Friday, 19 May 2017

Google Lens turns your phone's camera into a reviews feed

One day soon you will be simply able to point your camera at a business and see this:

 And whose reviews do you suppose? Google's of course! And by the way, your business - unlike the one in the image Google have used above - had better score north of 4.5 if it seriously wants to attract business

Think of the implications:
  • for potential customers - no fumbling in search, just point and press
  • for those attending meetings or pitches - just aim at the office and by the time the lift doors open you'll know what the business's customers think of it
But most of all - it is yet another validation of reviews - as Google are quoted as saying in today's Times:

"Users will be able to photograph... shops and restaurants* to find reviews" - yes, reviews, not Instagram or Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. If that is not sending businesses a very strong message to engage with reviews nothing is.

*Be sure they won't stop at shops and restaurants, any business listed on Google is bound to be included.

Google have not announced a launch date - so watch this space. For more read this article on TechCrunch or you can watch the official Google IO7 keynote video on Youtube (we've already watched it for you).

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Another business pushes back against a review site's alleged sales tactics

This month it's the turn of Happy Fish Sushi. According to the Peoria Journal and Star (we're sure you all read that!?) they allege that Yelp has been bombarding this business with sales calls and the business itself alleges that their Yelp rating dropped - inferring that Yelp were filtering out positive reviews.

Yelp - the largest single general reviews site on the planet - pulled its sales operation out of the UK and Europe at the end of last year. This decision may not have been entirely unrelated to the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) involvement in the regulation of the UK reviews market. 

Yelp's business model is based on selling advertising on non-paying business's listings. Fair? We'll leave you to decide.

In desperation - we assume - this business has decided to reward customers for writing one-star reviews!

But seriously: it is difficult for a reviews site to comply with the spirit, let alone the letter, of the CMA regulations - which have the force of law. Most reviews sites in the UK rely on Google partnering for much of their revenue - which in turn relies on the client business being willing to tie themselves to long-term pay-per-click strategies in order to see their review scores appear in search - scores that, with effective review management would appear next to the business's natural listing - and in the knowledge panel, for free.

 Winkworth's reviews - not HelpHound's, but verified by HelpHound (see below):

Note the 'write a review' button - anyone can write a review at any time - no wonder potential clients give their reviews credence.

Sales tactics

We hear first-hand reports of review sites employing boiler-house techniques - multiple calls by different staff, often in the same day, is just one example, 'free trial' periods (during which the business will be innocently generating revenue for the review site) is another. Often the offering is non-compliant in some way (check it against the six criteria here). 


We consider that it is well-nigh impossible for a commercial review site to comply with the current CMA regulations and make money at the same time - the conflict of interest is just too great. It is possible - although we hasten to add that we have no evidence - that Yelp's decision to quit the UK was influenced by legal advice; after all their business model rests on being able to up-sell advertising above its natural listings as in the screenshot above, something that the CMA might not entirely happy about.

Businesses must realise that there is no 'magic bullet' where reviews are concerned, that whatever solution they adopt must not mislead consumers and must be truly open and accessible to all. 

The only solution - fortunately for well-managed businesses with a strict consumer focus - is proper professional review management; compliant with the regulations and effective for the business and consumer alike.

Further reading:
  1. The CMA's criteria for business reviews - the rules you must obey
  2. Review sites - the unintended consequences - driving negative reviews to Google
  3. Reviews solutions must be credible (and legal) - a checklist for your business
  4. Professional review management v. review sites - a look at actual out-turns


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Your reviews solution must be credible (and legal)

Note: this article, by the very nature of its subject, makes frequent reference to the law and rules governing reviews in the UK - the Competition and Markets Authority regulations. If you would like to spend five minutes bringing yourself up-to-date with these there is a guide here.

Regular readers will know that we have issues with many of the reviews solutions currently being promoted to businesses. They usually come under one or more of the following headings:
  • They favour the business over the consumer
  • They favour the consumer over the business
  • They don't moderate their reviews
  • They allow businesses to filter reviews
  • The enable businesses to look better than they are in reality
  • They make businesses look worse than they are in reality 

None of the above are helpful - in either the short or long run, for the business or the consumer. Importantly - all but two are downright illegal (although frequently seen). Let's look at each 'category' in more detail.

  • Favouring the business
When businesses first approach the subject of reviews they ask one question more than any other: 'Can we control the reviews that are shown?' and for very good reasons. The larger review sites - and for this purpose we include Google and TripAdvisor as well as pure review sites like Yelp - are notorious, rightly or wrongly, for allowing negative (and even fake) reviews to go unchallenged. And most businesses now understand that even a single well-crafted negative can do untold harm. But sites that allow businesses to challenge any negative review are breaking the rules. Only by adopting really effective review management can a business protect its reputation and comply with the CMA rules.

  • Favouring the consumer 
Many sites favour the consumer by adopting a policy of 'the reviewer is always right unless the business can provide incontrovertible proof that what they have said is factually incorrect/libelous and or written with impure motives (they are a competitor or a disgruntled ex-member of staff, for instance). This policy at the main sites - Google and Yelp - has driven many businesses into the arms of sites that are more 'generous' to the business - they will allow the business to appeal a wide range of reviews. At first sight this looks attractive for businesses, that is: until they understand that almost all of these so-called solutions break the rules and therefore the law.

  • Un-moderated reviews
You will almost certainly be aware of the recent controversy around Google and YouTube and Facebook allowing un-moderated content - ISIS propaganda and so on - onto their sites. The same applies to reviews. Moderation - for the uninitiated - is the act of checking a review for its source and content. It is an inexact science - if someone wants to fake a review badly enough they will find a way on most sites (not with a negative through HelpHound though - and we have a two strikes rule if a client is caught writing a positive) they mostly will be able to. We see examples of this daily.If your reviews system gains a reputation for hosting irrelevant reviews of any kind - and Yelp and TripAdvsor have both admitted to doing so - that will impact on the credibility of your reviews.

  • Allowing filtering
Not a day passes when we don't see another example of a review site and a business doing this. The business has subscribed to the review site and the review site then allows the business to selectively display reviews on their site (as you can imagine, these reviews invariably score the business 5 out of 5). They are both breaking the law. Another version is the business that selectively copies reviews from another site - we have seen examples of this with Google and many others - onto their own site; again: the business is breaking the law. Another variant is the business that takes the score from a well-known site and displays it, but attributes a higher score - believe it or not, it does happen, and we have an archive of screenshots to prove it!

  • Making businesses look better than they are
We've already seen examples of this under 'Allowing filtering' above. Any mechanism that allows the business to prevent unhappy customers from writing a review is breaking the rules. We hear businesses every day saying 'But I know Mrs B will give us one out of five.' The only answer to that which will wash with the CMA is one that allows all of your customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Mrs B has to be able to write a review, whenever she wants.

  • Making businesses look worse 
Interestingly all review sites - Google included - by definition make businesses look worse than they are in reality. That is because unhappy customers are statistically far more likely to write a review online. Studies by both Cornell University and Harvard Business School have confirmed that - and the figures they have produced indicate that this impact is around a factor of fifteen times. To put this in plain English - if you see a business with 100 reviews and ten are negative less than one per cent of that business's customers are, in reality, dissatisfied. It is just that the unhappy ones have taken the trouble to write a review. Just look up any hotel you know and love and you will see this theory in practice.

So - a quick checklist for any system you are considering:
  1. Does it in any way favour the business?
  2. Does it allow you - the business - to choose which reviews are displayed?
  3. Does it give an unfairly favourable impression of your business?
  4. Does it allow you - the business - to select who you invite to write a review?
  5. Does the reviewer have to wait to be invited to write a review?
  6. Is the reviewer prevented from writing a review except by invitation from the business?

If the answer is 'Yes' to even a single one of these questions the system is in contravention of the CMA rules - and the onus for compliance is on you - the business - not on the provider of the reviews system.

The good news is that there is another way - the HelpHound way - adopt professional review management - now.  

Thursday, 4 May 2017

All the reasons you need to adopt HelpHound

Here is our latest presentation (click to enlarge the individual slides) - showing our API in action - with added notes...

'Professional Review Management' - as with any professional adviser, it should be a lifetime relationship.

Harness the power of customer opinion and then get it displayed everywhere in search... well as on your own website and in all your other marketing

It's these that drive enquiries and business. They do get read by potential customers.

This slide contains all the 'boring but important' things you need to know.
  • Own your own reviews - don't give them to another site
  • Resolution™ is an important safety feature - for you and your customers; it ensures that inaccurate or misleading reviews don't get posted. Read more about it here.
  • All our clients tell us: Google drives visits to your website, your website drives business
  • Don't use a system that breaks the law (we are amazed how many do) more on this here
  • You will welcome our support - the world of reviews is constantly evolving and we'll make sure you and your staff are always up-to-date
  • You - and your web designers - can make our system look exactly how you want it to
  • It doesn't work for you? (it will!) - you are not tied in

For more client comments see here.

Now speak to Fiona or Karen on 0207 100-2233 and they will answer any other questions you may have.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Is your business sitting on a reviews timebomb?

There are two kinds of businesses that take a passive view of reviews - the first, and most obvious, is the business that has never been reviewed. The second is, somewhat ironically,  the business that has loads of reviews.

Both are sitting on time-bombs - but for markedly different reasons. We will explain...

The business with no (or very few) reviews

  An example of a large business - 500 plus employees - in the service sector that has yet to engage with reviews. With only two positives the business is vulnerable to any dissatisfied customer who decides to post a review. Nor is it benefiting from the positive image that professional review management would engender in search.

Seven months ago this business had no reviews, then one and now look:

We are not going to show the content of these twenty-three reviews as that would be unfair to the business concerned, but rest assured they are not the kind of reviews that would encourage any potential customer to use it

These businesses tend to fall into one or more of the following categories:
  • small businesses
  • larger businesses in the service sector
  • B2B businesses

Why would these businesses ignore - or, more accurately, decide not to engage with reviews? The answer, again, falls into one or more of the following:
  • it has simply not occurred to them. About half the businesses we meet fall into this category - reviews have not made it onto their marketing radar
  • they have considered reviews, but were put off by the confusing array of solutions
  • they have adopted a solution in the past, but it failed to produce results
  • management cynicism. Less common now than it used to be, but we do still encounter managers who say things like 'Who pays attention to reviews?' and/or 'What kind of idiots write reviews?' or 'I'm far too busy to write a review, so why should any of my customers be any different?'

Why should they engage?
  • because reviews drive business
  • because a single negative can cause considerable - and disproportionate - harm to a business with no - or few - reviews. By its very nature it is highly visible and therefore damaging. Many of our inbound enquiries are from businesses in this situation - the phone had stopped ringing and they didn't understand why, until someone checked Google

The business with many reviews

Again - the categories:
  • hospitality - hotel, restaurant and leisure businesses
  • national businesses with a branch network
  • multi-national businesses

Why would these businesses ignore - or, more accurately, decide not to engage with - reviews? Besides the reasons mentioned above...
  • many hospitality businesses are so familiar with reviews that they have become 'review blind' they ignore them - if they didn't more than the 12% of hotels that TripAdvisor quotes would respond to their reviews
  • they are aware that they get reviews, but they are unaware of the impact those reviews are having on custom (rarely will a customer tell a business why they did not use them - customers simply don't contact businsses to say that they were put off by the business's reviews)

Why should they engage?

For all the reasons above and then one more: look at this example:

Hidden behind the headline score are the following:
  • 12 one or two star reviews - the kind that say 'don't ever use this business'
  • 14 three star reviews - the kind that say 'I used this business but there are better alternatives'
  • damaging review content about the products or services the company provides - and is trying to sell - to those reading the reviews
  • failure to pass the Google Filter* - more and more consumers are conducting the overwhelming majority of their searches on mobile and tablet - and Google has introduced their filter there, enabling users to filter
But just as importantly, the more reviews a business has the more it will need to improve its score. In the example above the business will need six or seven five star reviews - and no more 3, 2 or 1 star reviews - to claw its score back to 4.0 (and therefore pass the Google filter). 

And in this example the challenge to pass the filter (and reduce the proportion of damaging negative reviews) is greater by a factor of ten - because of the mathematical hill the business has to climb before scoring (at least) 4.0.

Whichever category your business falls into your aim...

...should be to have your business scoring 4.8. This business joined HelpHound with two Google reviews and a score of 3.2:

...and this business joined with eight Google reviews and a score of 2.6...

In addition these businesses respectively host 124 and 495 independently verified reviews on their own websites.

Our advice

Get on board - by using professional review management. Don't sign up to the first review site that calls you - or attempt a DIY solution - speak to HelpHound first. Then you will end up looking like the two businesses above.

*Read this - it explains the Google review filter. We occasionally hear people say that they don't think consumers use the filter. Our answer to that? If Google introduce something and their users don't use it they discontinue it. The Filter was introduced eighteen months ago and it remains - that means it's being used.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Why are pubs empty while chain brands and independent restaurants are full?

Perhaps we should rephrase that as 'Do pubs care?' Look at the two photographs below - taken less than five minutes - and 200 yards - apart, one of a pub and one of a branded restaurant in exactly the same price bracket. One nearly full and and one echoing like a barn.

  A great pub with a good kitchen                                                           a chain restaurant

Let's look at their online presences. Do we see any marked difference between the branded chains and pubs?

No - if anything a significant number of the diners at the branded restaurant would have preferred another option - if only they had been given the confidence to choose it

So, we could draw one of two conclusions from this - either that reviews don't matter or that pubs need to work a lot harder than restaurants if they are to put bums on seats at lunchtime. Needless to say, we favour the latter - at least as part of a modern marketing strategy, especially in areas of high flows of tourists and or non-residential diners.

Action needed

A proactive review management strategy that only involves:
  • harvesting email addresses from diners
  • inviting reviews to the pub's own website and external sites that have influence - Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor
And what a great asset that list will be during quiet times when your marketing can tempt them back with an offer.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Review scores: you must strive for the perfect 10 (or 5!)

It never fails to surprise us just how tolerant of negative reviews some businesses are. There appears to be a syndrome doing the rounds that says something along the lines of "4 out of 5 is great" or "9 out of 10 is amazing".

The issue at stake here is that consumers have become more savvy than most businesses where reviews are concerned. They scan reviews very quickly, and if the business in question has any negative reviews the business will experience a fall-off - in business or traffic - through the web.

Look at this typical example of a business scoring four out of five:

Do you think that single negative review is:

a. damaging?
b. unhelpful?
c. harmless?

The answer, from years of experience and listening to client feedback on a daily basis is somewhere between a and b, depending on who happens to be reading the review. Also remember that however harmless the review itself, the one star rating has affected, and will continue to affect, the business's overall score, making the answer, strictly speaking, 'a' in every case.

The score matters?

Consumers are increasingly 'score aware'. They consciously and subconsciously look for businesses that score well. More than that, Google recognise this behaviour and give their users filters in search: 'Top Rated' and 'by Rating'. 

Top Rated 

 Only the six Top Rated agents in this area - out of over twenty - show in this window

by Rating 

Top: who would enable the filter at anything below 4? Bottom: the same effect as 'Top rated' Note: Logic would dictate that Google will eventually get round to programming their algorithm to produce these businesses ranked by score - i.e. the highest score at the top.

Again - this time a hotel scoring nearly 9 out of 10:

Here are their ratings:

And here's an example of a typical low-scoring review (of which they have over 250):

This is exactly the kind of review that deflects custom - and having hundreds of them will definitely be impacting on bookings. The hotel should be doing everything in its power to minimise the likelihood of such reviews appearing - anywhere - and that includes joining HelpHound.

So: the lessons
  1. Do everything you can to ensure your customers have the absolute minimum of reasons to post a negative review
  2. Give those 'less than happy' customers an easy way to express their dissatisfaction direct to you - don't make leaving a Google review their easiest option
  3. Aim to get so many great reviews that when - and it's almost certainly going to be a case of 'when' given that no business is perfect and there are some pretty unpredictable consumers out there - you do get a negative review it doesn't impact your score and you can respond by referencing all your great reviews
  4. Set your sights high - aim for a score of 4.8/9.5 plus 
  5. Don't say 'That is a big ask' - with HelpHound on board - and providing the businesses in question have the right attitude to customer service - we would confidently predict scores like this for both these businesses