Monday, 7 June 2021

Moderation - it protects and aids the consumer just as much as the business under review

Read this article - it will give anyone seeking professional medical help massive pause for thought

It's one of the key issues facing both businesses and consumers in the C21. We have all the options a click away, but how do we distinguish between them? Back in the day we would have two: accept a personal recommendation or take an educated guess.

Now, we are are not saying that reviews are the whole answer today, but if adopted and addressed in the right way they have the ability to truly add value, both for the consumer and great businesses. What we can say, for definite, is that consumers now rely very heavily indeed on online reviews. But first let's look at the issues highlighted here by the Washington Post.


Problems with reviews in the 2020s

When the Washington Post contacted Google, Yelp and Truspilot about the reviews of the business in question the sites removed 73, 40 and 93 respectively. Reviews that, until then, the public had been relying on to make informed decisions about serious medical procedures.

Businesses - some businesses anyway - nowadays will do almost anything to ensure they look great. What can an unscrupulous business do?

  • they can get staff to write reviews
  • they can get staff family and friends to write reviews
  • they can buy reviews
  • they can cherry-pick happy customers to write reviews
  • they can do their utmost to control the timing of their reviews
  • they can 'gate' their reviews - meaning inviting 'customer feedback' or using a less visible review site and then only inviting those who rate their service 5* their to post to the most visible site (usually, but not invariably) Google

All of the above serve to mislead consumers. And a misled consumer is much more likeley to seek out ways to 'get their own back' by writing a negative review.

Why do businesses adopt these kinds of strategy? It's simple: a great rating and great reviews lead directly to increased business flows. But there is a less-understood reason as well: fear. Fear that reviewers will post inaccurate and/or misleading reviews. Neither are a valid excuse, and both are a) illegal under UK law and b) against Google's terms of service.


Why is this so much more important for the professions and other service businesses than for e-Commerce?

e-Commerce has adopted reviews with a will, but what value - for the consumer - is added by them? Little, we would suggest: one camera or washing machine or shirt does much the same job as the next, but e-commerce understands the power of reviews and mobilises them very effectively. When did you last see an advertisment for a vacuum cleaner or an e-bike that didn't incorporate a bold reference to the business's review score?

But just put yourself in the position of a consumer needing medical, financial or legal advice: how much more important do reviews of those services become when they have the potential to save lives, livelihoods and money?


So what should a business do?

First: none of the above! Most businesses, to be fair, are not buying reviews, but you might be surprised to know that well over 50 percent of businesses that are proactive with reviews are adopting at least one, often two or more, of the strategies listed above.

How do they get away with it? That's simple: the CMA - the government regulator - currently has other priorities, and we are sure COVID has slowed things up considerably. But that does not mean that these abuses are not well and truly on their radar. Anyone who doubts this would do well to read this open letter from the CEO of the CMA.

But there are other implications of gaming reviews: the main one being that competitors will notice (or be told by whistleblowers) and won't hold back when asked by a potential customer how the business in question manages to have so many overwhelmingly positive reviews.

So: how to comply with the law and still look great?

  1. Be great at what you do. We know it sounds like we are stating the obvious, but businesses that provide value for money and great levels of customer service invariably have a head start when it comes to reviews. Test your CRM to destruction.
  2. Invest in moderation: moderation is the process of having each review checked - independently - for accuracy and the potential to mislead readers. No business would hesitate to invest in other areas of marketing, PR and advertising, so make allowance for a moderated review management system in your marketing budget.
  3. Invest in compliance: as you would do for any other aspect of your business.

That's it. Not rocket science is it? 


Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Review solutions - a checklist


Professional advice combined with years of experience will ensure you safely negotiate this maze!


There are over two million words in the 750 plus articles on this blog - and every single one of them relates to reviews and review management - so here is a simple checklist for your business (for more detail you can always interrogate the blog by entering whatever specifically interests you into the search box - above left, and you can also always call and speak to one of us!). 

After each of these 10 points we have added a link to the most relevant article - again: feel free to read as much as you like or just pick up the phone and speak to us.

1.  Don't be sold a solution: there are several review companies out there with large PE/VC-backed salesforces that will promise you the earth.  Research the market thoroughly before you decide on the right solution for your business.

2.  Own your own reviews: apart from the fact that data is so valuable these days, and you don't want to be giving that to someone else unless there's no alternative, you want to be able to vary your review solution as the years pass without losing those reviews you have already accumulated.

3.  Distinguish between product and service review solutions at outset: product reviews are rarely read, they simply provide the fuel for the all-important review score that you see next to virtually every product on an e-commerce website these days. The content is therefore pretty well immaterial, as long as the overall score is over 4 out of 5. Service reviews, however, are read, and in some detail, almost always 'worst' first. If you are a service business the following point - 4. - is vital.

4.  If you are in a service business or one of the professions your review solution must incorporate moderation: a single factually incorrect or misleading (or even plain 'unfair') review can, if published on Google, literally stop the phones ringing. Over the years we have seen this happen so often we have lost count. For the same reason solutions that incorporate a feed direct from Google are extremely high risk. Only a moderated review solution can ensure against reputational damage in the long term.

5.  You need to display your own reviews on your website: apart from the blindingly obvious reason that customers like to see and read reviews there, Google gives you credit for doing so in SEO; you may be wondering why some of your competitors rank higher in search - if they host their own reviews (not those from review sites or Google) that will almost certainly be a contributing factor.

6.  Respond to reviews, wherever they may be: if you don't consumers will make all sorts of assumptions: that the negative reviewer is correct and their assertions are unanswerable is just one; that you simply don't care is another. If a customer has taken the trouble to compliment your business online a simple response thanking them is all that is needed.

7.  Dont expect Rome to be built in a day: once you have a solution on board you should adopt realistic targets for reviews on your own website and reviews on whatever external platform you have chosen (after careful consideration and comparison with the alternatives). Remember: four reviews a month equates to fifty reviews a year; three years at that rate equates to 150 reviews. Mind you, we have seen clients accumulate those numbers in much shorter timescales; where there is a will there is a way.

8.  Don't sacrifice quality in the quest for volume: it is tempting to adopt all kinds of mechanisms to generate the maximum flow of reviews. In our extensive experience the only one that produces quality reviews in terms of content is email backed by personal contact; expecting email alone - or worse still, text or other kinds of media - to do the job is unrealistic and will only lead to disappointment and/or low quality one-liner reviews full of typographical and grammatical errors.

9.  Don't break the law:  every business we meet usually is, intentionally or unwittingly. UK law categorically states that businesses that invite reviews must allow all their customers to write a review at whatever time they choose. Let us be clear on this important point: hand picking happy customers to write reviews is illegal; only inviting customers to write a review at a time chosen by the business is illegal. Having a moderated review solution - see point 4 above - protects your business from inaccurate and misleading reviews and ensures compliance with UK law, so no excuses there.

10.  Google won't attempt to sell you their reviews solution: but it is invariably the best one - alongside an independent hosting and moderation solution for your own website.

That's it. Follow these ten points and you won't go far wrong; ignore any one of them and your business will almost certainly suffer, now and in the future.


Further reading...

 



Monday, 24 May 2021

HelpHound - adding even more value in 2021

We are very proud indeed of what we continue to achieve for our clients, so here's our pitch to those businesses yet to join:





And broken down, phrase by phrase:

1.  'Quantifiably better off':

Professional review management pays off in so many ways; with some of these - staff morale and the like - you will simply be relying on feedback, both verbal and written, but with core business drivers such as calls and clicks through Google and your own website you will be able to see and track accurate numbers and uplifts.

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:





To be clear: this GMB report shows an uplift in calls and clicks through Google for the month in question. The numbers are great (most businesses would probably be happy with uplifts like this over a year, let alone a month), and I'm sure your business would be happy with them; the best ever Google My Business report a client has ever shown us reported month-on-month 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 that follow below with special care.


2.   'More enquiries through Google':

See above. And a great score + great reviews = more calls and more clicks = more leads = more business.

And see point 6 below: 'Looking great in all types of Google search'. It is also crucial your business looks good compared with its competitors without flouting the law (see point 7.)


3.  'More enquiries through your own website':

It's the number one objective of most business owners when they brief their web designers...
  • 'generate more leads/enquiries/contacts'




It is also now a universally acknowledged truth that hosting independently verified reviews on your own website drives those 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 (see the end of this article for a suggested trial). 

Just ask yourself 'How would our potential customers react to seeing independently verified reviews like those shown in this article on our website?' How could the response to that question be anything but 'positively'?


4.  'CRM enhanced':

Hosting a 'Write a review' button on your website has many 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 simply resorting to posting a potentially damaging review direct to Google, for instance.

Built into HelpHound, unlike the major review sites (Yelp, Trustpilot, Feefo etc.), is moderation: every single review that flows through our mechanism to your website and then on to Google is read and checked for factual inaccuracies and statements likely to mislead future customers. If we find either, or in some instances both, we refer back to the reviewer and the business so they can be corrected. This is hugely popular with both reviewers and businesses under review; it also makes the ultimate reviews so much more reliable for readers: your future customers.


5.  'Staff morale boosted':


This kind of review - 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. 

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

*We are sometimes asked why we allow reviewers to identify themselves by a first name or nickname. The reviews by 'Debra' above serve to illustrate this: would you post a review of a medically, legally or financially sensitive nature using your full name? No, of course not. Bear in mind that both we and Google have the reviewer's email address, and are therefore - in the case of HelpHound - able to contact them if needs be.


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

Look at this local search:





Probably the most commercially important search of all for many businesses is local search: when a potential customer is most likely to be influenced by the business's reviews, review score and 'stars in search'. 

The three businesses in the Google 3-pack all look good, with the same scores and credible amounts of reviews. 

We generally advise clients to aim to achieve at least 50 Google reviews as quickly as possible, with 100 as the next target; just think from the reader/potential customer's point-of view: under 10 reviews: meaningless; 11-20: written by their friends and staff; 21-50: how difficult can it be to find that many happy customers? 100+ now we're talking.

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.

Now, we cannot guarantee a business will come anywhere in a given Google search, but what we can tell you is that...
  • this client business had appeared as one of the three businesses (out of over twenty) in the Google three-pack for this location for over three years now
  • it has led the results in natural - also known as organic - search for thirty-one of the last thirty-six months (and has come second or third for the remainder)
  • it has been the only business with an attributed rating - the '4.9 - 212 votes' and accompanying stars, all derived from the reviews hosted on their own site for the overwhelming majority of that period

And this 'specific' search:





This is the kind of search performed by consumers when they need any information about a business. When they need to find the business's website or even its phone number. It is a great opportunity to impress and reinforce (and there's no coincidence that Google devotes so much of the search real estate to review and review scores; in this search alone reviews are highlighted by Google's use of gold stars no less than seven times).

Again: the 'Rating' (4.9) and the number of reviews (212) are pulled from the business's own reviews hosted on their own website - shown three times in this search, as distinct from their Google reviews (140) at the top of their Google knowledge panel on the right, most of which have also been reposted from the reviews written to their website. 

The 'Reviews from the web' link at centre 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 are most likely to write 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 to their rule-breaking behaviour), 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 to have the 'Write a review' button you see at the top right above embedded in its website. The 'What is HelpHound' link at the bottom of this screenshot leads directly to a description of our relationship with the business under review. If you would like to see all of this in action just click here.


The next step

We urge you to spend just five minutes performing the two searches for the businesses referred to in this article...
  • Winkworth estate agents in Blackheath
  • The Harper Clinic in Harley Street
...so you can see the impact HelpHound has had on the impression created for those businesses on both Google and their own websites.

Then, if you are reading this and your business is yet to benefit from HelpHound's services we then suggest that you call or email to arrange to speak to one of our highly experienced staff (you won't be speaking to anyone with less than ten years experience of review management and HelpHound's services).




Further reading:
  • Results - expanding on point 1
  • Compliance - all you need to know about this crucial subject
  • ABC of Reviews - index to all eleven chapters describing review management in detail.
  • Moderation - protecting your business from all kinds of inaccurate or misleading - even fake - reviews
  • Deflection - the unintended pitfalls and consequences of using a review site, as opposed to review management

Friday, 14 May 2021

Trustpilot or Google - where does the value lie?

Following on from Trustpilot v. HelpHound this article is illustrated with an example of why we focus our clients' efforts on Google. In today's Times we found the following article...






Including this...


So we searched for Latus Health, and it is those search results that make the watertight case for businesses to focus on Google reviews. Here's the basic search...





And here right below the main search...





And where are Trustpilot's reviews of Latus Health to be found? Here...at 14 (on page 2 in a desktop search and requiring a searcher to click on 'more results' on mobile):





Now, if you were Latus Health, which reviews, Google's or Trustpilot's, would be concerning you most? More importantly, suppose you were a great business wanting exposure through reviews, which would you choose?


Conclusion

Google reviews should form the core and bedrock of every business's review management strategy.


Action

If your current review strategy is focussed on a review site, be that Trustpilot or Feefo or any of the smaller sites you should be seriously considering switching to a Google-focussed strategy.

This doesn't necessarily mean walking away from your reviews on those sites, or the effort you have put in to generate them, but it will involve a complete reassessment of the way you and your staff have been approaching reviews up until now.


From now on

Your strategy will be dictated by the answer to the following questions:

1.  'Is your business vulnerable to inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews?'

If the answer is 'No' - you can simply begin inviting customers to post reviews straight to Google today.

If the answer is 'Yes' - or even 'Perhaps' - you should be speaking to us.

2.  'Is your business in a competitive market.'

If the answer is 'No': again, begin inviting your customers to write reviews to Google.

If the answer is 'Yes' and you need to have every possible advantage over your competitors, in terms of your ranking in local search, hosting reviews on your own website and boosting your SEO - you should be speaking to us.


Further reading...

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Trustpilot or HelpHound+Google - which adds the most value?

We are asked this question frequently enough to warrant this article, especially now that Trustpilot is a £1 billion quoted entity.

First - a brief outline of each business...

Trustpilot

An open reviews platform on which anyone with access to the web may write a review of any business.

What this means for consumers:

  • they may write a review of any business at any time - invited or not
  • they may write multiple reviews of the same business as often as you wish
  • they may interrogate the site for reviews of businesses
What this means for businesses:
  • anyone can write a review of your business at any time
  • if there are currently no reviews of your business the act of searching for your business will initiate a Trustpilot listing
  • you are entitled to respond to any reviews of your business
  • you may ask Trustpilot to suspend reviews of your business pending 'proof of purchase' by the reviewer
  • Trustpilot owns the reviews

HelpHound

A review manager: advising on and supplying 'best practice' solutions to businesses through a module hosted on the business's website.

What this means for consumers:

  • they may write a review of the business at any time - invited or not
  • each review they write will be moderated to ensure that it contains the minimum of factual inaccuracies and/or statements likely to mislead readers
  • they can subsequently edit their review at any time
  • they can read reviews of member businesses at any time
What this means for businesses:
  • anyone can write a review of your business at any time
  • each review will be moderated - read for factual inaccuracies of potentially misleading content - by one of our moderators
  • the reviewer - irrespective of moderation - always has the right to have their review, no matter the content* - published
  • the business may respond to each and every review
  • all reviewers are automatically asked to copy their review to Google
  • the business, not HelpHound, owns the reviews
*  'no matter the content: the UK CMA regulations specifically state that no barriers must be placed in the way of a reviewer's opinion, right or wrong, being posted. But they do allow for rejection of reviews on the grounds of 'foul language' and 'legally contentious content'. We always revert to the reviewer if their review falls into either of these categories and ask them to rephrase any offending content.


Key differentiators and commentary

1.  Visibility: Trustpilot reviews appear on the Trustpilot website and can be displayed on the business's website; HelpHound reviews appear on the business's website and on Google.

This means: that Helphound clients get their reviews to Google, not to a website - however large - that depends on the ever-changing Google algorithm for its visibility 

2.  Moderation: for professional and service businesses, is essential if potentially damaging inaccurate and/or misleading reviews are to be minimised.

This means: that our clients are fully compliant with UK law which states that no mechanism that prevents a genuinely held opinion from being published should be used. 

3.  Flexibility: if a business client of HelpHound needs to get reviews to another platform - including Trustpilot - at any time, now of in the future - they are able to do so.

This means: that businesses are not tieing themselves to a single inflexible solution and are therefore able to take a long-term view, and make a long-term commitment - to their review strategy.

4.  Cost: Google makes no charge for hosting reviews - the reviews themselves add so much value to Google's core offering they likely never will. So the only service a HelpHound client needs to pay for is our moderated module, and this can be discontinued at any time - any further advice is charged in the same way as any other professional adviser; HelpHound doesn't have contract periods - with the business retaining their reviews, both those on their site and on Google.  

This means: not being 'tied' to any review mechanism.

5.  Impact: Trustpilot places a massive emphasis on marketing with 'Rated excellent on Trustpilot' as a familiar strapline; this has led to considerable brand awareness for Trustpilot which may add value for product reviews, but the fact that Google reviews are so overwhelmingly predominant in both visibility and credibility makes Google our preferred solution for professional and service businesses. 

This means: we will consider Trustpilot - and Feefo and any other relevant review site for clients in [online] retail but for all others, Google wins. 


Proof of the pudding

We have a high-profile Plc client with over 100 locations in the UK. They have been pitched by just about every review solution available over the years that they have been clients of ours - including Trustpilot.

Interestingly, and partly because we had advised them to concentrate their efforts on their own website and Google, there had been a steady drip of mostly negative reviews to their Trustpilot listing. This is what they looked like at the turn of the year...




The businesss' customer relations was definitely not as bad as the impression created here, which was fine - as no-one much was looking


We canvassed their branches on behalf of their head office to see if this was having any noticeable impact. The answer was a resounding 'No'. Why? Because the Plc's Trustpilot listing - and therefore the negative image portrayed there, was not being shown for any of their critical Google searches**. But the Plc remained concerned that, although the negative reviews only represented less than one a year per location, the overall impression would not be great for anyone who did find their way to Trustpilot.

So what did we do? In conjunction with the Plc head office we conducted a month's 'blitz' to get reviews to Trustpilot (as well as to their own websites and Google as per usual, so 'in addition to' rather than 'instead of'). A month into this exercise their listing now looks like this...





But now, even if they do look - the score and rating have both improved, and the last forty or so reviews are all complimentary



And if you were wondering 'What a typical branch location for this business looks like', here's a sample...



...on Google...





...and on its own website. The above stars and score and 'votes' show under the business's listing on Google as well.


** If you would like us to walk you through these searches just drop us a line and we'll arrange to do so. For obvious reasons of client confidentiality, we cannot show specific examples here.


Further reading...




Get your review management up to speed before embarking on expensive advertising

 We see it more often than we should - and certainly more often than needs be. An advertisement like this...



That costs this...





Followed by this...





When we say 'followed by' what do we mean? We mean that many - most? - people who see an advertisement that catches their eye will immediately resort to Google to find out more. Even if they only need to find the company website or contact details, they will google the business, and then be served the business's Google score and the individual reviews underlying that score.

These days consumers are getting more and more review-savvy and that does not mean 'paying less attention to reviews'. Quite the opposite - surveys from the likes of Harvard Business Review and Forbes amonst many others show the numbers increasing steadily year by year. 

In 2017 eighty-four percent of consumers trusted online reviews as much as a personal recommendation from a friend. Now...



..it's 91 percent in the under thirty-four age group and a staggering 93 percent of all ages admit to 'being influenced by reviews'.

Now, we still meet sophisticated business people who say 'It doesn't matter - a Google score and reviews such as these...



...don't impact our business' and we - along with many respected marketing experts - would normally beg to differ...




But we find it so much easier to say 'Fine, but how much would you be prepared to do to see that score north of 4.5 and hundreds of glowing reviews*?'

Professional review management - it adds up, whichever way you look at it.



*Always assuming the business's current image conveyed by Google is as a result of a few disgruntled and far from representative customers.







Wednesday, 5 May 2021

The NHS and feedback - there is a better way

One of our staffers had occasion to pay a visit to a hospital this week. And guess what they saw? This...



Here's the form...


And this was next to the lifts...



How is this feedback collated? (Goodness knows). Is it visible to other patients? (not that we can see). Does it recieve a response? (No). Is it shown on their website? (No). Seriously? In 2021?

Let's look at another medical operation, a relatively recent client of ours:



This form can incorporate specific questions if required (and these can be varied over time)


All collated, scores recorded, incorporating a response mechanism, paperless, visible to all potential patients.

That last point is crucial: what does anyone considering medical treatment need more than almost anything else? Yes: reassurance. 





And as many as possible on Google as well:




Need we say more?