all the housekeeping, renovation and services are ready for a record summer. Is your accommodation physically ready? Do whatever you can do now so you’re ready for the biggest ever summer.
  5. Your website should be ready to encourage direct bookings. Ensure your COVID cleaning policy is visible and up to date, guests want to feel safe booking.  Update your website with any changes/updates you’ve made, you need to look your best and guests will not book on a bad website. free covid ready images

Last year was both terrible and tragic with losses of every kind, personal, national, social and economic.

It will end at some point so be ready for a reversal of fortune…it’s likely to happen this summer in the accommodation sector!

#StaycationTsunami 

Review Widgets Stealing 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.

leaking pipe 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.

yellow trojan horse bad widget

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)

Freetobook’s Digital Registration Feature

automated, integrated and contactless

Digital registration for hotels
Digital registration

With the new Digital Registration form you can make your guests’ lives easier and safer. Guests simply complete their forms remotely before arrival making social distancing at check-in easier whilst also saving you time and paper.  It takes seconds for them to complete and when completed it appears neatly in your new diary on their booking.

Digital Registration (d-reg) is part of freetobook’s Messaging suite meaning it’s a fully automated process that’s also integrated into the booking diary.

Key advantages of d-reg are:

1) Contactless – guests complete their registration before arrival.

2) Integrated – the form is automatically updated and stored in your diary.

3) Automatic – set up and schedule your forms once, Messaging does the rest.

4) Value add – collect all guest names/contacts plus real email addresses for OTA bookings.

5) Branding – look professional by using your own logo and colours.

automation robot for messages
message automation

We’re listening too, the second version of d-reg is due for release shortly and it’s smarter than ever. Using new “logic jumps” your guests will skip certain questions based on their nationality and answers e.g. you may not want local guests to be asked for their passport details.  This makes it quicker and easier for your guests, thereby helping to ensure they complete it.

You will also be able to add your own question tips to the d-reg form e.g. ask for a mobile number rather than a landline, plus much more….

There’s also an icon/alert in the new freetobook diary so you can quickly see who’s completed their d-reg forms.

With Messaging so elegantly integrated into your diary you can add images, attachments and set your text in seconds, making your messages a key part of your service offering.  Scheduling your Automated Messages means your work flows much easier and you don’t lose hours of your time sending out the same email, again and again. Added to that, your guests get the right information at the right time.

More automation is on its way to help you manage your business in these difficult Covid-19 times. Digital Registration is just one small part of what Messaging offers, based on your feedback we continue to build better ways to solve the challenges facing your businesses.

Freetobook has the technology you can trust….

Messaging is £49 per year…

All paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go so you never have to pay for anything you don’t use. If you are not already with freetobook why not try it today at no cost …

Include More Automation In Your Processes

automation robot with messages
make processes contact-less

There are three things we need to recognise about hospitality in these new COVID times; automation, automation and automation.

Automation can make processes contact-less, be used to collect vital information and communicate more easily. All these things help build confidence and trust between you and your guests whilst saving hours on boring repetitive tasks.

Let’s take a look at some examples that are live and some that are on their way.

Messaging your guests

freetobook Guest Messaging
Automate Guest Messaging

Our fully integrated guest Messaging system (built last year) makes communicating with your guests easy and fun. With scheduled Automated Messages you don’t even have to think about it, just set it up and every guest gets the right information at the right time… automatically.

Guests love it, after booking they get a friendly “thank you” message with loads of helpful key information (links to key sites) and tips. What a great way to start a conversation and build a relationship… that’s what service is all about. You can even brand our guest Messaging with your logo and colours..

freetobook messaging system

Collect key information

Knowing which guests are arriving, and when, helps you manage social distancing and get prepared for arrival. Messaging has a cool little button making it super easy for guests to provide their arrival times.

Stripe payments

freetobook stripe integration
automate payments

Improve your cashflow by taking upfront payments from guests that book online or offline. When you take a deposit the card is securely stored so that collecting the balance is a simple click of a button. Stripe receives and stores cards from Bookingcom, Expedia etc… and you can even “Pre-auth” cards one week before stay, making sure the money is available. For your guests, Stripe makes payment so easy, using ApplePay and GooglePay payment is literally at their finger tips!

Messaging and Stripe

For the perfect contact-less automation use both Stripe and Messaging together.  Message a guest for payment and they just use their phone to pay – a simple click, no contact, if they have Apple/Google Pay they can pay using their thumb print.

Digital registration

digital hotel registration
digital registration

As part of Messaging we will soon add Digital Registration, enabling your guests to register in advance of arrival (set for release in mid-July).

Messaging was built as a way to automate almost all your digital guest interactions, we’ll continue to roll out more and more for the usual amazingly low prices.

Our new state of the art online diary has all the messaging solutions built-in and that’s just the beginning, it’s due for general release in the coming few weeks.

more for less with freetobook
more for less with freetobook

Here at freetobook we’ve always been about developing new technology, always the first to release new features. Our team of developers are all working flat out to deliver so much more for our growing customer base. As a family business we believe in fairness and due to our many thousands of customers we can deliver amazing services at ridiculously low prices.

Freetobook – great tech solutions – more for less is so much more.

Messaging is £49 per year

Stripe is £89 per year (plus Stripe card handling fees)

All paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go so you never have to pay for anything you don’t use. If you are not already with freetobook why not try it today at no cost …

Covid-19: Reassuring Your Customers

Operating in the current COVID19 world

Book with confidence Covid19 prepared

Operating in a world with COVID19 is a test for all the accommodation industry and it means having to adapt as things change and new information becomes available. It is initially unsettling for everyone, including guests, but there are basic steps that properties can take that will be the same for the foreseeable future.

Safety

The key word of these times is SAFETY. Your customers will expect it and your business needs to show it takes safety seriously. If you have not done so already, conduct a Risk Assessment of your busines using the guidance issued by your government and make sure your customers know what you are doing at your property. This is the starting point for every business anywhere. There are lots of examples and templates out there (see below) also some images that you can make use of.

Communication

covid prepared
click to use this image and others

We all know that communication is the key to reassuring customers and securing bookings (see earlier blog with essential tips here) and that has proved to be the case in those countries that have opened up already.

Chabanettes Hotel & Spa in France shared this feedback with our Facebook group recently

‘I put a Covid 19 statement on my website almost 2 months ago. It remains my most popular sub-page. And it works. It’s a statement, like all the other big chains, which shows that we acknowledge risks, and have put reasonable steps in to place to reduce these risks. Not eliminate, we can never say that. But it portrays a seriousness that is clearly sufficient for our clientele to convince them to book. Our new booking volumes are now on a par with previous years’

There are lots of great examples of webpages that are both clear and reassuring to guests so do have a look around and then ensure yours is relevant to your guests.

Flexibility

Being able to offer flexibility will help you appeal to some of the more nervous customers. Many of you have already displayed huge levels of flexibility in helping guests move bookings. Looking forward there’s the opportunity to introduce more relaxed cancellation policies, changing traditional minimum stays and nimble pricing. Some have also gone as far as reducing the number of rooms on offer/guests on site to phase in the return to business and offering new customised breakfast arrangements. Consider what is appropriate for your business and guests and what’s needed to attract bookings.

Domestic Travel

Book with confidence Covid19 ready
click to access free Covid19 images

With strict quarantine rules in place for overseas visitors in many countries, businesses who have previously relied on inbound customers will need to modify their marketing to focus on the domestic market….a market that may well be only an hour away from your property. These are potential guests that are concerned about travelling long distances from home but are keen to enjoy some hospitality again!

It is at least comforting to know that literally the whole world is in the same situation, and there’s an understanding that we will all need to adapt as things evolve. It is impossible to say for how long things will continue like this and although we hope they continue to improve we must also be prepared for things to tighten up with little notice.

At freetobook we can see the activity levels increasing both in general system readiness and booking levels. We’ll continue to support and advise where we can as we all navigate our way through this. Stay Safe.

A collection of useful Links which may help (there are many more so please share on our facebook group if you are a freetobook customer)

Freetobook Facebook Users Group
UK Hospitality Guidance for Hospitality in Scotland
Bed and Breakfast Association
PASC (Professional Association of Self-Caterers) Guidelines
UK Government Advice
HSE Risk Assessment
Centre for Disease Control USA
Vacation Rental Management Association Cleaning Advice