Friday, 26 June 2020

ABC of Reviews: Our pitch to you

Until now we have tried - possibly not completely successfully! - to restrain ourselves from promoting our own service. But we are very proud indeed of what we have achieved for our clients, so here's our pitch:

Let us run through it phrase by phrase:

1.  'Quantifiably better off':

You will be able to measure exactly how many more clicks and calls you receive. How? By referring to your monthly Google My Business report in the weeks and months after you join. Here's a screenshot of a typical client's report taken within weeks of joining:

The best ever GMB report a client has ever shown us reported uplifts of 169% and 950% respectively!

What value would your business place on an uplift in enquiries such as this? And if your business already looks great on Google? Read points 3, 6 and 7 with special care.

2.   'More enquiries through Google':

See above. A great score + great reviews = more calls and more clicks. 

And see point 6. It is crucial you look good compared with your competitors without flouting the law (see point 7.)

3.  'More enquiries through your own website':

It is now a universally acknowledged truth that hosting independently verified reviews on your own website drives enquiries (and reinforces all your other marketing). If in any doubt we suggest you speak to a HelpHound client - or, better still, try it for your own business. 

Just ask yourself 'How would our potential customers react to seeing independently verified reviews like those above on our website?'

4.  'CRM enhanced':

Hosting a 'Write a review' button on your website - see point 7. below - has multiple CRM benefits: It allows all your stakeholders - customers, existing customers, past customers - to express their satisfaction with your service, publicly. It also gives those with an issue to resolve a non-confrontational way to contact you - in preference to posting a potentially damaging review direct to Google, for instance.

5.  'Staff morale boosted':

This - on Google:

And this - on the business's own website:

Who doesn't like seeing comments such as this? Besides being enormously reassuring for prospective customers (in this case patients of a Harley Street GP client of ours) comments like this tell staff that their services are valued in a way few other mechanisms can. 

Would you rather have this comment in a private email, or on Google and your own website?

6.  'Great in all types of Google search':

Look at this (local search):

Probably the most commercially important search of all: when a potential customer is most likely to be influenced by the business's reviews, review score and 'stars in search'. The score/'rating' (4.8), reviews/'votes' (204) and five gold stars under Winkworth's organic listing are taken directly from the business's own website and from the reviews hosted there, not from their Google reviews and scores.

And this (specific search):

Again: the 'Rating' (4.8) and the number of reviews (204) are pulled from the business's own reviews hosted on their own website - shown twice in this search, as distinct from their Google reviews (130) at the top of their Google knowledge panel on the right, most of which have been reposted from the reviews written to their website. 

The 'Reviews from the web' at bottom right links directly through to the reviews hosted on the business's own website.

7.  'Compliant with the law':

It is illegal to selectively invite customers to write reviews. So businesses either flout the law and only invite customers who they know will post a 5* review or they shy away from inviting reviews altogether.

Those in the first category are inviting action by the CMA (and will lose business to competitors savvy enough to alert potential customers), those in the second are missing out on a fantastic marketing opportunity. HelpHound's independent moderation is the answer to both.

All a business needs to be instantly compliant is the 'Write a review' button you see above.

Further reading:
  • Results - expanding on point 1.
  • Compliance - all you need to know.
  • ABC of Reviewsindex to all eleven chapters.
  • Moderation - protecting your business from all kinds of inaccurate or misleading reviews.
  • Deflection - the unintended pitfalls of using a review site.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Reviews: a business adopts entirely the wrong solution

Review solutions are sold not bought. And one of the biggest 'sellers' currently in the marketplace is Trustpilot. Here is a how business that was sold their reviews solution looks on the worlds biggest search engine:

The second screenshot shows how a business with NO reviews at all on Google returns when a prospective customer hits the 'Reviews' tab so prominently displayed in the first search box.

And here they are on Trustpilot:

What a shame. When they could be looking this good on the biggest search engine in the world (see screenshot below).

Businesses owe it to themselves to do some homework before investing in any marketing tool. A simple Google search would elicit the following:

And there's much more here.

But the main horror story is the fact that the business has missed one of the greatest opportunities to get the message out there for those searching for reassurance to buy its products: Google. 

Our advice to this business?

Refocus your efforts towards Google. Apart from being the world's shop window it's free! For a fraction of the price of Trustpilot you could easily add some professional review management - which would take an unbiased look at the right review strategy for your business. If you had consulted us you would now be looking like this:

Our advice to Trustpilot?

If you carry on 'selling' your solution irrespective of the target business's needs not only will you garner even more negative reviews on Google and all over the web, you will continue being attacked by consumer programmes like Joe Lycett on Channel 4 last month and ultimately gain a reputation that contradicts your name.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

ABC of Reviews: 10. Responding

Which is more impressive (bear in mind the people the businesses we have used as examples in this chapter are attempting to impress those that are looking to sell their major financial asset - and often earn the business tens of thousands of pounds)?

This 5* review...

Or this 5* review...

There is one fundamentally important issue to understand when responding to reviews online: that you are corresponding with the future readers of that review as much as you are responding to its author (your customer).

Here we will take you through the dos and don'ts of responding to reviews:

  • Respond! To every review as soon as possible - preferably the same day it is written. Turn on 'notifications' in your Google My Business page so you know every time a review is written.
  • Thank the reviewer for their review, but only if it's positive. People - reviewers or potential customers - don't relate to businesses that thank people for criticising them. 
  • If the review contains a negative comment by all means thank the reviewer for bringing whatever issue prompted it - staff failing, systems breakdown, communication failure - to your attention, but don't - as mentioned above - start with a general apology
  • Address all of the issues raised in the review: there are few things less impressive - especially for those considering using your business - than a response that ignores points raised in a review
  • Respond to all reviews - not just critical ones (you would be amazed just how many businesses only reply to negative reviews)
  • Use your response as a vehicle for communicating your business's strengths. If the reviewer has praised the service they received say 'Thank you for highlighting [aspect praised]' and continue with 'we find most of our customers are pleasantly surprised that, unlike many of our competitors, we 
This last point may be the most important of all. A response to a Google review provides your business with free marketing on Google. What other mechanism does that? Use the opportunity to reinforce relevant messages...'We are so pleased you found [aspect of service] to be so helpful'.

Rather than:

How much more impressive is:


  • get into a confrontation - bear in mind that the reviewer can respond to your response and edit their review accordingly. 
  • always check all your facts before posting a response
  • expose personal details - it is surprising just how many people forget this and include sensitive financial and contact information 
  • attempt to deflect to off-line - the 'please contact us on [email address]' response (see the first example, above), except in cases where confidentiality makes it impossible to respond online, in which case explain fully why this is the only route
  • leave your response for more than a week (as you can see above, Google date-stamp both the review and the response)

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Google scores matter

Here is a very simple example:

GP practice 1:

GP practice 2:

A sign in the window of GP practice 2:

Do we need to say more?

For those of an enquiring mind: we know both these GP practices extremely well - members of staff are registered with both - and there is very little in terms of expertise and service levels to separate them. So why the disparity - and the marked disparity at that - in scores?

The simple answer: surgery 1 has taken reviews seriously, both as a feedback mechanism to help its staff improve the service they provide and they recognise that looking good in reviews and having an impressive Google score ensures new patients have every reason to register with them. Surgery 2 has been entirely passive and has allowed dissatisfied patients' opinions to overwhelm the impression given in search.

Friday, 5 June 2020

ABC of Reviews: 9. Targets

Why targets? Because, as with so many other aspects of business management, without targets management and staff can easily 'forget' to keep up the momentum.

We can tall you, with absolute certainty, that our client businesses that set - and achieve - targets succeed in maintaining flows of reviews and the resulting flows in enquiries, clicks and calls.

The first target...

Is your score.

This business has doubled in size since they focussed their efforts on their Google reviews.

This needs to be as close as possible to the 'perfect 5.0' as can be. Ignore anyone who says 'I don't believe businesses that score 5.0', all the evidence both from statistical surveys and anecdotal feedback indicates that '5.0 businesses' succeed in generating volumes of enquiries, clicks and calls - and sales - way ahead of their competitors.

Beware the Google filter

We continue to meet businesses that haven't heard of it. When they do, they understand why they may not be getting the volume of business they would expect through Google - it's very simple: they are being filtered out of search results. Potential customers are not being put off by their negative reviews - they are not seeing the business in search at all!

In the example above the user - the person searching for a business (a local GP in this example) - has set the filter at 4.5. Why would anyone set it any lower is beyond us.

So: businesses with a score below 4.5 need to take urgent action to get that score over 4.5 - and then as close to 5.0 as possible. 

Pure numbers

Over the years a considerable amount of research has been done into how consumers react to reviews, and that includes volumes as well as scores. We advise businesses as follows:

  • Prioritise quality over quantity: when you speak to customers about reviews emphasise just how helpful really detailed reviews are
  • Aim for fifty reviews per location as a first target
  • Then 100
  • Then focus on keeping your reviews 'fresh' - meaning that you should always have a review from the last month showing

 A score such as this, backed up by 166 reviews on the business's own website (many consumers confuse the stars and rating you see above, which is taken from the business's own reviews hosted on their own website, with the business's Google score and rating - see bellow) and feeding through into every Google search, will help drive calls and clicks, especially when it is seen in the context of the business's direct competitors...

And then is reinforced by its Google reviews, again - more than 100 and an impressive score...

There is a natural tendency for businesses to want to achieve critical mass as soon as possible - be that 50 or 100 reviews - but don't rush things: remember that just five reviews a month means sixty after one year. It is much more important to sustain the flow - and there is plenty of evidence to show that savvy consumers shy away from businesses that have a mass of reviews in short order and then few subsequently. Keeping the reviews coming is critical.

In practice - on the ground

Our most successful client businesses have built review management into their day-to-day SOPs. They would no more neglect reviews than they would forget to check their emails. Some set numerical targets: x reviews per month per member of staff, some simply operate what we call our 'rule of 50%'...

The Rule of 50%

It's really very simple: aim to get a review to the business's own website from half your customers - and then to get half of those to copy their review to Google.


We have covered incentivising customers here - and it's a no-no. Even if you manage to comply with the CMA regulations and Google T&Cs, which will be difficult, your competitors will make hay with it ('Oh yes, they pay their customers for reviews.').

But there is nothing in the regulations or Google's T&Cs that says you cannot reward your staff - as long as all your customers are able to write a review whenever they choose

How to reward staff? That's very much up to you, but we generally suggest that businesses think along the lines of 'how valuable are reviews to us?' and work from there.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

ABC of Reviews: 8. Rewards and incentives, a minefield to be negotiated

First, the simple answer: never, ever, offer a reward to a customer for a review. At best your motives may be misconstrued, at worst you will be risking a breach of the law (the CMA regulations) and/or Google's terms of service (which expressly forbid incentivising customers). And this includes offering discounts on future purchases and offering vouchers.

The background and some more detail

When it was first proved that online reviews drove sales - of everything from books to holidays to financial and legal advice - businesses quickly began to 'invest' in acquiring reviews. It was the beginning of what we christened the 'Wild West' phase of reviews: there were no rules, so some businesses took shortcuts; here are just some of them...

  • they encouraged their management and staff write reviews (pretending to be bona fide customers)
  • they encouraged their staff to get friends and family to write reviews
  • they paid staff to write reviews
  • they paid customers to write reviews
  • they paid people who had never even heard of their business to write reviews*

* for many years it was as easy to buy a review as a book online. Advertisements such as these were familiar features on online auction sites and forums:

This is no exaggeration. Over the years we have kept a running file of such abuses - you would be surprised how naive some people - and businesses - can be, given that it is surprisingly easy to conduct a social media scrape and come up with evidence that would stand up in any court of law...
  • the estate agency that got each branch manager to write a review of each of their adjacent branches
  • the accountancy firm that rewarded clients with £50 of Marks & Spencer vouchers for each positive review
And how do we know about these? Often because other reviewers mention such tactics in their reviews. Here's an example...

Don't trust the web

If you search for advice on the web you will come across an endless stream of articles such as this...

And there's a very good reason the regulators forbid such incentives: they know - as does any business offering such an incentive - that the unwritten implication is 'write a positive review if you want whatever incentive we are offering'.

Think about it for a moment: what dissatisfied customer is going to be attracted by a 'free coffee for a review' or a 'future discount for a review'? So any such system is inherently biased in favour of the business, something that the law in the UK - in the shape of the CMA regulations - and Google's terms of service are expressly designed to prevent. 

Our advice to businesses

The first thing to do is to conduct a thorough audit of your current reviews. If there are any that were written - with the best of intentions, we're sure - by staff or their connections, get them deleted straight away (the individual who wrote the review will have to access their Google account to do this).

Next, explain to staff just how important it is to invite genuine reviews - from all your customers. This will beg the inevitable question: just how to do this effectively - minimising the risk of actively encouraging negative reviews - whilst at the same time complying with the law as well as Google's terms of service.

The law makes it quite clear - and it's basically the same for the UK, the EU and most states in the USA - that if you invite anyone to write a review you must allow everyone to do so. There are two ways of doing this:
  1. Email every single one of your customers inviting them to post a review to Google. If you leave any out, whatever the perceived logic, you will be breaking the law. You will also be leaving your business exposed to reviews by stakeholders other than those who have actually made a recorded purchase or other transaction: spouses/partners/business associates and so on.
  2. Embed the invitation - and your reviews - into your website: something like this...

The reasons this format works so well...
  • it allows your customers and potential customers to access all your reviews and write a review any time they wish
  • for that reason, it is fully compliant with UK and EU law - and demonstrates compliance to everyone: your potential customers and the regulators
  • the reviews are first posted to your own website - so they can be moderated, minimising the chances of an inaccurate, misleading or plain unfair review being posted (none of these benefit consumers). There's more on this vital function here
  • you will have reviews on your website for potential customers to reference - driving calls and clicks, just as they do on Google
  • anyone tempted to write a review direct to Google will have a viable alternative - there are few consumers that actively want to write a negative review straight to Google, it is invariably a last resort when all other avenues have been exhausted, so give them an avenue they will use in preference
  • you will have the moral upper hand if a customer does go elsewhere to write a review: they could have written the review there first, they only had to visit your site to do so, they didn't have to wait to be invited
  • last, but not least: it shows that your reviews have been independently verified* - and that sets them apart from testimonials. Readers can click on 'What is HelpHound?' for further reassurance

So: reward and/or incentivise your staff. Some businesses simply make it part of the job, some reward staff per review. And management? Lead by example: almost all our most successful clients do so.

*Independent verification:

A review is only a review if it fulfils the following criteria (otherwise it is simply a testimonial, and must, by law, be identified as such):
  • it is hosted on a platform that is independent of the business under review
  • it is 'unfiltered': there is no selection of reviews to be shown on the business's website

Saturday, 23 May 2020

ABC of Reviews: 7. Can we do it for nothing?

The simple answer: Yes!

But before you rush off to your web designer let's first look at the whys and wherefores. 

Free review systems

The only reviews with complete coverage and credibility these days are Google reviews, so you need a system that gets reviews to both Google and to your own website. There are many suppliers of Google reviews plug-ins that will display your Google reviews on your website: here's the one provided by Wordpress.

This video will take you through the process from start to finish. But should you do it? What are the potential pitfalls?

The downside of adopting a Google review plug-in solution

1. You will have to accept that every single review posted about your business, good or bad, genuine or fake or even written by a competitor or disgruntled ex-member of staff, will be displayed not only on Google but on your own website as well. Here's a real-life example:

This may look like a Google review - because it is - and it has been showing front-and-centre of the business's own website, as well as on Google, for the last four months. 

Now, we make no comment on the veracity or otherwise of the customer's claims, but one thing we are certain of: this review will be stopping potential customers dead in their tracks. It is what is known as a killer review (negative reviews come in many shapes and sizes: killer reviews are those that are well-written and credible, the kind that potential customers - in this case tenants and landlords - take seriously).

There's one sure-fire way of proving that a review like this is harming business and that is to disable the Google review widget and track the increase in calls and clicks through the website, for increase there surely will be. 

2. You won't have moderation. Moderation is where the business and the writer of the review have an opportunity to correct errors of fact pre-publication. If having inaccurate or misleading reviews displayed on your own site and on Google doesn't matter, go right ahead (we accept that businesses such as those in hospitality don't necessarily need 'clean sheets', that they and their potential guests or customers will weather the occasional 'my pizza was undercooked' or 'my bed wasn't made on time' review, but detailed critiques such as the one above of service businesses will impact initial enquiries through the web in general and the business's website).

These two are usually significant enough to give businesses - especially complex services such as accountancy, financial services, medical and care services and the likes of estate agency - pause for thought before adopting one of the many Google widgets on the market.

The alternative? Review management...

Review management - the downsides

  • A quick definition: a review manager works for the business to mobilise its customers to maximise the effectiveness of its reviews across all platforms: Google, its own website and the multitude of review sites and social media. A good review manager will provide all the advice and training a business needs to stay up-to-date with all aspects of reviews, both initial and ongoing.

Review management, like any other professional business service, has one obvious downside: cost. But, just as with your other professional advisers - accountancy, legal and financial amongst others - we need to be able to consistently demonstrate that we are adding value. The fact that our client retention rate is very close to a hundred percent - over many years now - speaks volumes. Clients also have the added reassurance that Google reports every month, so if leads and calls rise or fall you will know in days. We suggest....

  1. Speak to us
  2. Get a firm quotation from us before we meet
  3. Speak to one of our clients
  4. Meet us
  5. Test our system - there's no lock-in or contract period - you will know in a matter of days if review management will work for you business
You might also want to read this article which explains why reviews are going to matter even more in the 'new normal'.

The only other downside we can think of is the investment in training your staff to understand the value of great reviews, but we will take care of as much of that as you need us to.

Further reading: