A few weeks ago Google started rolling a new feature within Google Maps that allows users to ask questions to a business directly from the search results page.
The feature, labelled as Google Q&A, looks to have big impacts for local businesses, including hotels. The following article will examine how hotels can use this new feature for promotions, including how to enable it, how to manage it, issues surrounding it, and how to use it to its full potential to optimize your hotel listing in Google’s search products.
What is Google Q&A?
In a nutshell, it’s simply the ability to ask a question directly to a business within Google Maps (and likewise Google search), allowing the business owner or other local users that have a good “trust rating” to answer the questions. These Q&As are then visible within Google search, which at time of launch was just for Android users within the Google search app.
It started to appear in mid-August for mobile users (Android only), but has since also started appearing for Desktop users and will likely gain more prominence over the next few weeks or months. That does however depend on how well users react to the feature. Google can (and frequently does) launch and then “sunset” new features if they do not test well or improve their users’ search experience.
The aim by Google is to give business owners an opportunity to interact with their customers, likely in a bid to compete with Facebook’s platform, whereby businesses with a page listed on Facebook can already interact with their customers through direct messages and visitor messages.
Google announced this feature to their Local Guides team in mid August. Not only can users post questions through the features, other users have the ability to upvote questions to help them gain visibility.
How can hotels use Google Q&A?
To use this feature all you need to do is ensure you have a Google My Business location setup and verified. Even if you don’t have a location setup to your knowledge, it’s likely that a listing does already exist for your business, so it’s essential that you verify it and gain control of it.
Once you have your Google My Business listing verified, you should then download the Google Maps for Android app and link it to the Google account used to manage your business listing. The hotel should then set up the app to receive notifications when someone asks a question, and ensure that someone will reply in a timely manner.
Do not let too much time elapse before answering a question to your hotel. Otherwise Google’s legions of Local Guides may also answer the question for you, but you won’t have any say in the response if the information is inaccurate.
What type of questions are hotels getting asked?
As a hotelier you’re probably well aware of the types of questions guests will ask you, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or through social media. But from our own research, here are common questions that others have been asking via the Google Q&A.
What is the check-in time?
What are the typical room rates?
Can I make reservations at the hotel restaurant?
How much does XXX cost?
In addition, there are always going to be many questions asked of hotels like this:
Are dogs allowed to stay at the property?
Does your rate include breakfast?
Do you have free parking available?
Controversies surrounding Google Q&A
Google Q&A is far from being a perfect feature. Columnist Joy Hawkins outlined many of these issues already, including the fact that users can edit questions after receiving an answer, opening them up to negative marketing. For example, say the question is asked, “Do you allow pets at your property?” and your hotel answers with “Yes, we do!” The original user could then edit the question to “Do you hate pets at your property?”, leaving your hotel positioned awkwardly (and falsely) as a hotel that isn’t pet friendly.
Watch the upvotes
A question that has many upvotes in Google Q&A will likely be shown within in the Google search results alongside searches for your brand (within the Knowledge Graph section). If this happens, pay particular care when replying as your answer will also have a lot of public visibility.
What is Google Messages?
Google Messages is another relatively new feature (it was first noticed around July 2017) that also allows people to ask questions to your business, but privately instead of publicly. According to Google, “Google My Business allows you to chat directly with customers who find your business listing on Google Search. Responding to customers can help you answer their questions, tell your business’s story, and attract more people to your location.”
To activate Messaging for your hotel you just need to sign in to your Google My Business listing and select the Chat option in the Home menu. It works best if you enter a phone number to opt-in for SMS notifications so you can instantly reply to customer messages, otherwise you risk leaving the customer feeling ignored.
Although similar in nature to Google Q&A, Google Messages is a more private communication platform between your hotel and your guests. This feature is almost an identical copy of Facebook’s own version whereby you can contact a business directly if it has its business page setup correctly.
Messages will likely become a big part of your hotel’s online platforms and will require management in the same way as reservation inquiries and emails are currently being dealt with. It’s also speculated that the use of this feature can help to improve a business’s local search rankings, but it’s too early to say whether this is true or not.
How should hotels treat Google Q&A
Google Q&A can serve as a great testing ground to see how well your own hotel website answers users’ most commonly asked questions. Hotels should pay attention to the type of questions being asked.
Multiple questions regarding standard information about your property could indicate that your website is missing vital information (check-in/check-out times, easy-to-see room rates, parking, directions, etc.), which means you should consider updating the content or design to make sure that this information is easier to find.
Questions about things to do nearby or how to visit nearby attractions could indicate a potential opportunity for building out additional content on your hotel website. Building out local attraction pages on your site that answer these types of questions not only gives your site an SEO boost but can be the tipping point to get these guests to book your hotel for their next vacation.
Google Q&A is still in a test phase, so it may not be a hotel marketer’s top priority right now, but it’s still worth setting up the account and keeping an eye on questions as they come in. You may discover some valuable ways to improve your own hotel website later.
Stay on top of hotel distribution and marketing trends.
Sign up for Travel Tripper's newsletter to get the latest news, tips, and resources delivered to your inbox.subscribe