Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Can consumers trust review sites (2)?

This story was run by most of the media last weekend:

So we looked up the review providers for both companies - which happened to be the same (Trustpilot) - and what did we see?


And this:

On the face of it, at least from the headline scores, not so bad: most consumers check the overall score, in this case: 4.0 out of 5 for both. The key here is just that: that consumers have been proven to trust businesses that score 4 out of 5 (see 'How misleading are review scores?'). But is that a true reflection of the reality of customers' experience with these two companies? The press headlines would suggest there's more, so let's mine down further:


Seriously, Trustpilot? Both companies leave twenty percent of their customers, who are buying seriously big-ticket items - replacement windows and doors - so unhappy that they rate them 'poor' or 'bad'? That makes a business 'great' in Trustpilot's eyes?

Now we do what we advise all consumers to do (and where we advise all our clients to focus their efforts): look at the business's Google reviews (and scores!).

Only two example locations, but trust us, we looked at plenty and these are representative

So we have one simple question for Trustpilot and all their fellow review sites:

How do you add value for the consumer when compared to Google reviews?

Because if you cannot come up with a meaningful answer, and we surely cannot, you shouldn't be in the business of providing a service that would, on the face of all the evidence (see articles passim on the blog) benefit the business to the detriment of the consumer.

Here is a review site that claims to add value for consumers: Feefo.

But here is the same business on Google:

And Feefo's 'added value'? They only publish reviews where the reviewer has been emailed by the business and specifically invited to post a review. The added value is intended to be in the reassurance that the person writing the review is identifiably a customer of the business. But there are major flaws in this system.

1.  The business has control of the invitation, and it is just too easy for the business to 'forget' to email its identifiably unhappy customers.

2.  The business has control over the timing of the invitation. 

3.  Besides offering the business an opportunity to invite the review when the customer is at their happiest (usually just after delivery of the service or product) this method is illegal in the UK (see more here).

Google's added value?

  1. It is seen by every single prospective customer, every time they search
  2. It's trusted by consumers (by comparison with most review sites it's difficult to game)
  3. It's free!

So: our question for all three parties: the businesses, the review sites and the regulators (the CMA in the UK): 

When are you going to stop using mechanisms that are open to abuse and self-evidently benefit the business and not the consumer?

If any of these parties, or indeed any of our readers, have answers, comments or suggestions please comment below.


Tuesday, 15 September 2020

How misleading are review scores?

Courier services are ubiquitous these days, and we all - as consumers - have our own horror stories, but what about the businesses that rely on these services for their lifeblood? How do they choose which to use? There are myriad ways, just as there are for any business service, from personal recommendation to responding to marketing. But these days people would be well advised to include reviews in the mix.

This courier company has a Trustpilot score of 4.2. And we're guessing most readers are already thinking 'that's OK'. Even Trustpilot calls it 'Great'. Well, here we explain why it's not. Not OK. And definitely not great. First, let's look at the numbers.

They have 785,645 reviews. Of those reviews, 15 percent (117,941) rate the business at the lowest possible - one star. Those ratings invariably mean a parcel or other shipment lost or damaged beyond repair, helpfully summed up by this, their most recent one-star review:

In addition, many reviews refer to the difficulty customers have with Hermes 'customer services':

So what Trustpilot actually reveals is a business...

  • that loses or damages nearly one in six of all deliveries
  • that is very bad at customer communications
And this, in turn, often leads to a potential customer doing even more research, and maybe coming across videos such as this...


For Hermes:
  1. If you are happy with a business model that fails for one in six of your customers, carry on
  2. If not, address the systemic issues raised in these reviews
  3. Respond to your reviews - after all, it's Hermes that's inviting them in the first place
  4. At this rate (assuming 29,000 self-employed couriers delivering 80 parcels a day each = over 2 million deliveries a day, with 15% going wrong = over a quarter of a million botched deliveries) soon no-one will be using your service unless they have no alternative!
For the consumer:
  1. Don't rely on headline scores alone when choosing a business
  2. Read reviews, both positive and negative
  3. Read the business's response to those reviews
  4. When you decide which business to use challenge them on the points raised in their negative reviews (and their responses)

You don't need to leave reviews out of your marketing mix

Stockbroker and wealth manager Charles Stanley has invested heavily in a multi-media marketing and advertising campaign it is calling 'Conversation Starters'.

Anyone who has been out and about in London over the past months will have seen:


They also have a Google PPC campaign running, so appearing - and looking good - in Google searches is important for them:

They conduct customer surveys, and the results are great, and those findings are harnessed  for use in social media campaigns:

So what? Now let's look at the consumer journey - potential investor, in this instance - once their appetite has been well and truly whetted by everything your see above:

The initial search...

...shows the business scoring 4.0 out of 5 with one review. Maybe that review will be helpful?

...not really! And the story is the same for their twenty-two locations across the UK.

Now, we are guessing that Charles Stanley would address this 'Google reviews deficit' if it found the right mechanism, given that achieving critical mass with Google reviews is proven to drive so many clicks and calls. It certainly has a fertile field to plough with over 800 staff and many thousands of clients, so what do we suppose is stopping it currently?

Professional businesses, whether they be in the medical, legal or financial world (or any other service - as opposed to product - arena; estate agency, architecture and so on) need a mechanism that levels the playing field between their customer (client/patient etc.) and their business, otherwise they will be putting their hard-won reputations on the line.

And Charles Stanley is certainly not alone; here are screenshots of the Google review panels of five significant wealth management businesses, all Google PPC advertisers, that are seen by everyone who searches:

The solution

As ever - with apologies to our regular readers - the solution revolves around moderation (for a definition see here). Let's look first at the aspects of reviews - especially Google reviews - that give businesses like Charles Stanley warranted cause for concern:
  1. that consumers - clients or IFAs in this instance - will write factually inaccurate reviews
  2. that they may write misleading reviews - reviews where the facts are not in dispute but the general thrust of the review is open to misinterpretation
  3. that dissatisfied clients will write disproportionately more reviews than happy clients
  4. that the business will have no chance to correspond with the reviewer and correct errors of fact pre-publication
  5. that the critical business/client personal relationship will be undermined
One by one...

1.  This does happen, and is always picked up in moderation of the review is written through HelpHound. We act as a mediator between the reviewer and the reviewed business. Reviewers welcome this part of our service as much as businesses - unsurprisingly, when you think about it: few reviewers actively want to publish inaccurate or misleading statements about a business.

2.  Ditto point 1. above. And that includes ensuring that the English is comprehensible.

3.  Only the case if either a) the business is inept at customer relationship management (CRM) or b) the business is not proactive in inviting reviews from its clients. Part of HelpHound's role is to ensure that the business and its staff are confident in inviting reviews from their customers.

4.  This is part of HelpHound's core offering: the ability to do just this. The quality - in terms of helpfulness to subsequent readers of the individual reviews - is paramount. 

5.  Extensive experience has shown that professional review management reinforces a business's CRM, not the other way around. It acts as a great marketing tool on the one hand and a valuable early warning of customer dissatisfaction on the other.

Just compare the search results above with those from any HelpHound client, and we're sure you will see what we mean. Looking good on Google - in terms of reviews - is massively reassuring for those making one of the biggest financial decisions of their life, whether that be investing capital or buying property.

The reviews themselves...

And the not inconsiderable contribution to the business leading local search:

So: HelpHound gives service businesses and the professions a safe and secure way of engaging with reviews. With a host of advantages (see 'Further reading' below) but with the objective of driving more business through search and the business's own website always at the core of everything we do:

This is the Google My Business monthly report for just one branch of a client business, for the month after full implementation of our service, showing the 'HelpHound effect'. Imagine what these numbers could do for your business.

Further reading:

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Reviews are vital if you want to rank in search

We make no apologies for banging this drum again. Not only are reviews - those hosted on your own website
and Google reviews - valued by your potential customers (88% of whom rate them as highly as a personal recommendation) but they are valued as much as any other factor by Google when determining your business's position - rank - in search.

Look at this typical search - the one all your potential customers make (this is an estate agent, but it could just as well be any other professional or service business):

Now look at the factors that influence Google when ranking businesses in search:

So, you need:

  • Review quantity: Fifty is a first threshold. How do we know? We don't, and Google are never going to tell us, but common sense dictates that 50 is about the level that any algorithm is going to begin to notice review activity.
  • Review velocity: It's no good having a 'blitz', as so many businesses do, getting a decent number of reviews and then easing up. Google wants to see regular reviews.
  • Review diversity: Not just 'great business, use them' every time, and definitely not just Ratings (stars with no review content). Google wants reviews that help users decide which business to click through to.
And we would add:
  • Review quality: a subset of 'diversity' above. Again: Google values information - the more the better, and it also values good written English (our moderation process ensures that).

Here's another case history (Winkworth, above, are also HelpHound clients):

The business concerned is a small independent with one location. How do they lead the Google 3-pack and Map Search? By ticking as many of the boxes listed above as possible, with help from their web designers and HelpHound: hosting 655 reviews on their own website and having 135 on Google.

Standing out in a crowded marketplace:

Friday, 21 August 2020

Inviting customers to write reviews direct to Google is unwise

Unwise? More like positively suicidal from a business point-of-view. Here's a case history. 

What did the business do (wrong)?

The business in question knew that inviting selected customers to write a review is illegal so they took what they thought was the next logical - and most cost-effective - step: they put a button on their website inviting anyone to post a review direct to Google. Like this...

What is the impact of adopting this strategy?

1.  It made the business compliant with UK law - which states that if a business invites reviews at all it must enable all of its customers to do so at a time of their own choosing. This is important, not just because a business doing otherwise risks a fine and other sanctions, but because the knowledge that a business is flouting the law is extremely effective in the hands of its competitors.

But that's just about the end of the positive outcomes. Now for the negatives:

2.  Very few of the business's satisfied customers used this avenue: a much higher proportion of unhappy customers made the effort to either a) find the link on the business's website or b) simply go straight to Google and write their - one-star - review there.

3.  As a direct result of adopting this solution: the business's Google score immediately began to fall. In the last two months the business has received the following Google reviews:

Five-star:    6

Four-star:   1

Three-star: 1

Two-star:    0

One-star:    14

That, in percentage terms, means sixty-eight percent of their reviews posted to Google since implementing the 'direct' policy now rate the business as one star. Any continuation of this trend - which will be inevitable without independent moderation (see this article) - will see the business's Google score fall until it is failing the filter. 

Just as damaging (maybe even more so): this strategy increases the likelihood of one or more negative reviews leading the business's reviews - and negative reviews dominating overall:

A hard-won online reputation tarnished in a matter of weeks - down from the Holy Grail of 5.0 to 4.7 and with the direction of future travel obvious to anyone with the slimmest grasp of review management and basic maths. 


Reviews are important. Google reviews - and scores - are hugely influential. Negative reviews are extremely damaging. Very few businesses continue to deny these three self-evident facts in 2020.

Independent moderation is not just 'nice to have', it's vital.

The $64,000 question* is, as always, what does it cost to 'insure' your business's online reputation these days? If we told you 'between £30 and £100 per location, per month' what would your reaction be? Comment below or call us.

Further reading

  • Moderation: the only legal mechanism that will save your business from unfair, inaccurate and misleading reviews.

*Sometimes we meet businesses that think they have the answer: they plan to financially motivate their staff to invite reviews from customers (understanding that rewarding customers direct contravenes Google's T&Cs). 

Our answer: we have extensive experience of this, and it's certainly one route that we would advise some businesses to explore (certainly, in this case history, whatever the business has done since they began inviting customers to post direct to Google, it hasn't resulted in many positive reviews), but surely, if you are going to be paying your staff to get reviews - and the going rate for sustaining such motivation would appear to be around £20 a review - then paying a review manager such as HelpHound the rates quoted, given all the other benefits (regulatory advice, software, training, reviews hosted on your own site and, above all, moderation) pales into insignificance?

Monday, 10 August 2020

Moderation - the Golden Key to reviews

Note for regular readers: we have introduced this 'key takeaway' box to summarise the essential points of each article; hopefully, it will enable you to decide if you need to read further, or even pick up the phone straight away! As ever, we welcome feedback and you can comment by clicking the link at the bottom of the article - we will respond, you can be sure of that.

Now: on with the article...

All indications show that people are spending much more time on pre-purchase research in the 'new normal'. Why?
  • because they have more time on their hands - often because they're working from home
  • because they are more concerned that they make the correct purchasing decision
  • because, for a lot of people, their finances are more stretched, or are under threat of becoming so 
Impulse buying, for big-ticket items and especially services, is fast becoming a distant memory.

So, in practical terms, what are consumers now doing pre-purchase? They are...
  • Speaking to friends, family and colleagues 
  • Researching on the web - often extensively
  • Reading Google reviews - especially negative ones
  • Comparing competitive products and services
Let's took at these in more detail.

Speaking to friends, colleagues and family

We have all always done this, haven't we? Yes, but not nearly as extensively as we do now. There are two key reasons why we ask more questions of more people these days. First: we are aware of just how fragile the economy is becoming and when this happens people are naturally more cautious. Secondly: many people have much more time on their hands - they have 'commuting time' if they are now working from home and they have 'social time' because they are not getting out nearly as much.

Researching the web and reading Google reviews

Pre-COVID consumers may have read a business's Google reviews, or even simply relied on the business's Google score. Now they have both the time and the inclination to mine down further. 

Take this high profile business as an example: back in the pre-COVID environment a score of 4.4 (although marginally failing the Google filter) might have sufficed:

But now? Suppose a potential customer takes just ten more minutes on Google, what might they discover? First stop: read the negative Google reviews:

Then read the first Google 'People also ask' question:

Then read what their employees say about them on employment sites such as Indeed and Glassdoor:

And read the business's responses to negative reviews... see if they address the issues raised.

Comparing equivalent services

Every Google search - even one on a specific business such as this for Pimlico Plumbers  - throws up alternatives:

Making it easy for consumers to compare any business or service.

What should a business do?

To take this example: Pimlico Plumbers have over two hundred self-employed tradesmen on their books and they deal in a highly contentious area: emergency services. They are bound to have customer disputes. The problem they have - in common with just about every other service business - is that all their disputes have the potential to be aired in public, on the web, often as Google reviews. 

Without what follows, consumers will resort to posting a negative and potentially damaging review, often in the heat of the moment, without any meaningful dialogue with the business, and we have a pretty good idea that's what's happened in the majority of cases where Pimlico Plumbers have received a one-star review. And those reviews will be deflecting business.

This is quite easily addressed by one straightforward mechanism - independent moderation.

Moderation: how it works, for you and your customer

Moderation involves an independent agent acting as an intermediary between the reviewer and the reviewed business - HelpHound in the following example. The moderator reads each and every review before it is then published on the business's website and the reviewer is subsequently - and automatically - invited to copy their review to Google.

Benefits for the business

All our clients' websites host a 'write a review' button that enables anyone - anyone at all - to write a review of the business in question at any time:

A review such as the one for Pimlico Plumbers above would have had a very good chance of being submitted through this system and therefore become subject to moderation (the client so obviously requires a response from the business - why wouldn't they use a mechanism that promises a response?).
Even if it were not the business would be able to respond to this Google review inviting the customer to take such a course of action. Lastly, the business would be able to respond publicly on Google saying that 'All our customers are able to take advantage of our independently moderated customer review system by simply clicking on the button on our website.' and at the very least show others that they have gone to lengths to enable both happy and unhappy customers to communicate with them.
N.B. This review was only written two weeks ago and already six Google searchers have voted it 'Helpful'. We estimate that less than one in thirty people who read a review bother to vote, meaning that at least 180 people have read the review.

Moderation ensures that the business is able to comply with the law - which requires all businesses that proactively invite reviews from their customers to ensure that every one of them is able to write a review at a time of their own choosing - without undue risk that its reputation will be harmed by inaccurate and/or misleading reviews.

Above all it gives the business the confidence to actively invite reviews - with the proven advantages such a strategy has, without the real fears inherent in adopting an unmoderated approach.

Benefits for your customer 

Moderation also ensures - as far as is humanly possible - the accuracy of each and every review and as such it is welcomed by reviewer and business alike (and we're pretty sure Google is all in favour as well!).
Very few reviewers want inaccurate or misleading statements publicly published (and we have never yet met a business that was happy with such comments either). Perhaps, most important of all, is the effect moderation has on the relationship between business and customer: customers who post inaccurate or misleading reviews are most unlikely to use the reviewed business again, they are simply too embarrassed; moderation enables mediation to take place, in private, so misunderstandings are resolved before the crucial businbess/consumer relationship is irrevocably damaged. Put simply: moderation retains customers.


With moderated review management everyone wins. The business:
  • is given the confidence to invite all its customers to post a review
  • becomes instantly legally compliant (see below)
  • retains more customers
  • achieves a more impressive Google score
  • has great reviews and a great score on its own website and those reviews and scores drive more clicks and calls (see below)
The consumer:
  • is impressed by the business's Google score and the individual reviews
  • is far more likely to contact the business  
  • is far less likely to be put off using a business by its negative reviews and lower Google score
  • is given reviews they can trust
  • is much more likely to remain a customer - even after a negative experience

Further reading...
  • Moderation - a full explanation of the process
  • The law - so many businesses currently run foul of UK law relating to reviews
  • Killer reviews -  essential reading for anyone that thinks 'the odd bad review won't hurt'

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.