Saturday 29 November 2014

TripAdvisor - is it a bellwether for all review sites?

The shine has come off TripAdvisor's share price recently...

The question we are asking ourselves is 'Is the market beginning to realise that independent review sites may have had their day?'

We are not asking this for any other reason than to be able to take an educated guess about the future influence of these sites on behalf of our clients. 

Let's look at Yelp (the biggest general review sites on the planet - market cap $4.2 bn):

And the oldest review site of them all, Angie's list, now quoted, and off a frightening 53% since listing (and an even more from its peak of nearly $20 in February) :

Our view... that independent sites will struggle against the might of Google. Yelp and TripAdvisor (at $10.4 bn) look massive until we remind ourselves that Google is currently capitalised at $369 billion.

And this 'struggling' may lead them to do some interesting things to placate their shareholders. probably in terms of increasing commissions and fees. We will keep an eye out.

For now...

We are advising all our clients to take Google reviews seriously. Businesses cannot afford to ignore the power of Google reviews: to drive business or deflect business. A positive presence there is, in our opinion, bound to become more and more influential as the months pass.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

HelpHound for Hotels - the Dialogue™ effect

One of the reasons hotels appreciate Dialogue is the effect it has on the way they are portrayed on TripAdvisor. Here we examine that effect in relation to properties which rank differently in their given locations.

Top hotel in your area / Top 30 hotel in London

Dialogue will get you even more great reviews - to enable you to consolidate your position on TripAdvisor. 

The fact that we can guarantee that more of your guests will write great reviews with Dialogue enables us to confidently make this promise.

It will also enable you to retain the custom of those guests who were not unhappy enough to post a review anywhere on the web, but who may not otherwise have communicated that they might not return. The option to have reviews displayed on your own site to drive direct bookings can also be key.
Top 10 Hotel in your area / Top 100 Hotel in London

As above, with the added bonus of the potential to both consolidate your position and move up the rankings. More great feedback and enhanced guest retention. Less OTA commissions. 

Mid ranked hotel / 100 - 400 ranked hotel in London

Providing the product* is right, Dialogue should enable you to steadily improve your relative ranking and score. and this will happen from day one. Here is an extract from a chart of the performance of a client hotel:

While this chart shows the actual results for a single client, they are replicated across our experience for all clients. The chart illustrates Dialogue's proven ability to generate more positive reviews (5 and 4 star) and less negative reviews (3,2 and 1 star).

Some of you will read the caption and question why we include 3 star reviews under 'negatives' when TripAdvisor call them 'Average'; it is for two reasons: first, TripAdvisor penalise 3 star reviews reasonably heavily when they calculate the CSI so you don't want them for that reason alone and second, most three star reviews are actually pretty damning (and therefore damaging) in their content.

This hurts your ranking as well as bookings

Struggling hotel

Hopeless basket cases excepted, if the will is there then Dialogue will help your TripAdvisor ranking reflect the improvements you are making. 

If you have recently refurbished or made other significant improvements then Dialogue will see that investment reflected quickly.

And finally...

There is not a hotel on the planet that will not look better online with Dialogue. This we absolutely guarantee!

*...the product is right:  If rooms or service have enough issues to leave a significant proportion of guests dissatisfied then we suggest you address these before considering Dialogue. We will be happy to advise if you have any doubts.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Reviews and Restaurants - a 'Sorry' story

Last night one of our staffers and his significant other paid a visit to a highly recommended new local Italian (by the Times' A A Gill, no less).

This morning he related their experience:
  • Location: Great - walking distance
  • Decor: Good - bright, modern English with an Italian twist
  • Welcome: Good - from two young and enthusiastic staff
Now for the food:
  • Him: delighted - service was 'bright and cheerful', they were 'happy to bring tap water', 'olives, parmesan and three kinds of excellent bread were brought while we waited', main course was 'as good as you could expect outside Italy' and 'recommended wine was good value'
  • Her: everything as above until it came to the main course: 'Pasta on the uncooked side of al dente' and 'lukewarm' but 'not a big enough deal to send back or complain'
So far, so ordinary, you are all thinking. So why the subject of an article here? Because of the punchline:

'We won't be going back'

Now, before everyone launches in with 'Give them another chance' and 'Why didn't they complain when they were in the restaurant?' let's explain why we're relating this tale here...

There is a better way!

What we did not say before is that the restaurant was empty except for our couple. In central west London. At 8.30 on a Tuesday night.

This restaurant needs help, urgently. And it cannot risk letting custom like this slip away into the night. It needs to engage with its customers in a way that will work better than simply asking them 'Did you enjoy your meal?'

It needs to formally invite feedback. And not just to hear that the kitchen occasionally sends out undercooked pasta. Much more important than that, it needs to do it so it can reclaim the custom of people like the couple above.


They should ask their customers for their email addresses*. As a matter of course, when presenting the bill. They could (should!) have a card specially printed which explains why they need the email and how they will use it.

They will then send customers an email asking them if they enjoyed their meal. If the answer is in the negative they can then do whatever it takes to entice the customer back to give them another chance. 

You know what they say in marketing: 'There's only one thing better than a happy customer, and that is an unhappy customer you have made happy.' But to achieve that you have to identify the 'unhappy customer' and invite them to become 'happy'.

And that is just what Dialogue is all about. It will enable your customers to tell you what they might not otherwise tell you face-to-face; on top of that it will take their positive comments and post them onto your website and then get them on to Google - where your potential customers are looking**.

*When we first advise businesses to do this we get all kinds of objections, usually along the lines of 'Our customers won't do it because...' Well, we've been able to prove otherwise: customers will do it, and they will do it with a will. 

** To date 50,308 people have seen this restaurant in search - and it has only ONE Google review showing there.  

Yelp - 'hostage' reviews

When one of your business practices has a term coined especially for it by your customers it's probably time to question that practice.

The term in question? 'Hostage reviews'.

The CEO of Yelp, Jeremy Stoppleman, braved Reddit to answer questions. To give you a flavour here are the top comments...

The Yelp 'filter' is unique; that means one of two things: they're geniuses who have found a solution (in this case to 'dodgy' reviews - reviews written by competitors or the business in question, in the main) or the idea is flawed.

We think there is a solution, Mr Stoppleman. One that is fair to the businesses you are trying to sign up and equally fair to the businesses who politely decline your salespeople's offer.

Our suggestion

Yelp is a community. Instead of the 'filter' (oh! - sorry, since 2013 Yelp don't use the term 'filter' any more, it's now calling the 'filter' 'recommendation software' - see here), allow anyone in the community (including all businesses) to flag up a review that they think is somehow flawed or tainted. Then employ moderators who can contact the reviewers and the businesses concerned to make a reasoned judgement. 

Junk the 'filter' (sorry - 'recommendation software' is just such a mouthful) and replace it with human beings. You can afford them, and businesses are just too important to the economy to be randomly discriminated against by software that appears to be influenced by the need for Yelp's thousands of salespeople to have a ready bargaining chip when they phone small businesses.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Yelp - right up there for reviews of Doctors - and Stepford Wives

Two medical related reasons for Yelp to be in the news today. First: they are now sharing the lead in online reviews of the medical profession with a specialist site (Healthgrades):

Read full article here

Second: A Kansas City orthodontist has again raised the question of a patient's right to free speech online: by threatening to sue the poster of a three star review on Yelp. 

See the full story here

This case also brings into question (again!) the Yelp 'review filter' - there have been 95 reviews of this orthodontics practice and 90 - yes, ninety - have been filtered. We had a long hard look at both filtered and unfiltered reviews to see if we could divine any logic. Let's have a look...

First the five unfiltered reviews:
  1. Five star - the reviewer has written 19 more reviews and has 13 Yelp 'friends'
  2. Three star - the contentious review. The reviewer has written 70 more reviews and has 27 'friends'
  3. One star - a troll who has written no more reviews and has no 'friends'
  4. One star - another trolling review. Has written fourteen more reviews and has three 'friends'
  5. Five star - 73 more reviews and 43 'friends'
Now the filtered ones:

Most, both positive and negative, are singletons (that is: they are the only review posted by that reviewer).

Now, we would understand the logic behind Yelp's filter if the two blindingly obvious trolling reviews had been filtered. But they have not. Here they are so you can judge the value they give to the Yelp community (and anyone searching for an orthodontist):

We fail to see why anyone would vote either of these 'Useful' but 13 Yelpers have to date

The message for UK medical professionals

All of this kind of comment is unhelpful to medical professionals. Sites like Yelp ought to do more to ensure the reviews they publish are written by people with first hand experience of the business being reviewed. But they are seemingly reluctant to push too far down this road for purely financial reasons. Instead they appear to be focusing on lobbying state legislatures to toughen up freedom of speech legislation to allow any 'genuinely held opinions' to be submitted and published. They seem to be blissfully unaware that the same people who write their reviews are the kind of people - the 'Stepford Wives' of Shellie W's review - who will lose their jobs when, in turn, their own employers fall victim to unfairly damaging reviews.

In the meantime businesses (and medical professionals should see themselves under this heading for the purpose of reviews - they are treated no differently) owe it to themselves and their patients to find a better way of engaging with reviews.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

A single 1* review - how damaging can that be?

Or: Why engage with reviews NOW?

Just one tiny one star review? A question we are getting asked more and more - and our answer is becoming more definitive by the day. But first let us look at what businesses say to us...
  • 'It is only one review'
  • 'We have hundreds of happy clients'
  • 'It is not representative'
So far, so good. But now let us look at the reality...
  • It is 'only one review', but it is the only review showing, and it is showing on on Google. Everyone who searches for this business is being shown it; to date over 5000 people have had the opportunity to see this review. They were offered it by Google - just a click away
  • None of this agent's happy clients has written a review on Google - yet. Because they have not been invited to. When they are, they will see this review before they start writing. That has been proved to be unhelpful by no less an institution than Harvard University, who showed that subsequent reviewers' opinions are influenced by previous reviews.
  • 'Not representative' - whatever the review says and whoever the reviewer may be it still counts as a 1* review towards your score. You know it is not representative, we know it is not representative, but it remains the only impression your prospective clients are getting from Google
  • It will count (one fifth) towards this business's first Google score. If the next four reviews are 5* then the business will score 4.2. If the next review is another 1* then that score will fall to 3.4
This last point is the one businesses need to take on board NOW. Even if they do not have any Google reviews; in fact, more so if they do not have any Google reviews. 

Planning for a great Google score

Being sure of looking great on Google requires planning. Just doing a great job and hoping will not work. Why? Because happy clients do not write reviews. They have to be invited.

This is where Dialogue comes in: besides giving you a way to show credible reviews on your own website Dialogue incorporates two crucial mechanisms:
  1. Resolution™ - where reviews from dissatisfied clients are sent to you in private so whatever issue that has been raised can be managed (again, in private)
  2. An invitation for your client to post their (great) review to Google
But we do not want to run the risk of inviting negative reviews

This means that you need no longer hesitate to invite reviews for fear of encouraging negatives. The following birds are killed with one simple stone (Dialogue):
  • Great (credible) reviews showing on your own website - to drive business
  • Less than favourable comments managed in private - aiding client retention
  • Great reviews (and scores) on Google - to drive business
The sooner you start, the sooner you will look great to your prospective clients - and the risk of attracting that damaging 1* review will have been diminished.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Reviews - made simple

Once we understand the modern consumers' attitude to reviews, all becomes clear. Let's start with the facts:
  • Consumers read reviews - more and more
  • Consumers rely on reviews - more and more
  • Great reviews drive business - consumers are influenced by them
  • Bad reviews deflect business - whether fairly written or not
  • Google reviews are first to be seen - always
  • Other reviews are read - especially if you do not have Google reviews

Your Google+ page shows you just how many people 
seeing your reviews - but only if you have them!

Now we can begin to plan a strategy; let's take the points above one at a time:

1. Consumers read reviews (consumers demand reviews)

So let's give them the reviews they crave. And remember, we're talking reviews here, not testimonials. Let's display them prominently on our website, and let's get them where our prospective customers are looking for us: onto the web (Google in the main).
2. Consumers rely on reviews

As above. Denying potential customers the reviews they instinctively look for has the effect of making your business look as if it were established yesterday.

3. Reviews drive business

So let's show them where they will drive business the most - on our home page and on Google.

4. Bad reviews deflect business

So let's do our best to resolve any issues our customers have before they feel the need to write a negative review. 

5. Google reviews are first to be seen

And now often the only reviews to be seen. So let's employ a mechanism which will get great reviews to Google.

6. Other reviews are read 

So, after we have got great reviews to Google, let's focus on the less prominent sites.

Now: what Dialogue will do to address the points above...

  • Dialogue will enable you to invite reviews - effectively and professionally, to your own website and to Google
  • Dialogue will display those reviews for you - with credibility - on your own website
  • Resolution - a key process within Dialogue - will enable you to manage any issues or complaints your customers may have before anything is posted publicly
  • Dialogue will get reviews to Google
  • Dialogue will get reviews to other sites that matter

Professional review management

Overarching all of this you will be a HelpHound client. We will advise on strategy and keep you up to date on changes at the search engines and major review sites. We will be proactive in contacting you when we consider a change is necessary and will always be on hand to help you make the very best of Dialogue.

Further Reading:

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Google reviews - a glimpse into the future

This article is about a new phenomenon: Google denial. If it takes root it will cause businesses considerable harm.

Google denial usually takes one of the following forms:
  • Google reviews do not matter (to our business)
The business has no (or less than five) Google reviews. So no star rating is showing. Therefore Google is not influencing your potential customers, so it does not matter.
  • Other review sites matter more (to our business)
There are some very influential review sites out there; Yelp, with nearly 200 million reviews; TripAdvisor and dominant in hotels, FourSquare for restaurants. Smaller sites in niches for every business under the sun.

And currently your business may feature more (or only) on these sites.

The answer to both these 'denials' is:
  • Google matters - even if you currently have less than the five reviews that get you a star rating
  • Google matters more - because Google's reviews are the first your potential customer sees - always

Let us first look at a real life example (we've chosen 'estate agent' in 'Southampton', but this example applies across the board for any search on any type of business):

Today's result:

Three agents have reviews, four do not. None have sufficient reviews for the all-important star rating. The seven reviews break down as follows: 3 one star, one 2 star, one 4 star and two 5 star. An average of 2.7 stars. 

Here's what this search result will look like at some stage in the future:

First (and incontrovertibly): there will be more reviews; second: some businesses will have more than others, some none at all (for the moment); third: some businesses will look better than others. The point is that there will be a pattern emerging.

Then, further down the line:

All businesses will have reviews, some more than others, some better than others. How will not really matter (to Google or the consumer). What we do know for sure is that the businesses with lots of great reviews (and scores) will prosper and those with few reviews and poor scores (or no score at all) will suffer.

Review management will have a significant role to play, providing professional advice to businesses and in terms of the mechanics of ensuring a regular and steady flow of reviews that accurately reflect the levels of service provided by those businesses to their customers.

Delay will be costly, and not just in terms of lagging the competition: there is significant evidence available already that shows that once a pattern of reviews is set (both positive and negative) subsequent reviews tend to conform to that pattern. If the initial pattern is negative (deserved or not) that pattern will work against the business.

The message must be: don't delay. Don't leave the first (and often only) impression created in the mind of your potential customer to chance. Engage with review management today.