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.

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