Friday, 14 September 2018

Reviews - two out of three UK businesses are breaking the law

This article is important - every business should familiarise itself with all of its contents. You may well find - and you will be in the company of many others - that your current reviews policy is in breach of the CMA regulations in some way (there is a link to our analysis of these at the bottom of this page). If in any doubt whatsoever, contact us.

First - an Italian goes to jail...

This is Ebay UK. Advertisements such as this appear all the time. Why? The last line of this advertiser's 'puff' says it all...

Last week the director of a business selling fake reviews was jailed for nine months by an Italian court. But the important thing for businesses to realise is that this behaviour (we wonder what the Italian authorities will be doing about the customers who bought the fake reviews) was just the tip of a very large iceberg. 

Your business may well be breaking the law

We estimate that more than two thirds of businesses that we meet or see are breaking the law as it relates to reviews in the UK - mostly unwittingly.

The point is that, as any businessperson knows, ignorance of the law - unwitting breaches of the CMA regulations in this context - is no defence.

So let us look at the two distinct types of breach - first the intentional...

  • writing your own reviews. You might - or might not - be surprised at just how many businesses do this. It commonly occurs when a business that has had no reviews receives a negative review. There is a panic - sometimes because the phone has stopped ringing - and someone says 'quick, get on Google and write a five star review'. We have a file full of such behaviour. How do we know? Because people don't think - they use an account that is easily linked back to them and then matched to a Facebook, Google Plus or Linkedin account. 
  • connected person reviews. Remember the wording on the back of the Cornflakes packet (in relation to competitions)? Goes something like 'no connected person, employee of the company or employees of its suppliers and agents may enter'. We know of at least one business where all the branch managers agreed to get their staff to post a review of the next-door branch. We have seen multiple instances where a quick look at a reviewer's Linkedin account will reveal their connection to the business under review.
  • cherry-picking. We sometimes come across people who genuinely - still in 2018 - do not understand that any behaviour that leads to any bias in the impression created by reviews and a business's reviews strategy is illegal. Hand-picking customers - those who the business knows are more than likely to write a 5 star review - whilst quietly ignoring those that are known by the business to be not quite so happy is just such a breach. How many times do we see a business with twenty or thirty positive reviews on Google - often considerably more - all gained by this kind of non-compliant selection? The answer? - multiple times a day.
  • review farming. This is a refinement of cherry-picking - and illegal. It involves inviting customers to write a review to one location - it might be the business's own website or a reviews site, sometimes it involves using the business's internal feedback mechanism - and then inviting only those that write a complimentary review there to copy it to Google. It leaves a paper trail a mile long for the CMA to follow.
  • the 'app trap'. Seen most commonly with apps (apparently apps live or die by their rating): the consumer is asked to rate the app/product/service and then - here's the 'clever' part - if they rate it five stars the 'review' is published, anything less and the 'reviewer' is diverted to a customer service questionnaire to establish why they didn't rate the business fave stars - and no review ever appears.
  • incentivising. We have seen both cash and Amazon vouchers offered to customers, sometimes for 'a review' and sometimes for 'a 5 star review'. Both are against Google and most reviews sites' terms and conditions. The latter is a breach of the CMA regulations.

...and now the unintentional...
  • using a reviews solution that breaks the law (1). Businesses might reasonably expect that most of the reviews solutions that are being actively marketed in the UK today are legal and above board. Take 'closed' reviews sites - those that allow the business to choose who is invited to write a review, but where a customer cannot write a review direct to the site. Sounds reasonable at first glance, doesn't it? But it's non-compliant with the core CMA regulations - that state that if a business invites any of its customers to write a review it must allow all of them to do so. We meet businesses using such solutions that think they are compliant because they do invite all their customers to write a review. The problem is that they don't see hat they are in contravention of the second fundamental CMA regulation that states that the consumer must be able to write their review at a time of their own choosing - and it's not enough to say that they can hunt out the email from months ago to do so.
  • using a reviews solution that breaks the law (2). There are reviews sites that incorporate mechanisms that place the onus on the reviewer to prove that they have a) used the business in question and that b) their review is true. Surprising as it may at first seem, these also contravene the CMA regulations - not because the CMA wants to see reviews published by people who have not used the product or service under review, but because they realise that such mechanisms have the potential to be manipulated by businesses to deflect or delay uncomplimentary reviews.
  • Reacting to negative reviews (or 'blitzing'). Commonly done by businesses that have had little or no prior engagement with reviews. The business in question gets one or more negative reviews and its reaction - quite understandably - is to do 'whatever it takes' to 'rectify the situation'. This will often involve a mixture of 'intentional' breaches - often justified by saying 'it was so unfair, the impression the negative review(s) created, we just had to do something, and quickly'. The business in question is invariably shocked when told that this behaviour is illegal.

Strategies - in addition to those above - that some businesses think are compliant include...
  • including an invitation to post a review in their email signature block
  • combining a review invitation with their CRM software to 'ensure all customers are invited to write a review'
  • mentioning/showing reviews from a reviews site on their websites, but with no live feed
  • showing selected reviews - from Google or a reviews site - on their websites


HelpHound will provide you with half-an-hour's advice free of charge (you can visit us or we will speak to you - phone or Skype). During that half hour we will look at your current review management policy and comment on...
  • its effectiveness - in driving business and/or enquiries
  • its compliance with the CMA regulations
  • potential improvements
...after which you can decide whether you would like to understand more about what HelpHound does for its clients. 

Further reading...

Monday, 10 September 2018

Who is right - Google or Trustpilot?

In yesterday's Sunday Times there was an article about a business called Payday Refunds. Now, we make no comment on this business, but it does serve to highlight the minefield that is the current state of the reviews marketplace.

And we use the word 'marketplace' advisedly, because, aside from Google, reviews services - including our own - are commercial businesses (yes, we know Google is a business, but in this context they provide their reviews vehicle FOC).

So lets look at Payday Refunds on Google...

...and now on Trustpilot (where they are paying - you can tell by the word 'Collecting' next to their - 'Great' - star rating)...

...and where they are using Trustpilot's 'quarantine' system...

Note: review written on 29 August, remains in 'quarantine' as of today's date (10 September).

What we will say is that there are unusual similarities - and a marked anomaly - in the business's five star reviews (all of which we show here)....

...did you spot them?

  • very similar in tone and content (of itself, no proof of anything untoward)
  • People called Leslie, Paul and Jackie have each written two reviews, ditto above
  • with the exception of one written on 29 August, all written on two days last month - and none since

That last point is odd. It may be due to a failure in the business's review gathering systems or some other cause (staff holidays?). We will continue to monitor and report if we see anything of interest.

The important issue

For online reviews to be of any help for consumers at all, they must be reliable, not 'slightly reliable' or 'nearly reliable', just plain and simple reliable. And they must not be able to be manipulated by businesses. At HelpHound we have well-documented issues with Trustpilot's quarantine process - expressly because we think it has the potential to be manipulated by businesses (see here - and for those who want much more detail there's the whole Purplebricks saga with reviews here).

Simply put, we question any business that uses any reviews mechanism other than Google. Why not use Google? It's free, it has credibility in spades, and - way beyond and other mechanism - it has visibility.

This last question - why would any business use any reviews mechanism but Google? - deserves an answer, and it's very straightforward: they are afraid. Afraid that they will fall victim to unfair, misleading and/or inaccurate reviews. And they are right. That is one of the main reasons HelpHound exists - to provide pre-publication moderation. Without this most businesses find themselves in contravention of the CMA regulations by selectively inviting customers to write reviews to Google, for fear that if they comply - and invite all their customers to write a review - they will be unfairly represented.

At HelpHound, we hope that the CMA will take action soon (they have the teeth, it's simply a question of when and how they choose to use them) to ensure that business are not manipulating their chosen review mechanism. Meanwhile we will continue to spread the word: that there is a way. A way for businesses to engage with reviews, on their own websites and on Google, safely and compliantly.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Estate agents - if you're paying Rightmove the best part of £1000 a month to list your properties....

...then surely it's worth investing just another hundred* to impress your potential fee-payers?

Let us explain. Your potential fee earners,vendors and landlords, all look at your website and almost all** search for you on Google. 

So why wouldn't you want to look like this...

...and this...

...and this...

...on your website?

And this...

...and this...

...and this...

...and this...

...and this...

on Google?

And there's more...

  • you will be compliant with CMA regulations (that state that if you invite anyone at all to write a review you must allow all of your customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing).
  • you will benefit from HelpHound's moderation - that will ensure, as far as is compliantly possible, that no inaccurate misleading or - dare we say it, fake - reviews appear anywhere
  • you will have full-time support - to ensure you make the very best of the opportunity that proper professional review management brings

If you are still harbouring any doubts at all, first read this (it's all about how you will be able to tell exactly how many more calls and clicks-throughs you can expect) and then speak to one of our clients (if you don't know one, we will be happy to introduce you).

Oh! and HelpHound are review managers not a reviews site - this article explains the fundamental difference. 

*Less actually - from £95 downwards (discounts for multiple locations)

**potential clients coming from the portals often by-pass Google search

Monday, 3 September 2018

Why would a business use Bark instead of Google?

We received this email today...

...from a company called Bark. It got us thinking - just why would a consumer, or a business for that matter, use such a business?

Their pitch

As far as we can establish, Bark's pitch is as follows...

  • for consumers: tell us what kind of service you require - architect, personal trainer, bookkeeper and so on - and we'll have them contact you to quote
  • for businesses: we'll get you leads
But doesn't this business model ring a bell? Is that bell by any chance called Google?

And isn't there a big difference? There sure is - while customers who contact you via Google cost you nothing (unless they come via PPC) any leads you decide to accept via Bark (and other similar lead generation businesses - Checkatrade, Local Heros and so on) will cost your business money. We have no issue with that - similar business models have existed sine the dawn of time - but we were interested to see that Bark's charging was pretty opaque...

There's more on this here

...and that they use Trustpilot, where many of their customers (both consumers and businesses) are far from happy, scoring Bark a lowly 7.7/10...

Our advice to businesses

Look great on Google - that's where consumers are looking.

Our advice to consumers

Look for a highly-rated business or service on Google - and implement the Google filter before you search - then you will only see the very best businesses (those that score 4.5 or more).

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Come on schools - give parents a helping hand

This article was prompted by an advertisement in Saturday's Times...

You are choosing a school for your child, so you read this advertisement. And you are going to use every other resource available: friends, colleagues, the school websites and reviews.


Do parents really use reviews to help them choose a school? Well the answer, currently, is that they try to. How do we know this? Because Google helpfully tell us. Let's take just one example, heading up the advertisements in the supplement above, UCS Hampstead. First let's see how we know that prospective parents are searching for reviews...

...there we are. The fourth most popular search is 'UCS Hampstead reviews'. Interestingly way ahead of 'A level results' - and we know how seriously schools (and prospective parents) take those. 

And what is the first thing a lot of interested parents will have done after reading the advertisement? That's right - they will have searched online. So what are schools doing to ensure their prospective parents get a great - even fair - impression when they search online? The answer, currently, is 'not a lot'. UCS is in exactly the same boat as almost every other school advertising in the Times yesterday...

...Helpful? No, we thought not too.

So what should UCS Hampstead and other schools be doing? Here's a simple five-point guide...

  1. Invite stakeholders to review them 
  2. Have those reviews moderated by an independent body (HelpHound?) to ensure, as far as possible, that they are genuine
  3. Publish those reviews on the school website
  4. Invite their reviewers to copy their reviews to Google
  5. Respond to all their reviews

Addressing schools' concerns

These break down into three simple headings...

1.  That they will attract malicious reviews, principally from pupils (of the school or other schools), ex-pupils or others.

2.  That stakeholders will resent being asked to write a review

3.  That the process will be difficult to manage

Our answers...

Three months ago a private school agreed to be a 'guinea pig' for HelpHound. They were reassured... 
  • that HelpHound had a wealth of experience in managing reviews for complex high-value businesses
  • that HelpHound provides much more than just software and moderation - we support our clients every step of the way
...and that HelpHound would address the three issues above as follows...

1.  Malicious reviews would be addressed by our moderation system pre-publication.

2.  That, far from resenting the invitation to review, our experience suggested that stakeholders would actively appreciate - welcome even - being asked to voice their opinions.

3.  That the process would be very straightforward and compliment their existing communications with stakeholders.

The results

We are pleased to report that the exercise has been a great success. The reviews - which we have hosted 'off-site' (i.e. not on the school's own website) until now are about to be transferred to the school's own website, and if you read just one you will understand why...

...and the same applies to the School on Google where they has one single-word review - albeit that word was 'Fab!' - and a single rating (a rating is where someone has allocated stars but no words, not very helpful) before joining HelpHound...

So, schools, before you embark on your next round of advertising, adopt HelpHound and harness the power of reviews. Your prospective parents will thank you for it straight away, and their children will thank you for it when they have the kind of experience we see reviewed above.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Yopa raises £20 million - so what?

This article appeared in yesterday's Times...

...and we expect estate agents to have all sorts of opinions as to the impact that funding will have in the marketplace, but here at HelpHound we were drawn to a single comment made by a Times reader...

We won't make any subjective judgements, but we will comment on the numbers quoted - which appear to be pretty accurate. 

Yopa on Trustpilot...

Yopa on Google...

...and Yopa on (which currently comes first in an organic search for 'Yopa reviews'... we make the exact figures (a day later, admittedly) as follows...
  • Trustpilot: scoring 9.2/10 to give a 'dissatisfaction rate' of 8%
  • Google: scoring 4.2/5 to give a 'dissatisfaction rate' of 16%
  • 'recommended' by only 29% of reviewers
Now - why do we mention all this? Because, yet again, it is an example of a high-value service business using a reviews site designed for products. We are fully aware of the mechanisms that some estate agents use to 'manipulate' such reviews systems in their favour, but Yopa, far from indulging in such tactics, would appear to be actively using a system that discriminates against them.


Estate agency is a complex business. It involves many more stakeholders than just the buyer, seller and estate agent (solicitors, banks, other lenders, surveyors, mortgage brokers and so on, usually multiplied by two!) and the potential for misunderstanding - and a resulting misleading review - is vast. You only have to read lines like...

"I am considering involving solicitor in this as I feel tricked!"

"After we accepted an offer...we were then passed to post sales support who are just a bunch of people who have no idea of what they are doing."

"They completely ripped off my elderly mum." realise that there needs to be some way for the business and the customer to communicate before the review is published. Not to prevent the business from receiving negative reviews - but to ensure that future customers are presented with, as far as possible, accurate and informed opinions of the business.

How it works at HelpHound

First - and most important of all - all reviews are moderated. This means that any review that has the potential to mislead, contains factual inaccuracies or is otherwise contentious is first put into what we call Resolution™ - where both parties are invited to 'resolve' whatever issues our moderators have identified, pre-publication. 

In order to maintain compliance with CMA regulations, we ensure that the reviewer always has the option of publicly posting their review during this process, from beginning to end.

The results: are overwhelmingly positive - for the consumer: they end up posting an accurate review, and are thankful for that; for the business: the reality of their service is presented. Every stakeholder in the process is happy.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Sorry TripAdvisor - but we'll never be making 'Level 4' now...

TripAdvisor users - past and present - get emails like this from time to time...

...designed to increase content on the site. The problem TripAdvisor - and all the reviews sites - now have is that the person this email is addressed to, and many tens of millions of others now post all their reviews, of whatever product or service, in one place. And that one place? Google.

What do businesses - and especially the hospitality industry - need to do? They need to recognise that they need to look good - first and foremost - on Google.