Friday 26 February 2016

Hotels - just how many negative reviews are generated by your website?

By definition (we apologise for stating the obvious here) hotels cater for foreign guests. In other words: people who may not speak English, or certainly not as their first language. But just how many misunderstandings lead to complaints (and then to negative reviews)? Could many (most?) be prevented by having accurate foreign language translations on your websites.


By accurate, we mean 'accurate for a native speaker of [insert language here]'. It would appear that many, many hotels (and restaurants) are content for their web designers to contract out their translation service to unqualified third-parties. Some of whom must be using some very basic translation software (or employing people with C grade GCSEs in the language in question). 

Are we exaggerating?

  Item 4 is sure to be popular

The following are real examples - all taken from hotel websites (and our French native speaker did not have to look far):

"All the walls are covered in tissues" - when we think they really meant "all rooms are wallpapered"

"Wooden pavements" - wood flooring?

"Wifi is graceful" ???

The all-time first prize goes to the hotel which offers a 50% discount "if you book in with a goat" (we assume they meant they have a discount for children).

Be careful of words like 'bathroom' - even in English this can be misinterpreted as 'the room has a bath' when, in fact, the hotel meant 'a shower' (and vice versa).

But, joking aside, do London hotels want European, South American or Far Eastern guests at all?

The answer... very simple. In the UK, especially in London, but also in many other centres, we have thriving foreign language schools. We also have people living and working in the UK from every conceivable country in the world, speaking every language known to man. So get someone who speaks the language to check your website, not someone who claims to be fluent, but someone who is!

Well done Corinthia - and just maybe this has some bearing on the quality of their reviews?

Alternatively: you can do what at least a third of the top 100 hotels in London currently do: nothing at all! They don't even offer any foreign language translations on their websites.

A final note for hotels with restaurants (and free-standing restaurants themselves): how many languages is your menu translated into? Are those translations accurate? - we don't want to be misleading those with peanut of shellfish allergies now, do we? How would you like it if you went to a restaurant abroad and you could not understand the menu?

Estate Agency case histories - the fastest Google score yet

From 0-60 (9 actually - but still a fantastic result in so short a time) in two weeks; can any new estate agent client better that? Not yet.

On 10 February 2016 this is what they looked like on Google:

Winkworth in Harringay received their HelpHound briefing on 16 February. Their first review was copied to Google that day:

Add eight more Google reviews and they now look like this:

 There are six agents shown here - these rich snippets should at the very least ensure that Winkworth make the short-list!

And this:

And great in the most popular generic local search:

Already looking good in the Google 3-pack, and ready when Google begin ranking agents (and they run absolutely no risk of being filtered).

 Well done all the team at Winkworth Harringay.


Thursday 25 February 2016

Independent review sites - yesterday's answer to today's question

Dedicated followers of this blog will know that we have always had issues with independent review sites, from the very biggest (Yelp, TripAdvisor) to the smallest (AllAgents, TrustaTrader).

The issue

However well the independent sites are structured - in theory - in practice they are always gazumped by Google: 

Here's a search for a famous hotel in London:

Do you see TripAdvisor? 

The problem is that to return TripAdvisor in search, the potential customer has to add the word 'reviews' to their search string. But, because they instinctively know that Google will return reviews anyway, they don't. And even if they did, the Google reviews will still dominate:

It's the same for estate agents. Look at this search (including the word 'reviews'):

 There is a conflict between the Google reviews and RaterAgent - no offence to Rateragent, but which carries the credibility?
Two review sites are returned (Yell is not that helpful for this business!), but the Google box dominates.

And now the overwhelmingly most popular search string - on the business's name and location alone:

 It's the Google reviews that are returned: 

Our role

Our job, on your behalf, is to ensure your reviews appear where they make maximum impact. And for the overwhelming majority of our clients that is on Google. If, in the future, the landscape changes, we will advise accordingly (a massive advantage for us, and our clients, is that we have no bias). But until then our advice is straightforward: you need reviews on your own website and on Google.

What does the stock market think of independent review sites?

For those of you with an investment bent, you might be interested to look at the recent share price performance of those two giant independent review sites - Yelp and TripAdvisor. Here's an article we wrote in June 2015 - and Yelp's share price has fallen nearly 50% further since then. All a reflection of Google's dominance - and further vindication of our long-standing advice to our clients.

And finally:

If you are concerned that getting reviews to your own website and to Google may be a big ask, look at what this client achieved in just a week.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Why 'Closed' review systems don't work

What do we mean by a 'Closed' review system?

A Closed system:
  • Is invitation only - customers cannot write a review unless the business asks them to
  • Often allows the business to select which reviews to display
This may, at first sight, look great for businesses. Let us explain why, in reality, it is not.

The disadvantages:
  1.  As soon as prospective customers realise that there has been selection (either by only inviting selected customers to write a review, or by only showing selected reviews) the reviews lose a lot of their impact
  2. The business loses an impressive USP: the ability to say to all its prospective customers that they will be invited to write a review and that review will be displayed for all to see (that is, for instance, one of AirBnB's success secrets)
  3. Many 'invitation only' systems allow the business to invite reviews only at point-of-transaction. A good example of this id reviews of online clothing purchases, where the customer is commonly asked their opinion of the item purchased within days of purchase. Of course they like that brand new pair of shoes/dress, but would the system not be far more useful if they were able to report on comfort/durability months or even years post-purchase?
The bottom line:

 Every single word next to our logo on your Dialogue module is designed to reinforce the message that your review management system is as open and transparent as it possibly can be. How else could this clients' fantastic record be credible?

 Whatever system you choose, it must be - and be seen by your potential customers to be - transparent and designed with your customers' best interests at its core. Only then will it be credible. HelpHound's Dialogue ticks both of those very important boxes. 


Resolution™ - the Owner's Manual

It is high time we revisited our old friend Resolution, for established clients as well as recent adopters. Resolution - our name for the act of moderating reviews pre-publication - is like the spare tyre in the boot of your car: you hope you never have to use it, but when you do you want to be absolutely sure it works. And for that you need some instructions; here they are.

Resolution™ - taking the 'fear' out of reviews

There is a very good reason why most businesses, especially high-value service businesses and the professions, have not fully - or compliantly* - engaged with reviews and that is the well-founded fear that a single well-written but inaccurate or misleading review has the potential to do significant damage to their business's reputation.

That is why Resolution™ exists - there's not a day that goes by that our moderators don't forward a review like this to a client. And guess who is often happiest that we do? The reviewer! People don't want to write inaccurate reviews, but - being human - they sometimes do. Resolution minimises the chances of a review like this being published - and it works (just ask any of our clients).

* 'compliantly': compliance with UK law when inviting reviews is a whole subject on its own; for a full explanation, read this article.

The nuts and bolts...

The process
  1. You invite your customer to write a review - or, in the case of a HelpHound client, your customer avails themselves of the link on your website to do so
  2. Your customer posts their review 
  3. The review is read by one of our moderators
  4. If it contains no issues the review is immediately put live on your website and the reviewer is asked, by HelpHound, automatically, to copy it to Google
  5. If it contains a comment that is potentially misleading or inaccurate, our moderator will send it to you (whilst simultaneously telling the reviewer that it has been forwarded to you)
  6. You respond to the reviewer
  7. At the end of the Resolution process, when our moderators see that the 'conversation' has been concluded, we invite the reviewer to post their final review
Phases 4 - 7 bear closer examination...

Phase 4: Resolving issues pre-publication

No consumer wants to read inaccurate and/or misleading reviews. If those reviews do harm to the business, which they will, no-one benefits. It is an anomaly yet to be resolved that a scoring system - like the Google 1 - 5 stars - does not take into account inaccurate reviews: in theory - and quite often in practice - a business can have a terrible Google score as a result of half a dozen completely unfair and/or inaccurate reviews (we are often contacted by businesses that have seen enquiries fall off and/or are failing the Google filter because of this). 

Phase 5: Engaging with your customer through Resolution™

This works very effectively: your customer welcomes the mechanism with open arms - as a non-confrontational way to correct any misleading or inaccurate content in their review.

Important note: Resolution is all about correcting potentially misleading or factually inaccurate reviews - it is emphatically not a way of 'filtering out' negative reviews. In this sense it is important to note that Resolution can be just as vital in the context of some otherwise positive reviews - those that mention financially sensitive information or rate the business as 5* but include otherwise misleading or incorrect information.

Phase 6: Responding to the reviewer

We encourage our clients to respond through the moderation system, rather than picking up the 'phone or emailing direct. Why? Because we have plenty of experience that tells us that if your customer has chosen to communicate via a review - at your invitation - then they react more positively if you respond through the same mechanism. Of course, you, (and we) can take every case on its merits - that's one of the strengths of the system: it is infinitely flexible. 

On top of this, we get many comments from reviewers saying how much they welcome HelpHound's third-party involvement. Our clients and their customers also value our moderators' counsel when drafting responses.

Phase 7: Inviting the final review

This is the crucial element of the process that gives your reviews their credibility: the fact that every reviewer has a right to have their opinion heard - and are aware of this from the outset. Being able to say that to prospective customers wins business. The fact that so few reviewers who have had inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews moderated go on to publish a final review is a tribute to the effectiveness of the system in resolving issues - it is a fantastic CRM tool - and is wholeheartedly welcomed by consumers. 

A Case History

We have one client who to date has had over 70 cases through Resolution (across multiple branches). Only four of these have resulted in a final published review, either on their website or on Google. They currently score between 4.7 and 4.9 on their own websites (with over 800 reviews there) and between 4.5 and 5.0 on Google (with over 600 reviews there).
It goes without saying that this is a well-managed and thoroughly consumer-focused business - as HelpHound clients tend to be, by definition.


Over the years of seeing thousands of conversations in moderation we have built up a wealth of experience, so please do ask for our advice if you are in any doubt as to how a response should be worded.

N.B. Resolution is definitively not a mechanism for businesses to 'head off negative comment', it is a mechanism to ensure that - as far as possible - comments are fair and accurate, so if your business, or a member of staff, has made a mistake then your customer is 100% entitled to refer to this in their review - and score your business accordingly. Indeed, if a customer wants to post a review that they know to be inaccurate (few do), they have the right to do so - remembering that you always have the right-of-reply.


Estate Agents - don't risk being filtered by Google

On the first of January, with no fanfare whatsoever, Google introduced its Review Filter. You may not have noticed it - most businesses have not - yet. 

Google Review Filter

  A single click on the 'DONE' button and businesses rated less than 4 stars (or with no rating) will no longer show in search
For now, Google are confining the filter to the hospitality business: hotels and restaurants. But they are sure to roll it out just as fast as they can to other sectors and verticals. 

Why? Because it adds value for their users. How? By filtering out businesses that don't rate highly - or don't rate at all. Just think: you want a plumber. Do you just want a list of plumbers in your area? Or would you rather Google gave you a list that contained only the best - most highly recommended - plumbers?

   We are predicting that most users will set the filter at the highest (4 star and above) setting

Some of you may have followed the link in the opening line of this article and be asking yourselves why we are aiming this article fairly and squarely at estate agents. The answer: because the best of you are much more vulnerable to filtering than good hotels or restaurants (all of them have established Google scores already)...
  • if you have no Google reviews...
  • if you have less than five reviews, whatever their score...
  • if you do have more than five reviews, but you score less than 4.0...
...when Google bring in the filter, you will be filtered out of search.

All the SEO in the world won't make any difference once the user has enabled the filter.

Take action now

This has just added a major reason to adopt professional review management (apart from all the others covered here). Don't wait until the filter is enabled: be ready so your business continues to show - and look even more impressive - in filtered search.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Hoteliers - listen to ReviewPro

Next Tuesday ReviewPro, in partnership with Duetto, will be conducting the next of their industry-benchmark webinars. We strongly recommend that you register and listen (you don't have to catch it live, everyone who registers is sent a recording). Why?

Because, as you can see above, they will be focusing, in part, on the correlation between online reputation and pricing. The equation is simple: ReviewPro will give you all the back-end information you need to improve guest service in-hotel. HelpHound will immediately improve your ratings and scores on TripAdvisor, Google and all the OTAs (see here). ReviewPro and HelpHound will then - independently - both report and confirm the effectiveness of your strategy.


Tuesday 9 February 2016

Estate Agents - benefits of membership

We recently conduced a round of review meetings with our estate agency clients. Here we show you the results, in the form of a dry checklist (no pretty pictures in this post), of the elements of our - surprisingly wide-ranging - service that they told us they value...

Directly financial...
  • Dialogue drives enquiries through your websites: showing verified (and therefore credible) reviews encourages potential clients to make the initial contact
  • Dialogue aids conversion: many are the tales of potential clients 'closing themselves' after reading our clients' great reviews
  • Looking great on Google: drives enquiries, reinforces the sale and gives you an edge over your competitors before you even meet the client
  • PPC savings: some of our clients have been able to significantly reduce (and, in at least one case, suspend entirely) their PPC spend
  • Increased commission: great reviews are providing a convincing answer to the time-honoured question 'why should I pay you X% when your competition is offering X% minus?'
Pure customer service...
  • Great feedback: clients love writing reviews, and review writing is fast becoming accepted as the best way of thanking a business for great service
  • Complaints managed offline: client issues are resolved in private, through Dialogue, rather than being aired on Google or one of the estate agent review sites
 Detailed review management...
  • Appealing negative reviews: No-one, consumer, business or Google, benefits from unfair and inaccurate reviews. Our advice has resulted in many such reviews being deleted (if you are reading this and you think you have been subject to such a review, contact us immediately)
  • Drafting responses to reviews: clients often contact us for advice on the precise wording of responses, to all kinds of reviews, wherever they may have been posted
  • Managing your Google pages: Seldom does a business join without some issues surrounding their Google pages; either they have multiple pages or none, or pages contain incorrect information. We will lead you through the minefield that can be Google for Business
Social Media...
  • Establishment and management of your G+ account(s): We provide initial and ongoing advice on this important subject, including 'claiming your business' (for each and every branch), getting duplicate pages deleted and maintaining relevant content
  • Facebook: posting and displaying reviews from Dialogue
  • Twitter: feeding reviews through to your Twitter account(s)
  • Independent review sites: just because Google is currently the place to have your reviews (and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future) doesn't mean that the independent sites should be ignored. We keep a watching brief over them on your behalf 
Ongoing advice  
  • Communication: we reckon we were the first people outside Google to spot the introduction of their review filter (within hours of its introduction).  How important was that for some of our clients? We keep an eye on everything review-related on our clients' behalf - from reading the Google blogs to monitoring changes at search engines and review websites - and advise accordingly. We recommend that all our clients (and key staff) subscribe to this blog
  • Client service: Karen Hutchings and her team are there to be consulted about any aspect of any of the above - it's all part of our service to our members; call her!

Thursday 4 February 2016

Restaurants (and Pubs) - don't get filtered!

Google's filter is now operational on all mobile platforms. If you don't need any web-driven business you may as well stop reading this now, but if you have spare capacity (as so many London pubs in this article did back in 2014) please read on.

It really is very simple indeed. If your establishment has:
  • less than five reviews, or
  • scores less than 4.0 out of 5 
Those looking for a great restaurant or pub (or hotel, for that matter) will be offered the opportunity to filter you out of search.

Here's an example: 

Let's use a common search: 'Chinese' in 'Chelsea' (note: no need to use the word 'restaurant' in search any more). Here are the results:


At the top, just under the map, you will see 'Any rating' in small print and 'FILTER' in block capitals. Click on either of those and this pops up:

Which would you choose? We're betting the answer is '4.0 of course': So let's look at the search results now:

The two remaining restaurants, Bo Lang and Hunan, should not rest on their laurels: a single one star review to add to the seven reviews it's already received will drive Bo Lang out of filtered search as well (and a similar small handful will do the same for Hunan).

No less than eight of the ten Chinese restaurants in Chelsea have been filtered (either for scoring at less than 4.0 out of 5 or because they have fewer than five reviews).

Useful for the consumer? Well, we asked a random selection and out of twenty-five people questioned they all thought so. Useful for businesses? Absolutely: providing they score 4.0 or better!

And pubs?

Here's the same search:

Before filtering:

And after:

Of the original three, only the Pig's Ear survives - and then only by the skin of it's teeth - one more one star review from a disgruntled customer and they're out as well. Of the 21 pubs listed that do score 4.0 or higher (out of 65), nineteen score 4.2 or less, dangerously close to the filter's cut-off point);

Never has there been a stronger case for businesses of all kinds to employ professional review management, and to do so before use of the filter becomes an everyday activity amongst your customers, but more importantly those businesses that stand to gain most from mobile search: any business connected to hospitality and tourism.

Monday 1 February 2016

Search - and your website in its context

Recent developments at Google moved reviews - and review management - from 'great' to 'must have' (at least, for all those of you who wish to appear in search). We make no apology for banging this drum yet again - for businesses ignore it at their peril.

Assuming that everyone who has read this far thinks their position in search is vital to the success of their marketing plan - indeed, hopefully, pivotal - we thought we ought to put review management into context with all your online marketing efforts. 

We start with your website:

  Is there anyone who seriously doubts that Winkworth have dedicated this important position on their branch home pages for anything but the best commercial reasons?

You invest, some of you heavily, in web design. You recognise that very few people are going to use your business without at least checking out your website. You understand that your prospective clients (those who pay your fees - vendors and landlords) don't need:
  • to know that you sell/let property for a living 
So if you are an estate agent you won't need to include images of houses except to differentiate yourselves in the marketplace (country/town, coastal/new build etc.). What you will need to include are reasons why the potential client should take the next - vital - step: making contact. And that's where great reviews come in - prominently displayed and independently verified client opinions drive enquiries through your website.

Google PPC

Some estate agents feel they must pay significant sums (we have heard of branches - single branches - paying upwards of £500 a month) - for PPC. If you are paying hundreds of pounds a month per branch to promote your agency, this paragraph may help you save significant amounts!

Up until recently there were two ways you could make yourselves more visible to someone searching for an estate agent: appear in the 'Magic 7' (the list of seven agents Google supplied for each local search) or pay Google for an advertisement (PayPerClick - PPC). 

In the last six months there have been far reaching changes to the way Google displays its local search results: the Magic 7 has been reduced to the 3-pack. So now, assuming an average of fifteen estate agents are competing for any given search, your chances of appearing above-the-fold without paying Google are reduced from one-in-two to one-in-five, from 50% (reasonable odds) to 20% (awful odds).

A cynic might assume that Google has made these changes simply to drive PPC revenue, but, whatever Google's motive, businesses must react. And, in an ideal world, that reaction will not be to simply pay more PPC, it will be to examine cleverer (and more certain) ways to appear in the 3-pack.


Search engine optimisation has, for a long time now, been about a lot more than simply repeating 'estate agent in [location]' all over your site. Google's algorithms are far more complex than that these days, and that's where your web designers come in - it is their job to do their very best on your behalf to ensure your website stands the very best chance of appearing in the 3-pack.

And professional review management can help: Google loves reviews and attributes a value to them in search. Even more than that, consumers love reviews too.

Aggregation Sites

This heading covers any website that purports to deliver informed consumer choice, and most incorporate some kind of review mechanism, so sector specific sites like TripAdvisor and (hotels) and AllAgents and RaterAgent (estate agents), as well as general sites like TrustPilot and Feefo, come under this umbrella. 


This is a screenshot of a typical search; you will notice that only one natural listing shows 'above the fold' (i.e. before the consumer is forced to scroll). This places a massive premium on appearing in the 3-pack - otherwise you are looking at considerable outlay for your Ad to appear consistently. Greene & Co are, of course, HelpHound clients - note that they are not paying for the search term 'estate agent Maida Vale'!

Before Google took all the real-estate above-the-fold (the only part of the screen - and page one of search - that your prospective customer sees unless they bother to scroll down) for their own results (and reviews), these sites were seen by lots of potential customers (they generally appeared just under the business's own listing). Now these sites only appear when attached to paid-for ads or further down in the depths of natural search. Consumers are increasingly conditioned to look for Google reviews (and trust them, thanks to their link to a specific G+ identity).

More and more: reviews need to be on your own site and on Google.

But all of this is set to change - again! ...and become much simpler

  That innocuous little word to the bottom right of the search bar is going to have far reaching effects for businesses without a dedicated review management programme

Google introduced their filter at the turn of the year - currently in mobile (that's 65% of search these days) and only for hotels and restaurants to begin with. Why only hotels and restaurants - so far? Google are not telling (any more than they warned that they were introducing the filter in the first place), but the logic for rolling it out to other businesses is unarguable.

When we search the web we don't just want a list of [plumbers], we want the best [plumbers]. Google is giving us just that with its filter. Right now you can conduct a mobile local search and filter out any restaurant (or hotel) that scores less than 4.0 out of 5, based on their Google reviews. 

Why would Google not extend that facility from mobile to desk-top and from hotels and restaurants to plumbers, financial advisers and estate agents? We are sure they will. When? In all probability when they feel they have enough reviews in each business sector. And it's up to you, the businesses, to ensure that the reviews Google end up serving through their filter are great.

In Summary 

It is important to see review management as integral to your marketing efforts (not a luxury add-on). Professional review management should repay every penny invested many times over - and it should also save you money you would otherwise spend on 'essentials' like SEO and PPC.