Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Understanding the value of professional review management

Professional review management should find itself placed firmly in the marketing column of any CFO's spreadsheet. And, just like any other marketing spend, it should be valued on the basis of ROI. 

But first we need to help potential clients understand the difference between the following...
  • feedback mechanisms
  • independent reviews sites
  • review aggregators
...and full-time professional review management.

Feedback mechanisms

These have a role to play in every business, be they point-of-sale or post sale (commonly initiated by email). They will be expressly designed to enable the business to refine its offering to its customers, with tailored questions, the answers to which can be analysed to enable the business in question to more accurately target future marketing.

As such, there may be no immediate (or indeed ultimately) quantifiable ROI. Nor need there be - it will be up to the business to use the information gained to drive that ROI through its marketing.

Independent reviews sites

Pre-Google reviews these were a very effective way of harnessing the power of tried-and-tested testimonial marketing. They still have their uses where product marketing is concerned (a toaster rated five stars on John Lewis's website will invariably outsell one rated four stars). 

John Lewis (and Dualit) know - for certain - that this ***** rating, and the accompanying reviews like the one below the listing, will sell more toasters. But just how many thousands of toasters did they sell to accumulate those hundred-and-one reviews? That's why service businesses need review management.

But for services Google reviews trump any other kind of review. Why? In a word: visibility. Google reviews win hands down in virtually every important search - specific (on the business name)...

 ...and local (on the type of business)... 

They also have the added advantage of credibility - everyone recognises Google (and most people now understand that Google reviews are pretty hard to game).

Review aggregators

A simple concept: scrape reviews from all over the web - Google, Facebook and the reviews sites - and then display them on the business's website, like this...

...now, we are not saying these reviews are unrepresentative of the business in question, but we are saying that moderation would ensure they were. 

It is vital for complex high-value transactional businesses like estate agency (and legal, financial and medical services) to have a moderation system in place that ensures that the image they present is fair and balanced - for the benefit of future customers who rely on reviews to make their judgement and the business itself.

Professional review management

If you are in online retail - selling toasters or by the thousand or computers by the hundred - it is easy to get critical mass with reviews, but service-based businesses rarely have that kind of put-through. 

If you are selling houses, providing legal, medical or financial advice or running a recruitment business you are likely to count your customers in dozens a month at the most, often less. This poses a very different question: "How do we get sufficient reviews to make an impact?"

There's only one way your business is going to look like this in search, and that's by employing first-class full-time professional review management.

This is where professional review management comes in. With training and support from the likes of HelpHound you should expect returns the like of which reviews sites - and feedback mechanisms - can only dream. Our top-performing clients regularly achieve the targets we jointly set at outset. Those targets? We call them 50/50. 
  • 50/50 means getting fifty per cent of your customers to write a review to your own website and then fifty per cent of those to copy their review to Google
The other target we set in conjunction with our clients is the score. Google have set their filter - the mechanism that enables users to filter out low-rated businesses at 4.5 out of 5 in most areas (in some rural areas the filter remains where it was pre-June 2018 at 4.0) - so we agree a target score, and that is always 4.5 or more. It may well be that, on joining, a business will have to address internal CRM issues to achieve that score, and it is part of a professional review manager's role to identify areas for improvement to enable a business to attain that vital score.

By now you will be beginning to understand that employing a review manager is about far more than combining a widget on your website with efficient CRM. It is about working together, just as you do with your other professional advisers (legal, accountancy etc.) on a day-to-day basis if need be, to ensure the right outcome.

And that outcome? More business flowing through your doors (and, in this context, 'doors' means whatever channel your customers take - website, phone, email, personal visit and so on).

So now we arrive at the crucial crux of the difference between 'feedback', 'reviews sites' and 'professional review management'. Quantifiable cash-flow - pure and simple.

How to judge the value of professional review management

We - and you - will have failed if only the following happens...
  • great numbers of reviews to your own website
  • a great aggregate score on your own website
  • great numbers of reviews to Google
  • a great aggregate score on Google
...but that won't be the case. Because if you achieve all four (and with our help and support you should) you will also...
  • generate more sales leads through all channels
  • support more sales through all channels
...which you should be able to measure, not least through your monthly Google My Business report. Here's one sent to us by a client (and, good as it is, it's certainly not the best we have ever seen)...

Here we know that any business will be able to put a monetary value on those results - because they will know their own conversion rates, and be able to apply £s per conversion.

Adding even more value

There are two other - very important - ways in which a professional review manager will add value. The first is compliance. To comply with the UK CMA regulations - which all UK businesses must do - businesses must, if they are proactively inviting reviews...
  • allow all their customers to write a review - not just pick those they would like to write a review
  • allow those customers to pick their own time to write their review - not just be invited when the business thinks they are most likely to write a favourable review
We know you won't be able to factor 'not being fined £X,000 by the CMA' (actually the CMA's last fine had five zeros) into your financial forecasts, but we are sure you will see the value in this, especially when combined with the next way in which we will add value: moderation.

Moderation means having an independent entity - HelpHound in this case - reading every review immediately it is written and then enabling a discussion between the reviewer and the reviewed business pre-publication under certain critical circumstances. And those circumstances? If the review, suppose it were published, were to contain any factual inaccuracies or statements that had the potential to mislead any consumer reading them. 

So: professional review management will earn your business hard cash. Put it to the test and you won't have to wait long to see the results (the GMB report shown above relates to the first quarter of the client's membership) and, like most other professional services, we won't tie you into any kind of contract either.

Further reading...

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Don't incentivise your customers to post reviews to Google

Read the full horror story here

We've said it before - and we will keep on saying it. Google hates businesses that incentivise customers to write reviews (and, to be honest, we think it leaves a pretty sour taste in some customers' mouths as well).

But we all know reviews - positive reviews at least - don't write themselves. So what is a professionally run business to do? 

Our answer is simple: in the same way as businesses integrated consumer feedback into their day-to-day operations in the nineties, businesses now need to integrate review management. For so many businesses this is still seen as a bolt-on or an afterthought, when it should be part-and-parcel of everyone's daily lives.

Integrated review management - a 5 step guide...

1.  Invite all your customers - and any other stakeholders (potential customers, past customers) to post a review direct to your own website. 

A button like this will suffice

2.  Target staff to invite a certain number of their customer contacts to post such a review every week or month. Not as an added 'chore' but as part of their core role within your business.

3.  Get those reviews independently moderated - this is important: if they are not moderated your business will be at risk of publishing inaccurate or misleading reviews (and these help no-one - the person posting the review or the person reading it), if they are not independently moderated your reviews revert to the status of testimonials (simple puffs for the business - in the eyes of consumers and the regulators and Google).

4.  Invite everyone who has a review published on your website to copy that review across to Google. To show like this...

...and then - a click away - this...

and yes, those 166 reviews showing at top left under 'Reviews from the web' are the reviews on their own website

5.  Respond to every review (besides being good manners it is also excellent marketing - your response can highlight aspects of your service for those reading the review).

Further reading...

  • The 'rule of 50 per cent': getting half of your customers - over time - to write a review to your own website and then half of those who do so to copy their review to Google will ensure success. Here's how.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Monthly Digest: October 2018

This is our first 'Monthly digest'. There are now so many articles on this blog that we have decided to introduce a monthly summary; this will include 'News' and 'Perennials', 'perennials' being a 'top ten' of the most important articles.


Google announced yesterday that they are 'sunsetting' (their words!) Google+. This will impact few outside the world of tech, where the added privacy was valued by users, and it leaves this sector of the social media field clear for Facebook.

This month's articles...

Which business is going to be first to be fined for flouting the CMA rules on reviews? - if your business is hand picking customers to write reviews it might just be in the firing line. 

Is your Google score hurting your business? The answer, if that score falls short of 4.8 out of 5, is 'almost certainly'. If your business scores less than 4.5 the answer is 'certainly', as it is failing the Google Filter (see article below).

Two out of three UK businesses are breaking the law - if you have any doubts whatsoever read this article.

Google or Trustpilot? There is sometimes a marked disparity between a business's image on Google and that image as portrayed by a reviews site - which is correct?

Estate agents only: If your'e paying Rightmove you should at least look good when your potential fee earners arrive on your website.


Those new to the world of reviews - and review management - would be well advised to read as many of the following as possible. They are responsible for saving many businesses endless heartache over the years.

  • The single biggest focus for us here at HelpHound is 'results' - enabling our clients to prosper - see the impact of professional review management on a client here.

  • Are you complying with the law? Read this - the CMA's letter to businesses and our analysis.

  • And the opinions of our own clients? - see what some say here.
  • Independent reviews sites are everywhere you look - good for online retail but potentially disastrous for professional service businesses. If you are considering one read this first.

There are only two ways to look this good on Google (assuming you run a great business in the first place) - only invite 'happy' customers to write a review (which breaks the law) or adopt moderated review management 

  • Moderation - and why it is vitally important for every service business that engages with reviews.

And finally...

Do subscribe - that way you will get every article on the day of publication. Just pop your email in the box to the right of this article...

Monday, 24 September 2018

Which business is going to be first to be fined by the CMA?

This weekend it was Tripadvisor in the news - but the Times story was not news to us, so it shouldn't be news for the regulators. So why are the reviews sites - almost all reviews sites - still being allowed to mislead consumers?

We want a nice hotel - according to the TImes we are being misled into booking one that pays the most commission to the booking website. 

How is it that online travel agents are still allowed to run ads like this? Show us that the very same room on exactly the same date was priced at $109 on one site and $209 on another and we'll retract this comment.

The Trivago ad that runs on most TV channels is a serial offender, misleading viewers into thinking there is a huge price spread for any given hotel room, when any industry insider will tell you that all the booking/reviews sites ensure there's no spread at all by constantly mystery shopping hotels. Yes, the room prices change, depending on all kinds of factors, but one of those factors is not the booking engine (except for tiny exchange-rate differentials).

Goodness - some reviews sites even have written into their T&Cs that they will drop hotels that undercut their rate for customers who book direct. And just how many hotel guests are aware that the booking site is being paid a commission, and not just a small commission - 3% - 5% - 8%, but far more commission than the hotel is likely to make in profit from the booking - commonly between 15 and 30 per cent? And that's called 'adding value'? More like highway robbery - of both hotel and guest.

It's not just hospitality

Want a great estate agent? You stand a good chance of being channelled towards one that uses a flawed reviews mechanism to enhance its reputation. Perhaps because they are going to be using a Google partner. Google partners, for those still in the dark, are advertising agencies - reviews sites in the context of this article - that have partnered with Google to show star ratings in Google ads - the reviews site wins, because it can 'sell' the ability to show those stars, Google wins, because the business has to pay for an ad to get the stars to show. Nothing wrong with any of that, unless - as we said earlier - the reviews system itself is flawed, which it so often is these days.

Buying a product or service online? How about a reviews system that only allows customers chosen by the business to write a review when - and if - the business decides? Shoes collapse after six months and you want to write a review then? No chance. Estate agent has not arranged for your smoke alarm to be mended in spite of repeated requests? In your dreams.

You can see the superficial attractions of systems such as these for sloppy businesses: but do they really think that using such a system won't eventually be rumbled by consumers, maybe with a little help from a savvy competitor? And the regulator? The CMA fined three estate agents £375,000 for colluding over fees, what makes businesses that flout their regulations think they won't do the same over reviews?

If, reading this, you can sense anger behind the words you would be right. We are angry, corporately angry, because HelpHound gets tainted by association with these practices. 

More and more we are asked if we are 'just like all the others - just there to make the business look better, irrespective of whether or not they are actually any good at what they do'?

So we are appealing to the government regulator - the Competition and Markets Authority - to address these practices before the whole reviews industry loses the remnants of whatever reputation remains. We spoke to them today and have invited them to comment on the allegations made in the Times article, and any other comments relating to reviews and reviews sites in general. As soon as we have their reply we will publish it here.

Action for businesses - important

Check that whatever reviews gathering system you are currently using is compliant with the CMA regulations. There is an easy to follow guide here - or you can simply contact us and we will tell you. It is very important that you understand that the legal onus is on you - the business - to comply with the CMA regulations. You cannot blame the reviews solution you are using and, as is usual in cases like these, ignorance of the law is no defence.

And the $64,000 dollar question...

"How likely is our business to be fined?"

The honest answer to this question is that we don't precisely know - yet. But we can make assumptions...

  1. Flagrant breaches are more likely to attract sanction - the business that has cherry-picked 50+ reviews to Google rather than the one that has done the same for five is more likely to attract sanctions
  2. Regulators are most often prompted to initiate action by whistle-blowers - so a scenario where a business that has been cherry-picking customers to post positive reviews loses a member of staff to a competitor who then alerts that competitor to their previous employer's behaviour resulting in a complaint to the CMA is a highly likely scenario - anyone who doubts this, and the CMA's willingness to impose significant penalties, should read this
  3. If the business in question has been using a visibly non-compliant mechanism - displayed on their website or referred to in emails - see points 1 - 3 under 'Three of the CMA's core rules' below. This makes the regulator's job a whole lot easier.

Ignorance is no defence...

Above you will see an example of a non-compliant business. How do we know this business is non-compliant? We simply take the available facts (as the CMA would do): 

  • the business had no Google reviews three years ago (Google reviews have been around for eight years now)
  • Suddenly the business gained over twenty reviews in a very short space of time
  • Since then reviews have been written regularly (people don't commonly write reviews of estate agents unprompted), so we know the business is proactively inviting customers to write reviews - and that's fine if they can demonstrate that they are inviting all their customers to write a review
  • a client of the business has told us that they were not invited to write a review - indicating non-compliant behaviour by the business
  • a member of staff has told us!

If we had a pound for every time we met a business and they said 'We didn't know...' (most often referring to cherry-picking) we would be very well off indeed. 

Non-compliance often leaves a paper-trail that is highly visible (emails asking selected customers to write a review, for example). In these - frequent - cases our advice is to stop whatever non-compliant activity is current immediately and adopt a compliant review management policy as soon as possible. Regulators take a dim view of non-compliance, but an even dimmer view of knowing non-compliance.
Three of the CMA's core rules..

1.  If the system you are using gives you any advantage whatsoever over the reviewer - challenging negative reviews is an obvious one - then the system you are using is non-compliant.

2.  If the system you are using - in-house or contracted out to a reviews site - allows you to select which customers you invite to write a review it is non-compliant. This includes selecting customers to write a Google review.

3.  If the system you are using locks consumers out - so they cannot write a review at a time of their own choosing - then the system you are using is non-compliant.

Further reading...

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Back to basics - is your Google score hurting your business?

The reason for this article is that there is an 'urban myth' doing the rounds of some businesses that runs something like this...

'A score of 4 out of 5 on Google is OK'

...and another that goes...

'Having no Google reviews is OK'

...not to mention the one that says...

'Looking awful on Google is OK'

...and they are all damaging businesses.

How - and, just as importantly - why?

The 'how' is simple. Let's use some examples:

If looking really, really good on Google, like this...

...and this...

...is a 'good' thing (and we meet few marketeers these days that don't agree that it is), then all logic tells us that looking like this (we have used real-life US examples to protect innocent UK businesses)...

...and this...

...must be a 'bad' thing (or at least 'not such a good thing').

And like this?

...or even this?

...and this...

Must transmit the wrong message entirely.

Let's look at those last two in more detail...

No reviews

Having no Google reviews has the potential to harm your business in any - or all - of the following ways...

  • it looks insignificant
  • it looks as if you are behind the times
  • it looks poor by comparison with competitors
  • it fails the Google Filter (as does any business that scores less than 4.5)

Scoring between 4.0 and 4.5

If it were an A level everyone would be happy, but this is the harsh world of business. A business with just thirty Google reviews that scores 4.0 will have up to seven one and two star reviews. And these will be read by potential customers.

Bear in mind that all one and two star reviews say the same thing, no matter how they are worded, and that is: 'Don't use this business'. 

And they are read and they are believed and they are trusted. So they will deflect business.

And the business will be failing the Google reviews filter.

Scoring less than 4.0

We will be blunt here: no-one who sees that a business is scoring under 4.0 - be that 3.9 or 1.6 - is going to contact that business (if you doubt this, ask yourself a simple question: "I need a plumber, would I call one where over twenty per cent of their customers said "Don't use them"'? If you have any lingering doubts replace 'plumber' with 'heart surgeon' in that question). 

If you have sufficient business coming in through avenues other than the web, OK. Otherwise serious remedial action is needed.

Important note: if your business is scoring 4.5 or better but is achieving that by selectively inviting customers to write a review (or denying customers the opportunity to write a review unless expressly invited) you are currently in breach of one or more of the CMA's core regulations. Speak to someone here at HelpHound and we will advise you on your business's options.

Are all businesses that score below 4.0 rubbish at their jobs?

No, they are not. How do we know? Because we work for lots of businesses that scored well below 4.0 when they first joined HelpHound. What they did all have in common is that they had let the very small minority of their dissatisfied customers control the image they were presenting in search.

How will we know that scoring 4.5 and over will result in more business?

There's only one way - achieve a good - great - score and then see the results for yourselves...
  • your click-throughs will increase
  • your inbound enquiries will increase
  • your customer facing staff will tell you
  • Google will tell you - like this...

This is a HelpHound client's Google My Business report. Your business gets one every month, just wait until your Google score gets north of 4.5 - as it has in this case (see Google's 'congrats' above the stars) - and then look at the numbers in green.

And finally - why use HelpHound?

Three main reasons...

1.  We will take the fear out of inviting reviews. Most businesses initially shy away from inviting reviews because they are, quite sensibly, concerned that some of their customers will write inaccurate or misleading reviews. HelpHound's moderation process reduces the chances of that happening buy well over ninety per cent.

2.  We will enable you to display independently verified reviews on your own website. Not only will these increase inbounds through your site, they will be picked up by Google to show in all searches and in 'Reviews from the web' in the Google knowledge panel. Here is how the client at the top of this article looks...

...in search, in local search...

...and in the knowledge panel...

3.  You will be compliant with the law. The legal authority in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority, forbids any practice that puts consumers at a disadvantage. The core of its regulations say that any business inviting reviews must enable their customer to write a review at any time of their choosing and that all their customers must be given the opportunity to write a review. This rules out practices such as selecting customers to write reviews (known as 'cherry-picking', probably the most common contravention of the CMA regulations - for more see here).

So: if you have persevered and read this far, you only have one more step to take, call us and we will conduct a thorough review of your business's current exposure to reviews and then make recommendations to bring your business as close to the holy grail of 5.0 as you deserve.*

*please note: there are no 'smoke and mirrors' involved - no 'filtering' of negative reviews. If your business has existing CRM issues these will need to be addressed before you adopt a review management strategy. HelpHound cannot 'make' a business with inadequate customer care practices look good. What we can do is make a business that truly cares look great.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Reviews - two out of three UK businesses are breaking the law

This article is important - every business should familiarise itself with all of its contents. You may well find - and you will be in the company of many others - that your current reviews policy is in breach of the CMA regulations in some way (there is a link to our analysis of these at the bottom of this page). If in any doubt whatsoever, contact us.

First - an Italian goes to jail...

This is Ebay UK. Advertisements such as this appear all the time. Why? The last line of this advertiser's 'puff' says it all...

Last week the director of a business selling fake reviews was jailed for nine months by an Italian court. But the important thing for businesses to realise is that this behaviour (we wonder what the Italian authorities will be doing about the customers who bought the fake reviews) was just the tip of a very large iceberg. 

Your business may well be breaking the law

We estimate that more than two thirds of businesses that we meet or see are breaking the law as it relates to reviews in the UK - mostly unwittingly.

The point is that, as any businessperson knows, ignorance of the law - unwitting breaches of the CMA regulations in this context - is no defence.

So let us look at the two distinct types of breach - first the intentional...

  • writing your own reviews. You might - or might not - be surprised at just how many businesses do this. It commonly occurs when a business that has had no reviews receives a negative review. There is a panic - sometimes because the phone has stopped ringing - and someone says 'quick, get on Google and write a five star review'. We have a file full of such behaviour. How do we know? Because people don't think - they use an account that is easily linked back to them and then matched to a Facebook, Google Plus or Linkedin account. 
  • connected person reviews. Remember the wording on the back of the Cornflakes packet (in relation to competitions)? Goes something like 'no connected person, employee of the company or employees of its suppliers and agents may enter'. We know of at least one business where all the branch managers agreed to get their staff to post a review of the next-door branch. We have seen multiple instances where a quick look at a reviewer's Linkedin account will reveal their connection to the business under review.
  • cherry-picking. We sometimes come across people who genuinely - still in 2018 - do not understand that any behaviour that leads to any bias in the impression created by reviews and a business's reviews strategy is illegal. Hand-picking customers - those who the business knows are more than likely to write a 5 star review - whilst quietly ignoring those that are known by the business to be not quite so happy is just such a breach. How many times do we see a business with twenty or thirty positive reviews on Google - often considerably more - all gained by this kind of non-compliant selection? The answer? - multiple times a day.
  • review farming. This is a refinement of cherry-picking - and illegal. It involves inviting customers to write a review to one location - it might be the business's own website or a reviews site, sometimes it involves using the business's internal feedback mechanism - and then inviting only those that write a complimentary review there to copy it to Google. It leaves a paper trail a mile long for the CMA to follow.
  • the 'app trap'. Seen most commonly with apps (apparently apps live or die by their rating): the consumer is asked to rate the app/product/service and then - here's the 'clever' part - if they rate it five stars the 'review' is published, anything less and the 'reviewer' is diverted to a customer service questionnaire to establish why they didn't rate the business fave stars - and no review ever appears.
  • incentivising. We have seen both cash and Amazon vouchers offered to customers, sometimes for 'a review' and sometimes for 'a 5 star review'. Both are against Google and most reviews sites' terms and conditions. The latter is a breach of the CMA regulations.

...and now the unintentional...
  • using a reviews solution that breaks the law (1). Businesses might reasonably expect that most of the reviews solutions that are being actively marketed in the UK today are legal and above board. Take 'closed' reviews sites - those that allow the business to choose who is invited to write a review, but where a customer cannot write a review direct to the site. Sounds reasonable at first glance, doesn't it? But it's non-compliant with the core CMA regulations - that state that if a business invites any of its customers to write a review it must allow all of them to do so. We meet businesses using such solutions that think they are compliant because they do invite all their customers to write a review. The problem is that they don't see hat they are in contravention of the second fundamental CMA regulation that states that the consumer must be able to write their review at a time of their own choosing - and it's not enough to say that they can hunt out the email from months ago to do so.
  • using a reviews solution that breaks the law (2). There are reviews sites that incorporate mechanisms that place the onus on the reviewer to prove that they have a) used the business in question and that b) their review is true. Surprising as it may at first seem, these also contravene the CMA regulations - not because the CMA wants to see reviews published by people who have not used the product or service under review, but because they realise that such mechanisms have the potential to be manipulated by businesses to deflect or delay uncomplimentary reviews.
  • Reacting to negative reviews (or 'blitzing'). Commonly done by businesses that have had little or no prior engagement with reviews. The business in question gets one or more negative reviews and its reaction - quite understandably - is to do 'whatever it takes' to 'rectify the situation'. This will often involve a mixture of 'intentional' breaches - often justified by saying 'it was so unfair, the impression the negative review(s) created, we just had to do something, and quickly'. The business in question is invariably shocked when told that this behaviour is illegal.

Strategies - in addition to those above - that some businesses think are compliant include...
  • including an invitation to post a review in their email signature block
  • combining a review invitation with their CRM software to 'ensure all customers are invited to write a review'
  • mentioning/showing reviews from a reviews site on their websites, but with no live feed
  • showing selected reviews - from Google or a reviews site - on their websites


HelpHound will provide you with half-an-hour's advice free of charge (you can visit us or we will speak to you - phone or Skype). During that half hour we will look at your current review management policy and comment on...
  • its effectiveness - in driving business and/or enquiries
  • its compliance with the CMA regulations
  • potential improvements
...after which you can decide whether you would like to understand more about what HelpHound does for its clients. 

Further reading...