Wednesday 30 March 2016

Trustpilot takes down online agent's reviews

This story on PIE prompts the question: just whose reviews can you - and your customers - trust?

We are not going to pick on any particular review site here, but we will point out some general shortcomings across the reviews world:
  1. Algorithm based moderation: We tried that - effectively it involves writing a computer programme to spot fake or fraudulent reviews - back in 2008, but it did not work then, for the same reasons it does not work now: human nature combined with the wonderful English language. Human nature means that if there is a flaw in a system someone will try to exploit it: the business, disgruntled clients, 'helpful' friends of the business or its employees, ex-members of staff. How do you programme a computer to identify all of these? You cannot. And we don't. Our solution: human moderators and a two-strikes rule. Our experienced moderators read every review. And their experience means that they can recognise a fake positive on sight, at least nine times out of ten (all negatives, of course, are automatically subject to scrutiny through Resolution™ - pre-publication). This means that a HelpHound client's chances of being able to post multiple fake positives, however sophisticated their attempt(s) are so slim as to be negligible. This is backed up by our 'two strikes' rule: any client posting a fake review gets a final warning, another fake and they are no longer a HelpHound client.
  2. Flagging: having an internal flagging system is not enough. Our solution: any reader of any review is able to flag that review, immediately and on-screen. If they do so the review becomes subject to intensive scrutiny, which may include suspension of the review in question until we can be assured of its veracity.
  3. Publishing negatives before contacting the business: this is tantamount to an invitation to game any review site. It is not sufficient to say that the business has a right-of-reply, the damage is already done. It is vital, for business and consumer, that any criticism of the business is valid, fair and balanced. Our solution: Again: Resolution™: every negative is first served to the business. All reviewers retain the right to publish, but the business is allowed to respond to correct errors of fact.
  4. Share price = volume of reviews: This is the cynic in us coming to the fore: if the review site is a quoted entity (or has ambitions in that direction) the stockmarket has an unfortunate habit of imputing value in relation to the quantity of reviews the site hosts. There is a therefore a massive incentive for the review business to host the maximum number of reviews. Our solution: have a business model where the business's value is not related to the number of reviews it hosts.
To summarise

If you are going to engage with reviews you must make sure that whatever mechanism you employ has credibility: we are all familiar with the headlines about sites like TripAdvisor (remember when the ASA stopped them using the word 'trusted'?) so we need to be able to answer the basic and central question from consumers - our and your customers - "Why should I trust your reviews?"

 Your customers can rely on the promise at the bottom left-hand corner of this screenshot - from one of our client's websites - and anywhere else it's displayed: 'Verified by HelpHound' means just that

From the above you will see that HelpHound takes this aspect of our service - credibility - very seriously indeed. Whilst there is no system on the planet that can - or ever will - provide a guarantee that every review written is cast-iron certain to be 100% genuine (is the writer related to any member of staff at the business in question, and, if so, are they mother, father, brother, sister or second cousin three times removed?!) we have done, and continue to do, everything in our power to ensure that a review written through Dialogue is the genuine article, to be relied on when booking a hotel room, choosing a financial advisor or estate agent, in fact using any business or service whatsoever.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

OTA Commissions: Hilton fights back

Here's Hilton Honors' campaign designed to encourage their guests to book direct:

It addresses half the problem: the perception that guests will get a better deal by booking through an OTA.

The other half? Your potential guests' insatiable thirst for reviews - and by reviews we mean words and pictures. To satisfy this demand the hotel needs independently verified reviews hosted on their own site - preferably right next to their booking engine. Then - at last - perhaps they may have a solution. We'll - at least half a solution, which has to be better than none at all.

  Here's the Venetian in Macao's 'Best Rate Guarantee'

Our suggestion for the 'price' half? Well, it's really none of our business as professional review managers, but how about a banner with "Guaranteed best rate available" on your site, accompanied by a John Lewis type 'refund the difference' policy?

Monday 28 March 2016

Estate Agents: Making the most of Dialogue™

As the title suggests, this article is aimed at new(er) clients, but will hopefully be of interest to prospective clients (as a guide to what to expect as a HelpHound member) and for all our existing clients as a checklist to make sure you are fully up to speed.

Why you adopted Dialogue™: a reminder 

 To look like this on your own website?

 And to look like this on Google?

Consumer feedback on your services (and on individual staff performance) is fine; looking great on your own website and on external sites - mainly Google - that influence your prospective clients is even better. But the core reasons are:
  • to drive visitors to your own website through Google search
  • to drive enquiries through your own website
  • to support sales
In other words: to boost profitability.

In this post we list the key articles (out of nearly 500 since 2008) you should read to fully understand Dialogue and its effect on your business's profitability.

The first, and the most important: Reviews: your customer's journey; describes how good review management leads prospective customers through the web to your business.

Benefits of Membership: is a thorough guide to what to expect from day 1 of joining HelpHound.

Next: Making the best of Dialogue. Follow this simple 5-step guide and your business will look great, on your own site and on Google, in no time at all.

No time at all? See Estate Agency Case Histories: the Fastest Yet for a description of a recent new client's journey from having no reviews on Google to a score of 4.9 out of 5 in less than a week.

Longer term results: What a Difference a year Makes: taking a multi-branch client with no Google scores on any of their branches to emphatic scores across all their branches and appearances in all their Google 3-packs in their first year of membership.

Independent review sites: Yesterday's answer to today's question. Why we focus on your own website and Google rather than external review sites.

And some that are recommended reading if you have more time:

Don't risk being filtered by Google: On 1 January this year Google introduced their Review Filter; enabling users to filter our businesses without a Google score or with a score of less than 4 out of 5. Google haven't applied it to estate agents yet, but they are sure to in the not-too-distant future. Make sure you are ready.

Don't risk asking your clients to post direct to Google: this article amplifies the two main reasons: first, that you risk encouraging a harmful negative review and second, and just as important, you miss out on the review on your website that may just be the one that decides your prospective client to make contact.

Finally: there's the Big Daddy: An introduction to reviews - 2016 style. This covers all the possible ways you can incorporate reviews into your marketing.

For even further reading this is a link to all the articles on our blog that specifically relate to estate agency. If you subscribe - half way down the right-hand column - you will receive every one hot off the press.

Getting reviews: the rule of 50%

 Attitudes to being asked to write a review are changing all the time - for the better: consumers now mostly understand that reviews are part-and-parcel of the modern business landscape - and that they need them as much as we do!
If your business has massive footfall - a 1000 bed hotel, a large online shopping site - you can probably risk reading no further. But if you are a high value/low customer turnover business - legal, financial services, estate agency - you should read on.

Take estate agents: it is not unusual for a single branch, especially in pure sales, to have transactions in single figures per month. For that kind of business it is essential that every opportunity is taken to maximise the chances of a review being written, both to their own website and to Google.

The rule of 50%

This 'rule' means getting:
  1. Half of all your customers/clients to write a review to your website, and then...
  2. Half of them - those who write a review to your website -  to copy their review to Google
It is as simple as that. And it is being consistently achieved by clients who follow these guidelines.

But it does mean adopting a positive attitude:
  • So what if my client has never written a review in their life? I have worked/am working hard for them - it's the least they can do
  • So what if they don't have a G+ account? It takes a minute to open one (and Karen at HelpHound will do it for them if absolutely necessary)
  • Remember that clients are flattered to be asked to write a review
  • Bear in mind that if they really don't want to/or physically or mentally cannot bring themselves to - then they simply fall into the 50% who we expect not to anyway - don't harass them!
Points to remember:
  • Great reviews on Google drive visitors to your website
  • Great - independently verified - reviews on your website drive enquiries and sales
For more on the customer journey, from initial search to enquiry, read this.

And for those of you who like graphics: here's a really helpful - and up-to-date (attitudes to review writing continue to change for the better) infographic from ReviewInc.

 This chart usefully backs up our rule of 50%. It shows that most people - certainly more than 50% - are happy to write a review is they are a) asked in the right way and b) that request is reinforced personally, face-to-face or by phone.

So: aim high and you will achieve the results you need.

Google My Business: useful links and pointers

Clients should always refer to HelpHound client services if in any doubt at all, but here is an overview of various useful links and pages relating to Google My Business (GMB) and reviews.

Please note: the screenshots are just that - the links won't work. If you want to mine deeper click on the header, that will take you to the relevant Google My Business page with all the live links.

Get reviews on Google

Flag and Fix inappropriate reviews

Reply to Reviews on Google

The title of this section - bulk locations - is slightly misleading: it is simply about replying to Google reviews.

Business descriptions on Google Maps

  • Review snippets (also called 'rich snippets')
  • Hotel review snippets - an expanded version of the above
And, importantly:

The Google My Business (GMB) Advertiser Community

Firstly: you can ignore the word 'Advertiser' in the title; it for everyone, regardless of whether you are currently engaged in PPC. This is an active member's community and forum. Frequented by users and Google staffers alike. As with any forum, you should not act on any advice unless you can verify the source (again - speak to us if in any doubt).

Covering important topics such as:
  • Basics for Business Owners
  • Claiming your GMB page
  • Getting your business verified
We hope this helps. But it is only intended as a brief guide. Karen and her team at HelpHound client services are always there to provide you with specific advice.

Friday 25 March 2016

TripAdvisor Awards 2016: See Torquay and Die!

Torquay's hoteliers must be thrilled with their sixth place in Tripadvisor's UK Top 10 Destinations for 2016. Perhaps not so thrilled with the image Tripadvisor has used to illustrate the delights of this holiday destination on the English Riviera:

 no-one was injured in the Babbacombe landslide of April 2013

Here's another image uploaded by TripAdvisor user 'reowa' charmingly entitled 'red cliffs at Babbacombe beach':

Propping up the Top 10 is a city 'Famed for its football team...'. 

Well, we know that the only team in Manchester owned by TAs fellow countrymen is United (strictly in Salford, but whose to quibble), but I can't imagine City fans will be overly impressed.

Seriously though, a little professional review management just might have averted this - all reviews - and images - posted through HelpHound are moderated.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Hotel Marketing Trends 2016: our Commentary

ReviewPro released their annual survey today, and, as usual, their findings make very interesting reading. Here we address those aspects that touch specifically upon reviews and review management.


HelpHound's Dialogue™ provides all of the first three and five and six. So if:
  • Great online traveler reviews - and rankings and scores - everywhere
  • Increasing repeat business
  • Increasing direct bookings
  • Differentiating from competition, and 
  • Online reputation management overall...
 ...matter to you, you should be a HelpHound client. No solution enables you to manage the front-end of reviews like HelpHound's Dialogue™. Increased positive reviews, reduced negative reviews, on your own website, on TripAdvisor, on and on Google: in fact: everywhere your potential guest is looking. Guaranteed.

Page 11

Is there a property on the planet that would rather sell a room through an OTA when they can sell the same room direct and commission-free? We are not saying that OTAs don't have a role to play, but that hoteliers should be looking to maximise revenue through effective review management. Dialogue is a key tool in your box where maximising GOPPAR is concerned.

Page 31

Any given hotel will look better by adopting Dialogue™. Guaranteed. We guarantee you will receive more positive reviews (because we will ensure more of your happy guests write them) and less negative reviews (because your unhappy guests will communicate with you privately through Dialogue rather than posting a 3, 2 or 1 star review in public).

So: what is stopping you? Cost? We will demonstrate that by adopting Dialogue you will cover its cost so many times over the decision to adopt it will be the single most important one you make in 2016; just invite us in.

Monday 21 March 2016

What can we learn from: Publishers and Booksellers?

We make no apology for harping on about learning the most we can from the ways businesses use reviews. In this instance, somewhat unusually, we are focusing on a profession that has been using reviews to sell products since the dawn of time...


 Reviews - albeit usually by fellow authors - appear on almost every cover

And - maybe because they had plenty of experience of the power of reviews pre-web - has adapted pretty well to the on-line power of reviews as well...

  Amazon writes to every purchaser inviting a review - it knows for certain that reviews move product (and - as you know - not just in the realm of books)

The lessons? Please, please put aside your own prejudices - if you have any - against reviews and/or reviewers - and engage. Have a look at your own cover (a.k.a home page) and ask "Would our customer opinions - reviews - professionally displayed with independent verification - help drive more business through our website?"

...and Waterstones give them prominence as well

The only sure-fire way to know the answer to that question is to try it out. Become more bookseller - get reviews driving custom through your door.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Reviews: your customer's journey

In the early days of reviews on the web (over ten years ago now) much of review management strategy relied on guesswork. We now have concrete research - from the likes of Cornell University and many others - to enable us to be certain of your customer's journey. Even better: we have your feedback

What our clients are telling us

And this is coming through loud and clear: Google - unsurprisingly - is by far the main influence in driving traffic to your website, so that's where you need to make sure you have reviews (and a great score); next, before making contact, they check your own website and you need to look even better there - and have more reviews.

Barely a day goes by when we don't speak to a client who says "It's the reviews on our site that are driving new business."

The customer journey in detail

First: they conduct a local search (since over 70% of such searches are made on mobile or tablet, all the illustrations here are on those platforms, but the same goes for desktop and laptop):

 Google like reviews - and it's rare for a client of ours to appear outside the Google 3-pack. HelpHound's Dialogue is not about SEO, but driving reviews to Google doesn't hurt it! And when Google get around to ranking businesses by score and location they will be ready.

Then they choose the individual business:

  the score (here it's 4.9) and the number of reviews drive the potential customer to the rich snippets - or straight to the business's website

 Then they scroll to read the rich snippets - and see your score (again): 

a great score - that's 4.5+ in the context of Google - and three excellent rich snippets (even better if, like these, they are accompanied by photos rather than avatars) further increase the likelihood of a click-through to the business's website

Then they may even read the full Google reviews: 

 Keep the reviews coming - a business last reviewed a year ago does not create a great impression.

For low value purchases such as a meal in a restaurant the search may simply end there, but for higher value - hotels, for example - and very high value transactional decisions (legal, financial, estate agency and so on) the search invariably moves to the business's own website, where they see our client's HelpHound module:

They then read more reviews:

The wording next to our logo is found reassuring and encouraging in equal measure

And - at this point in the journey - they respond to your call to action (phone or email).

In Summary

The customer journey is simple: google the business - read reviews. If impressed*: visit business's website. Read more reviews. If even more impressed: make contact.

That is why it is so important to ensure a positive presence on both Google and your own website - great reviews (and a great score) on Google will channel your prospective customer to your website where more great reviews prompt them to initiate contact.

Note: Of course, if your other marketing is driving visitors direct to your site, the reviews you host there become even more important.

*'Impressed': this works both ways. If you have negative reviews (or no reviews) on Google you will be giving your potential customer the wrong impression. Review management is no longer optional for engaged businesses in 2016.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Review Management - four options for businesses

Do nothing

It's what a lot of businesses do now. The majority, in fact. Just look at how many plumbers in Chiswick have bothered to get their customers to post reviews:

  • We cannot think of any (apart from the fact that it would save someone in your office about half-an-hour a week) but that's maybe because we have seen all the advantages of taking a proactive stance with reviews for so long now!
  • You lose a massive opportunity to harness your customers' goodwill to drive new business
  • You allow your competitors to steal a march - and look better on their own websites and in search than you do

Independent review sites - general

   These days only one kind of review shows up directly in Google search: Google reviews.

  • Reviews can be shown to potential customers, via links in emails or in person.
  • They don't always show in search when Google reviews invariably do
  • Beware of their business models: do they rely on pushing your reviews down unless you pay - often called 'Premium Listing" -  (Yelp)? 

Independent review sites - specialist

   There are three ways of being listed by Google showing in this single screenshot: Paid-for advertising, the 3-Pack and natural listings. Greene & Co currently appear at the top of the 3-Pack and are the top of natural search as well. Two questions: Do you see any independent review site (specific: AllAgents or RaterAgent or general: Yelp/Yell) showing and do you think their Google score of 4.9 from 131 reviews is helping to drive business?

  • They're sector specific, so you know that someone looking at them is looking for a business like yours
  • You will be shown alongside all your competitors, often at a disadvantage if you do not pay for a 'premium listing' or if your rating or score is not quite as good
  • Few of them will allow you to embed reviews without a link to their websites (it's never advisable to invite visitors to your website to leave to visit a site containing details of your competitors)


  • You save any fees (although you should factor in time spent ensuring your strategy remains current)
  • You are unable to claim that you host verified reviews on your own website (verification self-evidently must be done by someone independent of your business)
  • You will need to monitor changes at Google and the relevant review sites (see under 'Professional - advantages' below)

Professional Review Management

It is all about trust: this hotels' potential guests are able to fully trust the reviews hosted on the hotel's own website - all 429 of them - because they are being reassured by the line under the hotel's logo. They also love the subliminal message that they too will be invited to post a review after their own stay.
Here we'll take the disadvantages first!

  • It's going to cost you. Not a lot, and we would like to think the advantages listed below tip the balance, but it's not free
  • That's it, unless you count the time spent in implementing and maintaining our recommended strategy across your business
  • You will have independently verified - and therefore credible - reviews to show to every single visitor to your website
  • You will be able to ask your customers to copy those reviews onto any other open website you choose: Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp and a so on
  • You will have someone - HelpHound - monitoring the reviews landscape for you 24/7. Did you notice the introduction of the Google review filter? On January 1? We did. When did we tell our clients about it? On Tuesday January 5 - the first working day after its introduction. The Google Magic 7 replaced by the 3-Pack? Same. Advice to our hotel clients to take care with TripAdvisor's modified Review Express? Within a week. Important and relevant advice - when you need it
  • Full support: had a negative review - on any site? We'll advise you. Need to understand your G+ page(s): We'll explain them. Cannot wait to dovetail your reviews with social media? We'll show you the best way to integrate them with Facebook, G+ and Twitter.

If we discount the first option (doing nothing) and the second option (getting reviews to sites that don't show in Google search) the choice is yours; if we have said enough to convince you to at least speak to us about going the professional route just speak to Fiona Christie or Karen Hutchings today.