Tuesday 28 July 2015

Google includes Reviews in Ads

As if we needed yet another reason to ensure you all look great on Google - now Google will be serving reviews in ads:

Great for our clients, but not so great for any business that looks less than wonderful (we reckon 'good' on Google is 4.0 plus and 'wonderful' is 4.5 and over). And woeful news for third-party review suppliers and their clients. 

Yelp: experience validates HelpHound's advice

Over the last five years we have consistently advised our clients away from individual review websites towards Google and Google Reviews. 

We've had all kinds of issues with the independent sites (verification, fake reviews, monetisation models and more) but overarching all these was the question of long-term visibility; put simply: where would our clients' hard-won reviews be seen by the most potential customers? And the answer kept coming back, ever louder and clearer, 'Google'.

So now the penny has finally dropped with investors. Here is a chart of Yelp's share price * performance from its high of over $84 last September to today's $33 (and underperforming the NY stockmarket indices by over 50%):

And the reason(s) for this sustained and dramatic fall? The dawning realisation amongst the investing community that Yelp is completely Google dependent. If Google alter their algorithm to the detriment of Yelp (as they have), Yelp visibility and revenues suffer. And the same applies, to a greater or lesser (mostly greater) extent for all other review sites.

We look at this even more simply: whose reviews does everyone see first? Answer: Google's.

So that's where we focus our efforts on behalf of our clients, and, until something happens to dictate a change in these fundamental circumstances, we will continue with our mantra:

"Get reviews to your own website and on to Google" 

*and for those of you wondering about TripAdvisor? Off over 20% from it's 2014 high as well. UPDATE 29.07.2014: Yelp share price off 30% at today's opening: $24.

A week can be a long time in reviews...

...but just look at what can be achieved...

From this:

To this:

And this:

To this:

 And this: 

And all just by following our guidelines. Well done Tom and his team at Winkworth Knightsbridge & Chelsea.

And to see what can be achieved in a year - go here.

Monday 27 July 2015

Come on businesses! - give the consumer a little help

One of our staffers was looking for a garage she could trust to repair minor damage to her car pre-sale. Living in London she thought she would be spoiled for choice. How wrong could she be?

Let's retrace her steps...

Five businesses are returned, and this is where her disappointment began. Only two have any reviews on Google. So she looked at them... the one with the Google stars first; a score of 4.1 looked good until she read the negative reviews - whoa! Would she risk taking her car to a garage whose reviews contain such nuggets as...

"They are not honest." "Avoid this garage." "I will not be using them again." "The car is not safe to drive." ?

So on to Garage No. 2

No rating or score on Google (they have yet to achieve the five plus reviews to qualify) but the four reviews are good (all five stars), albeit they're spread over the last five years. 

Now, we live in a free world and it is entirely up to the business concerned whether they bother to engage in modern marketing. So maybe these garages don't need the work? But it appears they do - they have listings on various paid-for sites (e.g. Yell) and they invest in leaflets and beautifully designed and laminated cards like this one she found on her windscreen:

What is the first thing any person is going to do in response to any of your marketing or advertising? That's right: Google your business

On to garage No. 3 - the card on her windscreen

Two (one star) reviews. The first is not really relevant to our staffer's needs (complaining about an MoT) and the second is very general, but at least the business has done something about it. 

Lessons - for every business, large or small

There are lessons to be learned form this sorry saga, and not just for the motor trade. The first is that almost all businesses are currently allowing a tiny minority of their customers to dictate how they look on the web, and that cannot be helpful for them or their potential customers. The three businesses we are discussing here are are typical*: 

Garage No. 1

The negative reviews must be replied to. Not replying to a review that accuses your business of dishonesty or unprofessional behaviour is tantamount to admitting the reviewer is right. There are far too many businesses out there who are still in 'review denial'- they think reviews 'don't matter' or 'won't be taken seriously' or 'are only written by idiots' when the fact is that it has been proven time-and-again that one single negative review has the power to drive business away. 

  1. Respond to negative reviews: address key issues with facts
  2. Respond to positive reviews: thank each reviewer and highlight aspects of your service they commented on - "thank you for your kind remarks, we pride ourselves on..."
For those who may still think that these negative reviews may not be damaging the business: GSF (and the link to their reviews) have appeared over two hundred and seventy thousand times in search.

Garage No. 2

Do they value their five star reviews? Do they realise just how many potential customers could be seeing them? Do they realise that they will get a (great) star rating and score from Google if just one more customer writes a review? Do they understand just how much this has the potential to drive customers their way?
  1. Get just one more review to get a score and star rating from Google
  2. Respond to the reviews (see '1.2' above)
Garage No. 3

Businesses must get to grips with Google. Come out of 'denial' and engage with Google by giving them what they want: reviews from your customers.
  1. Get your happy customers to write reviews
  2. Respond to those reviews 
  3. Don't do any more marketing until you look great online - on your own website and on Google
This last point is so important - getting your Google house in order - we know very large businesses with multi-million pound marketing budgets whose Google reviews are driving business away (and meaning so many of those marketing £s are wasted)  by not paying attention to review management.


review management is not simply about 'looking good', it is about driving custom towards your business. Do you think this score and star rating is winning business for our client? You bet it is!

If your business is looking to thrive it must look good on Google. If your customer service is so bad you are afraid to invite reviews, then you need to get a grip on your customer service, not slide into review denial. 

As time passes, businesses that recognise that they have a duty to their customers (as well as themselves) to ensure they look as good as possible on Google will succeed. Suppose all these businesses had focused on getting a review a month posted over the last four years? 

They will save money on other marketing simply because so much custom will flow through Google. And those that ignore or deny Google will fail - it is as simple as that. 

Further reading if you:
And finally...

*Don't think that this syndrome is confined to small and medium sized businesses. Take the Ritz Hotel in London, for example: it currently has 124 reviews on Google (21% of which say something uncomplimentary) and those reviews are served first in every search, above TripAdvisor and Booking.com. We estimate that the Ritz plays host to roughly 20,000 guests a year and those Google reviews have been posted over the last four years; that's the Ritz's reputation being controlled by two guests a month: 0.015% of its guests.

Friday 24 July 2015

The weekend weather - there's a lesson in it

Like a few of you, we're sure, we've been checking the weather for the weekend. But 'What on earth can we learn from that?' we hear you say. Well, let's look:

Apart from the fact that it looks like tomorrow we're going to get some respite from the torrential rain we've been having all day, there is a simple but crucial lesson for businesses that rely on the web: it is the first result that counts.

The first result here: a Google feed from weather.com. No further click (even to our beloved BBC) necessary.

Apply this to your own business, from accountancy...

Appearing anywhere but in the A-G results here is going to cost you money (Google Ads). Appearing in A-G (we call it the 'Magic 7') but without great reviews is arguably even more costly for your business.

To zoos...

And you will find that it's Google (and Google reviews) that counts, every time. If, unlike (perhaps) London Zoo, you could do with a few more customers, speak to Karen Hutchings on 020 7100-2233 or email her at karen.hutchings@helphound.com. She will show you how to get your business looking great, on your own website and on Google.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Your image on mobile is SO important

When you spend hours every day in an office in front of a desktop computer it is sometimes easy to forget that more than half of all searches are now made on mobile - and just how different you (and your competitors) look there. For those of you in this category, here is an update.

Mobile search - hotel in [location]:

Marriot must be pleased they are coming out on top - for the moment - but where will they be when Google begin to rank hotels by score?

Infinite scroll:

Any score below 4.0 is going to deflect business. To be sure of actively attracting custom businesses should be aiming for a score of 4.5 or better

 Mobile search - estate agent in [location]:

Are Greene & Co relaxed about their presence in mobile search? You bet they are!

Infinite scroll:

Do any of these agents realise how unimpressive they look to any potential client searching on mobile?

Mobile search - financial adviser in [location]:

We're sure Holder & Combes are getting more inbound enquiries than John Lamb and Burlington Associates

Infinite scroll:

We have a suspicion that none of these businesses realise just how unimpressive they appear in mobile search; after all if they did, surely their marketing people would take action?


Infinite scroll: in most mobile searches Google is now providing infinite scroll. This allows any user to keep on scrolling (using a vertical swipe) until they find a business that suits their requirements.

And what are those requirements? That the business in question is well regarded by its customers!

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Resolution™ - how it adds value for both business and consumer

Let us quickly recap on how Resolution™ works:

  1. The review is submitted
  2. The reviewer is verified by HelpHound as a bona-fide customer of the business
  3. The review is moderated by HelpHound to ensure it complies with HelpHound's T&C's
  4. If positive: the review is published on the business's website; if negative, containing inaccuracies or misleading statements (or, if positive, but contains issues that our client would rather address privately): the review is placed in Resolution™. Reviews in Resolution are immediately forwarded to the business for comment. Simultaneously, the reviewer is told the business will be responding to their review
  5. Once the business has responded: the reviewer is invited to submit their final review
 Now to the key question: Why is this process fair (and helpful) for both parties?
  • Negative reviews harm businesses; even one negative amongst many positives has the potential to do significant harm
  • In the early days of reviews there was a common misconception amongst businesses that the 'occasional negative' would be harmless (or even 'add credibility'); indeed, this can be the case with certain types of business: a review for a Japanese restaurant stating that the customer 'Did not like raw fish' might deflect little business, but a review of an estate agent erroneously accusing the business of 'coercing their client into selling at an artificially low price' has the potential to do significant harm to that business
  • It can therefore only be fair to allow the business an opportunity to address whatever issue their customer may have before any review is published
  • Negative reviews often contain inaccuracies and misstatements of fact; Resolution™ gives both parties an opportunity to correct these away from the glare of the web (we often see positive comments about this from reviewers)
  • Some have suggested that 'right-of-reply' is sufficient redress for the business; this would be the case if users then went on to reassess their original review. In reality they do not, so the only opportunity for both sides to establish the facts of the matter (and therefore generate accurate and useful review content for potential customers) is pre-publication
  • Resolution™ enables us to weed out 99% of fake negative reviews well before they might otherwise be published. Our appeals process (Retro-Resolution™) allows businesses to appeal reviews which they consider to be of questionable authenticity
  • With Resolution™ (and therefore also Dialogue™) the reviewer always retains the right to have their final review published
  • Consumers do not have to engage with the business through Dialogue/Resolution

The end result...

...on the business's website:

 Notice the key phrase: '...you can be confident these reviews are genuine unfiltered opinions'

...and on Google:

Dialogue provides reliable reviews that consumers can trust. This enables them to make purchasing decisions based on those reviews, benefiting both the consumer and the business concerned.

Three simple questions for those in Hospitality

If the answer to (any of) the following three questions is "Yes" then we positively guarantee your business will benefit from Dialogue™:
  1. Does you ranking on TripAdvisor matter?
  2. Does your Google score matter?
  3. Is customer/guest retention important?
Now we are fully aware that there are some establishments who think that they can exist apart from these three key indicators. That none of their guests or customers use the web, check reviews or compare establishments (shades of Ye Olde White Hart, with crusty regulars propping up the bar) and will always come back no matter what the competition are doing (or how you look).

But if you are part of a professionally run business in the 21st century you will care. And Dialogue is here to revolutionise the way you appear to potential customers and guests.

Dialogue™ will:
  1. Improve your relative ranking on TripAdvisor*
  2. Improve your score on Google*
  3. Increase guest retention
 *And on Booking.com, Zagat, Expedia, Trivago, Hotels.com, Yelp and any other site that ranks or scores you - worldwide. 

 Currently ranking No1 in New York on TripAdvisor - we guarantee they would look even better with Dialogue

To find out just how we can guarantee that Dialogue will perform for you, regardless of whether you currently rank in the Top 5 establishments in your area or are suffering from 'negative review blues', contact karen.hutchings@helphound.com or phone her on 0207 100-2233

Thursday 2 July 2015

Negative reviews - you can relax with Dialogue™

Here is the story of yet another business that has been so hurt by a negative review that it has resorted to the courts:

We make no comment as to the rights and wrongs of the complaint or the business's handling of it, but there are lessons to be learned:
  1. Negative reviews hurt. A single negative review can really damage your business
  2. Review management would almost certainly have prevented this situation arising
Let's examine these two points in more detail...

Negative reviews hurt

This is one of the main reasons businesses give for being hesitant about engaging with reviews: they are afraid that they will open the door to damaging negative reviews (and it is certainly the reason this business has resorted to the courts). The fact is that that door is already wide open. A dissatisfied customer can post on Google or Yelp or any of a hundred other specialist sites (not to mention forums and blogs) that will be returned in a Google search. 

But denial (ignoring this and hoping that your customers are the exception) is no longer an option: there are over 15 million registered Google users in the UK alone - all one click away from reviewing your business).

By 'denying denial' and adopting professional review management you achieve three things:
  1. You get great reviews from your customers - on your own website and on Google - so if you do get the odd negative then, at the very least, it will be seen in the context of the majority of your satisfied customers' opinions
  2. You give your occasional dissatisfied customer an excellent (and attractive) way to have their complaint resolved without them having to resort to a damaging public post
  3. If they don't choose to use the system you have offered them, you have the best possible defence when replying to the review: that you had already offered them a great mechanism to resolve their complaint
Review Management will prevent the situation arising

There are two sides to review management (explained in detail here): showing positive customer comments on your own site and on Google and enabling you to manage negative comments in private.

Let's examine HelpHound's system (Resolution™) in detail from the dissatisfied customer's point of view.
  1. They get an email from the business asking for feedback
  2. They reply saying they are unhappy
  3. HelpHound forwards their comment to the business and lets the customer know they have done so
  4. They get a response from the business (either direct or via HelpHound)
  5. They are happy (and either post a revised review or - in the overwhelming majority of cases, no review at all) or they remain unhappy (they post a negative review)
It is this last point (5) that normally worries our prospective clients most. They're effectively saying 'I know not all my customers are always happy, how many will insist on posting negative reviews?'.

To answer this question it is probably best to point you to case histories. Here are two (one for a hotel another for an estate agent):

The hotel:
The estate agent:

These are typical and entirely representative numbers, if in doubt just look for a HelpHound client you know and see theirs, they are shown on their websites like this...

...and anyone can simply click on the 'worst' tab to see how many negatives are published.

With professional review management your business will look as good as it is - remember that every one of those 172 people who posted a negative (3, 2 or 1 star) review through Dialogue was invited to post - only four did.

The ultimate bottom line is that our clients all look great - on their websites and on Google. We don't take all the credit for that, they were well-managed businesses before they met us, but now they can prove it to their prospective customers, and all without losing sleep at night.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Review Management - the only article you ('ll ever) need to read

In this post we will cover everything you need to know about review management, from 'What exactly is review management?' through 'Why does our business need review management?' to more detailed explanations of various aspects of the service that HelpHound provides for its clients.

To make it easily digestible we have embedded links to other articles so those readers who want more detail can access it easily. Here we will keep to the bare, but essential, bones.

1. What is review management?  

Review management is the formal management of everything to do with reviews in so much as they impact modern business practice. In the same way as a professionally run business employs independent auditors and accountants, they increasingly employ independent professional review management.

A professional review manager will enable your business to:
  • invite reviews, verify those reviews and then publish those reviews on your website
  • resolve issues contained in those reviews, privately
  • make sure a high proportion of those reviews are copied to Google (or any other review site that matters - Yelp, TripAdvisor and so on)
All of which will give your business the edge when a potential customer searches online or visits your website

HH tip: Businesses that adopt professional review management can relax, secure in the knowledge that they are doing the very best to make themselves stand out from the crowd; they will look great wherever matters most to them

2. Why does our business need to adopt professional review management?

Review management is all about:
  • attracting new business
  • retaining existing customers
Today's consumer wants reviews (Google knows that, it's why they give reviews such prominence in search). Verified (and therefore: credible) reviews attract custom. 

Inviting reviews from existing or regular customers identifies any who are on the point of drifting away and enables your business to address whatever issue is troubling them, before it is too late. 

HH Tip: Professional review management should both save and make you money 

3. Can we do it ourselves?

Yes - almost! In theory you can do everything but claim your reviews are independently verified. It's the same difference between DIY and professional ongoing management in any other aspect of your business's activities, from accountancy to web design.

But you should not ignore the value of:
  • having independently verified reviews on your own website - your website is there to drive enquiries and that's just what having verified reviews there will do
  • Resolution™ - bearing in mind the harm a single negative review can do; Resolution is your insurance against unwarranted negative reviews appearing in public
Read about HelpHound v. DIY and there's a simple test here; see if you pass with flying colours (if you do, we can be pretty sure you're already a HelpHound client).

HH Tip: Try professional review management and see the results for yourselves - there is absolutely no downside!

4. Can we simply link to a site that hosts reviews of our business?

This looked like being an option until Google made a major change in the way it displays search results at the back end of 2014; until then independent review sites showed up well in search, now they have been pushed onto page two (or at the very least below the fold on page 1). This has made the decision a whole lot easier: now you only need ensure reviews appear on your own website and on Google.

Of course, massive sites like TripAdvisor won't die a death overnight, but a cursory glance at how any search for a business ('hotel' in 'Mayfair' in the screen-grab below) in a given area shows how Google reviews now take precedence (and dominate the screen):

Notice that the only results showing 'above the fold' now are paid ads and Google (including Google reviews)

Independent review sites come and go; they show up well in search one minute and nowhere the next. Professional Review Management is all about adopting the right strategy to maximise the power of reviews, now and in the future. This article explains how HelpHound can confidently promise to do that for you.

HH Tip: Your reviews should be integrated into your own website - and display them prominently to attract customers

5. Why is verification so important?

Because consumers have become wary of testimonials. Testimonials were better than nothing at all until consumers became aware that there was a more credible alternative. Now they want to know that you publish every review that your business receives rather than cherry-picking the best (or only the positives). 

Verification also makes sure that the chances of a fake review slipping through the net are reduced to almost zero, further enhancing credibility. Fake negatives (whether posted by competitors or disgruntled ex-employees) do untold harm to businesses; fake positives, by misguided members of staff or their friends and family members, stand to do significantly more harm if the media or a competitor find out.

HH Tip: Reviews have replaced testimonials in just the same way as email has replaced letters

6. Why do we need reviews?

Because consumers are now conditioned to expect them. And if we pause to think about that contention we can understand why: you want to book a hotel and you want to be sure the beds are comfortable - do you believe the hotel's own website or the reviews on TripAdvisor?  You need a financial adviser? How valuable would independently verified reviews from their clients be before you decide which firms to shortlist?

In any Google search, the business with the most [great] reviews will stand out. Google now gives massive prominence to reviews. 

 Which one gets the call?

Conversely, businesses that have no (or few) reviews now look:
  • less significant by comparison with their competitors
  • as if they don't really care about their customers' opinions
HH Tip: Looking best in your area (or for any given search) guarantees you will make the very best of your marketing budget

7. Who are these reviewers?

There has been a lot of research into this question, and the answer may surprise you: they are you and me. Not just you and me, but also...
  • public-spirited people who want to help others find great businesses
  • public-spirited people who want to warn others about 'bad' businesses
  • happy customers who want to say 'thank-you' for exceptional service
  • unhappy customers who do not wish to use (or cannot find) a private channel to complain
  • 'policemen' who feel they have a duty to publicly expose bad service
  • habitual reviewers; a small but rising proportion of the population who write a review of every business they come into contact with
It is right to say that those who write reviews are in a minority. But the power to influence future custom is in the hands of that minority. We ignore them at our peril.

HH Tip: Reviewers are your friends, thank each and every one of them

8. Do negative reviews really harm businesses?

This question is only asked by businesses that haven't (yet) had a negative review. In the service sector, especially, one single negative review has the potential to significantly impact new business. 

Not only do the individual reviews each, on their own, have the potential to put customers off using the business, they each impact on the overall score that Google displays in every search
At HelpHound we know that our initial meeting with a business that has recently been the victim of a negative review will last around a third of the time of a similar business that has no (or only positive) reviews. Why? Because the phone will have stopped ringing and they are urgently looking for a solution.

If you are concerned that Dialogue may encourage negative reviews of your business read this.

HH Tip: If you do get a negative review, respond to it straight away

9. Do review scores and ratings matter?

In a word: 'Yes'. Review sites and Google include scores, rankings and ratings because they know consumers use them as a shorthand for choosing who to consider doing business with. Simply put, an estate agent or financial adviser with a score of 4.8 (out of 5) will get more inbound enquiries than the same businesses scoring 4.2. And while the businesses scoring 4.2 may not get many, a business scoring below 3.5 will almost certainly get none.

There are only three types of business on the web these days (l-r): the great, the disengaged and the not-so-great. The choice, providing your business is professionally run, is up to you

The reviews landscape is ever-changing. Google is now ranking hotels in local search, it won't be long before they rank other businesses and you won't want to be playing catch-up then.

Hoteliers know for a fact that the rate they can charge for a room is directly related to their Google score, Booking.com score and TripAdvisor ranking. They also know their chances of getting a direct booking (saving commission) are greater the higher they rank. Other businesses would do well to take a lead from them.

HH Tip: Do everything you can to score 4.5 or higher

10. 'We have no reviews'

We hear this all the time from business sectors which, as yet, have attracted few reviews. Sometimes it is almost voiced with pride, as if having 'no reviews' was a 'good thing'. Until last year few estate agents, for instance, had scores on Google. Now an agent without a Google score is beginning to stick out like a sore thumb (businesses are 'scored' - out of 5 - and given a 'star rating' after they have received 5 reviews).

Next will come the high value professions: legal, financial and so on until every business on the planet has reviews (and scores).

HH Tip: Reviews won't hurt, on the contrary, with professional review management they will drive significant new business

11. The predisposition towards the negative

It's easy to write a review, just a click and you're posting on Google or TripAdvisor, a second click and that review is published for the world to see. But we've already highlighted the motives for writing reviews, and by-far-and-away the strongest of these is frustration or dissatisfaction. 

Industry estimates usually quote a figure of about 15:1 as the likelihood that an unprompted review will be negative. This is simply a reflection of human nature - we are much more likely make the effort to write a review if we are unhappy or frustrated.

This does not mean that you are certain to receive negative reviews (there are lots of businesses out there that don't have any, positive or negative, yet). What it does mean is that most (all?) of your happy customers will not write reviews, but a proportion of your unhappy ones will.

Only proactive review management will redress this misleading imbalance - encouraging more happy customers to post and enabling the business to manage the issues its unhappy customers have brought to it in private.

HH Tip: Happy customers will love writing a great review, they see it as a way of thanking you for great service

12. Don't be afraid of negative reviews

One of the most important features of professional review management is the inbuilt opportunity to resolve customer issues before any final (and publicly visible) review is written. Our mechanism (which we call Resolution™ for just this reason) enables well-managed businesses to rectify customer issues and misconceptions pre-publication. 

It embodies the axiom that there are no perfect businesses, just great and not-so-great businesses; and what separates the former from the latter is they address their faults promptly and professionally. Review management is a key component in this process.

HH Tip: When responding to negative reviews always thank the reviewer

13. Reviews 'do not influence potential customers'

We are the first to acknowledge that reviews are not the be-all-and-end-all of new business generation. Customers are influenced by a plethora of factors from branding and advertising to personal recommendation and peer pressure and everything in between.

But now reviews have been in the public domain for over ten years (TripAdvisor was founded in 2000, Yelp in 2004, Google introduced reviews - as 'Maps/Places' in 2005) there has been ample academic research into the ways in which consumers are influenced by reviews. The simple answer is 'We are all, whether we like it or not (or acknowledge it), influenced, both positively and negatively, by reviews.' 

HH Tip: Use your reviews in your marketing, advertising and PR

14. Can results be guaranteed?

In some sectors they can - in absolute numeric terms. For instance, we can guarantee that a hotel client will get at least 75% less negative reviews to sites that matter (TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Google etc.) by adopting professional review management; they will also get many more positive reviews as well. The net effect on their scores and rankings will be hugely positive - guaranteed.

How do you think these results have impacted rates and occupancy for this hotel?

With the professions and service businesses there is now a 'race to the top' with Google, and the winners will see massive benefits: looking better than your competitors - having more great reviews - whether you are a small local business or a huge multinational, will matter more and more as more reviews are written on Google. 

 Which business is getting the most enquiries?

15. Don't confuse review management with reputation management

Review management is all about attracting and displaying verified reviews to drive new business and retain existing business. Reputation management generally focuses on using SEO techniques to promote good news and bury bad news. For more read this.


Businesses that adopt review management will thrive; they will look great in any search and they will look great on their own websites. Businesses that do not adopt review management will increasingly look poor by comparison with their competitors, it is as simple and as straightforward as that.

You can read more by following the links below, or call Karen Hutchings, our head of client services, on 
0207 100-2233 (or email karen.hutchings@helphound.com)

Further reading:
Even more? This blog is divided into streams (and the tag cloud to the right).