Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Congratulations to Greene & Co!

Two branches of HelpHound clients Greene & Co have won Gold and Silver at the 2018 ESTAS...

...but regular readers won't surprised to hear that. With Greene & Co's commitment to customer service and reviews we are mildly surprised they did not win more!

Here's Gold winner Maida Vale on Google...

...and in organic search - with their HelpHound score, number of reviews and star rating...

...and Silver winner West Hampstead...

...and in organic search - with their HelpHound score, number of reviews and star rating...

Congratulations to Greene & Co, we are proud of what you have achieved since you joined HelpHound (here's the 'before'!). A business can make itself look good with handfuls of reviews, even dozens, but to look this good with hundreds the business has to seriously deliver.


Remember that Greene and Co have this invitation to write a review on every branch website...

...and that everyone who has a review published there is automatically invited to copy their review to Google.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Stars in search - the holy grail of reviews?

 Could these cars be named 'Yelp', 'Tripadvisor', 'Trustpilot', 'Yell' and 'Feefo'?

Or the 'go faster stripes'?

As with everything we do here at HelpHound we look, as far as possible, for concrete proof before advising our clients.

And the only proof we have seen so far? It looks like this... 

...and sometimes even like this...

Our conclusion...

...is that, currently*, our clients' overwhelming focus should be on Google. Get stars there...

...and business will flow. Anywhere else (including 'Reviews from the web' above, and organic search, below)...

...is a bonus (but look at mobile search - used by over 70% of all your potential customers)...

..see any reference to anything but Google reviews here? No - but two ways of accessing Google reviews at a click (and the score and star rating immediately visible)

 ...and, until we see hard evidence to the contrary*, that is the advice we will give.

The Google schema

For those of a technical bent, here is Google's own definition. For mere mortals: the Google schema is a piece of code that can be attached to reviews that aggregates scores and star ratings and then displays them in [some] searches.

The Google schema is sold very hard by those sites that compete with Google in the reviews sphere; of course it is, it's virtually 100% of their off-site offering. It also gets Google off the hook when reviews sites complain about their monopoly position in reviews: 'Oh, but they can implement the schema for their customers, isn't that fair?'. Unfortunately (for that argument from Google and for the independent reviews sites), as much as some businesses - quite understandably - like to see their name in stars in as many places as possible, we have yet to see proof positive that they provide any meaningful competition for Google ratings and scores. They are a 'nice bonus', but that is all.

Our clients, where their websites have the capability, use the schema to good effect - stars show in local search (as they do for Greene & Co above), but no business should buy a reviews solution simply on the basis of the schema - in that context it is 'go faster stripes'.

*as most of our clients know, we are not backwards in coming forwards with advice - you only have to read the million plus words on this blog to know that, or, if you are not a client yet, speak to one (it also provides a written record of that advice - for instance, you could go back four years and see when we first started advocating Google as the best home for your reviews). Rest assured, if the situation changes, we will let you know - and advise accordingly.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Reviews - pity the consumer!

Let's get back to basics. Why do reviews exist? Answer: to help consumers choose the right product or service. And if you are a business? To encourage consumers to use your business.

So lets look at the reviews of just one business that is representative of so many - and see if they achieve that simple objective.


YOPA are currently spending big-time on advertising - you may have seen this one featuring Mo Farah on TV...

...and what do they expect their target market (home sellers) to do next? Given that Yopa has no offices to drop in to we're guessing the answer to that one is 'go online'. Go online where? Well, given that consumers in this situation are looking at what is possibly their biggest ever financial transaction it's fair to guess that a significant proportion will be looking for reviews.

So what happens next? Well, this happens next...

Please bear with us (if you are already beginning to lose the will...just put yourself in the position of the home seller)...and we will walk you through the minefield...

Once past the PPC advertisements we can see four sources of reviews (and star ratings), so, being concerned and responsible home-sellers we take each in turn, starting at the top with a site called AllAgents (after all, it is headed 'YOPA reviews...'). And what do we see?

 Thirty-five reviews, ten of which rate the business's service at one star, and make pretty disturbing reading

Next comes Trustpilot - Yopa's contracted reviews site...

 ...where they look great, at least until you read any of the one-in-twenty negative reviews...

 ...and there are over a hundred of these.

After them: Reviews.io...

 ...that helpfully tells you that only one-in-three of Yopa's customers would recommend them (not only that, it also 'helpfully' promotes a business - PurpleBricks - that we are guessing is Yopa's No.1 competitor - although their reviews on Reviews.io are even worse!).

Last, but definitely not least: Google...

Hoorah! for a name every consumer recognises (a recent survey by Rightmove found that 8% of consumers recognised Trustpilot, ahead of the 2% who recognised Feefo)... and a respectable score, but still an increasing volume of worrying - for both business and consumer - negative reviews, not all of which accurately reflect the true position.

What to do? That's the key question that every business needs to ask itself if its review management is not to undermine its marketing, and the answer for the consumer feeds directly from the answer for the business. Here it is...

  1. Own your own reviews: display them on your own website and get the resulting score and star rating displayed in Google search
  2. Employ a professional review manager, like HelpHound, to make as sure as you possibly can that none of your reviews have malicious, misleading or factually incorrect content
  3. Focus all your efforts on the one reviews solution that matters, and the one reviews solution that has both credibility and visibility: Google

Then the consumer will see...
  1. Real reviews
  2. Factually correct reviews
  3. Reviews with credibility
...and the business will see:
  1. Its reputation enhanced
  2. More business flowing through the web
  3. Less dependency on reviews sites
At the end of the day we have been confidently predicting Google's dominance - total dominance - in the reviews space for over four years now (and advising our clients accordingly). We are glad that we have - and so are our clients

There are only two things preventing any business taking the correct course of action (reviews on their own site and reviews to Google) are...
  • fear - of attracting (more) negative reviews that will deflect business
  • sales tactics - by the independent reviews sites*
If you are concerned about inviting unfair negative reviews - as you should be - read this article. If you want to understand the consequences of using an independent reviews site instead of Google - read this.

*Let us tell you a true story. Once upon a time (in 2012, as it happens) the world's biggest independent reviews site opened its London office and began actively marketing itself to UK businesses. Those businesses that are convinced by the review site's sales pitch invest significant resources, in both cash and time - not to mention their brand's credibility - in building their presence on that site. The site's name? Yelp. And what did Yelp do, four years later, after all those resources and effort had been committed by those businesses? It left the UK

We have said it once already in this article (and many times over the years): own your own reviews - and then get them where they will have the most influence: Google.

And to make it even more plain: HelpHound, as review managers, stand or fall on the quality of the advice we give to our clients, of which this blog is part of an extensive written record. We have no inherent bias against the independent reviews sites and if and when they deliver results we will be the first to recommend them to our clients. We are not remunerated a single penny by Google, either directly or indirectly (not many independent reviews sites can say that) and include them in our recommendations as a matter of 'best advice'.

Further reading:

...and finally...

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Web designers - we'll guide you, and your clients, through the reviews minefield

We are going to start from the basic premise that you have built - or are currently building - a website for your client business. Your role is to implement all your client's multitude of requirements, among which, these days, will inevitably be some kind of reviews solution. But here's the catch - just exactly which reviews solution?

So much choice - so little information 

There are now upwards of two hundred separate and distinct reviews sites with English as their host language - some, like Yelp, are generalist (anyone can review any business) and others - TripAdvisor is a good example - are specific (to a type of business, in this case hospitality: hotels, restaurants and leisure businesses). 

On top of this, some are compliant with US law, some are compliant with EU law, and some (only 'some' you may be surprised to hear) are complaint with UK law.

Sometimes it seems that the choice is made for your client, and therefore for you - after all what hotel does not want to feature on TripAdvisor? But then what about Booking.com, Trivago and Hotels.com, to name but three more?

The answer to the 'choice' issue is really quite simple, at least at first: It has to be to get the business's customers to write those reviews to the business, so the business owns those reviews. Not to some external reviews site, however attractive the blandishments and promises made by the representatives of those sites. why? because reviews sites come and go (Yelp - the biggest of them all, left the UK nearly two years ago), and wax and wane in popularity, so you don't want to put your client in a position where they have accumulated hundreds of reviews on a particular site and then lose them all when that site is no longer flavour of the month with Google because they are owned by the site, not your client. For anyone doubting the importance of this, we have seen more than one business that has chopped and changed reviews solutions more than five times.

Next? To get those reviews to the sites that matter to those businesses and their customers. This, again, requires an objective judgement on behalf of the business and that is why HelpHound exists, to help those businesses and their advisers - you, their web designers - to decide what solution is going to work best in their long-term interests. No-one can predict the future, but that does not mean we should not (or are not able to) make rational decisions based on a highly educated guess: and that means, for the overwhelming majority of businesses: Google. 

The reason we see so many businesses fighting against Google reviews is simple: because Google came so late to the reviews game, after many reviews sites had established themselves and those businesses are now seeing their markets being eroded by Google. That may not be fair, but we live in a free market and harsh commercial realities dictate that businesses should choose what is best for them, and to do that they should not find themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, adopting a solution that is against their own long-term best interests.

This advertisement was published last week and we repeat it here, analysed paragraph by paragraph, so you can make your own judgement.

This is an intriguing headline. We - and we are sure some of you - have been advising our clients to make considerable efforts to gain Google reviews from day one. Why might they be 'limited' by them? We read on with interest...

The advertisement is directed towards estate agents (it was published in the Property Industry Eye), but we presume that the contentions contained in it would apply to any service business. So let's examine it line by line...

  • Google reviews 'are a pain to collect'
It is estimated that two out of three adult consumers in the UK are currently able to leave a Google review by simply clicking on 'Rate and review' on any device, having simply searched for the business in question. They don't have to find out which reviews site is most appropriate or, indeed, which reviews site the business in question has contracted to 'manage' their reviews.
  • 'Users must be logged in via Gmail to leave a review'
Not quite. Most consumers who have any type of Google account (and there are many, from Gmail to YouTube to Google Plus) are permanently logged in on all their devices. Again: it's simply a matter or 'click and post'. Just see any business in any search - the likelihood of finding a business as yet un-reviewed on Google is becoming remoter all the time. And something is also more certain by the day: that Google is the review mechanism of choice for those whose experience of a business is less than satisfactory.
  • 'Google+ reviews are often removed (and also manipulated)'
Stories of reviews being 'manipulated' are to be found across the web (and have been for as long as reviews have existed, but interestingly, almost always confined to the independent reviews sites, not Google). Yelp? Yes. TripAdvisor? The Times has even created a fake hotel to demonstrate how easily manipulated it can be. The key with Google - nowadays - is that every review is attached to a Google+ account which is, in turn, attached to a person (or a business). We have been in the review arena for over a decade and we can honestly say that Google reviews are the least manipulated of all (and therefore the most credible).

'Removed'? We are unsure what Feefo mean by this. We have seen little or no evidence of Google reviews being 'removed' whereas some of the independent sites - not Feefo - appear to bend over backwards to 'suspend' or otherwise hide reviews that their business clients find objectionable.

There is also another issue with the reviews sites, many (but not all) of which originate in the USA or Europe, and that is that some of them fail to comply with UK government regulations (see 'Important P.S.' at the end of this article), often not in minor ways, but at the core of their business models. They are 'business friendly' - they sometimes offer benefits to their business customers such as the ability to challenge negative reviews or choose the time the customer is invited to write the review (both of these 'benefits' contravene the core CMA regulations).

There are more 'creative' ways of 'manipulating' reviews - one of the main ones being the timing of the invitation (and the control of the actual ability to write the review - what we christened 'closed' sites some years ago).

The last phrase we might question is 'authentic ratings and reviews'. Quite what may be 'inauthentic' about Google review by comparison with any others we are not sure.


  • 'Google Licenced (sic) Content': It is a benefit - if it works (see below). On the other hand, your clients don't have to pay - Google will show their own reviews score as a star rating in organic search and in their Google knowledge panel under 'Reviews from the web'
  • 'Real and authentic' - covered above
  • 'Promotes trust and transparency' - reviews certainly give a voice to your clients' customers and provide them with valuable feedback
  • 'Highly scored reviews assist with lead generation' - we have no argument with this contention, indeed we would go further: 'a properly structured review management policy will drive business and this can be proved by referring to each business's Google My Business report (for an example of one of our client's reports, illustrating the uplift in calls and website visits within weeks of joining, see here)
  • 'Old Habits/New Habits' - we assume this graphic is meant to mean that 'old habits' are Google reviews and 'new habits' are the independent reviews site. We strongly recommend that any business that has got into the 'habit' of inviting Google reviews stick with that habit - it is sure to reward them in the short, medium and long term.


At the end of the day, whatever strategy a business adopts it must all come down to results. And by 'results' we don't mean star ratings or scores (although these are all useful 'extras' - you can see them in the screenshots of our client's Google searches below) and are especially good for staff morale - who doesn't like to see their employer's name lit up in stars?) or numbers of reviews (although, again, a business scoring 4.7 on Google with reviews in three figures will always attract more business than one with a lower score and a lower amount of reviews), we mean financial results.

Every one of your clients is sent a Google My Business report every month, like this one for one of our clients. It is a fantastic way for them - and you - to measure the success of any new marketing venture, including review management

Let us be plain about this: professional review management should be measured by the cash it encourages to flow through the doors of your client's business. And if they cannot attribute the precise £p they should at least be able to measure the uplift in indicators that lead directly to that cash flow, such as phone calls, emails and visits to their website (all, with the exception of emails - which they can identify themselves - measured by their Google My Business (GMB) report.

Needless to say, we have not seen the GMB reports for these businesses. But we can see exactly what they look like in search. Here they are...

Failing the Google Filter (as any score below 4.0 will) with no star rating for the branch searched for (although a nearby branch does feature). Another reviews site - RaterAgent - showing in 'Reviews from the web' in the Google knowledge panel

With 81 reviews on Google and just ten on the reviews site, we are taking an educated guess that this branch is asking their customers to post their reviews direct to Google - especially as their score is so much better there as well.

 Again: a low Google score leading to a Google Filter fail (and a nasty rich snippet). No reference to independent reviews/star ratings in either organic search listings or 'Reviews from the web'.

 And again: a Google score well shy of the Filter and no sign of any independent reviews in either organic search or 'Reviews from the web' in the knowledge panel

To put this in context: 

Here is a HelpHound client's simple search (on their business name)...

  96 reviews on their own site showing in organic search with a star rating as well as in 'Reviews from the web' in the knowledge panel. Three great rich snippets. And a great Google score with 48 reviews there as well.

And the same client's local search...

Not a bad position in the Google 3-pack (we can't take all the credit for that!) and reviews and star rating in organic search as well. 

To sum up...

You are looking for a reviews solution for your clients that you can recommend in the knowledge that it incorporates flexibility and some element of future-proofing. That is going to produce results, from day one and for the foreseeable future - in short: a solution that your clients will be grateful that you recommended. 

The only thing we have not touched on - intentionally - is tech. Suffice to say that we will give you the tools to deliver these results on any kind of platform. They may not have some of the clever 'knobs and whistles' that the reviews sites incorporate, but they will deliver the core results your clients need - we promise that. And we are always pleased to put you in touch with them so they can personally confirm that is the case - just ask.

A very important P.S.

All this along with compliance with the CMA regulations. We know that you, as web designers, are not directly responsible for your client business's compliance with those regulations, but we are sure you will feel happier knowing you are implementing a compliant solution. 

There is much more detail about this here, but in short: your client must be able to demonstrate that they allow all their customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Any reviews mechanism that does not allow these two simple things is, by definition, in breach and so is any company that adopts it.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Estate agents banned - the implications for every business

Today's Times piece is here, yesterday's PIE story is here

The article goes on to report that 'The two men were fined by the Competition and Markets Authority, alongside the other four estate agency groups, paying a combined £370,084 in September last year.'

Most of you will have read about this in the national press or one or other of the business forums. "But we are not involved in commission or price-fixing, so what has this got to do with us?" we hear you say.

Our answer: It has everything to do with you. Why? Because the government agency that imposed both the fine (the Competition and Markets Authority) and the ban is the same agency that regulates how businesses - all UK businesses - use reviews.

Put simply: if your business is inviting reviews from customers and is not...
  • inviting all your customers to post a review
  • at a time of their own choosing
 ...it is breaking the law.

Put even more bluntly...

If your business...
  • is selecting customers to invite to write a review (commonly called cherry-picking)
  • employing a mechanism that allows you to prevent those who write a negative review from having that review published
  • is choosing the time you invite or allow your customer to write a review (e.g. only at point of purchase)
...it is breaking the law.

We estimate currently that - of businesses proactively inviting reviews to any platform, be that Google or an independent reviews site - over 90% are guilty of one or more of the three practices listed above.

Why? Because they know that a dissatisfied customer is so much more likely to be motivated to post a review and they feel that they are forced to take action to redress that balance. 

There is another way. We are often asked why our clients look so good and the answer is a simple one: first and foremost they are good businesses, focused on customer service at their core, but one of the things that reassured them when they joined HelpHound was our Resolution™ moderation mechanism which enables them to address factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews pre-publication. It expressly does not prevent a customer posting a review - even an inaccurate or misleading one - but it does enable the business and their customer to have a dialogue and 'resolve' those kinds of issues before the review is published for all the world to see (and it's just as popular with consumers as it is with our clients).

Further reading:

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Why pay commission - when there is a better way?

So many websites exist with their core premise being to deliver leads to businesses of all sorts, from accountants to zoos, from hotels to estate agents, but they all contain one significant flaw: they are terrible value for money when compared with professional review management

Consumers think they are great - the aggregator/lead generator websites - but businesses are not quite so fond of them - for good reason: they soak up money.

Whatever business you are in, from hospitality to hairdressing, there is a site selling you customers. Needless to say, that's not quite what they tell their (your) customers. If you are relying on one of those sites to drive business we think you should be at the very least testing an alternative - professional review management.

We know you know, but just so we all start from the same point...

How these sites work
They promote themselves to the general public and then sell that consumer to you - usually for a commission (rates usually vary from 10% - 35% of the value of the service provided).

They claim to 'add value' in various ways - and some do. TripAdvisor's reviews are useful, and so is their forum, for instance. They may provide your business with useful software (for bookings or appointments, for example). And they will deliver custom (because their business model depends on that, at least). But all this comes at a price, and while it may sometimes be a price you are willing to pay, just like any marketing, if there is a less costly alternative, you will want to know about it.

The 'less costly alternative'

Professional review management delivers most of what your potential customers want from these sites: reassurance that they are choosing the right hotel/hairdresser/estate agent/plumber - and it delivers the customers to you with an important difference, and that difference is mostly in the way the business pays.

The commission model goes right out of the window - so you don't end up paying more and more for every customer. Your business is rewarded for success, not the introducing website.

Putting these numbers in context...

 We know some of these commission figures are lower than you may be currently paying, but we don't want to be accused of exaggerating

Now - compare these with HelpHound membership...

How much does your business need to earn to pay back our fee? Put simply: if HelpHound membership generates a single customer a month more it has paid for itself - any more than that - and the business is in clover.

Look at the numbers for these heating engineers...

And this estate agency...

Both these screenshots were taken directly from the respective business's own Google My Business report. Every business is sent this every month - so any uplift is immediately apparent. In both these cases the only variation in the business's marketing plan was the adoption of HelpHound (that, perhaps unsurprisingly, is why they have shared these reports with us).

So: whatever your business, join HelpHound and have us working alongside any other solution you currently have in place and see for yourself the value we can add - and there's no minimum contract period, that's how confident we are that you will be glad your business joined.

Three reasons to Join

We could simply ask you to speak to a client (and we will be happy to put you in touch), but before you do, just check out these three simple reasons to join HelpHound...
  1. You will attract more business
  2. You won't be breaking the law
  3. You will find that staff morale soars
In more detail (you want more detail?!)...

Doing more business

This is a screengrab from a HelpHound client's Google My Business report, taken within weeks of joining

Other reviews solutions make a big song and dance about numbers - every kind of number except the one that counts: more business. Having lots of reviews is great, having stars in search is great, having lots of reviews on a site that doesn't show up as well as Google, maybe not so great. But, at the beginning and the end of the day there's only one number that matters: cash. The amount of cash that flows towards your business. And that is what we expect to be judged on.

Obeying the law

  We still meet people who don't realise that the CMA means business - its rules have the force of law (and if it's so easy to comply with them, why go to the effort of breaking them?)

Obeying the law is straightforward: you need to be enabling all your customers to write a review whenever they want. Simple, no? You would think so, but you might be surprised just how many solutions don't comply - and what do the words 'don't comply' mean? It's straightforward: if your business 'doesn't comply' it is breaking the law.

Staff morale

 How do you think this search feels when you work for Winkworth in Blackheath - or, just as importantly, if you work for a competitor?

As any sales director will confirm, staff morale is everything. If staff feel valued then sales performance is enhanced, it's as simple as that. And, with record high rates of employment in the UK today, how powerful a recruiter are great reviews?

The punch line:

One business* we were speaking to recently commented 'HelpHound is X% more expensive than [an independent site]. That X% added up to £10s a month - for ticking all three of these boxes (and more). HelpHound membership doesn't cost the earth, and there's no contract period for new members, so the message is loud and clear...

"Try us and see for your business"

*they joined, by the way.

How about joining - NOW?
  1. You will notice the uplift from day one
  2. You will be compliant with the CMA regulations from day one
  3. Your staff will thank you from day one