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

Google zero flying start

google free booking feed
Google free feed

Update: Two months into Google zero and we have received thousands of Google bookings across many hundreds of properties. Our data show that there is a significant level of bookings across a wide variety of properties and that the bookings continue to increase.

We are now sure that Google is taking bookings seriously and that any property interested in getting more bookings should be serious about Google.

If you haven’t already done it you can access the Google free feed without having to pay for any Google advertising services. It takes two minutes to set-up on freetobook and we do the rest for you.

Customers of freetobook can click here to signup for Google Zero

“We first came across Googe Zero by reading the informative blog from freetobook. Signing up couldn’t be easier – just a couple of clicks to opt in and we were connected!  We’re on the free trial and have 4 bookings (made in UK) already, so it has essentially paid for itself now.” (Bridge Hotel)

Seven facts about Google free bookings :

  1. Google free feed available on its own (no need to pay Google)
  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!)
  7. Google free feed is estimated at about 10% of the Google traffic

Freetobook are pioneers in direct booking and one of the first in the world to provide Google free bookings on its own without payment to Google. In the UK we provide a managed option to upgrade and pay for advertising to access 100% of Google traffic (100% optional – you can keep the free only if you wish).

Interested in more detail? See our previous blogs about these exciting new Google free bookings.

How to get to the top of the free feed

What is the Google free feed and why have they done it

Google zero commission

google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

A few weeks into the Google free feed activation and bookings are flowing in. We are overjoyed to be providing direct commission free bookings into your diary… (No charge from Google) so make sure you don’t get left out.

Sometimes these things don’t last forever so its worth getting in as early so you can to maximise the number of commission free bookings.

You can have the Google free feed on its own, you don’t have to pay for Google advertising to be part of the free feed.

Maximising direct bookings at zero commission is one of our key pledges, we are proud once more to be the first to build solutions that genuinely help accommodation owners to thrive…

Freetobook will always prioritise direct bookings which is why you can trust us to be the first with such important services like the Google commission free bookings. It’s a great benefit to your business so why not signup to Google Zero by freetobook and get yours!

Login to your freetobook account and activate Google zero

More information on Google commission free bookings:
Google Zero is here !
Tips to get to the Top On Google free feed
Article by Craig from freetobook on phocuswire
Google’s free booking links for hotels …

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

World Social Media Day

Social Media is a brilliant way for B&Bs and independent hotels to connect with their customers, build relationships and promote themselves. In celebration of World Social Media Day, here are freetobook’s top ten social media tips for B&Bs:

Make visuals a social media priority

Give future guests a virtual experience of what it will be like staying at your B&B – share pictures of your rooms, the delicious breakfasts you offer, the awesome view from your property, that speciality cake you make for new arrivals…get creative!

Destinations change based on the time of year, remember to show off how awesome you are year round with pictures reflecting seasonal changes.

Play with your Facebook cover photos

 It’s the first thing that prospective guests see when they visit your page and influences their perception of your brand. Make sure your cover photo is as awesome as your business, and remember that you can change it frequently if you want to.

Engage Your Followers

Platforms like Facebook are a great way to engage with existing and new customers. Take the time to respond to questions, and also sometimes ask your own – “we’re preparing our new afternoon tea menu, what should it be, lemon drizzle or Victoria sponge?”

Get Guests Involved

Create a hashtag for your B&B to get your guests talking online. Guests can use it when they post about their holiday on Twitter and Instagram and is great bit of free PR for your business. It’s also a rich source of material that you can re-post on your own social media channels (with the guest’s permission!).

Speaking of hashtags…

When you post on Twitter and Instagram remember to include a few relevant hashtags. An important one to include is your location – holiday makers will often search for their planned location via hashtag on social media, for inspiration and ideas. Using it on your posts can draw them to your page and showcase how great your property would be for their holiday.

Promote your special offers and packages, but…

Have you just launched a brand new package? Got a new promo offer? Advertise it on social media! Get your great deals out there and encourage people to book direct.

Remember the Seven and One Rule

Too many promotional or ‘salesy’ posts are a turn off for your followers. Make sure you get the balance right by posting around seven posts that are interesting, beneficial and relevant to your customers for every one post where you advertise your B&B.

However, you can (and should) still do some ‘soft promotion’ on your posts by including a link to your website at the end of your posts.

Post Interesting Content

Consider topics and ideas that would be interesting and useful for your guests and incorporate them into your social media plan. Interesting or fun event coming up in town? Post about it! Is there a great country walk nearby? Post about it! Is there a brilliant local restaurant that your guests should try on their trip? Post about it!

Repeat Posts

So you’ve made an awesome post about family activities in your area…but it’s been a few months and now it’s hidden far down your page where your followers won’t see it. Time to repost!

Social media has a very short shelf life – if your followers don’t see your post the day you make it, chances are they won’t see it at all. Repost interesting content (as long as it’s still relevant) every few weeks or months.

Direct Bookings through Facebook

Turn your facebook page into a great booking tool with our free facebook app. Incredibly simple to set up and use, this is a brilliant way to convert all the hard work you’ve done creating an awesome facebook page for your business into more direct bookings.

Card payments : fast, secure, and easy with Stripe

Stripe: online payments made easier, faster and more secure. Freetobook’s integration with Stripe makes payments possible at the click of a button, keeping things simple for you – and your customer. 

 

Thousands of freetobook customers use Stripe as their credit card payment system – this is one bandwagon you want to hop on!

 

Top 5 reasons to use Stripe for card payments:

1. Quick and easy to setup

Just head over to the PAY tab in your freetobook account to get started!

2. Low Cost

In Europe, Stripe charges 1.4% for European cards (2.9% for International cards) and a mere 20p transaction fee!

3. No monthly charges 

Stripe charge per transaction, a simple pay-as-you-go system so you’re not out of pocket!

4. Secure 

PCI compliance fitted as standard, no lengthy forms to complete

5. 92% approval rating

Thousands of freetobook customers using Stripe love it! We introduced Stripe in 2015 and have since had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the service. In fact, we are so sure it will be good for your business that we offer a 30 day money back guarantee on the freetobook integration charge.

 

 

Still not convinced that Stripe will work for your business? Take a look at what your fellow freetobookers are saying…. A staggering 92% of freetobook Stripe users are very happy with the service! Check out some of their feedback below:

“Absolutely love it (Stripe). It has changed my life. It is so easy, great when people cancel, works fantastic… Much less admin for me. It’s a win, win all the way”

Holly Tree Cottage

“Love it – all automatic, and you know if cards securing reservations are valid cards, you can also charge guest stays using the system. Well done freetobook! It so easy to set up and maintain even older users like me have mastered it simply like all freetobook products we use…”

– Avlon House B&B

“It has reduced our costs and offers peace of mind.”

– The Cardinal’s Hat

 

We’re positive that you’ll love using Stripe for your accommodation payments! But just in case, we offer a full refund within 30 days of paying your subscription. Freetobook charges an annual integration fee of £89 for providing you with this great payment functionality, which can be accessed quickly and easily through your freetobook account.

So what are you waiting for?! Join thousands of freetobook users and improve the speed and ease of your payments today by adding freetobook Stripe integration! Click the PAY tab when logged in to your freetobook account.

Maximum Direct Bookings 2018

New year, new direct booking updates!

Direct bookings save you commission, time and are three times less likely to cancel than bookings made through an OTA. As always, freetobook has your back – our new SearchPro upgrade can increase your direct bookings by up to 40%! Here are our top tips to make the most of your free SearchPro upgrade and maximise your direct bookings:

 

1.Customise your booking page

Your business is unique – your booking page should be too! Head over to your My Direct Booking page and select icons to appear which reflect the amenities you offer, such as wifi and breakfast. Replacing text with icons optimises your booking page, making it super clear to your guests the benefits you offer.

2.Reward booking direct:

Special offers are a brilliant way to incentivise and reward your guests for booking direct. Always make sure that you offer the best deal on your own                  website, even if that is the same as rates offered elsewhere – don’t miss out on direct bookings because OTAs are offering a better deal! We have a selection of Book Direct Images, try one or design your own – displaying a neat “Best Price Guarantee” sticker on your website will go a long way to increasing your direct bookings.

Using Promo codes is a more selective way to reward booking direct; the customer needs to know the promo code. Your offer can vary from a complementary drink on arrival to a discount – get creative! Your guests will feel special and rewarded and will likely mention it in their review, encouraging future guests to book direct when they hear about the benefits!

Providing a non-refundable special offer booking option for your guests ensures that they are getting a great value deal, and you are reducing your cancellations and securing guaranteed income – it’s a win-win!

 

3.Review your cancellation policy

Take some time to review your cancellation policy – always make sure that your cancellation policy is equal to or better than the OTA offer! This is another way to show that booking direct offers the best deal.

 

4.Website check up

The new year is a perfect time to review your website and optimise it to increase your direct bookings:

  • Update your content – is all the information still accurate? Do you provide information on local attractions and events?
  • Good quality, professional pictures of your property are important in showcasing your business and are worth investing in.
  • Is your website mobile responsive? 27% of accommodation bookings are made via mobile – your booking page is responsive; your website should be too!
  • Is your ‘Book Now’ button visible and in more places than just your homepage? Quick and easy ability to ‘Book Now’ will help increase your direct bookings

 

 

Stay tuned for tips and advice throughout 2018 – we will soon be hosting our first webinar where we will guide you through the ins and outs of SearchPro via live video, keep an eye on our social media and emails for more details!

3 Things to learn from Hilton CEO

OTA giantsHigh levels of cancellation, high commissions from Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and competition from Airbnb are big issues that a giant chain like Hilton have in common with independent owners.

In a recent interview, the CEO of Hilton talked about rising cancellation rates, high commission from the OTAs and competition from Airbnb. Every day is a school day so I thought I would consider his comments and try and interpret them for independent accommodation owners like yourself.

High levels of cancellation

High level of cancellationNassetta, from Hilton, says “customers…have been trained to do multiple bookings and do things that have created a scene where cancellations…have skyrocketed.” He is talking about certain OTAs encouraging customers to book and cancel. OTAs don’t really care about high cancellation rates if the customer books again through them it doesn’t matter to their profitability, they still get the booking; it’s the cancelled property who loses out.

If cancellation levels are an issue for Hilton they are an even bigger issue for independent accommodation owners where each room is so much more precious. To put some numbers on it I looked at our statistics from the last 10 months and they show that certain OTAs have an average cancellation rate of 26.5% compared to 8% on direct bookings.

Our advice here is to make sure you have a cancellation policy that does not penalise direct bookings. If you can maximise your direct bookings you will also lower your cancellation rate because direct bookings are more than three time less likely to cancel.

Hilton has responded by increasing their cancellation deadline from same day to 48 or 72 hours and made sure that their direct booking cancellation policy is always the best.

High levels of commission

OTA commission risesMany of our customers tell us about the rising commission bills which seem to get larger every year as OTA bookings keep rising. Hilton mentions a lack of competition “More competition would have the effect of driving down distribution [commission] costs.” We have seen less competition as the OTAs take over rivals leaving only two major OTAs (Bookingcom and Expedia, who own most of the others).  Nassetta, of Hilton, thinks that Airbnb could change to become a competitor for the OTAs and help drive down commissions.

Is there a place for another OTA with lower commission? Hilton certainly thinks or maybe hopes so. In common with many independent owners Hilton feels the pressure from very dominant sources of bookings and hope for a path to lower commission.

Airbnb is not competition

Hilton sees Airbnb as catering to “different travel or trip occasions” this may be true for Hilton because a big hotel chain clearly has little in common with a bedroom in a home. Airbnb feels far closer to the independent small businesses that are our customers.  We also know that many of our independent customers already use Airbnb as a channel for low cost bookings so they can be an ally for everyone.

In summary, it seems that there is a surprising amount in common between Hilton and independent accommodation owners. A closer look does reveal that the same issues are faced by everyone irrespective of size along with a hope for more competition in the online travel agent space.

Previous related blogs on direct bookings

3 Ways to Power Direct Bookings

1. Show the benefits of booking directly

Why should I book directly ? Answer this question in your customer’s mind and you will increase your direct bookings. Use some subtle “book direct” images and text to show that booking directly on your website is the best thing that guests can do.

Customers need to be convinced that they should book directly, it can’t be taken for granted. Present a message that re-assures your potential guests at the exact point they are thinking about where to book. As a little gift we have created some images, please help yourself to some “book direct” images, use them freely and share them widely. Link to “Book Direct” images

2. Don’t hide your Book Now button

A potential guest has made it on to your website, so make sure that they can easily find your book now button. Is your booking button in a prominent position on all your web pages ?

Book Now
Book Direct

Your “Book Now” button or “Search Availability” should be easily identifiable and should be on every page of your website, not only on the Home Page. If potential guests can’t find it easily you are pushing them away and they could proceed to some other property or end up booking through an Online Travel Agent (OTA). Make it easy to book so you don’t lose the direct booking.

Typical errors include putting the booking button too low down on the page forcing customers to scroll to find it, others hide it under tabs and menus like Accommodation, Rates or even Contact. Show your booking button clearly, simply and prominently to increase direct bookings.

3. Reward direct bookings

Reward guests who have or are about to book directly with you. Display a special offer for direct bookers using an offer for everyone or if you want to be a bit more selective use a promo code.

special offer for rooms
special offer

With a special offer you can ensure guests can book your best rates directly via your own website. This could be for a selected period or for a minimum stay, or simply make it available for all stays, it’s up to you. Creating a reward for direct bookers will certainly increase your chances of getting the booking direct. When I do a booking directly I’m always looking for that little reward to clinch the deal.

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes
Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

Using Promo codes is more selective, the customer needs to know the promo code. There are various types of offer from the simple discount to complimentary drinks or a room upgrade. A little something that shows you are willing to reward direct bookings on your website. It’s a win for everyone, guests will feel special, rewarded and will more than likely mention it in their reviews. This helps the overall book direct message because future guests learn of the benefits of booking direct when reading the great reviews the rewards have generated.

Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking.

To find out more about some of freetobook’s direct booking benefits take a look at Promo Codes, which can help you encourage customers to book with you again, and facebook book now button using a facebook call to action button.

Keep an eye on our blogs for tips on how to improve your direct bookings and start cutting into that commission bill.