Wednesday 22 June 2016

It's the results that count!

Regular readers will be familiar with us constantly - and consistently, we hope! - banging the drum for professional review management and we would like to use this article to re-define it yet again. 

What is 'professional review management'?

It's about doing the very best for our clients. and that means having your interests and our interests exactly aligned: it means acting as professional advisers, just like your accountants and lawyers - without any bias whatsoever.

So how does that translate into results?

We recommend the best solution for each and every client, no matter what business they are in; and that always means:
  • having - and showing - reviews on your own website
Your reviews, not ours. Our role is simple and it's twofold: it is to enable your business to:
  • reassure those reading your reviews that they are 100% genuine, and to
  • enable you to manage misleading or unfair comments pre-publication
And then to:
  • make sure a significant number of those reviews appear elsewhere on the web where they will do your business the most good

Some history

It helps to understand some history of reviews on the web. They were born out of early internet technology which, for the first time, allowed two-way conversations. The first manifestation of this was internet forums. Out of those forums were born sites like TripAdvisor, soon to be followed by 'pure' review sites like Yelp. Internet reviews as we now understand them were born.

Then something quite fundamental happened: Google, which until around 2010 had simply been a search engine - a gateway to the web, and therefore a gateway to all kinds of review sites, some specialist (like TripAdvisor for hotels or AllAgents for estate agents), some generalist (like Yelp and AngiesList) - quietly launched Google Places.

Google Places

Google places, at first hidden away in Google Maps, began to invite Google users to post reviews of businesses - any business.

HelpHound and Google reviews

We recognised, way back in 2011, what Google were planning. They had decided to transform themselves from 'gateway' to 'gatekeeper'. 

Google as Gatekeeper

This was a move that was to revolutionise Google's role. No longer would Google simply provide straightforward search results, based on all kinds of SEO based criteria. They would now allow any business's customers to influence search...
  • by publishing their opinions as reviews
At HelpHound we saw the impact of this move on the independent review sites. TripAdvisor and Yelp were huge (Yelp had a market capitalisation of over $5bn), but alongside Google they were mere minnows. The smaller - often specialist - sites became plankton alongside the minnows.

Our advice changed 

As a direct result we began advising our clients to focus away from the independent sites and towards Google reviews. HelpHound's own role remained the same, only now we were focusing on our clients' own sites and Google, rather than their own sites and a range of independent review sites. 

That's one huge advantage!

By being flexible - and able to give the best advice all the time - in an ever changing world, we are able to retain our clients, and our clients are able to relax in the certain knowledge that they are always being advised to do the right thing. By being a client of HelpHound you are effectively future-proofing your business in the context of reviews.

How have the independent sites reacted?

They have been forced to adopt strategies to add value - for their users and their shareholders. TripAdvisor has effectively morphed into an online travel agency (OTA). Yelp has appealed to the US Senate - on the basis that Google is taking unfair advantage of its virtual monopoly position (unsuccessfully). The smaller specialist sites have had to adopt an 'if you cant beat them...' strategy in an attempt to claw back some value for their clients, often involving become a Google Partner.

Google Partner?

Google Partnering is a programme that Google introduced to allow 'partners'' review scores to show in Google ads and Google search. It has effectively allowed Google to say to people - like the US Senate mentioned above - that they are not taking advantage of their position as gatekeeper, whilst maximising revenue from Google ads. But it is a very weak solution when compared to playing Google at their own game and looking great in Google reviews.

Here are two examples; the first business has reviews on an independent review site (a Google Partner), the second has reviews on their own site and on Google:

Example 1:

Example 2:

HelpHound has no bias

It is important to understand that HelpHound has no bias against independent review sites. We have recommended them to our clients in the past, and we will recommend them again, if and when using them becomes the right advice for our clients.

But we want our clients to look like the second of these screengrabs - and so they do! We also want our clients to understand the journey their potential customers make on their way to making that crucial first contact: 
  1. Google search - be impressed by Google reviews
  2. Visit website - be further impressed by independently verified reviews
  3. Make contact
It is as simple as 1 - 2 - 3. And that is just how we make it. To see just how quickly your business can go from zero to hero on your own site and on Google, read this case history.

Then take a screenshot of your own Google search result and send it to and she will tell you just how professional review management will work for your business.

It's the results that count!

Monday 20 June 2016

Success stories: Winkworth Kensal Rise

This story is interesting, not simply because one individual within the branch has achieved so much (although he has) but because all our clients (and those considering joining) can learn from this experience.

The story: a Winning Strategy

Winkworth Kensal Rise - along with its sister branch, Willesden Green - joined almost exactly a year ago, in June 2015.  At their HelpHound briefing a single member of staff - Yanick Lumsden, their office administrator - was detailed to take on their review management.

Yanick was briefed by HelpHound on 30 June 2015 and implemented our recommended strategy. The reviews began to flow, exactly as predicted, plenty to their own website and some great individual reviews to Google, until a critical review was posted - independently - on Google for Willesden Green.

This review was first noticed by a HelpHound moderator who alerted Karen Hutchings from HelpHound client services. Karen spoke to Yanick, and, once they had discussed his response to the negative on Google, they went on to talk about ways to increase the volume of reviews - to their own website and to Google.

The timing of this conversation was just about perfect; Yanick was now completely familiar with Dialogue and our Resolution process (having successfully managed five cases there). He knew how any given client would react to the invitation and was already modifying the invitation depending on client circumstances.

Karen talked Yanick through the recently introduced 'multi' invitation - it probably helped that this had been successfully pioneered by Greene & Co nearby - and henceforward Yanick would make his own judgement when sending out the invitation, by sending either:
  • the standard invitation - inviting the client to write a review to their website, via Dialogue (knowing that they would be invited to copy their review to Google)
  • or the multi-invitation but, as yet, restricting this to the option of Dialogue or Google (Facebook will come later)
  • or straight to Google
The results have been nothing short of fantastic... 

On their own website:

Read about the journey your potential clients make before they contact you, and you will see just how important displaying independently verified review on your own website is

On Google - for the search [Winkworth Kensal Rise]:

  Bear in mind that everyone who contacts you conducts a search like this - even if only to find your phone number! People are now used to looking for scores and rich snippets - the three quotes Google pull from your reviews - make sure both do your business credit

On Google - for the local search [estate agent Kensal Rise]: 

Criteria for appearance in the 3-pack is a closely guarded secret at Google - for obvious reasons - but we are not going to argue that looking great in the opinion of your customer is not a factor; it makes so much sense from the consumers' point-of-view. By the way: two of the three agents shown above are HelpHound members - no prizes!

And they address the questions we hear most from both our new and prospective members:
  • Will our clients write reviews to our website?
  • Will they write reviews to Google?
  • Will they join G+ to write a review?
  • Will Resolution enable me to address unfair or inaccurate reviews?
Combine this with the proven influence of reviews and you have a sure-fire winner!

Tea at the Ritz

What follows is a promise and, we suppose, a challenge.

Recently we have won competitive pitches for the review management accounts at some of the UK's premier estate agencies.

We would like to think we are the equivalent of 'tea at the Ritz' in the professional review management business:
  • not the biggest
  • nor the cheapest 
  • but the best 
But now we part company with that venerable Hotel. While not everyone can have tea at the Ritz (you have to be in the West End of London to begin with - and the price may discourage some) there are very few businesses that cannot afford our Dialogue™. More importantly there are very few businesses that can afford not to embrace professional review management. And professional review management means Dialogue™.

Take ten minutes to read some of these articles and then decide for yourself:
  1. Reviews matter: if your first question about reviews is "Why do we need them?" then this is the article for you. It shows you what Harvard Business School and Cornell University found when they both commissioned studies into consumer behaviour and reviews
  2. Case Histories: the business which is the subject of this article started out with no reviews at all. Here's another take on the same story (this time showing results for all their branches)
  3. Many people reading this will be wary of inviting reviews unless they attract unfair or misleading negatives: read this reassuring story about a lovely B&B in Cornwall that fell victim to an online troll, making it all the way to the national press.
  4. What is the point of reviews if they are not written by genuine customers? Credibility is key, and "You cannot believe their reviews" shows you how you can demonstrate that
  5. You need to understand why your business needs reviews on its own website and on Google. This article goes some way, and "Reviews: Your customers' journey" shows you just how your potential customers 'consume' reviews. If you think independent review sites are the way ahead read "Independent review sites - yesterday's answer"
That last link uses the Ritz as an example of just why it is so important to make a great first impression on Google.

And finally

This is the 507th article on this blog. That's heading towards a million words on the subject of professional review management - all publicly published for anyone to read - and comment on. If you go back to the dark days at the turn of the decade you will see some of our advice and predictions - and be able to judge for yourself just how 'professional' we are.

Happy reading!

Thursday 16 June 2016

Reviews matter, and so does responding to them - official!

All our working lives we are faced with two key questions:

1. Do reviews really matter that much?


2. Does responding to those reviews make that much of a difference?


 This study - published by Harvard Business School - concludes that reviews drive business and that responding to reviews drives business and deflects negative reviews.

Well, thanks to Cornell and Harvard universities, we have hard evidence to back up what we have been saying all along: a resounding 'Yes!'

Here's a synopsis of over 200 pages of detailed academic work (we read it so you don't have to!)...

Do reviews matter?

Both the Harvard and the Cornell studies have proven that businesses that rank highly can charge more for whatever service they are providing, purely by virtue of that ranking

The report says a resounding 'Yes!', reviews do matter, in many ways:
  • Positive reviews drive business and enable the business to charge more
  • Negative reviews drive business away and impact on prices and rates
  • A single negative review can result in a fall in revenue of up to 20%
  • The ratings (Google, Yelp etc.) and rankings (Google/TripAdvisor) are an amalgam of the individual review scores and these, in turn, increasingly dictate rates, fees and charges


  Looking this good in search has been proven to have the effects listed above -  great scores have been proven to drive business and the great reviews underlying it have been proven to positively impact on rates
Does responding to reviews make a difference?

One of the most interesting findings of the Harvard study was that reviewers are influenced by what they see before they write their own review, and on top of that they found...
  • Reviewers who receive responses are more likely to use the business again
  • Reviewers who write a positive review and don't receive a response are less likely to use the business again
  • Reviewers who write a negative review and don't receive a response are more likely to post that review elsewhere - increasing the damage it causes
  • Reviewers who see that the business responds to reviews are less likely to post negative reviews (and certainly less likely to exaggerate their complaints)
  • Reviewers who see that the business responds are more likely to post a positive review
  • Reviewers who see that the business has overwhelmingly great (5*) reviews are more likely to post a 5* review themselves
  • Reviewers who see that the business has mainly negative reviews are less likely to score the business at 5* (or equivalent) even if entirely happy with the service they received
This is an excellent example of 'best practice': the response to the review has been prompt and personal. The review itself powerfully supports the business's fee levels and the response shows any reader - potential customer - that the business cares about its client relationships

So there you have it: your efforts in getting great reviews and then responding to them will be rewarded.

Note for our clients: if you are unsure how to respond to reviews - through Dialogue, on Google or any other platform, please speak to Karen Hutchings or one of her team and they will advise.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Dialogue - getting a flying start

Some of you will have read how Foxtons went from zero to hero on Google almost overnight. And you will have read how inviting people who have previously written a review on another platform - e.g. AllAgents - to copy that review to Google, attractive as that strategy may seem, can lead to exposing your business to criticism.

Telling potential customers that '98% of our clients voted our service 5*' will work against you - and be used against you by competitors - unless you are allowing all your customers to write a review

In short:
  • Competitors will highlight the fact that you are cherry-picking - "Of course they look great on Google - they only invite their happy clients to write reviews there."
  • Leaving your own website without verified reviews breaks a crucial link in your potential customers' journey to your door - read more about that journey here
  • Resolution allows you to invite everyone to write a review (without losing sleep over potentially inaccurate and misleading reviews) - something that seriously impresses potential customers
But those of you who know us well will be expecting a solution to this conundrum - and here it is...

Do both!
  • Invite those who have written reviews before to copy them to Google - but please resist the temptation to cherry-pick (if this concerns you - and it should - keep within the Dialogue loop)
  • Give them the option to write their review to your module - see this article - they will be automatically invited to copy it to Google then anyway

In summary...
  • You will get a healthy kick-start on Google
  • You will be able to look prospective customers in the eye and say "We invite all our customers to post a review, whenever they want - and we display them all."
  • You will have all the bases in your customers online journey covered

Monday 13 June 2016

An impressive double century: and the lessons to be learned from it

Those of you who read the last article - Success Stories, an update - in detail will be aware of just how close to 200 Google reviews the Maida Vale branch of Greene & Co was.

Well, over the weekend just past, up came that impressive number:

Along with an equally impressive number on their own website:

403 Reviews

Well done Greene & Co Maida Vale!

The lessons for everyone else

This is just one branch of Greene & Co, and they did not achieve this level of success overnight, two years ago they had just four reviews (and no Google score - it's currently an impressive 4.9). Their other branches have all achieved similar levels of success - just google them.

So what did they do?
  1. They made sure their staff - each and every one - understood just how powerful reviews could be in driving new business through their door
  2. They made sure all their clients were expecting to be asked to write a review - and just how valued their opinion was
  3. They set realistic targets and staff incentives

So the lesson is clear: adopt Dialogue and follow the 'instructions on the tin' and there is no reason at all why your business won't be attracting business because of your great reviews, just like Greene & Co Maida Vale, and Crouch End, and Kensal Rise and West Hampstead, and Kentish Town...

And look like this in search...

And then like this when your prospective client clicks on the reviews link so helpfully provided by Google...


Tuesday 7 June 2016

Success stories: Greene & Co - an update

Here's where Greene & Co were two years ago and this time last year.

And here's where they are now:

West Hampstead 

296 reviews on their own website:

The 'Leave a review here' button is important - prospective clients must be reassured that any client can leave a review at any time - otherwise there will be a lack of credibility - which competitors will be quick to highlight

And on Google:

Crouch End

204 reviews on their own website 

And on Google:

Belsize Park

120 reviews on their own website 

And on Google:


Maida Vale

391 reviews on their own website 

And on Google:

Remember what Abraham Lincoln said back in 1865? "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." An agent with five, or ten or even twenty reviews may, in the eyes of the most cynical of prospective clients, be attempting to 'fool some' or even 'all', but an agent with 187? It is vital that you are able to stand four-square behind your reviews; and to do that effectively you must be able to demonstrate that you get reviews from a truly representative proportion of your clients. The combination of volume with the open invitation will convince all but the most hardened of cynics that you do a 'really great/truly professional/value for money' job for your clients (not our words, those of Greene & Co's clients).

Kensal Rise

207 reviews on their own website 

And on Google:

Kentish Town

40 reviews on their own website

And on Google:

On top of this - here is an example of how they show in generic search:

 Imagine you are a prospective client - do you need to click on 'More places' now you've seen this search result?

If you run a great agency and would like to look like Greene & Co - in search and on your own website - speak to Fiona Christie or Karen Hutchings on 020 7100-2233.

Estate Agents: Online or high street? Does it matter?

In less than a week we have seen headlines in the trades about Countrywide and Savills, PurpleBricks and eMoov - the list is almost endless. City money is flooding into 'online'. But is the description 'online' all a red herring?

In our opinion - familiar to regular readers - yes. Let's re-examine our thinking.

First - what does the seller want from their estate agent?
  • the best price in the shortest possible time
There are exceptions to that general rule, but they are just that - exceptions. And basing a business - or its marketing strategy - on exceptions rarely succeeds.

So: to achieve 'the best price in the shortest possible time' your potential client is looking for what? Because we read thousands of reviews of estate agencies every month we reckon we have a fair idea: 
  • someone they can trust
And if they cannot find that - or if no-one stands out from the crowd? Their default position is...
  • the cheapest
It's really is as simple as that. The days of people buying and selling houses every seven years are now so far in the past that relationships (and understanding of the process) that was embedded in previous generations are much more tenuous today (we speak to lots of agents too). 

This leaves agents with relatively simple job, but often a difficult one to get absolutely right:
  • to gain their prospective clients' trust
You will all have mechanisms in place to do just that, and they will drive business through your door - maintaining contact with previous clients, local advertising and PR, social engagement through media and with your communities, but at the end of the day it is critically important to recognise that everyone you attract from all your marketing efforts, with almost no exceptions, will reach you through Google and then your website.

So you have to look as good - and as trustworthy - as possible in both those locations. 'High Street' or 'Online' - it makes no difference.

Ask yourself these four questions - would I be more likely to do business with a company that...
  1. has great Google reviews
  2. displays reviews on its own website
  3. allows all its customers to post a review, whenever they want (not just 'by invitation')
  4. has those reviews independently verified
We hope your answer is 'Yes'. If it is, we can do exactly that for your business.

Further reading:
  • And finally - for those about to dip their toes into the reviews pool: Just do it!

Monday 6 June 2016

Unfair negative reviews hurt! The Nearwater story

Some of you may recall the B&B at St Mawes that featured in the national press. Here it is in the Times...

  "In our seven years of operation this has been the worst start to the season we've had. It is terribly damaging to us."

And the Telegraph...

Here's the review on Google....

Google's T&Cs expressly prohibit writing a review of a business where the reviewer has no first-hand knowledge of the business under review. So we drafted an appeal for Nearwater.

Here's their Google listing today (sorted by 'lowest score')...

  The review has gone, and once Google's algorithm catches up, their score will be back up to their previous unblemished 4.9 (or perhaps even 5.0)

The harmful rich snippet - by 'S' - will also disappear when Google's algorithm refreshes

Lessons for everyone:
  1. Negative reviews hurt businesses; just read Tim Whitaker's comments to the papers
  2. Google would never - corporately - suggest a business 'get friends and family to write reviews' and we have never - and would never - advise a client to do so
  3. Google reviews are appealable, but you must go through the correct procedure - ask us and we will advise - and, if needs be, draft your appeal
  4. You won't be able to appeal a review if it could reasonably be described as 'fair comment' (however unpalatable)
  5. Consult HelpHound immediately. We will use our experience and expertise to advise you on the likelihood of success of any appeal

Update 9 June 2016

This today from the owners: 

And their Google score back where it should be: