Consumers are influenced by reviews; great reviews drive business and negative reviews deflect business. Academic and commercial research confirms this beyond any reasonable doubt. Feedback from our clients adds further weight: from customers walking into their offices clutching print-outs of their positive reviews to reports - from agitated prospective clients - of telephones ceasing to ring when a negative review has been posted.
Businesses know this. But they continue to struggle with reviews. Why? Because of a - well founded - fear of the damage a negative review can wreak on their business's reputation. All because of human nature: consumers are, on average, up to fifteen times more likely to write a negative review than a positive one.
Look at the figures for a world-renowned hotel: the Ritz in London. They have received 2600 reviews on TripAdvisor since May 2003, 2400 are positive, the balance, 200, are negative. That's nearly 10% of their guests who have bothered to write a review (out of roughly half a million guests over that period). Management at the Ritz will tell you that the 'real' figure for guests expressing any dissatisfaction is far less than 1%, it's just that an unhappy guest has so much more motivation to write a review.
This was all fine-and-dandy when confined to the world of hospitality - consumers quickly accustomed themselves to expecting to read negative reviews about hotels and restaurants. But when it comes to high value transactional businesses that's a whole new ball game. A single well-written negative review has the power to deflect business (we have considerable first-hand knowledge of this - mostly from prospective clients whose first contact with us has been prompted by sudden reductions in enquiries and business as a direct result of a single negative review).
Google enters the fray
Then along came Google. Relatively late to the table, they tiptoed into reviews via Google Places and then Google Maps. Then: understanding consumer demand for reviews in search, they took the plunge and brought reviews - their own reviews - right forward:
And here's a great example: it shows two businesses that have yet to engage with online reviews (either that or they really are as bad as the reviews say they are - which we seriously doubt) and one business that has yet to engage and has - so far - flown under the reviews radar.
Why is Google - and why are Google reviews - so important for businesses?
Google is the gatekeeper of the web for the overwhelming majority of consumers. There are other review websites, some huge like TripAdvisor and Yelp, some niche (there's one for almost every type of business on the planet) but we all have to negotiate Google to find them.
That's why shares in quoted review sites have plummeted recently (TripAdvisor from $110 to $63, Yelp from $98 to $19); those falls are simply a reflection of the market waking up to the realisation that Google will dominate the reviews market for the foreseeable future.
To get people to choose to visit your website, you need to look great - and better than your competitors - in search. Coming top - or near the top - is just not enough if a competitor has great reviews.
So why do so many businesses look insignificant (no - or few - reviews) or awful (negative reviews - like the ones below) in search?
The fear of looking like this has prompted most businesses to stay well away from reviews of any kind. Below is an all-too-common example of a Google 3-pack - this time the search is 'insurance brokers' in 'Reading':
The Google 3-pack highlights just three local businesses. Two of these have no reviews at all, but we're sure that they would love to have lots, they are just frightened that if they ask their clients to review them they may get one like the third has:
Enter HelpHound - and Dialogue™
Another Google search: This time for an 'estate agent' in 'Maida Vale':
The top business in this search looks, we're sure you will agree, much better. How? They are HelpHound clients. To understand how HelpHound makes such a difference we need to look at Dialogue in more detail.
The process you see illustrated above, which we call Dialogue, effectively rebalances the world of reviews on the web, to everyone's advantage. It makes reviews fair and representative.
In order for reviews to be useful - to anyone and everyone - they need to be:
- Genuine: fake reviews - endemic on open review sites like TripAdvisor (by their own admission) help no-one. Positive fakes - often written by the business - mislead consumers. Negative fakes - perhaps written by a competitor or a disgruntled ex-employee - unfairly harm the business
- Factually correct: a review may be written with the best of intentions, but if it contains factual inaccuracies (incorrect pricing - blame wrongly attributed) it helps no-one, business or consumer
- Unfiltered: It is only fair to offer businesses a chance to correct errors of fact before the review is published - as HelpHound does, for the reasons stated above - it is quite another to offer the business the ability to choose which reviews are shown
For the consumer: Dialogue means that they can rely on our clients' reviews. They know they will be genuine, factually correct and unfiltered - and they know that they are not just reading the opinions of 'invitation only' consumers in the first flush of their relationship with the business under review.
For the business: Dialogue removes the 'fear factor'. Now no well-managed business need fear unfair or factually incorrect reviews. They can approach their customers secure in the knowledge that their business will be accurately reflected in the reviews that their customers will write.
Reviews on the business's own website
Below you will see one of our client's home page:
There are several points to make here. The first is the prominence they have given to their HelpHound module (the blue box and the review snippet just under 'Office Information'); this positioning reflects the value the business places on their reviews - and rightly so: day-in day-out we receive calls from clients that reinforce the contention that it is reviews on their own websites that drive business:
"Looking great - by having great reviews on Google - drives visits to our website. But it's having more great reviews there - on our website - that drive the inbound enquiry or sale."
This is just one of the reasons we don't advise our clients to ask their customers to post direct to Google (another important reason: they will be bypassing the opportunity to correct misapprehensions in the review that Dialogue offers both business and customer - already mentioned above).
Just a click away from their HelpHound module - all our clients' reviews for all the world to see:
With the all-important reassurance beside our logo at the top of every module:
And - equally important - evidence that anyone can write a review at any time: the 'Write your review' button at bottom right of this screenshot.
Don't forget the future
Will your business be filtered? Remember the filter takes businesses with none or fewer than 5 reviews out of search altogether
In future Google can only become more and more important for businesses, we predict that it will:
- introduce ranking: consumers want to see the best businesses in search, not just a random list - and certainly not the ones with the biggest SEO spend. Logic dictates that ranking will be directly related to Google scores (businesses acquire a Google score when they have five reviews)
- expand its review filter: at present the filter has only been applied to businesses in hospitality (hotels, B&Bs and restaurants). Logic again dictates rolling this out to every kind of business and service as and when the reviews upon which the filter depends reach critical mass
- refine and roll out its review matrix: at the moment hotel reviews are subdivided into 'Rooms', 'Location' and 'Service & Facilities'. We see no reason why sub-categories (and their resulting scores) should not apply to every kind of business and service
So: if our clients look great, it is because they are great. Dialogue gives them the confidence to invite and display reviews on their own sites and on Google (or any other site they choose) and they are able to relax in the certain knowledge that if they have any questions or concerns whatsoever HelpHound and our great client support team are here to back them up. Engage with reviews today - with confidence - with HelpHound.