Monday, 20 July 2020

Reviews: a survival checklist for the 'New Normal'

More and more - especially now that so many have so much more time on their hands and have become so much more careful with their money (and are spending far more of it online -or, at the very least, conducting much more pre-purchase research there) - consumers are checking a business's reviews before taking the first critical step: picking up the phone or clicking through to the business's website.

Research proves time and again that following these simple - and inexpensive - steps boosts incoming calls and clicks significantly. Here's just one typical 'before and after':

This is from a client's Google My Business report - something Google sends every business on the planet every month - from the first full month after adopting HelpHound. 

So here is a checklist for every business...

  1. Have at least 50 Google reviews
  2. Have at least 100 reviews on your own website
  3. Ensure your reviews are current
  4. Make sure those reviews are independently verified
  5. Make sure those reviews are moderated
  6. Make sure that all your review processes are legally compliant
  7. Motivate your staff 
  8. Respond to all your reviews
  9. Mobilise your reviews in your marketing
  10. Keep checking your review management strategy against this checklist!

1.  50 Google reviews

It's straightforward: research has shown that this is the level at which consumer scepticism evaporates and 'I bet they're all written by friends and family' is replaced by 'this is an impressive array of positive comments'.

2.  100 reviews on your own website

As for the above. Plus a crucial element (see 'Moderated' - Point 5 below). Why double the number? Simply because we have found from long experience that it is possible to get about half of those customers who write a review to the business's website to go on and copy it to Google.

3.  Current

How many times do we see a business that worked really hard to get reviews a year ago and then let it slip? Too often. It is so obvious to consumers too. Keep the reviews coming.

4.  Independently verified

Independent verification turns a testimonial into a review. It also enables moderation (again, point 5. below).

5.  Moderated

Without moderation, every business is bound, sooner or later, to fall victim to a factually inaccurate or damagingly misleading review - often both. Many businesses have a'so what? attitude to these - until they fall victim. With moderation the likelihood is massively reduced, if not wholly eliminated. More here.

6.  Legal

So many businesses are breaking the law - mostly by hand-picking customers to write reviews -  that complacency has become widespread. But if, by adopting a professional review management strategy, a business can become fully compliant, why risk being the first in your area to be fined and sanctioned? More here.

7.  Motivate staff

Many business's first reaction is to offer rewards to customers for writing reviews. This is against Google's terms of service and risks all the business's reviews being unilaterally deleted. Reward staff instead. More here.

8.  Respond

It's so easy, but still many businesses fail to do so. More here.

9.  Mobilise

Looking great on Google and on your own website is a great first step, and you will certainly notice the increase in inbound enquiries, but it is such a waste to leave it there. Use reviews in all your marketing - online and offline and in social media.

10.  Check - and check again

Just as you do with any repetitive discipline in business: keep a running check on your reviews.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

It is so important that every business obeys the law concerning reviews

We heard it again today: 

"Why can't we just invite happy customers to post reviews?"

And it's a perfectly reasonable question when asked by a perfectly reasonable business.

But we don't live in a world populated entirely - or even mostly - by perfectly reasonable businesses.

The reason the CMA rules categorically state that...
  • if a business invites any reviews at all it must enable all of its customers to write a review
  • no business should control the timing of the writing of a review - consumers should be able to write a review at a time of their own choosing precisely because of that.

So here's why the law must be enforced - and obeyed:

Unlike reasonable businesses there are businesses out there, many of them (most in some areas of business) that would - and do - manipulate reviews in their favour, against the interests of their potential customers.

To make it quite clear why the law does not allow businesses to 'just ask happy customers to post reviews' let's take an example: 

Your nearest-and-dearest is diagnosed with a severe illness and you urgently need to find a specialist. You google and you find three such specialists in your area, but one scores far higher than the other two, with far more glowing reviews, so you - quite understandably - choose them.

Six months later you see a report in your local newspaper:

'Medical specialist fined heavily by the CMA for fraudulently misleading patients with their reviews'

You read on:

'Their reviews were written by friends, a marketing agency based in the Philippines and other untraceable 'patients', as well as a tiny minority of genuinely satisfied patients who had been hand-picked and then cajoled into writing a positive review. Patients whose treatments had less positive outcomes had not been contacted at all.'

Are we thinking along the same lines now? Reviews must not be manipulated - at all. Otherwise consumers, when faced with headlines such as this, repeated constantly in the press and online:

...will simply end up ignoring reviews altogether. And that would be a bad thing, for businesses and consumers alike.

The good news

The reason many otherwise honest businesses have flouted one or both of the CMA's core rules referred to above is simple: fear. Fear of receiving reviews from customers that have not understood the product or service they have bought and then resort - in the main - to Google to air their real or imagined grievance.

Google, rightly, will not engage 'in matters of commercial dispute'; in plain English: the customer's opinion - and review - stands unless the business under review can provide proof positive that the review is either malicious or, for example: written about the wrong business. 

Note: If you think your business is the victim of an unfair, inaccurate or misleading review(s), read this or simply contact us, we will almost certainly have a solution for you.

In other words, once a review is on Google it's there for the life of the business, with few exceptions. 

The solution is there for any business that requires it: moderation. And for that, you require an independent moderator. And guess what? That's exactly what HelpHound does.


Moderation: the act of mediating between reviewer and reviewed business to ensure the veracity and accuracy of reviews pre-publication.

The regulators, quite understandably, don't like businesses moderating their own reviews, and nor, surprisingly enough do consumers. When we first introduced our moderation service we were concerned that consumers might see us 'acting in the best interests of our paying business clients'; but the reverse has been the case: reviewers are pleased - and often relieved - when we alert them to the fact that something contained in their review may possibly mislead a fellow-consumer who may well come to rely on it. We also correct spelling errors and basic grammar before publishing reviews.

There's much more on moderation here. Suffice to say, it's the key to engaging - proactively and compliantly and perhaps most important of all from a business's perspective: safely - with reviews for most, if not all, of our clients.

In conclusion:

There's now no reason to break the law. Review management is so inexpensive and has so many positive benefits - on top of the 'sleep at night' knowledge that there will be no knock at the door from the CMA - that adopting it should be a foregone conclusion for any well-managed business. 

And woe betide your competitor that keeps on ploughing the non-compliant furrow when they do get that knock!

Further reading: 

  • The CMA regulations - that apply to every business trading in the UK - explained in full.
  • Moderation - and why it is such a vital component of successful review management
  • ABC of reviews - the authoritative guide to everything review-related, for those who want to understand reviews in depth

Friday, 26 June 2020

ABC of Reviews: Our pitch to you

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

Let us run through it phrase by phrase:

1.  'Quantifiably better off':

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

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

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

2.   'More enquiries through Google':

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

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

3.  'More enquiries through your own website':

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

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

4.  'CRM enhanced':

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

5.  'Staff morale boosted':

This - on Google:

And this - on the business's own website:

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

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

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

Look at this (local search):

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

And this (specific search):

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

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

7.  'Compliant with the law':

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Reviews: a business adopts entirely the wrong solution

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

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

And here they are on Trustpilot:

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

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

And there's much more here.

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

Our advice to this business?

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

Our advice to Trustpilot?

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

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

ABC of Reviews: 10. Responding

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

This 5* review...

Or this 5* review...

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

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

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

Rather than:

How much more impressive is:


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

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Google scores matter

Here is a very simple example:

GP practice 1:

GP practice 2:

A sign in the window of GP practice 2:

Do we need to say more?

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

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

Friday, 5 June 2020

ABC of Reviews: 9. Targets

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

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

The first target...

Is your score.

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

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

Beware the Google filter

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

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

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

Pure numbers

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

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

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

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

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

In practice - on the ground

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

The Rule of 50%

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


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

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

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