Monday 31 October 2016

HelpHound - a guide to our services for new clients

With over five hundred articles on this blog we periodically publish this guide, so anyone new to HelpHound can bring themselves rapidly up to speed.

HelpHound: review managers

 Our clients look great all through the customer journey - in search and on their own websites

We are professional advisers. In just the same way as your accountants or lawyers we give both proactive and reactive advice to make sure your business looks as good as it possibly can:
  • On your own website
  • On Google 
  • On any other sites that matter 
This article - HelpHound in 2016 - shows examples of results for estate agency, but they apply across the full spectrum of businesses. Adding Value shows the difference between a HelpHound client and those yet to engage.

Trust: for reviews to be effective they must be 100% trustworthy

Trust is everything examines why so many of the independent review sites fail this crucial test. It's one of the many reasons that Google - which is increasingly trusted by consumers - plays such a big part in our strategy on behalf of our clients.

There are so many aspects of this clients' display that we have included specifically to reinforce the trustworthyness of their reviews:
  • the wording next to our logo - the promise that 'these reviews are genuine' is supported by the word 'unfiltered'. The 'promise to publish' is critical
  • it is also supported by the 'write your review' button - showing anyone reading the reviews that anyone can write a review at any time
  • and the 'Worst' category in 'Order by' - the first thing most people do is look at the least favourable reviews
  • last, but by no means least, the words 'Our partner HelpHound is an unbiased independent reviews service' without which these reviews would revert to the much weaker status of testimonials

As Google reviews accelerate it's tempting to go it alone

Businesses that had no reviews - or few - just a year ago, like this one (13 reviews this time last year, 77 today) often first attempt to address the situation themselves. This article - Why DIY leaves half the job undone - explains how businesses lose out by going down the do-it-yourself route.

The Google filter

 Why would anyone choose any but the 4+ rating filter?

When businesses first realise that they are subject to the Google filter, either because they don't have five or more reviews or because they score less than 4.0 out of 5, it can cause understandable consternation. Read The Google Filter - Don't Panic! and relax.

Engage with reviews

Reviews can be a daunting subject. For many businesses it will be the first time they have ever asked customers to comment on the service they provide, and certainly the first time they have asked them to do it publicly (and it doesn't come much more public than on Google). Too posh to push is an article with a tongue-in-cheek title but a very important message - if you don't engage with reviews you will be missing out on a wonderful way to drive new business, besides which you will leave your business exposed when your competitors do engage.

Negative reviews - they will happen

No business is perfect. We know because we see thousands of reviews every month! And one of the main reasons businesses don't engage with reviews is the understandable fear of inviting publicly visible negative reviews. That's one of the main reasons that we advise clients to invite reviews to their own websites before they invite their customer to copy their review to Google: so our client business can engage with their 'not so happy' customers and resolve issues pre-publication - a process we call Resolution™ - and it works brilliantly for both customer and business. We will guide you through each and every case to ensure the best possible outcome. 

The benefits of professional review management

If you have followed half the links we've embedded in this article you will already know the answer, but we'll summarise anyway:
  1. Great reviews - on your own website and on Google - drive business
  2. Independent review sites are - with few exceptions - yesterday's solution
  3. Review management is about much more than simply getting great reviews - it's about managing the process professionally - and that's what we do for our clients
We leave the final word to one of those clients:

Thursday 27 October 2016

Trust - is EVERYTHING where reviews are concerned

If you cannot trust reviews, what is their point? Our answer: there's no point at all.

It's not often that the Times makes reviews the subject of their leading article, but they did today - and the punchline is, as you can see, that you can't trust them, and, for 'proper scrutiny of products and services, read actual journalism.'

You might expect us to launch into a defence of reviews, but we are not going to. Why? Because we agree with much of the thrust of what the Times is saying.

Before online reviews there was advertising and there were testimonials and there were reviews written by journalists. At least with advertising you know the business is putting its own spin on the message, and with testimonials it's the same - have you ever read a critical testimonial? And, while we're sure the Times' journalists have never been guilty of this - there were reviews written by journalists who had benefited from the product or service under review. From free holidays to long-term 'loans' of products from food-mixers to motor cars.

So along came the web - and with it, online consumer reviews. But there were, and still are, reviews and reviews. 

In theory:

Reviews should be the answer to all consumers' prayers: honestly held opinions, freely available for all to see before a product is purchased or a service is contracted.

In practice: 

It's - still - a minefield. Why? Because of two things: human nature and the business interests of those publishing the reviews.

Human nature

It's not compulsory to write a review when you've purchased a product or stayed in a hotel. So who does? Leaving aside those kind folk who see it as their life's mission to help people they have never met find the ideal toast-rack, it is much more likely to be someone who is dissatisfied (about 15 times more likely according to Cornell School of Hospitality's research). And this tilts the playing-field away from the product or service. In the world of online reviews if a product or service scores 9 out of 10 (or 4.5 out of 5 in Google's own world) it's probably pretty near perfect. Just because you cannot please all of the people all of the time - one person's ideal hotel is another guest's hell-on-earth. 

But - on this benchmark - why are so many businesses we see on the web pretty near perfect in terms of their reviews and scores? It would be charitable to think that, because businesses mostly strive to be as good as possible, for purely commercial reasons, then most of them come close. 

Just for a moment let's look at a recent example of a business where the online reviews are in conflict with one of the Times's august journalists:

  Before you leap to point out that he's just reviewing the breakfast, the full article makes plain that he's reviewing his stay as well

And here's the same Hotel on TripAdvisor:

And here's a guest review written a week after Mr Coren stayed:

We're not saying this review is fraudulent, just that, with TripAdvisor doing as little as they admit to doing currently to check the veracity of their reviews and reviewers, it could be. As could any of the other reviews - written by the business (positive) or their competitors (negative).

What can we learn from this? It would be nice to be able to say that Giles Coren and 'aday375' (for that is the TripAdvisor reviewer's username) have differing requirements and standards, but, unfortunately it's not as simple as that. Because we don't know for certain that 'aday375' is a bona-fide guest. And this is of fundamental importance as far as HelpHound is concerned: if the review platform cannot stand behind its reviews, or is not doing its utmost to ensure that all its reviews - and reviewers - are genuine, then we think consumers should be encouraged to view it with a deal of scepticism. 

As regular readers of this blog are aware, we have written about this aspect of TripAdvisor - and other review sites - for as long as we can remember. And, again: for as long as we can remember, TripAdvisor have been responding with the same platitudes as this quote in today's Times:

 "Because we have been tracking reviews for 16 years, we can spot what is normal reviewer behaviour and what isn't. That said, the world of fraud is an ever changing landscape."

Not good enough TripAdvisor.

For reasons better known to TripAdvisor, in spite of their acknowledgment that 'fraud is an ever changing landscape', it is just as easy to write a fraudulent review now, in 2016, as it was in the early days of TripAdvisor. A reviewer can still register with any old Hotmail email address, you can still hide behind a 'MickeyMouse123' username, you still don't have to provide any evidence that you have stayed at the hotel you are reviewing - you don't even have to provide evidence that you have visited the country where the hotel you are reviewing is located! We know, because we opened a new TripAdvisor account today.

It may have been 'good enough' in 2002 when technology was clunky, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was still in high school and G+ was not even a gleam in Google's eye. But it is definitively not good enough now. There are myriad ways that a company like TripAdvisor (profit of $63 million on turnover of $1.4billion at last count) could give its reviews, and its reviewers, more credibility. So why doesn't it? Is is because of Abraham Lincoln's old adage that 'You can fool... all of the people'? Or is it, more prosaically, because its share price is influenced by the volume of reviews that are written?

Our message to TripAdvisor: Invest in credibility or, one day, 'all of the people' may rumble you.

It's not only TripAdvisor. We know of another popular review site where, for fairness's sake, any paying business member can appeal a review that they consider unfair, misleading or inaccurate and it will be suspended pending a response from the reviewer. So far so good, but unfortunately our old friend human nature plays into unscrupulous businesses' hands here as well: they found that if they appealed every negative review, very few reviewers would bother to engage with the review site a second time. These sites are now known in the trade as 'nine-out-of-ten' sites because all their savvy business clients score - you guessed it - nine out of ten!

There is a flip side too: sites like Yelp believe so fervently in freedom of speech that a reviewer who has never used or visited a business can trash a business's reputation simply because they don't like something the business was reported as doing in the press.

It gets worse before it gets better: there's one big US site that provides a feed of reviews for it's business customers to display on their own websites. Again: so far so good, until you realise that the business can choose which reviews to display. Sigh!

Thank you Google

Thank goodness, from the consumer's point-of-view, that Google got stuck in - better late than never - to the world of online reviews. They made some of the same mistakes in the early days, but they have upped their game recently. At least there are far fewer 'A Google user' anonymous reviews now compared with the early days. But there are disadvantages: it is still very difficult for a business to appeal against a review that is unfair or misleading. 

Given the power Google has in influencing consumers - with a huge amount of real-estate on page 1 of search devoted to Google reviews, we think they could usefully loosen up their appeals process to allow patently false reviews to be appealed (we had success for this client whose hotel had been maligned by a sofa-bound TV-watching critic, but only after the hotelier had resorted to the national press and we offered to help).

So what about our clients' reviews?

As you might imagine from reading everything we have said so far, we have put a lot of effort into making sure the reviews that our clients display give a fair and accurate impression of our clients' businesses. After all, it's our name on the review on their website.

Let's follow our process right through from invitation to final review - and question every stage:

Stage 1. Our client - the business - sends an invitation to its customer to write a review. Or someone - who may of may not be a customer, visits the business's website and clicks on their 'write a review' button. 

How does HelpHound know that the business is inviting bona-fide customers to post reviews? If a business really wanted to get fake favourable reviews published in theory they could - by seeding their mailing list. But we have a strict two strikes rule at HelpHound. If a business is found to have in any way encouraged a fake review they receive a written warning, if they repeat the behavior they are put into purdah pending an investigation (no more reviews will be published). If the investigation establishes that there is malice aforethought (as opposed to an intern 'trying to be helpful') their membership of HelpHound is terminated.
Stage 2. Our moderators read the review and then send an email to the reviewer so they can verify that they are the author of the review. If the review contains abuse or allegations of illegality we respond to the reviewer inviting them to re-submit their review. In the case of illegality they will be informed that they must seek legal advice.

Why won't we accept abuse? We don't consider that abusive reviews help anyone - consumer or business. If a consumer wants to abuse a business, including using 'foul and abusive' language there are websites like Yelp that will happily publish their views. The core ethos of HelpHound is built around the concept of businesses and consumers working together to ensure, as far as is possible, a satisfactory outcome for both. That does not mean that the consumer cannot rate the business one star as well as giving it a thorough going-over, it just means they have to use the kind of language acceptable in a family newspaper.
Stage 3. Either: Positive reviews are published to the business's HelpHound module displayed on their website, whilst simultaneously an email is sent to the reviewer telling them that their review has been published and inviting them to copy their review to a second platform of the business's choice (Google, or Facebook or TripAdvisor - or any other open site).

Can the business/reviewer respond? Yes. If the positive review is subsequently established to be inaccurate or misleading can it be deleted? Yes, but the reviewer will be invited to post a revised review.

Stage 3. Or: Negative reviews are sent to the business for comment. An email is sent simultaneously to the reviewer informing them and reinforcing their right to have their final review published, whatever the business's response to the reviewer - we call this system Resolution™ because it is specifically designed so consumers can resolve issues with the business concerned. In theory the correspondence between the reviewer and the business has no cut-off point. In practice it is unusual for either party to communicate more then once or twice.

What if the reviewer insists on having their original review published? That's their right, and a proportion do. The business also has the right of reply and the reviewer has the right to edit their review.    

Can a complete outsider influence our moderation policy? yes, anyone - absolutely anyone - can flag any published review on a HelpHound clients' site and it will be reviewed.

And finally...

There is a downside of this for HelpHound: we cannot work for or with a business that is not seriously committed to excellence in customer service. Because bad businesses will look bad thanks to our system. Their customers would rightly insist on their negative reviews being posted - and they would end up scoring badly. But that's the only way we are happy to stand four square behind what we do.

At HelpHound we have done our utmost to make this system as fair to all parties concerned as we possibly can whilst retaining everyone's trust. Resolution is very popular - we often get positive comments from users - and effective. But if you have any suggestions about how we can refine or improve it please comment.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Review Management: Why Do-it-Yourself leaves half the job undone...

...and the other half exposing your business to criticism from your competitors.

This business has a great score and a meaningful number of reviews on Google. And they have just joined HelpHound. Why?

The short answer: Because they understood that there was much more to professional review management than simply having great reviews on Google.

In more detail:

The world of reviews and review management is evolving at a pace. And this applies to the way your prospective customers consume reviews as well. Two or three years ago it was common for businesses to ignore reviews altogether - we were often met with comments like "What kind of people write these reviews?" and, more importantly, "What kind of people believe these reviews?"

Now the very same businesses are saying "OK, 'normal' people do write reviews, and our prospective customers are impressed by businesses with great reviews." More often, though, we receive a panic call from a business that has finally realised that the phone is not ringing because of negative reviews. 

The instinctive knee-jerk reaction of all these businesses is the same: to get reviews to Google.

Here we show you why that is only part of adopting a professional review management strategy.

Potential customers:

They react - instinctively - to reviews in search. Both positive and negative - and importantly - to their absence. Having no - or few - reviews is not impressive. Look at these three businesses:

Three screen-grabs of three London based estate agency branches from Google

The first has not engaged - they have one review; what impression does that give? That they do little business? That they don't care about the image they present in search? Is there anything positive about this - very common - lack of engagement and concern? 

The second has at least got enough reviews to warrant a Google score - but some cynics out there might well say that any business could do that with a twenty minute ring round their friends. On top of that the are lucky that those five reviews are mostly positive - since a consumer is nearly fifteen times more likely to write a review - unprompted - if they have had a negative experience.

The third? Don't both the score and the number of reviews say so much about the business? That they are great at what they do (even the most hardened cynic would be stretched to say that they could muster 283 tame reviewers!)? That they care about their image in search, and therefore maybe they care about doing a great job for their customers? Imagine your business finds itself in competition with that business.   

Now, we know that your customers find you in lots more ways than simply searching online; but if they have found you through...
  • Personal recommendation
  • Advertising - print
  • Advertising - radio or TV
  • Advertising - web
  • PR
  • Other marketing efforts
...what is the very first thing they are going to do, before they make that crucial first contact? Absolutely - they are going to google you. Even if only to find your phone number or to look for some other form of contact mechanism. And how you look there is bound to influence them.

So, now you accept that your business needs to impress on Google, you decide to get your happy customers to leave reviews there.

WAIT! Read on before you take that step. 

Your competitors

Now that most businesses are aware that some of their competitors look really impressive on Google they are formulating strategies to undermine them.

Bear in mind that the following are a distillation of many conversations with hundreds of businesses a year...
  • Denial - barely rates as a strategy, but surprisingly common, even in 2016. The business that still maintains that reviews are not written by 'their kind of customer'. Well they are - just look at any market-leading business, in whatever sphere - and you will find reviews. Here are two articles that address this: 'Too posh to push' and 'Google reviews accelerate'. It only takes a competitor to say "We're up-to-date with all our marketing, and that includes our review management - just look at [our competitor], if they are so behind with reviews, I wonder what kind of job they do for their customers?"
  • Sign up to an independent site: from the largest - the likes of Yelp and TripAdvisor - to the smallest specialist sites, they will all be grateful for your custom. Take estate agency as an example: over the last five years some agents have been through as many as four independent solutions. Starting with Referenceline, through allAgents, then Rateragent and now Feefo and TrustPilot. None of these compares with the power of Google - from the point-of-view of visibility or brand. Search for any business and you see Google reviews first and foremost. Do people believe Google reviews? Yes - because anyone can write one, whenever they want, and because Google is such an ubiquitous brand. If your business uses an independent site your competitors will only have to say "but look at their Google reviews" and you will be on the back foot. Read 'If an independent review site is right for your business...'
  • Direct to Google: if you invite your customers to write reviews direct to Google you are missing out on having independently verified reviews on your own website (testimonials simply don't cut it any more); besides that your competitors will be able to call the probity of your Google reviews into question:  it is so easy for them to say "I see they have X reviews on Google, do you think that's all of their customers, or just the happy ones?" Read 'Getting a flying start'

The business we alluded to at the top of this article had already accepted the power of reviews, but they recognised that they needed to:
  • have bullet-proof credibility - both with Google reviews and reviews on their own website
  • get many more reviews to Google, and keep them up-to-date, month in month out
  • get reviews - rather than testimonials - on their own website - independently verified for credibility
  • be able to state that all their clients are able to write a review - whenever they want to
  • have a mechanism for managing misleading or inaccurate reviews pre-publication
  • be able to defend themselves against any competitor or potential client who might infer that they only invite reviews from their happy customers
And finally:

Read this and then get professional review management working for your business.

Monday 24 October 2016

Closed review sites - driving negative comment to Google

As regular readers will know, we have always had issues with 'closed' review sites. 

What is a closed review site?

It is a site where the reviewer must be invited, by the business or the review site, to write a review. On the face of it this logic is flawless: only a verified customer of the business can write a review. If we all lived in a vacuum, where that kind of site was the only option, they would - and still can - have many advantages:
  • those reading the reviews know that they are reading genuine reviews, written by real customers
  • the business can rest easy in the knowledge that unscrupulous reviewers - competitors or disgruntled ex-employees - cannot write a review and do it harm

The problem, though, is that we don't live in that ideal vacuum, and our customers, whatever the nature of our business, have myriad options if they want to write a review, invited or uninvited.

Perhaps it would help if we looked at two examples: first for hotels:

Two (or more) of you stay in a hotel that you have booked through an online travel agency. On checkout you receive an email inviting a review of your stay. But who, in this example, is 'you'? 'You' is the person who made the booking. Suppose one of you loved the hotel and the other hated it - it does happen - the hotel now has a 50/50 chance of getting a great/awful review. And, more importantly, the second guest must look elsewhere to voice their opinion.

So they go to TripAdvisor or Google.

Next: an estate agent sends a closed invitation to its client. In this case the situation is a little more complex. Just like the hotel, there may be more than one client - but an efficient estate agent will know that and send two invitations. Job done - or is it? 

Unlike staying in a hotel, the relationship an estate agent has with their clients is often - especially in the case of lettings, ongoing. A landlord or tenant who is happy when they receive the closed invitation may not be happy a month - or a year - later. 

We have many examples of sellers who have written glowing reviews on exchange who have come back again to post a negative review. We have reviews from purchasers who have raised issues many months post-purchase. Some of you will be thinking - isn't that a case for a closed system?

 This Google score is for a business that has hundreds of 5 star reviews on a closed site. The have unwittingly driven dissatisfied customers to Google to comment, driving their score down and exposing some really harmful negative reviews to the public gaze on the most high profile and visible of all platforms.

No! Just because the client cannot write a review without being invited does not mean that they won't write a review somewhere else. A decent percentage will - perhaps to one of the specialist open sites - AllAgents for example, but much more likely to Google. We recently audited a great firm of agents who had overwhelmingly positive reviews on a closed review site. But nearly one in six of their reviews on Google were negative. What was happening? By using a closed site they were unconsciously forcing their less than happy clients to resort to posting a Google review.

HelpHound to the rescue:

It is so important to allow everyone to write a review:
  • both guests in a hotel
  • people who used your spa, restaurant or bar - but did not stay
  • every guest in a restaurant
  • every tenant in a property
  • people who, for whatever reason, considered using your business, but decided not to

But - we hear those of you who are reading this but are yet to be HelpHound clients say - "what about bogus/inaccurate/unfair reviews?" 

That's where HelpHound's Resolution™ comes in: every review is moderated, and all those containing negative scores or comments are first asked to verify their connection with your business. This might, for a hotel, be to identify the precise date of stay and their room number, for an estate agent: the member of staff they were dealing with and the address of the property concerned. If and when the reviewer does verify - and 'fake' reviewers never do, for obvious reasons - their review will then be forwarded to the business so it can engage and respond. It gives both the customer and the business an opportunity to resolve (hence the name 'Resolution') any misunderstandings and to put wrongs right pre-publication - and is extremely popular with consumers and businesses alike

This client welcomes reviews from anyone and everyone - whatever the time or day of the week, whether they have done business or not. And the result on Google:

So - fear of unfair criticism is not a reason to choose a 'closed' review site. Fear of driving aggrieved customers into the arms of Google is a definite reason to choose review management. Welcome to HelpHound!

Friday 21 October 2016

Estate Agents: Go 'Multiple'

Since we first wrote about this in May many more of our clients have had success in using a 'multiple' invitation. Here we explain the 'why's and how's'.

But first - what exactly is a 'Multiple' invitation? Here is an example:

So: a multiple invitation gives your client a choice - between your own website, and any other sites that matter (in the example above - Google and Facebook).

Why send a multiple invitation?

All of your clients can leave a review on your website - the direct link in your email takes them straight to the review box - job done.

More clients than you might expect can leave a Google review - and that is the most visible and powerful place to have reviews these days. 

Most clients will have a Facebook account - and that's a powerful place to have reviews these days.

If you have done a really good job, you will be pleasantly surprised just how many of your clients will repeat their review across multiple platforms - often all three. Especially if you actively encourage them to do so.

But what if the client is not completely happy?

All of you are aware that Resolution - within the HelpHound system - allows you an opportunity to engage with your less than happy clients pre-publication. That's the reason we advise all new clients to start with the single invitation to write a review through HelpHound. 

When we first introduced the multiple invitation it was tested by established clients and monitored very closely here at HelpHound. The last thing we - and our clients - wanted was inaccurate and misleading negative reviews cropping up on Google and Facebook. 

We are now confident that this will not happen. Why? Because the overwhelming majority of clients who had some issue or other with the service provided - and we are talking very nearly 100% here - choose to post to the agent's website, not Google or Facebook.

The advantages of the 'Multiple invitation':
  1. One email - job done
  2. Clients who choose to post to your own website are still invited to copy their review to Google
  3. Great results
Action needed:

Speak to Karen Hutchings or one of her team here at HelpHound. She will make sure that you have the correct links to embed into your multiple invitation. She will also advise you how to make sure your business's Facebook page (you can restrict the invitation to just your site and Google) is set up to receive and show reviews.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Google - hiding links to independent sites in plain sight

No-one can say the strategists at Google are not clever! For many years now Google has been so dominant in search that it has created potential issues for itself with the US government - and the EU. As Far back as 2011 Yelp were appealing to the US Senate saying that Google was giving unfair prominence to its own services in search.  

Jeremy has gone grey fighting Google since 2011 - a battle we don't want - or need - to involve our clients in.

So what has Google done? Well, it has included independent review sites in search, just not too prominently.

Here is their latest concession - can you spot it?

First - desktop:

  Most people will immediately see the two star ratings - and the number next to review score in the Knowledge Panel. They will also see - and read - the three rich snippets

Take a closer look at the Knowledge Panel:

Now do you see the link to the independent site? Could Google have chosen to make it any less visible?

And now in mobile (60%+ of all search today):

It's there again - sandwiched between Google's own score and star rating at the top and the expanded score and rich snippets below. The 'NEW' button makes it slightly more visible, if anything, but it won't be there for long, if other Google upgrades are a guide.

Just to be sure - in expanded mobile search (for a hotel this time):

Nothing but Google reviews.

Lessons for us all:

Google will continue to do the bare minimum as long as independent review sites exist. But that will be all. The financial imperative at Google is to have us - and all our customers - using Google where possible (and justifiable to the authorities).

Don't expect independent sites to be given any more prominence any time soon. Get reviews to your website and to Google - where they have the power - and the credibility* - to drive business your way.

*Yelp is the biggest general review site on the planet - how many of your potential customers have heard of it? Not many? As we expected. Now some of the smaller independent review sites? Quite. You need the credibility of Google reviews to drive business.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

If an independent review site is right for your business...

...We will tell you. 

That's what is meant by 'professional review management' - we advise you how best to deploy reviews to benefit your business. 

Some of you may be forgiven for thinking that HelpHound have become pretty Google-centric in the last three years - and you would be right. But that does not mean we ignore the independent sites, far from it.

It's all about visibility - and driving business through your door.


...In search

To get search - especially local search - working you need to look great the minute your potential customer hits the search button. No longer do most consumers actively look for reviews - Google has trained them to know that reviews will appear automatically for any given search, so you cannot be relying on your potential customer to hunt for reviews as they did in 2010.

...and on your own site

But - we hear some of you say - we do all kinds of marketing, and we want to look good on our own site as well. Absolutely - and any strategy HelpHound recommends will have this as its cornerstone.

So let's take two examples - hotels and estate agencies 

Hotels and review management

 No longer do hotels argue against the power of reviews to drive - or deflect - custom

Hotels have been at the forefront of reviews for many years now. And the number of sites that carry reviews for hotels and restaurants is quite staggering (ReviewPro's Global review Index assesses 175 separate sites).

So our focus on our hotel clients' is driven by two factors:
  1. Which independent review sites matter to them
  2. Which review sites show in search
 The answer is invariably:
  1. Google, TripAdvisor, and Expedia
  2. Google, TripAdvisor, and Expedia and all the other OTAs, with the possible addition of Yelp for some
Google matters because everyone sees it - always, even if they are looking for TripAdvisor or Expedia.

The other sites matter because they are so established - and have such high visibility - that ignoring them is not an option.

So: our priorities for our hotel clients are as follows:
  1. We enable them to invite reviews to their own site where they are able to manage negatives 
  2. We make sure they look as good as they possibly can on Google
  3. We constantly analyse their presence and scores on the independent sites and advise as and when they should focus attention on them (TripAdvisor being the most obvious example)
Estate Agents and review management

Estate agents have come much later to the reviews table. That's partly because the numbers are smaller - the average hotel checks out thousands of guests a year, but the average estate agent might only transact a hundred or so sales in the same time-frame - and partly because there has never been the equivalent of a massive TripAdvisor or for estate agents.

  Reviews working every which way - visibility, natural listings, Google score, rich snippets and importantly - volume. If your business has 15 reviews a cynical customer might say you could get them by cherry-picking - but 283?).

The fact that there are no 'go to' independent sites for estate agency - the likes of allAgents and Feefo simply don't have the profile and visibility of a TripAdvisor or an Expedia - either in search or as brands - makes life for estate agents somewhat easier. They simply have to focus on looking great on:
The extra effort involved in looking good on an external independent site is simply not justified - unless there is a pre-existing issue of negative reviews being returned in search. If there is such an issue - or there is some local reason (a competitor may be making much of their profile on an independent site) then HelpHound will advise accordingly. 

No bias

So, you see, we have no intrinsic bias towards Google, just a current - and almost certainly future - bias on behalf of our clients. If you - or we - ever think that you might benefit from exposure on another site - or a hoard of Yelpers attacks your business (it happens!) we will be here to advise accordingly.

Meanwhile we will concentrate all our effort on making your business - whether that be hotel, estate agent, accountant or hairdresser - look great where it matters most.

Friday 7 October 2016

Google reviews accelerate - businesses take note

The table below is for a well-known multinational business with twelve branches in London. The numbers, perhaps startling for some, do not surprise us at HelpHound. First let's look at the raw data, and then we can mine down to draw some conclusions:

Here you can see twelve branches listed A-L. The key statistics are:
  • This time 12 months ago they had just thirteen reviews between them
  • Now they have 77 
  • Of those 77 reviews, 38 are harmfully* negative - that's almost exactly half
  • In October 2015 only seven branches had any reviews at all, now all twelve do
  • In October 2015 only one branch had a Google score, now seven do
  • In October 2015 there was no Google Filter, now all branches fail the filter
  • The only branch with a Google score in 2015 (H) has seen that score decline
*'Harmfully negative': when looking at raw data like this it is all too easy to lose sight of the power that a single well-written negative review has to deflect business. Not only does every negative review impact on the business's Google score - and therefore their vulnerability to the Google Filter - but the content is invariably read and does influence consumer behaviour. Remember too, that Google reviews are seen by everyone searching for the business - not just by those actively searching for reviews.

What has happened to drive this extraordinary growth? And why is it so overwhelmingly negative?

There is now no doubt that the explosion in Google reviews is a result of the following factors:
  1. Consumers have become increasingly aware that they can post a review very easily
  2. Once signed up to Google to post their first review, there are no barriers to writing the second and subsequent reviews
  3. Continued growth in the smartphone market has meant that more reviews can be written on the move, on public transport, in a restaurant or coffee shop, even walking down the street
  4. Consumers speak to each other. Those that have written Google reviews reassure others that 'It's not difficult'
It is important to understand that these reviews and scores are not negative because the business concerned is intrinsically bad (we have anecdotal evidence that really poor business practice has almost the opposite effect - 'Why bother?'). Negative reviews are written in such numbers because:
  1. The motivation is so much greater to post a negative review. Estimates from a scientific study into the behaviour of Yelpers and TripAdvisor reviewers suggests that consumers are up to fifteen times more likely to write a review if their experience has been a negative one
  2. Happy customers generally don't write reviews unless asked to (consider the most reviewed branch - B above - 19 reviews in a year - under two a month, from a footfall of dozens a day)
That last point bears some further examination. Are we are saying is that this business is content to leave its reputation in the hands of nineteen customers, ten of whom are conveying a distinctly negative - and often pretty convincing - reason to not use the business in question? We don't think so. 

So what has happened?

Google reviews have burst onto the scene and taken the business unawares. It's as simple as that.

What should businesses do?

They have four options:
  1. Do nothing - and see its reputation drift even lower over time - and its branches filtered from local search
  2. Channel customers opinions to one of the independent review sites: was a solution when the independent sites showed prominently in search, but the inflexibility of such a solution was highlighted when Google began giving overwhelming prominence to its own reviews
  3. Attempt a DIY solution - essentially inviting its customers to leave reviews to Google direct. Better than option 1, but missing a great opportunity to harness its happy customers' opinions to display on its own website and, crucially, to manage negatives before they are posted to Google. Remember that cherry-picking customers to write reviews to Google can hand an advantage to your competitors
  4. Adopt professional review management and get great reviews to its own website, manage negatives in private, and get great reviews to Google
Needless to say, we vote for No 4 - not just because it will be the most effective solution to counterbalance negative reviews (and the one we can provide!), but because it will be the most effective and flexible solution to protecting and enhancing the business's brand for the future.

We will repeat this article in twelve months time - it will be interesting to see what has happened by October 2017.