Monday, 15 January 2018

Google introduce product reviews - free

Just as businesses are waking up to the fact that Google reviews are what they need, Google go and introduce their own product reviews - for free. In online retail and paying for an independent reviews system? Then you need to read on...

The full Google article is here.

And it looks like this...

And this...

And this...

And that's all there is to it. 

It's early days for Google product reviews in the UK - but you can be sure you will be seeing more of them by the day.

Implications for businesses

Great news for online retailers - not only is the service free, but it is guaranteed to be more visible than the independent reviews sites. Here is Snugg on two of those (note we have had to include the word 'reviews' in search to bring them to the top)... you can see why Snugg have opted to adopt Google Customer Reviews.

Implications for HelpHound and our clients

All good - our core marketplace is service businesses, not products; especially high-value service businesses - financial services, legal, estate agency, medical and so on - where the transaction is often so much more complex - think house purchase/sale - and where our Resolution™ service is valued by all stakeholders in the transaction. An inaccurate or potentially misleading product review is seldom that damaging for either party, but a single error-strewn review of a service business has the potential to do severe damage, with the service business losing countless new customers and the consumer being put off using a service that might just have been the perfect one for their needs.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

2018 - a New Presentation for a New Year

The presentation that follows contains all the key elements of what we will achieve for your business. There is more - from designing the right implementation for you and your website to staff and management training, both initial and ongoing, but we will cover all of this when we meet. We hope that what follows will impress you enough to do just that - contact us and arrange that initial meeting.

Now read on...

The reviews solution you choose for your business must, above all else, be compliant with the Competition and Markets Authority's regulations (and you would be surprised just how many are not). For more read this.

If the solution you choose does not result in your business looking great in search - on Google - then all the benefits of great review management: a great Google score, looking great against the competition - and all with maximum credibility, will be lost.

There is one other crucially important reason for hosting reviews on your own site first, and only then getting as many as possible of them across to Google, and that is Resolution™ - HelpHound's moderation mechanism, which minimises the chances of factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews being published, on your own site, on Google or anywhere else.

At HelpHound we are acutely aware that credibility is all; if consumers are to be able to trust your reviews they must know that your reviews are a) genuine and b) unfiltered. Our Resolution™ process allows businesses to interact with the reviewer if we, or the business, suspect that the review contains potentially misleading or factually inaccurate statements, but the reviewer always retains the right to have their review published (as the business always retains the right to respond to that review).

Independent review sites dominated the market until Google entered the reviews arena. Now Google is, as in so many other spheres, supremely dominant - just pick up your mobile  phone - over 70% of searches happen there nowadays - and see whose reviews are shown for any given search. Google's - every time. And one of the unintended consequences of using an independent site if your are a business? Leaving the door open for your less-than-happy customers to write their review to Google.

At the end of the day there is little point in going to all this effort if it does not result in a measurably positive impact in pure business terms. Until September of 2017 both HelpHound and our client businesses were reliant on anecdotal feedback from staff and customers to prove that HelpHound was achieving this - and there was plenty of that - but now Google reports to your business on a monthly basis, with hard figures for both visits to your website and calls you will have concrete proof within months of joining.

So: We hope that is enough to whet your appetite, and for you to invite HelpHound to show you more of how we can have a positive impact on your business in 2018. Just speak to Fiona Christie or Karen Hutchings and they will be happy to answer any questions you have and to arrange for a full presentation for your business.

Further reading:

Monday, 8 January 2018

Reviews and the Law - an important update

One of our most important roles as review managers is to make sure our clients comply with the law as it relates to reviews - in letter and in spirit.

The law?

Most businesses, when we first meet them, are unaware that reviews are governed by legislation. But, just as with almost every aspect of business life these days, they are. On 1 April 2014 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) took over many of the functions of the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading.

This is an extract of a letter from the CMA to businesses - the full letter, and our notes on it, is available here

Under CMA rules - which are enforceable in law -  it is illegal for a business (or their agents) to:
  • post fake reviews of their own business
  • post fake reviews of another business
  • not publish negative reviews
  • offer inducement - money or gifts - in exchange for reviews
In addition, it is illegal to do anything to intentionally mislead the public (consumers). This may include:
  • describing testimonials (selectively invited customer opinions) as reviews
  • selectively inviting customers to write reviews (what regular readers of this blog know we describe as 'cherry-picking')

Common practices that flout the letter or the spirit of the CMA rules

We see examples like the ones below nearly every day. They are mostly innocent, resulting from ignorance of the rules. Just as important, they do the business no favours in the eyes of the sophisticated consumer (or competitor).

This is a screenshot from an estate agent's website. We cannot be absolutely sure that they are contravening the CMA code, but the fact that the 'reviews' themselves are not independently verified and that all twenty-one of the reviews displayed were written on the same day over six months ago might lead to understandable suspicion
  • inviting testimonials from customers and displaying them as reviews
  • selecting 'happy' customers to write reviews, and, by definition, positively excluding 'unhappy' ones - whether to the business's own website or to an external site

HelpHound's standpoint

Our systems are expressly designed to comply with the CMA rules, in word and spirit. This is why Resolution incorporates the 'promise to publish' and why our clients incorporate a 'Write a Review' button into their websites, offering anyone the opportunity to write a review, whenever they choose to do so (and as often as they wish)

It is also why the invitation to copy the review to Google (or the nominated external site) is automatic - not at HelpHound's or our client business's discretion.

Your questions answered

Can you expand on HelpHound's 'promise to publish'?

Anyone - and we mean absolutely anyone - has the ability to write a review to a HelpHound client's website. They don't have to wait to be invited - and they will always be invited to publish their review. 

While this may seem a little nerve-wracking for the business - potentially opening it up to unfair criticism (and even 'fake' reviews) please read on - there are very good reasons why our clients have succeeded with reviews. Perhaps most important of all, it means the business does not make the common mistake of inadvertently driving its unhappy customers to write potentially inaccurate or misleading reviews elsewhere - commonly on Google.

How does that work in the context of Resolution™?

Here's a detailed overview of Resolution. Resolution is designed to fulfill two purposes:
  • to make sure our clients' reviews portray as accurate a picture of their business as possible, for the benefit of future customers
  • to show to potential customers of the business in question that they will be able to write a review - and have that review published - at any time during (or after) their relationship with that business
So a customer can write an intentionally misleading review of our business and have that review published?

In theory - yes. It's the price paid for complete transparency (and the credibility that flows from that transparency). In practice it very seldom happens - and if it does happen the business always has the right-of-reply. 

Resolution is designed to minimise the chances of an inaccurate or misleading review being published by allowing the business and the reviewer to engage pre-publication. But the reviewer will always be invited to post their review. In the many years of experience we have of operating Resolution (and the many thousands of reviews that we process on behalf of reviews and our client businesses) we can count the instances of a reviewer persisting in publishing a review containing an error of fact on the fingers of one hand. Inaccurate or misleading reviews benefit no-one - and that's the reason for having Resolution in the first place.

Are there any more safeguards?

We will do our best to establish that the reviewer has (or has had) a relationship with the business. If we can establish that the reviewer has purely malicious intent we will revert to the reviewer and ask them for more particulars of their relationship with the business. No-one - not HelpHound, nor our clients, nor - most important of all - the consumer benefits from the kind of reviews that have got sites like Yelp a name for publishing false and malicious reviews. 

In summary

This as much about compliance with the law as about being - and being seen to be - open and honest. Our advice can be summed up with two 'Don'ts' and two 'Do's':
  • Don't confuse testimonials with reviews - a business cannot, by definition, publish its own reviews without verification by an outside agency
  • Don't select - 'cherry-pick' - those customers who you invite to write reviews
  • Do allow all your customers to write a review
  • Do allow them to write that review at any time they wish
This client got to look like this on Google...  

 ...and this on their own website... doing everything we describe above - in compliance with the regulations.

If you follow these simple guidelines you will find that your business is rewarded by those consumers who appreciate openness and honesty.

If you have any more questions - about what we do here at HelpHound or what you are currently doing with regard to reviews - please do not hesitate to speak to us.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Hotels - now you need HelpHound more than ever

By importing reviews from external sites, Google increases the chance that your hotel will be subject to inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews

You will almost certainly have seen the change Google have made recently - they are now importing external reviews into your Google listing.

What they are not doing, for better or worse, is importing (or aggregating) the scores from those reviews. So it's content only, for the time being.


Nominally in the name of 'enhanced content', but also in order to defend itself against accusations of unfairly abusing its virtual monopoly position (you only have to look at the share prices of the OTAs to see the negative impact Google reviews have made).

For consumers

All positive: a one-stop destination for reviews: Google

For hotels

Consumers - increasingly searching for 'best' on Google, will find reviews of your hotel more easily. But if your hotel attracts anything but glowing reviews, then those, no matter where they were posted originally, will be shown by Google.

For the reviews sites

Not good: why should hotels make all that effort to get reviews to TripAdvisor when their guests are increasingly using Google - and Google reviews - as their reference point?

From the HelpHound perspective

We have been strong advocates of Google reviews for some considerable time now - and this move just goes to reinforce that view - the reviews forums are full of posts like these...

...with reviewers moving across from other reviews sites to Google. The key is now to find the most effective way to ensure an accurate reflection of your property in reviews, no matter what the platform - and this is where HelpHound comes in.

The bald numbers - that HelpHound members will generally expect to receive around 25% more positive reviews and 75% less negative reviews - hide an important mechanism. HelpHound does not exist to prevent consumers posting negative reviews, its role is to ensure that reviews are, as far as practically possible, accurate

HelpHound's Resolution™ - more here - is designed to enable both consumer and business to correct errors of fact and potentially misleading reviews before they are published. Anyone who writes a review through HelpHound has the right to have that review published.
To summarise...

Helphound membership will ensure that your hotel looks as good as it should on whatever platform - from Google to TripAdvisor to and all the other OTAs and reviews sites. It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Successful marketers devote more of their budgets to strategic experimentation

One of our most important resources is 'Think with Google' - required weekly reading for professional internet marketers.

In this this week's article the following caught our eye...

...because so many businesses are yet to 'test' review management.

Testing review management

Here are the considerations most businesses have when looking to test any new marketing tool...
  1. Results: should be measurable
  2. Cost: should be defined 
  3. Disruption: should be kept to a minimum
Let's examine each of these in detail - and in relation to testing HelpHound


These split into two categories: financial and visible

Up until this year financial results were only measurable anecdotally; that was fine, but it did rely on businesses having effective staff feedback mechanisms in place. This all changed when Google introduced their Google My Business monthly report - showing the impact of adopting review management in hard numbers: the rise in website visits and calls to the business.

  We would expect clients to be seeing results like these within months of joining

'Visible' results consist of 'before and after' like this ('before'):

To this (now)...

...and this...


Until recently adopting professional review management involved businesses in two types of expenditure:
  • HelpHound: our initial design and implementation fee and our ongoing monthly fee
  • The business's own website: implementation by the business's web designers
Now we have eliminated the second of these for the 'test' phase. For new clients we are able to host our review gathering software on our own servers, eliminating the second of these cost points until the process has been embedded and thoroughly tested and proven by our client business.


Similarly, any disruption in terms of both design and implementation onto the business's own website is deferred until the business is certain of the long-term benefits. 

In summary

Now you can see how easy it is to apply Google's exhortation to 'strategic experimentation' to your own marketing - welcome to HelpHound and professional review management for your business in 2018.

How about this for Christmas cheer?

For those that have yet to join - look like this by Easter... local search... 

in the Google maps 3-pack and leading the way in natural search organic search...

 Stars, rating and reviews - drawing the searcher's attention to your listing, increasing clicks through to your website your Google knowledge panel (showing in every search)... 'Reviews from the web' with a link direct to your website... the rich snippets Google shows in every search... the Google reviews themselves...

 ...on the home page of your own website...

...and a click away...

...start driving business through Google...

  Every business wants as much proof positive that their marketing is working as it can; with HelpHound you will get it - direct from Google 

...and your own website to reward yourselves with a great boost in 2018.

P.S. Now, for those yet to come board, there will only be one lingering doubt: that you may be at risk of inviting - and therefore displaying - inaccurate or misleading reviews. Fear not, read all about how HelpHound's Resolution™ process takes the 'fear' out of inviting reviews here.

For HelpHound members...

Spread the cheer - and benefit at the same time. Become a HelpHound Ambassador.

HelpHound Ambassadors

HelpHound Ambassadors introduce us to their business contacts - it's as simple as that...

 ...then they leave the rest to us.

Our Ambassadors are influential individuals or client companies, often both (some of you reading this will have been introduced by one). Both are rewarded in the same way - they earn a percentage of the first year's fees received by HelpHound. It does not cost the 'introduced' business a penny - and they often go on to become Ambassadors themselves.

What better way to say 'thank you' and 'Merry Christmas' to your business connections this year than introducing them to the benefits of professional review management?

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Online reviews - a 'Five star world of fakery'

So ran the headline in Saturday's Times...

...and we agree.

What? HelpHound agrees? 'Tell me more', we hear you say. Alright, but first, for those of you who don't have a subscription to the Times (link for those who do in the opening line, above) we will precis Janice's article...

She starts with a fairly common-or-garden complaint about the number of invitations to review everything from her Uber driver to sheets from John Lewis and the local McDonalds. She then answers her own unspoken question (why do businesses ask for reviews?) by quoting the Competition and Markets Authority's statistic: that £23 billion of spending is influenced by reviews. She goes further, by saying how useful her husband's research into holiday restaurants is. Then follows the story of Oobah Butler's fake restaurant that made it to number one on TripAdvisor - now we're cooking (forgive the awful pun).

"Amazon and TripAdvisor say they can detect frauds." 


Anyone can set up an account with TripAdvisor - as Oobah Butler did - and write fake reviews, even multiple accounts and multiple fake reviews. We have met businesses who openly admit to commissioning staff or outside agencies to do so (did you know you can even bulk buy 'temporary' email addresses so your fake reviews cannot be tracked?). It is the same with every reviews site on the planet. We have highlighted many examples on these pages over the years. There are sites that are nearly fake-review-proof - but they have other downsides (more on that later - see * below).

If reviews - genuine reviews - were not so massively helpful, to both businesses and consumers, we would give up. But they are, so we won't.

Advice to Consumers

  This Google review of tea at the Ritz is almost certainly genuine: written by a Google Local Guide (identifiable by the star) who has written dozens of reviews of other businesses

Wherever possible, read Google reviews. These days they are almost all attached to a real person. Look for reviewers who have posted multiple reviews, or even better, trust Google Local Guides.

A plea to Google: your reviews would have even more credibility if...
  • you insisted they were all attached to a bona-fide Google Plus identity
  • you deleted all the old reviews listed anonymously under 'A Google user'
  • you suspended the rating function (effectively a review without text) it helps no-one and is frustrating for consumer and business alike

Advice to Businesses

Focus on Google reviews. They are so much more visible than any reviews from an independent site and are massively more trusted by consumers (with good reason - see above; and a recent survey by the property portal Rightmove found that consumers trusted Google reviews up to ten times more than those on independent reviews sites). 

The reward for looking great on Google - more business - is worth the effort. If you are concerned that your customers may harm your business by writing factually incorrect or potentially misleading reviews, and need a mechanism for minimising the chances of that happening, then HelpHound is here for you. 

* and Feefo are two interesting examples: a review can only be written on if the reviewer has booked their hotel room through the site - and that works fine, as long as the actual person making the booking agrees with any other guests (partner/tour party) on the gist of their review, because the other parties will not be able to write a review, at least not on Feefo is a variation on this theme, with one major difference: they rely on the business to provide the email addresses - we reckon this works brilliantly for online retail but has significant flaws for more complex transactions and service-related businesses: how many estate agents resist the temptation to leave that stroppy tenant's email address off the list? In the real world this kind of 'cherry-picking' has the effect of making the business look great on the - nigh invisible - reviews site and considerably less great on Google, where everyone sees the negative reviews posted by those who were never invited to write a review on the independent site (for more see here).