Monday, 14 December 2020

Are you giving away one of your greatest business assets?

More and more attention has, quite rightly, been focused on the security - and value - of personal data online. One area of this that has mostly, until now, flown under the radar is reviews.

Let us explain: when a consumer posts a review on a review site, or a site that simply hosts reviews alongside its main business (Amazon is a good example of this) - Trustpilot, Yelp, Facebook, Feefo or any other - they do far more than simply review the business or product they have bought. They also give the review site the following (as a bare minimum)...

  • their email address
  • the fact that they have bought a specific product or service
  • the fact that they are a customer of a specific business
...and, crucially, in almost every instance, permissions to deal with that information as the site in question wishes, with few limitations. 

And that information - call it data if you like - has a value.

The question every business should now be asking itself is 'Are we simply giving an external business our own customers' data? And, if so, are we getting sufficient value for doing so?'

There is no doubting that consumer reviews, of themselves, are a valuable commodity and we would humbly suggest that they are a commodity so valuable that a business should think long and hard before 'giving' their customers' reviews to any external website, along with the valuable personal data that will invariably entail.

Our advice

In almost every instance we advise our clients to retain control of their own customers' reviews; hosting them on their own site and not therefore giving them or their attendant data to any other entity.

With one exception: Google. For the following reasons:
  • Google reviews have influence that is more far reaching, by far, than any independent review site
  • Google reviews are seen by every person searching for any business
  • Google will almost certainly already have been given your customers' personal details by your customer (they will have used other Google products and, these days, almost certainly have written one or more Google reviews)
  • Google is by far the most popular search engine (87% of the UK search market as of October 2020), and anyone using it knows that Google is tracking their every keystroke already
In addition, Google credits businesses that host their own reviews on their own websites for SEO purposes - for more on this important benefit, read this article.

So: host your own reviews on your own website and get as many as possible to Google. 

Further reading...
  • Some people reading this will be understandably nervous about inviting reviews to Google; for reassurance read about moderation and why it is such a key ingredient of professional review management

Just one review can stop the phones ringing

We call them, as regular readers will know, 'killer reviews'. So what exactly is a killer review?

Let's begin with what they are not...

  • They're not the common one-liner one-star review. Needless to say, no business wants this kind of review (it impacts their Google score just as much as a well-reasoned one-star review), but it is the least damaging negative review of all. If the business has plenty of great reviews most right-minded people will ignore this kind of review.

  • They're not the rants. We define a rant as a badly written diatribe - or it could simply be a well-written diatribe; the point is that the contents of the review will be seen by most reasonable people for what it is: an over-reaction. The review above contains not a shred of evidence to back up any of its contentions; again, most readers will give the business the benefit of the doubt providing it has plenty of positive reviews.

  • They're not the 'unreasonable criticism': the vegan criticising a seafood restaurant for serving fish, the recipient of a misdirected email haranguing the business for daring to have the wrong email address. While it is understandably irritating, and even unprofessional if there were no extenuating circumstances, to have been kept waiting, it's probably best resolved outside of a Google review. The English - 'cause of' doesn't add weight either. Plenty of positive reviews will drown this kind of review out.

Here's how we define a killer review. It is...
  • written in good English
  • written by someone that has already given the business a chance - to correct whatever issue it contains - often more than once
It contains...
  • multiple examples of inefficiencies, lapses in communication, and other missteps

Here is an example...

Need we say more about the content of this review? But on the impact? 
  • The business will be automatically excluded from local or generic searches where the searcher has the Google review filter enabled - as a result of their poor score
  • Five people have already voted the review 'helpful' - the thumbs up at the bottom left. That has to be five potential customers at the very least. We estimate that for every reader that bothers to vote this way, up to a hundred others will have read the review.

What should this - and any other business finding itself in receipt of such a review - do?

The very first thing? Respond to the review. Not a 'please email complaints@' but a thorough and considered response addressing every point raised in the review. When drafting such a response be sure to remember that the reviewer has the right to reply and, most important of all, your response will be widely read by future prospective customers when they search for your business.

The next? Implement a review management strategy. The review shown above is the only review this business has, so it completely dominated the impression created by this one review. The review's one-star rating has also become the business's Google score by default: 1.0. Just one five-star review will lift that score to 3.0, another three and it will be 4.2, and so on.

Further reading...

Monday, 23 November 2020

Why has HelpHound retained so many clients through 2020?

Last month an ex-client returned to the HelpHound fold. Here we discuss what they lost by resigning and what they regained by rejoining - and some of those reasons may surprise you more than others. 

First, the part of the iceberg that is visible above the surface: their appearance in search. This is what a HelpHound client should look like:

The stars and scores - x 3 - on the left are drawn by Google directly from the business's own reviews hosted on its own website; over 75% of the business's Google reviews have come as a result of following up HelpHound's automatic invitation after the customer has posted a review to the business's website. The 'Reviews from the web' in the centre of the business's Google knowledge panel - along with the number of reviews hosted there and the overall score - are drawn directly from the business's own reviews.

And in local search, the most important search of all:

The stars - and score - that make the business's listing jump out from the screen are drawn straight from the business's own reviews - not their Google reviews. The business's rank in local search - first of at least twenty-six local agents stretching as far as three pages in Google search - is not all down to HelpHound (they do have an award-winning website), but see 'SEO' below.

Now: this is what a similar business without the benefit of HelpHound membership looks like (you can see it in the local search above):

As you can see, without HelpHound they lost:

  • Stars in search
  • Scores in search
  • Stars in local search
  • Scores in local search
  • Their own reviews hosted on their own website - see SEO below
And - perhaps most important of all:
  • moderation - the ability to challenge reviews that contain errors of fact or misleading statement pre-publication. If you are unfamiliar with this we strongly suggest reading this article

But that, as we said above, was just the tip of the iceberg. What else did they lose - and regain when they rejoined?


As far as the Google algorithm is concerned, fifteen percent of a business's score for SEO comes from hosting their own reviews. That 15 percent may sound insignificant until one realises it is just about the only factor in a business's SEO that they have control over! It is interesting to check out any HelpHound client: look for their position in local search - you'll see the impact then.

Here is Google's own advice on improving a business's ranking in search. As you can see, there are five points - from 'Enter complete data' to 'Add photos' - and we're betting that, by now, you and all your competitors have got those two plus your location(s) and working hours buttoned down. So what is left to set you apart from your competitors? That's right:

'Manage and respond to reviews.' 

So why do so many businesses...
  • not bother to respond to reviews - at all
  • only bother to respond to negative reviews
  • not host their own reviews on their own websites
  • even when they do - not bother to respond to them
It's hardly rocket science, nor is it time-consuming. And hosting your own reviews? Less than £100 a month per location. And how much are you paying your SEO agency? 


In the UK it is illegal to:
  • selectively invite customers to post reviews - it's called 'cherry-picking' by the regulators
  • control the timing of your business's reviews - your customers should be able to write a review at a time of their own choosing
This means a business has two options: invite and allow all clients - all clients - to post their reviews direct to Google or use a system such as HelpHound, with the attendant moderation described above (alongside the SEO and marketing benefits of hosting its own reviews).


We still hear some non-compliant businesses say 'But what is the likelihood of my business being prosecuted by the CMA [for cherry-pickiing]?'

Our answer? 'We cannot say, but what we can say, for sure, is that your competitors will know what you are up to and they won't hesitate to let your potential customers know when they meet them.

The fundamental question here being 'what price your business's reputation?' With HelpHound all our clients are 100% compliant from day one - and no expensive legal fees.

In summary

We have always contended that we more than earn our fees. Our customer retention rate of well over 95% in what has been a very difficult year - possibly the most difficult year - has been gratifying.

To see a customer return like this is the icing on the cake.

Friday, 13 November 2020

How NOT to respond to a review

Whilst applauding businesses that quite rightly think it is best practice to respond to reviews, it is still, sadly, easy to find the kind of response to a Google review that will result in the opposite effect intended. 

Let us analyse a real-life example:

What, exactly, is wrong with this response, and how could it have been worded better?


  1. Overall impression: this response is what is known in the trade as 'formulaic'. 
  2. It doesn't address any of the points raised
  3. It requires the customer to take action: "Could you please reach out..."
All of these are key CRM failures and convey the impression that the business simply doesn't care.

Worded better:

The rules are quite simple:
  1. Do not address reviewers by their first name unless it is the only name they have used (e.g. 'Steve H'). In this case 'Dear Mr Hollis' looks so much more professional, besides being straightforwardly polite.
  2. The accusations of being 'unprofessional and unethical' should be addressed head on: 'We pride ourselves on being both professional and ethical'.
  3. The point about the accepted offer being subsequently rejected should also be addressed as succinctly as possible, without compromising client or potential purchaser confidentiality.
  4. The reason behind the follow-up call should also be explained.
  5. A 'complaints@' email address should never be used. Apart from anything else it gives the impression that the business receives sufficient complaints to justify their own email address/department!
  6. The response should be signed off properly: 'Kyle [surname]; [position].' 
It is also a cardinal rule to bear in mind that the response be written with subsequent potential customers in mind just as much as the actual reviewer. This review is what we christened a 'killer review' some years ago, that is: a review that has the potential to stop the phones ringing - or, at the very least, put off a significant number of potential customers from making any further contact with the business.

And here's an example of those rules in action:

First the critical review:

Followed by a prompt and properly drafted response:

One final - but nonetheless important - point: underneath every review you will see how many people have voted that review 'helpful'. In two years the review above has received only one helpful vote out of the many thousands of views it will have had. 

If you have any doubts at all - about procedure or wording - please contact us.

Further reading...

  1. Responding to Reviews - so much reward for so little effort
  2. Killer reviews - an explanation

Friday, 6 November 2020

Reviews: quality trumps quantity - every time

If you are buying a shirt perhaps the fact that the particular shirt you are looking at has thousands of five-star ratings will give you some comfort, but, by-and-large, if the shirt looks great you are going to buy it.

But where high-value services are concerned? The fundamentals here are altogether different: any business hoping to thrive in this sector, be they legal, financial or medical professionals, estate agents or any other service business that is asking people to part with significant amounts of their hard-earned cash their reviews score - their Google review score - needs to be at 4.5 or above before their reviews even begin to stand a chance of being read. Then the quality of those reviews needs to be high...

  • the written English needs to be as near flawless as possible
  • the content of the review needs to address the issues that most concern a prospective customer

And let's take those two points in more detail:

Written English

You cannot dictate what your customer writes, nor how it is written, but you can influence both in converation with your customer before they write their review by tactfully explaining just how important their review is for your business.


In the same way: customers will often ask you "Are there any aspects of your service that you would like me to highlight in my review?" 

Both the above serve to stress just how important personal contact is if you are to succeed in getting great reviews. It's an extension of your personal service to your customer and should be presented as such to them: "We rely very heavily on our reviews to communicate that value we add to future customers". 

And we cannot stress the word personal - in italics above - strongly enough: there is a completely understandable tendency for some businesses to attempt to absorb review management into the central marketing or admin function but this does not work. Writing a review is seen, by almost every review-writer, as a personal favour to the individual who has provided the service: their lawyer, their financial adviser, their estate agent. We see this time-and-again in the individual reviews: 'Thank you to Laura' not 'Thank you to ABC Plc'. The invitation must be sent by the individual, not the business, and followed up by the individual (for more on this see 'Procedure' below).


There are three main review-gathering mechanisms in common usage these days:

  1. In-app
  2. Text/SMS
  3. Email
And all three have their roles to play. But for complex service businesses, where quality is the aim, Email - plus follow-up phone call - is the only way. Why? Simply because extensive research over many years has shown that the first two methods, whilst capable of eliciting reviews in volume, have a marked tendency to encourage very brief reviews.


The kind of review that SMS elicits:

The kind of review written by a customer that has been approached by email with a follow-up call:

Our benchmark...

See that '...More'? It's indicative of a longer and more detailed review. We aim for at least forty percent of our clients' reviews falling into this category, simply because this kind of review has so much more impact and influence than the 'one-liner'; it's the kind of review that prompts the potential customer to make contact, and that's the ultimate goal of all review management.

It is also interesting to note that in the last example 'Aoife S-G' is a first-time Google reviewer. These are gold-dust, and are very rarely achieved by anything less than the most professional and focussed invitation, both verbal and by email.

The procedure we recommend

The first thing we say to new client businesses is: embed review management into the day-to-day culture of your business. It's not something to do when the office is quiet - although many businesses could benefit from a concerted push during the current 'lockdown lull'! - or at the end of the month; every single customer should be seen as a potential source of a review and the fact that you will be inviting them to post a review should be mentioned and reinforced at every opportunity. 

  • The first mention of the fact that you will be asking them for a review should be introduced during your initial pitch 'I'm sure you will have read some of our reviews, I will be asking you to post one if you appoint us'. This not only warns them that they will be expected to post a review it also reassures them that your reviews are a genuine reflection of your business and not cherry-picked, as so  many people assume
  • Reinforce that mention every time the customer pays you or your business a compliment during the process: 'Thank you, it would be great if you could mention that when the time comes to write your review.'
  • Every other touch point pays dividends: before you send the email inviting the review and definitely as soon as it lands in your customer's inbox. The latter takes response rates from low single digits to as high as fifty percent.
  • Customers will often ask for prompts: "What would you like me to focus on in my review?" Don't be shy!
  • Always follow up if the customer has not posted their review within seven days. 

No single client of ours has ever had anything but a positive reaction to any of these steps; after all, why should they? They have provided the service the customer appointed them for and writing the review costs the customer nothing.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Respond to reviews - there's so much to gain for so little effort

Is yours one of the 92% of businesses that do not currently respond to online reviews? Read on...

In few areas of review management are so many benefits achieved for so little effort. And some of those benefits are not immediately obvious. Here we show you just what we mean, but first, let's look at how your potential customers consume reviews in the first place.

Consumers read reviews - a lot!

And the more serious the nature of the transaction or purchase, the more certain they are to read those reviews. That means that reviews of professional services: legal, financial, medical, and big-ticket: the likes of estate agency, for instance, where the consumer knows the wrong choice may cost them thousands, if not tens of thousands are far more likely to be read than reviews of everyday purchases.

Consumers trust reviews

It still comes as a surprise to some, but every survey ever conducted reinforces the contention that a good Google score - 4.5 upwards - and great quality reviews - not just the 'Great business' soundbite ones - drive business because they are trusted by a significant proportion of consumers.

Consumers read GOOGLE reviews

Google serves its own reviews in every search. We would go so far as to say that if Google reviews had existed when the likes of Yelp and Trustpilot began they would have given up and found something else to do.

Google reviews are also a major ingredient in local search SEO: your Google reviews count towards your search ranking. Google reviews should be the first priority in every business's review management strategy.

Checking the 'worst' first

This little tab is clicked by everyone who reads reviews on Google

It's basic human nature. You know you do it, and so does everyone looking at your business. So let's look at two real-world examples - both taken from Google - one for a client business one from one that's not. The non-client first:

Then our client:

And not just the negative reviews (another HelpHound client): 

And now: the lessons...
  1. The simple act of responding to the review will impress anyone reading it; people naturally gravitate towards businesses that communicate
  2. The responses have been written with the certain knowledge that many more people than just the writer of the review will be reading it firmly in mind
  3. The Google review box is a fixed height - as shown in these screenshots - in the first example three - nearly four - one-star reviews show. In the second, only one, thanks in part to the space taken up by the business's response
  4. The simple act of responding to the review sends out a very powerful message to subsequent reviewers: that their review will be responded to. This keeps future reviewers genuine and will give those tempted to 'have a rant' serious pause for thought
  5. By being a HelpHound member the business has the moral high ground; not only can it say [words to the effect that] 'Why didn't you contact us before posting this review?' but also 'You were invited to write a review directly to us but declined our invitation.'
All of the above add up to a message that will seriously impress a prospective customer. Think of it from their point-of-view, do they want to use a business that ignores reviews, or one that:
  • invites reviews - from all their customers?
  • publishes them on their own website and gets them to Google?
  • engages with their reviewers if they raise any issues?
  • responds to those reviews?
By now we expect we are all on the same page. Responding to reviews should not be seen as a chore any more than responding to a client email - it should be part-and-parcel of any modern business's standard operating practices.

Note: If you would like a copy of our memo 'How to respond to a Google review' which deals with the mechanics, please just call us.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

How seriously do some businesses take their reputations? And what solutions do they employ?

This article was prompted by this photo taken through a business's shop window by one of our staffers on their way home from work one night last week...

It raised a whole load of questions, as you can probably imagine, but the one we are mostly interested in here is the one in the headline. 

So what does this business look like online?

First Google...


And against their competitors?

Then the first review site they are paying to belong to...

Then the next...

So, the above begs the question: why not concentrate on the obvious solution? The most effective and the least expensive as well? Certsainly the one most seen by their prospective customers. Not only that but the one that will see them safely through the medium and long term?

Let's just run through the number of solutions that have been available for businesses over the last ten years;

    • Yelp: the big daddy of all review sites, launched in the UK to huge fanfare - and had their London HQ opened by the Duke of York! - gone from these shores in 2016.
    • RaterAgent:  a niche website adopted by many estate agents - did a reasonable job until its demise in 2018. 
    • AllAgents: another estate agent-specific review site with an intriguing business model. Try contacting their office if you consider your business has been the victim of an unfair review.
    • Feefo: A review site specialising in online retail. Great where shirts and socks - online retail - are concerned. Moved into the service/professional business market in mid-decade, possibly because it was faced with the enormous financial clout of Trustpilot in its existing marketplace. But sites that allow the business to dictate who is allowed to post reviews are illegal in the UK. It's the same regarding timing.

    • Trustpilot: why would a business display - and pay for - Trustpilot's green stars when they can display Google's gold ones for free? 
    • And the aggregators, such as Again - great for products, but far too high risk for professional service businesses where a single misconceived review can stop the phone ringing

So, to answer the question posed: at HelpHound we focus our clients' efforts on Google. Why?

  • Because it has more visibility than any other solution - every single consumer sees a business's Google reviews, every time they search
  • Because it has more credibility than any other solution - everyone knows Google
  • Because it will dominate for the foreseeable future
  • Because its reviews are trusted by consumers more than any other solution
  • Because it's free!

And we at HelpHound add three vital ingredients to this winning mix:
  • Reviews on the business's own site: not reviews from a third-party reviews site who will take them away the minute the business stops paying - the business's own reviews
  • Moderation: nice to have for businesses selling products (who wants to publish - or read - misinformation?) but critical for service businesses where a single misinformed or factually inaccurate review can do really significant harm to business flows
  • Advice: ongoing, unbiased professional advice. A solution is right for a client of ours? We'll recommend it. Google change their review algorithm? The law changes? Our clients will be amongst the first to know. If you have any doubt about the latter contention feel free to interrogate this blog!

And for those whose web designers are up to scratch: stars in competitive search as well:

No prizes for guessing which of these is our client.

Further reading...