The first thing you can do is list down your standards for a hotel. Where would you like the hotel to be located? Would you prefer to be in the city center, near the shopping areas and restaurants or would you prefer to be downtown? If safety is an issue since this is your first time in the country, would you feel safe in the area where the hotel is located? Would the location provide easy access to transportation? You could research these in the internet or better yet check in a map for the area. You could also join forums and request for information regarding the location and you could easily request a feedback about the hotel you are eyeing for.
Are you particular with the hotel's facilities and you prefer to have a swimming pool, spa or gym? Or is it more of the room that you are concerned about and prefers a private bathroom with a private bathroom. If you go online and want any of these room features, it would be best to contact the hotel directly to make sure that all your requests are guaranteed. Booking online usually does not guarantee special requests and you would only know if any of these are available upon arrival at the hotel. So, if you see that your request is not available, it may ruin your vacation.
The price might be higher if you book with the hotel directly but at least you'll have the room that you want. However, you could still get a discount for your reservation if you could use your frequent flyer points to redeem hotel discounts. There are also hotels which offer discounts if they are part of an alliance with flights or car rental companies. Your credit card company may also offer exclusive rates to special hotels. You could check it out with them before browsing the net.
There is still that question if the hotel you picked is a good hotel or not. You have not been there and you do not know anyone who stayed there before. One way to find out is to check reviews about that hotel in your destination. You could also join forums as suggested earlier to ask for feedbacks. The result does not have to be all positive since not all people have the same standards. But 8 out of 10 good reviews should be enough.