Friday, 13 September 2019

BBC Watchdog - and how this horror story could so easily have been prevented

This week's BBC Watchdog, not for the first time, featured an elderly lady who had been ruthlessly defrauded by a tradesman, in this case, a tree surgeon. The story will be familiar: she sees a flyer advertising his services, he turns up with two assistants, quotes her £550 for what Watchdog's expert has assessed as a £350 job, does a dreadful job and then ramps up the charge to over £6,000, takes every penny of cash she has in the house and then 'helps' her make a bank transfer for the balance.

What should she have done?

Googled - or asked a relation or friend to Google - and then read the business's reviews (their Google reviews - more on that later*).

But - and this is currently a big 'but' - that relies on the business engaging with Google reviews. It is the business's responsibility to give its potential customers the confidence to use them. 

Currently, tree surgeons in Essex (where the story above came from) are doing a very bad job, not at tree-lopping but at giving their potential customers the confidence to use them:

What should they be doing? Let's search for a similar 'man with a van' trade - oven cleaners, this time in Sussex:

And Sussex Oven Cleaning's underlying reviews?

*why Google reviews, why not Yelp or Yell or Trustpilot or Feefo or Trustatrader or Ratedpeople?

It's simple really:

  1. They are the most visible reviews on the web - by a mile
  2. They are the most trusted reviews - again, by a mile, thanks in part to 3. below
  3. They are free for the business
So why pay for one of the other mechanisms mentioned above, unless they are providing some advantage over and above Google (feel free to comment by clicking the button below)?

The downside of adopting a Google-centric reviews policy?

There's only one: you will need to ensure that you are seen to be inviting all your customers to post a review, for two reasons: in order to comply with the UK law as it relates to reviews and to be able to look prospective customers in the eye and be able to say 'our reviews are an accurate reflection of our business'. 

That is where HelpHound comes in: aside from advising businesses on all aspects of reviews and review management we provide software to enable our clients to gather reviews and moderation for those reviews once they have been submitted by your customer.


The process is simple but essential: the review is submitted, it is then read by one of our moderators in order to establish if it is either factually inaccurate or has the potential to mislead someone reading (and relying on) the review. If that is the case we will refer to both reviewer - your customer - and the business under review; this inevitably results in a very high proportion of factually accurate and therefore helpful reviews (helpful to your potential customer and to your business). 

Our message - to every single business...

For the sake of your prospective customers: Engage with Google reviews!

And if you are concerned as to just how to go about it without putting your business's reputation at risk - speak to us.

Friday, 6 September 2019

TripAdvisor and fake reviews - again!

When will the world - the reviews sites themselves and the regulators (the CMA in the UK) -wake up to the damage done by fake reviews?

Regular readers will have lost count of the number of times we have written on this subject, and the articles go back nearly ten years. First, let us look at the points made by Which? and the BBC and TripAdvisor's responses.

Our points:
  1. Fake reviews are written by employees or agents of the hotel in question. Surely it is not about '[going after] fake reviews "very aggressively"' but more about going after the hotels themselves? What has TripAdvisor done to warn its users that the hotels in question have been guilty of seriously misleading the public? Nothing, as far as we can make out.
  2. There is another category of fake review that neither Which? nor the BBC has touched on: the negative fake review. These are written, in significant volumes, by competitor hotels.  
  3. "We are doing more than any other platform out there" That's not saying much Mr Kay; as far as we are aware HelpHound is the only reviews mechanism in the world today that moderates reviews pre-publication (and we are not claiming that our system is 100% watertight, but at least we do everything we can to ensure that it is as close as possible to the ideal). TripAdvisor has massive financial resources (it turned over nearly $2 bn last year) and staff (over 3,000 at last count) and it is constantly investing in just about everything except ensuring the veracity of its reviews, the very aspect of its business model that reassures its users so they use its platform to book their hotel and therefore earn TripAdvisor revenue.  

Our points:

  1. Naomi Leach of which is right on both counts: TripAdvisor has consistently failed, over many years, to give any concrete examples of action it has taken, on its own initiative, to prevent fake review appearing on its site and to prevent hotels gaming their Tripadvisor reviews.
  2. "Platforms like TripAdvisor should be more responsible for the information presented to consumers". Absolutely; we would just take the word 'more' out of this sentence.
  3. Show us your 'fraud detection tools'. TripAdvisor has consistently hidden behind the weak excuse that to expose its so-called 'fraud detection tools' would lead to further and more sophisticated fraud by hotels. That, to our mind, is a bit like saying that drivers will find a way around speed cameras.

Our points:

  1. The UK CMA has the power to sanction review sites or sites such as TripAdvisor that invite and display reviews as part of their business model. It is high time that they did so.
  2. The CMA also has the power to prosecute businesses that set out to fraudulently deceive consumers. They should do so.

In summary

We look forward to seeing TripAdvisor take action - publicly visible action - against hotels that post fake reviews. Years ago they did do so, here is the 'red flag' notice they used...

Surely the hotels that Which? identified in their investigation merit something similar, if only to warn consumers? After all, what are reviews for at the end of the day?

We would also like to see a thorough investigation by the CMA - and action taken.

Friday, 23 August 2019

A reviews solution for your business? It is a question of 1, 2 or 3

Important note:

In the following example we have used estate agency, partly because they, as a profession, are as engaged with reviews as any other. But what applies to them applies equally to any other business – financial, medical, any professional business at all. Online retailers, on the other hand, would be well advised to remain with the review sites.

Your business's choice? One of the following...



Now, assuming that your choice is not going to based on anything subjective (the colour of the salesperson's shoes, or even unsupported promises by salespeople) but our old friend ROI, pure and simple, we assume you are going to conduct the following tests:

1. Visibility: which of the above three is the most visible in search?
2. Credibility: which has the most in the eyes of your prospective customers?
3. Compliance: which is least likely to get you into hot water with the regulators?
4. Longevity: which will you want to look good on in five or ten years' time?

After this, you will choose Google.

 we hear - some of you - say. And then the following may be added...

'But... [insert name of major competitor] uses one of the others.'

'But... [insert name of reviews site] has promised me a massive leap in ROI as well.'

'But... Google has not tried to sell me their reviews system.'

And, perhaps most important of all...

'But... if I choose Google how can I be sure the reviews I get will be accurate and fair?'

Let's look at these, one by one:

Your competitor uses a review site:

They're wrong. Review sites are last year's solution. They evolved before Google came up with its own reviews solution. Heard of Beebo? Probably not (unless you were a teenager around the millennium); they were the No 1 social media site before Facebook happened along. If you want to be ahead of your competition with reviews: choose Google.

A big leap in ROI:

The only way to find out? Do it! You will know within weeks (a client of ours saw a twenty percent jump in clicks through to their website and a thirty percent rise in inbound calls from potential customers within six weeks of refocussing their efforts towards Google.

Google hasn't tried to sell me their system:

Of course they haven't, it doesn't earn them revenue. But PPC does, so choose a reviews site that's a Google partner and they will be very happy indeed.

On that point: some businesses choose a reviews site to get this - in organic search...

See the one with the stars next to it, that also happens to be heading natural search? Yes? That's our client!*

*Stars in search need three key ingredients:
  1. reviews hosted on your own website
  2. a regular flow of those reviews
  3. a web designer and/or SEO specialist that knows their business inside out
If you would like us to introduce you to a 'No. 2' please just ask.

How can I be sure the reviews will be accurate and fair?

Perhaps the most important question of all. Inaccurate and misleading reviews help no-one, not the reviewer, nor the people relying on the review to lead them to the right business nor the business itself. There's only one legal* way to make sure your reviews are accurate and fair and that's by having them moderated. Read this article to understand all about HelpHound's moderation system.

*Legal: we have all come across businesses that look great simply by virtue of selectively inviting those customers they know to be happy to write reviews, to Google or to any other platform. This is illegal. If you have any doubts whatsoever please read this analysis of the CMA regulations (the law).


As with any other decision of this importance, we would encourage you to speak to an existing client, someone who has experienced the journey for themselves. To speak to a HelpHound client, just contact us, we will be happy to effect an introduction.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Hosting your own reviews is vital for SEO - more feedback from Google

Last week we had a very interesting discussion with a Google staffer. In this case we went through every constituent of a client's website, item by item. The Google expert stressed one factor above all: the value, from an SEO point-of-view, of hosting independently verified reviews on the website.

Independently verified reviews, he stressed, meant just that: reviews of the business in question posted to the business's own website via a recognised third-party. Not - he went on to add - Google's own reviews shown on the business's website or an aggregated feed of reviews from external sources.

In other words, this:

Or this:

Or this:

But not this:

Or this:

Or this:

In fact, Google positively discriminates against any kind of duplication - if its crawlers find content in two locations, they effectively ignore it from an SEO perspective. 


It is straightforward: host independently moderated reviews on your own site. They will count towards your SEO score and considerably improve your chances of appearing in the Google 3-pack:

And high up in organic local search:

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Repairing the damage: a case history

The problem with being 'sold' a solution, as opposed to 'buying' a solution, is often that the 'sold' solution will have done your business harm long before you notice that any damage. 

This was the case with a client of ours when we first met last year. They had taken a reviews site on board and - as far as they were concerned - everything was going swimmingly. But was it? Luckily a well-respected industry figure suggested they speak to HelpHound.

What did we find? Whenever we meet a prospective client for the first time we conduct a full audit. This covers...

  • The business's current exposure to Google reviews - or lack of it in many cases
  • The business's current exposure to reviews sites - this will be exhaustive, covering  general sites (sites that host reviews of any kind of business) such as Yelp, Trustpilot, Feefo and Facebook and industry-specific sites (in the case of estate agents this would be allAgents and GetAgent, in the case of hotels, Tripadvisor and the like)
  • Compliance - almost every business we meet has compliance issues. It is increasingly important for businesses to take professional advice to ensure that they comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law regarding reviews 
In the case of this estate agency - a group with twenty plus locations - we found the following:

1.  Their individual locations looked good on the reviews site they had been sold...

...but they should have better. Why? Because the reviews on this site are not moderated - and why should they be? After all, the site is designed for reviews of shirts and shoes - products, not sophisticated services. Without a reviews solution that incorporates moderation (see the end of this article for a full explanation) the business is always going to leave itself open to unfair criticism, and that leads to a misleading impression being created in the eyes of potential customers. 

2.  They were creating a universally negative impression across almost all their locations on Google...

...thanks to deflection. Deflection is where the business invites customers to post a review to the site of its choosing and its happy customers do as they are asked, but unhappy customers say 'No, I'll post it where it will hurt them most - by being the most visible - and that's on Google'.  For a full explanation see 'Further reading' below.

3.  They had compliance issues as a direct result of the reviews site they had adopted. The CMA's regulations specifically state that if a business invites any of its customers to write a review it must enable all of its customers to do so - at a time of their choosing. The following is an extract from the letter to businesses sent by the CMA back in August 2016...

Feefo is a closed site - that means that the business controls the timing of the invitation to write the review and therefore the timing of the review. That is non-compliant with the CMA regulations. More than that it is 

Our conclusion

The business had been sold the wrong solution - in this case, a solution designed expressly to meet the needs of online retailers, not high-value and complex transactional service businesses such as estate agency. It needed a solution that was expressly tailored to its own needs. 

Our advice

Our advice was simple: 

  1. Adopt a compliant solution
  2. Adopt a moderated solution 
  3. Focus on Google and the business's own website - get reviews to both

CMA compliance is a given in every piece of advice we ever give; moderation is essential if the reviews are going to be accurate and therefore helpful for potential clients; the business - and all its locations - needed to look good on Google, not on an independent site, simply because its prospective customers are all looking at Google; it needed reviews on its own website, not only in order to facilitate moderation but also to engage visitors to its site and to supply a vital SEO 'kicker' to help its locations up the local search ranks.

The results

The business's locations are now scoring an average well above 4 on Google. They look great on their own websites -and are providing the SEO kicker Google want there - and their reviews are accurate on both platforms. 

Further reading...

Monday, 12 August 2019

Woodford: A question for financial advisers and wealth managers...

This screenshot is taken from an article in Saturday's Times entitled 'The worst-performing funds, from St James’s Place to Woodford Equity Income'. It highlights ten funds with a total of funds under management in excess of £20 billion. There is no doubt whatsoever that some investors in these funds will currently be looking for a new home for their capital. Our question for the investment management industry is simple...

'Does it think it has a duty to help potential investors when they are looking for a safe home for their capital?'

Let us explain

You will have written to your clients explaining just how your firm is safeguarding their capital and addressing their objectives without involving them in the kind of risks we have seen bring about Woodford's downfall, just as you would have, given a similar crisis of confidence in, say, 2009, 0r 1999, or 1989?

But here we are in 2019. And there is a mechanism out there that was not available in 2009: Google reviews. But very few in the financial world have worked out just what a powerful message positive reviews are able to convey to existing and potential clients alike.

The advantages of Google reviews - from an investors point-of-view

Google reviews can be posted by anyone at any time; this gives them credibility. They are also highly visible - appearing front and centre in any given Google search.

Well managed, Google reviews provide potential investors with reliable first-hand corroborations of the business's own marketing. Here's an example - on the business's own website (you will be familiar with this kind of thing):

But reinforced by over forty opinions on Google (often before the potential client even arrives on the company website):

The advantages, from the fund manager's point-of-view

A reassured potential client/investor is much more likely to become a real-live client/investor. And these reviews (and the remaining 40-odd) are nothing if not reassuring.

So why do most financial advisers and wealth managers look like this on Google?

Or - in the overwhelming majority of cases - this:

How about the largest UK wealth manager?

We didn't have to look far to find this example. The first ten St James's Place offices in map/mobile search return the following:

Perhaps it is because they are aware that there are disadvantages inherent in engaging with reviews. Awareness of these, we suspect, has gone a long way towards the current state of inaction. We spoke to two businesses, one with a significant amount of reviews and one with none, and the answer became clear.

Human nature

There was either an extreme, albeit rare, case of optimism: 'We don't need reviews, all our clients come to us through word of mouth' or, uch more common, pessimism 'We would never consider inviting our clients to write a publicly visible review, you never know what they might say.'

The first one is difficult to answer, except to say that even those introduced by word-of-mouth have been known to consult the web, even if only to find contact details (and they will see reviews when they do).

The second was answered by the adviser with lots of reviews: 'We were extremely wary, so we dipped our toes into the water very gently; soon we realised that we should have faith in ourselves and our clients. We work hard to give them the best advice and service and they have recognised that in their reviews - both in terms of the scores and content.'

They did, however, go on to say that they were highly selective when it came to those clients they invited to write reviews. This is important. The CMA regulations clearly state that a business that proactively invites reviews must enable all its customers to do so. When we mentioned this to the businesses with reviews they were at first surprised, then concerned. The overwhelming reaction was 'so how can we possibly prevent unfair (negative) reviews being posted?'  Read on.


Some of you will have been wondering 'if we do become proactive with reviews, where does HelpHound fit in?' HelpHound adds value in many ways, but by far and away the most important, in the context of Google reviews, is moderation.

When HelpHound clients invite customers to write reviews those reviews all come back via a HelpHound moderator. Our moderators read every review, post those that contain no contentious issues straight to the business's website (where they are available for all to see), but should they come across any that contain factual inaccuracies and/or statements likely to mislead anyone reading them they revert to the reviewer for 'clarification'. This invariably results in an accurate - and helpful to all parties - review.


All  Businesses - and that includes wealth managers and financial advisers - have everything to gain from adopting a proactive stance where Google reviews are concerned, with these caveats:

  • that they do so in compliance with the law - the CMA regulations
  • that they employ a moderated mechanism

Further reading...