Monday 29 August 2016

Getting rated on Google - our guide

Getting rated - and staying well-rated - on Google is not quite as simple as it seems - if you don't want to harm your business's reputation in the attempt.

Like a lot of decisions in business it boils down to 'Do we do it ourselves or do we retain professional help?'

So here we examine the alternatives - and their pros and cons:

Doing it yourselves

In the same way that some businesses do their own accounts or manage their own legal issues, it is possible to do your own review management. Here's how:

Strategy: Invite all your customers to write a review on Google 

Pros: by inviting all of your customers to write a review you will avoid accusations of cherry-picking. 

Cons: human nature being what it is, your dissatisfied customers are much more likely to write a review than your happy customers. If you hand-pick happy customers to write reviews it won't be long before you find your competitors are pointing that out.

 This is the kind of value only professional review management can add (and see Paul Grover of Winkworth's comments below).

We have seen refinements of this approach. Some businesses have worked out that they can invite customers to write reviews to an independent review site and then invite those who have written positive reviews to copy them to Google. This strategy is simply a refinement of cherry-picking (and, as such, just as vulnerable to criticism).

 Any business can look like this. But if you hand-pick the customers you ask to write reviews to Google you run the risk of being accused of cherry-picking, and that can do just as much harm to your brand and reputation as having no reviews at all (many would argue: even more so). To be credible, the system you adopt must enable all and any of your customers to write a review.

Remember: it is your business's reputation that is a stake. Be very wary of adopting any short-term strategy that may backfire in the medium to long term. 

Adopting professional review management

Strategy: Invite all your customers to write a review to your own website. Then invite them to copy that review to Google.

Pros: you get independently verified reviews - as opposed to testimonials - to show on your own website; you get an opportunity to engage with reviewers who have posted inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication (although the reviewer must always retain the right to publish) and you get credible reviews on Google.

Cons: if you don't look after your customers properly this strategy will backfire - you will get negative reviews. 

Remember: You need to be sure your own customer relationship management is in good shape before you embark on this strategy. Not perfect - no business is, and professional review management allows for this, but as good as you can make it.

What else will a review management consultancy do?

Like any other professional service, they make it their business to understand, and be up-to-date with, all areas of their expertise:
  • understanding Google, G+, Google for Business and how they all relate to reviews
  • knowing how all the independent reviews sites operate - from massive sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to specialist sites focusing on specific business niches
  • knowing response and appeals mechanisms inside-out
  • being constantly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of all the alternative solutions
  • being ahead of the curve with new techniques and solutions

Ultimately, it is very simple:

 Here are two examples of what can be achieved with professional review management. The first over a two-year period, the second in just over six months. Desktop on top, mobile underneath. But perhaps the most important added value is invisible: that both agencies can stress that all their clients are invited to post a review - and all that do so, on their own site, are automatically asked to copy them to Google - no fear of being accused of cherry-picking with HelpHound - and definitely no fear of being subject to the Google Filter.

We need to be able to reassure our clients that, month by month, year-on-year, that they are far better off employing a professional review management service. Our review management service.

We want you to feel like Paul Grover at Winkworth:

Sunday 28 August 2016

Google introduce 'Top rated' - one of the most important changes in search for years

As regular readers will know - we have a long-standing habit of making predictions about where Google will go next.  They are based on logic (and lots of research - reading Google blog posts and other sources). Now, at long-last, as we say in the headline, Google have fulfilled our most ambitious predictions. How?

The two types of filter - desktop (l) and mobile (r) have exactly the same effect - they filter businesses out of search that score less than the user-chosen criteria

Last week they expanded their Filter beyond hospitality for the first time - allowing users to choose a minimum rating...

   The two agents that do not have a Google score - are stripped out of search by the filter, set at four stars (who would choose to set it lower?). If there were any businesses that scored less than 4.0 they would not appear either (see the results below).

Now they have introduced 'Top Rated':

  None of the restaurants that feature in this unfiltered local search (on the left) show in the filtered search on the right. The user did not have to select any specific filter, they just needed to tap 'Top rated'

Why is this such big news?

Because businesses that have happily appeared in search without any reviews - or with less than five - or with poor review scores (less than 4.0) - will now be subject to the filter and the best businesses - in the opinion of their customers -  will, for the first time, be shown above those with no reviews or low (less than 4.0) Google scores.

Our predictions (again!):
  • that Google will begin to show businesses in order of their Google score - the business that scores 4.9 above the business that scores 4.6 and that business above the one that scores 4.
  • that Google will then delete the option to select reviews by star rating, leaving Top Rated as the default filter
Implications for businesses:

This is a fundamental shift for Google - away from purely location-based search towards what their users have always wanted: the best hotel, the best plumber, the best accountant - the best business for any given search.

And it has massive implications for businesses that have yet to engage in proactive review management:
  • No reviews? Your business will be filtered for the overwhelming majority of searches. 
  • Score less than 4.0? The same
  • Score between 4.0 and 4.3? Your business is on the edge of the filter
  • Score less than your competitors? You are likely to rank below them in the very near future
  • Score less than 4 of your competitors in mobile search?: you will be relying on your potential customers to scroll down to see you

Don't panic!

Don't immediately embark on a campaign to get Google reviews. This will almost certainly backfire in ways that you will currently be unable to imagine, and harm done now has the potential to haunt your business for years to come.

With our help you can look like this: safely and professionally - on your own website and on Google

We strongly suggest you speak to us: our initial advice is free and we have seen all the mistakes before.

And one final note:

We occasionally meet potential clients who feel that they don't need to look great in Google search - only occasionally, but we do. Our message to those who do not rely on the web or their website to generate business is:
  • No matter how insignificant the amount of your business directly generated by search or visits to your website your potential clients are influenced by how your business looks there, even if they have only visited to check your telephone number or email address. A business that takes the trouble to invite and display verified reviews will, all other factors being equal, impress.

Thursday 25 August 2016

The Google Filter for estate agents - in detail

Here are four complete screenshots of the filtering process - which we estimate will take anyone under the age of 50 less than two seconds to complete! - so you can see the filter in action in all its glory:

 Step 1:  Click on 'Rating'
 Step 2: Click on 4 stars
 Step 3: click on 'Done'

 Your search results are now filtered
Note that in this example two agents are filtered - even one that is advertising.

To read the main article about the Google Filter click here.

New to HelpHound? Read on...

What is HelpHound?

HelpHound are review management consultants. That means we are experts on everything review-related and we provide a service to our clients that covers the whole spectrum:
  •  software to gather reviews and display them on your own website (Dialogue™)
  •  a mechanism to allow you to manage negative or misleading reviews in private (Resolution™), deflecting them away from public sites
  • an automated invitation to enable your customers to get their reviews copied to Google (or other sites that matter to your business)
  • advice on how best to invite reviews
  • advice on how to respond to reviews - on your own site, on Google and on any other review site 
  • advice on appealing negative reviews on Google and other review sites
  • advice on how to train and motivate staff to embed reviews into their daily contact with their customers
If you would like to see what happens when a business joins HelpHound, just read this article.

Here's a memo we would hand you if we met in person, it describes various 'before and after' scenarios - all of which will apply to your business:

 Click to enlarge. If you would like a copy sent to your inbox, please email

What is HelpHound not

Helphound is emphatically not a review website. We believe that your customers opinions should belong to you, not an independent review site. We also firmly believe that the place your reviews need to be seen is on your own website and on Google - and once you have established a presence in those two places: on Facebook.

If I were to read three articles out of the hundreds on this blog, which ones would you recommend?

These will tell you most of what you need to know before you meet - or speak to - someone at HelpHound:
  • The World of Reviews and Review Management - a good all-round primer
  • Google review 3 years on - Google is so fundamentally important now - it has forced all the independent review sites into the darker recesses or off page 1 completely
  • The Google Filter - this has been applied to hotels and restaurants since January 2016 and the roll-out across estate agents began this week. Essential reading if your business has less than 5 reviews on Google or scores less than 4.0
Oh - and for those of you who are considering linking to one of the independent sites - just one more: Independent Review Sites: Yesterday's answer to today's question - we have always had issues with sites that invite your customers to post reviews and then sell them back to the business - we coined the expression 'hostage site' - but we monitor them and report on them and have, on occasion, advised clients to use them (a good example of this is TripAdvisor - and why-oh-why won't they do more to cut down on fake reviews?).

How does HelpHound charge?

We make a one-off charge to design and implement your module into your own website. This varies from less than £100 for a standard 'off-the-shelf' module to more for special designs. We will always provide an accurate estimate before starting work on your own module.

After that we make a monthly charge for operating our software and moderating your reviews. This will usually be about £50 per month per location, often less - depending on review flows. This fee covers all our normal advice. For specialist advice and extra work we charge, like other professionals, an hourly fee. Again, we will always provide an estimate for such work in advance.

How should we judge the success of our HelpHound membership?

Professional review management should drive business to and through your door whilst enabling you to resolve consumer issues in private.

You currently have NO reviews?

It's not such a bad place to start, some businesses first contact us because they only have a negative review - on Google or some other review site that matters to them. In this article we will describe what HelpHound does for new clients with no reviews anywhere on the web.

So - what will HelpHound do?

The first thing we do is design a module for your website: 

 We recommend this is displayed prominently on your home page - and anywhere else your prospective customers land - or spend time - on your website. The module - the blue box - links straight through to your reviews (59 in this case) and the snippets to the right revolve every second or so to attract the visitor's attention. To see Winkworth Blackheath's module in action click here.

Prospective customers will be able to see all of your reviews:

 The question they will all be asking: "Can I believe these reviews - and are they all shown here?" is answered right at the top - next to the HelpHound logo. It is this that adds the element of credibility that gives reviews so much power when compared with testimonials.

It will fit in with your branding - using your own colourways. 

The module will contain questions - a maximum of seven (although we usually recommend five to start with). We will advise on these, but the final decision on wording rests with you:

All you really want is your customers' written opinions and scores. That's why we suggest 'Overall Opinion' is the only mandatory field. When your customer hits 'submit' their review is sent direct to our moderators who check that the content complies with out T&Cs. If the reviewer has rated the business less than 4 stars the review is immediately forwarded to the business so they can respond to the reviewer in private. The business must respond to their customer (this is a condition of HelpHound membership).

We will then give you an email to send to your customers. Embedded in this email will be a link that goes straight to your HelpHound module on your website, so they can write their review.

When the review is written we will automatically send them a second email - from you - asking them to copy their review to Google.


You should expect roughly 50% of the customers you invite to write a review to your website:

 And about 50% of those to go on and copy their review to Google:

 The rich snippets - the three quotes - are taken directly by Google from your reviews

This will give you a Google score (once you have 5 reviews):

And a star rating - based on your HelpHound score - in natural search:

  Here in desktop search - fed directly by your HelpHound module

  Here in Mobile - drawing attention to your business in search
   Not so hard, was it?

Monday 22 August 2016

Google FILTER for estate agents - it's here!

Don't say we didn't warn you! This weekend Google enabled its filter - until now only applying to hotels and restaurants - for estate agents. Not for all agents, not for all searches - yet.

  It is now even more important to a) have more than 5 Google reviews and b) score more than 4.0 - try this search for yourself with the filter applied and see how Savills St Johns Wood disappears (even though they are advertising)

Here's the same search with the filter applied (you can see it on the left just under the blue search box). Of course the logical solution for Google and consumers - if not for all businesses - is to automate the 4 star filter for all searches, allowing users to opt out rather than in. We await this development!

Don't be caught napping. As soon as consumers spot it, they will set it at 4 stars - why would they chose any other?

If any of your branches have less than five reviews or score less than 4.0 you are:
  • going to be filtered out of search altogether 
  • not a client of ours!
We will keep you updated as the filter rolls out, but if you have yet to address this issue our firm advice is to do so immediately. Those businesses with few reviews should not relax completely - the extension of this logic is to apply the filter to businesses with less than 10 say, or less than 20; it's all about Google adding value in search.

Oh - and our next prediction? That Google will rank businesses in order of their scores. It's obvious when you think about it - what do consumers want from Google in any given local search? The best business, not just a random list. Watch this space!

An important PS: 

Never mind the Google Filter - which would you prefer your business to look like?

Ultimately the solution is very simple: do as Greene & Co have done - then your business will be ready for all eventualities - filter - ranking - scoring - whatever Google throw at you, now and in the future.

To see an article written expressly for businesses that have no - or less than 5 - Google reviews, click here.


Google reviews - 3 years on

Looking through our archives we found this screenshot (from 2013):

Google do not give prominence to anything in search by accident. Just look at how much page real-estate in a 2016 Google search is devoted to reviews and review scores:

Reviews scores - fed from HelpHound - in natural search. Google reviews dominate the Box - the score, the number of reviews, the 'Write a review' button and the rich snippets (the three comments that Google extract from the reviews).

The third anniversary of Google reviews is fast approaching. And Google weren't wrong: having great reviews on Google does drive business.

So what have businesses done in the intervening time? One of three things: 

1. Nothing: 'Google denial'

   A sorry state of affairs for a national firm of estate agents. Does their marketing department seriously think this is helping their management and staff in-branch attract new business?

Advantages: Some businesses still think that there is something slightly 'tacky' about asking for reviews and they feel that they will somehow create a better impression if they have none at all. We met a Notting Hill estate agency who initially felt that their clients would resist is they were asked for a review; we called this syndrome 'Too posh to push [for reviews].' The business in question eventually - after much reassurance from us - took the plunge. Their feedback? Their clients positively welcomed the invitation to publish their opinions!

Disadvantages: many and various: looking disengaged in search - both freestanding and against competitors, losing a great business driver, falling behind competitors in every area where reviews have now been proven to drive business: on their own websites and in search. Stop Press: and, from 21 August, businesses with fewer than five reviews - or with scores of less than 4.0 - can be filtered out of search altogether.

2. Something: or 'DIY' as we call it.
    Great - on the surface. Until their competitors point out that they only ask their happy clients to post reviews. Cynical consumers may also assume that some of these reviews are written by 'friends & family' - difficult to argue once three figures of reviews are published (see below).

Advantages: Any business can get reviews to Google - by cherry-picking its happy customers.

Disadvantages: We have yet to come across a business that has adopted this approach without cherry-picking. Competitors soon get wise to this strategy, and then lose no time in alerting potential customers. The consumer journey is incomplete: from Google through the business's own website - where there are no independently verified reviews (testimonials are no substitute).

3. Adopted professional review management:

   The score and the number are both impressive, I'm sure you will agree. But much more impressive - in the eyes of their potential clients - are these two buttons on their website...

 ...that are saying 'We invite all our clients to write reviews, and you can read them here.'
 Showing reviews on your website reinforces trust and drives enquiries
Advantages: As with any other professional advice - accountancy, management consultancy, legal - knowing that your business is constantly at the top of its game. Having credible reviews embedded in your own website; having a mechanism to enable the business to manage potentially incorrect or misleading comments pre-publication; ensuring a consistent flow of reviews to the external sites that matter - Google and Facebook ('the 'deniers' still see Facebook as a site where the 'young' 'chatter' - it is set to become a massive resource for business recommendations). Perhaps most of all, the ability to look potential customers in the eye and say 'ALL of our customers are able to write a review - at any time - and all of those are then automatically invited to copy their review to Google - so you can believe what you see - on our website and on Google.'
Disadvantages: requires time and effort, not a lot, but some - but potential customers sense this, so even that turns to the business's benefit!

A footnote:

We hear some people saying 'What about the independent review sites?'. For over two years now we have been pointing our own clients away from the independent sites and towards Google, simply because Google are, and will be for the foreseeable future, the first reviews anyone sees when searching for any business - even if they are not actively looking for reviews. For more on this subject read this. For the results we have produced for clients read this and this.