Friday, 30 December 2016

Finding a reliable financial adviser

Financial advice - it's something most people need at various stages in their lives. So how are financial advisers helping the public choose them?

On 10 December the Times ran an article headlined "Routes to the best financial advice". It listed several sources that consumers might use - we say 'might' because the one source that is proving more popular with consumers than any other - worldwide - was notable for its absence. That source? Google reviews.

We will go into the reasons why financial advisors of all stripes have not gone down the Google route once we have analysed the advisors recommended by these aggregator sites (we searched for advisers in central London).


Top three results:

True Potential

 - no Google reviews

Wilcocks & Wilcocks 

- no Google reviews - and unhelpfully - remember our search criteria: central London - with offices in Liverpool

Financial Moves 

- no Google reviews - in fact no Google knowledge panel and no website (as far as we can see), but one review on a website called VouchedFor (see below)


'Find top-rated financial advisers'

Stadden Forbes 

- no Google reviews

Wilcocks & Wilcocks 

 - as for Unbiased above

Buckingham Gate

- no Google reviews


Only one suggested adviser:

Charles Stanley

  - no Google reviews

Not yet launched 

Money Advice Service

Does not recommend specific advisers.

But does have Google reviews - of its own:

But we don't think any of these are very helpful!

So why no Google reviews?

Because the businesses have not asked their clients to post reviews to Google.

Why not?

The main reason has to be fear (it cannot be that the businesses don't think looking great on Google will drive business - in 2017 there's no argument about that). Fear that clients, who often misunderstand the nature of the financial products or services they have bought will, in turn, post misleading reviews. 

The solution?

It cannot be to remain in what we call 'Google denial' (meaning ignoring Google reviews). Eventually clients will find their way to writing reviews of these businesses, and the chances are that those reviews will be uncomplimentary. Why uncomplimentary? Not because the businesses are bad at what they do but because unhappy consumers are up to fifteen times more likely to post a review. Look at what has happened to a major international car hire business in the last 12 months. Just half-a-dozen - mostly unhappy - customers are now dominating each branch's online reputation.

HelpHound will ensure that the business has the opportunity to address any reviews that contain inaccurate or misleading statements pre-publication. The prospect of misleading or inaccurate reviews appearing - either on the business's own website or on Google will be minimised. If you run a great business your business will look great - on your own website and on Google, guaranteed.

A realistic parallel

Estate agency shares many similarities with financial advice: both are businesses that consumers use at a financially critical time in their lives. But there is one demographic difference which had led estate agents to lead financial advisers in the reviews sphere, and that is the average age of their customers. Estate agents first encounter consumers as tenants, commonly when renting at university or when they first leave home to enter the world of work, and younger consumers tend to be more web-savvy and, as a result, less intimidated by the concept of writing a review. 

So where better to look to forecast what will happen when that generation begins to write reviews of financial advice? Estate agents are beginning to realise the benefits of actively engaging with reviews:

This business won't mind admitting that they were initially intimidated by the idea of inviting their clients to write reviews to their website and to Google. That is a big part of the reason they became clients of HelpHound. We look forward to the day when forward thinking financial advisers look the same - on their own websites and on Google.
The out-turn?

Consumers will have the confidence - provided by their fellow consumers - to choose a financial adviser with far more certainty than they do currently.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A HelpHound client offers Christmas thanks to its reviewers

Tatlers are fully aware of the power of reviews - and they have taken the opportunity afforded by the Christmas issue of their online magazine to thank their reviewers.

And here is the source - on the home page of their website:

Just one more example of the way our clients use their reviews to reinforce the bond between them, their customers and their communities.

Here at HelpHound we wish all our clients and their staff a very merry Christmas and a prosperous 2017.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Great Divide - between reviews of products and reviews of services

There is a yawning chasm in the world of reviews - and it's between 'product' (often online) businesses and lower-volume/higher value 'service' driven businesses. 

If you run a service business, especially a professional service business - estate agency, wealth management, legal, architectural or similar, you need to read on.

Product and online

In this category come the obvious candidates: businesses that sell physical objects, be they clothing or household goods - the likes of Boden or John Lewis. Let's take those two examples:


Sell clothes. And they incorporate reviews into every product line in their catalogue: 

What do these reviews tell the consumer? That customers liked/disliked the product. What do they tell the business? The same - and it's a very useful feedback mechanism - maybe Boden need to look at stocking that skinny belt next season?

What does a Boden online customer not care about? Service is what. OK, if the delivery is messed up or the item falls apart after one wash and is not replaced immediately that might just fall under the heading of service, but it's overwhelmingly about the product.

John Lewis

Same here - except for one important difference: John Lewis, aside from their own brands, stock other manufacturers' products:

 John Lewis - and their customers - are reassured by the 47 reviews here. John Lewis know that the product is popular, even post-sale, and the customers can mine down to find the odd niggle that prevented the toaster scoring a perfect five (in this case it's 'value for money'). Simply put: reviews drive sales.

And if those products don't score well, John Lewis can just discontinue that line.

Now let's look at services...

You may have shopped at John Lewis all your life, but if you stopped using them tomorrow they're not going to miss a single customer that badly. But service businesses are a whole different ballgame. The cost of acquisition of a client in estate agency or wealth management is of a different scale, and maintaining that relationship - landlord/investor - is critically important for the service business. Equally importantly, the relationship - being an ongoing one - will almost certainly be more nuanced - have more 'ups and downs' in plain English - than a single-event product purchase.

Before HelpHound - and more importantly, before Resolution™ - service businesses had two options:
  1.  Do nothing. Not as disengaged as it sounds: simply inviting every customer/client/patient to write a review could do the business harm, and we are speaking about well-managed customer-focused businesses here (otherwise you would not be reading this). The point is that with a service business every review counts, in both directions. One negative review of a toaster will not usually harm sales - one well-written (but maybe unintentionally inaccurate or misleading) review of a service business has the power to deflect significant business. So 'doing nothing' has served many service businesses well - until now - because few people were writing Google reviews - again: until now.
  2. Employ an independent review site: these appealed in the early days, especially when they showed well in Google search. But since Google began to dominate in search their value has dwindled. Even the biggest general review site of them all, Yelp, has retreated from the UK and Europe with its tail firmly between its legs, having unsuccessfully appealed Google's dominance to the US Senate.

Now that Google reviews have gained traction - and, as the man said: 'You ain't seen nothing yet.' - 'Do nothing' is no longer an option. It is just too high risk a strategy to continue ignoring Google reviews until your business has been give a handful of 1* ratings on Google by a tiny minority of customers you never even knew you had. Last month we met a business that had over four hundred positive reviews on an independent site, but twelve 1* reviews on Google (all written in the last 12 months) - and you probably don't need us to tell you why we found ourselves in their offices.

Add to this the CMA's continuing interest in ensuring that a business is not - wittingly or unwittingly - manipulating reviews to its advantage.

Here's a checklist of the reasons that most service businesses have not adopted a review management policy, or the right review management policy, up until now:

Fear - of the harm that unfair negative reviews could do

Uncertainty - as to the accuracy of the reviews their customers might write

Concern - over the longevity of such reviews - remaining on the web for all to read for ever

Confusion - over the right solution to adopt - independent review site or Google?

Misunderstanding - of the law surrounding reviews

HelpHound provides professional review management, which addresses each of the above as follows:
  • Fear: we moderate all our clients reviews before we publish them on their websites. If we consider that a review is in any way inaccurate or potentially misleading we send it to the business for immediate response to the reviewer
  • Uncertainty: this is removed by the same mechanism
  • Concern: reviews last forever (until Google review that policy), so you need to know that your review management system gives your business the very best chance of being reflected as it is in its reviews, HelpHound is that system
  • Confusion: it is our job - as unbiased review managers - to ensure that our clients are given the best advice at all times. We will only suggest a solution that has the best possible chance of presenting your business accurately for the foreseeable future, and, if that solution changes, or requires modification, we will advise accordingly
  • Misunderstanding: the CMA is dedicated to ensuring that a business's reviews give a full and fair picture of that business. This means that they are looking to see if a business allows all of its customers to write a review whenever they like. Those two words - all and whenever - are crucial. For example: all of your customers can write a review to Google whenever they like, so inviting only 'happy' customers to do so will rightly be seen as against the spirit of the CMA rules
So - if your business is in the service sector in 2017 it needs full-time professional review management. With that you will get credible reviews to your website and reviews to Google - safely - and you will be helping prospective customers choose your business.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Reviews and the Law - an important update

One of our most important roles as review managers is to make sure our clients comply with the law as it relates to reviews - in letter and in spirit.

The law?

Most businesses, when we first meet them, are unaware that reviews are governed by legislation. But, just as with almost every aspect of business life these days, they are. On 1 April 2014 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) took over many of the functions of the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading.

Under CMA rules - which are enforceable in law -  it is illegal for a business (or their agents) to:
  • post fake reviews of their own business
  • post fake reviews of another business
  • not publish negative reviews
  • offer inducement - money or gifts - in exchange for reviews
In addition, it is illegal to do anything to intentionally mislead the public (consumers). This may include:
  • describing testimonials (selectively invited customer opinions) as reviews
  • selectively inviting customers to write reviews (what regular readers of this blog know we describe as 'cherry-picking')

Common practices that flout the letter or the spirit of the CMA rules

We see examples like the ones below nearly every day. They are mostly innocent, resulting from ignorance of the rules. Just as important, they do the business no favours in the eyes of the sophisticated consumer (or competitor).

This is a screenshot from an estate agent's website. We cannot be absolutely sure that they are contravening the CMA code, but the fact that the 'reviews' themselves are not independently verified and that all twenty-one of the reviews displayed were written on the same day over six months ago might lead to understandable concern.

  • inviting testimonials from customers and displaying them as reviews
  • selecting 'happy' customers to write reviews, and, by definition, positively excluding 'unhappy' ones - whether to the business's own website or to an external site

HelpHound's standpoint

Our systems are expressly designed to comply with the CMA rules, in word and spirit. This is why Resolution incorporates the 'promise to publish' and why all our clients incorporate a 'Write a Review' button into their websites, offering anyone the opportunity to write a review, whenever they choose to do so (and as often as they wish)

It is also why the invitation to copy the review to Google (or the nominated external site) is automatic - not at HelpHound's or our client business's discretion.

Your questions answered

Can you expand on HelpHound's 'promise to publish'?

Anyone - and we mean absolutely anyone - has the ability to write a review to a HelpHound client's website. They don't have to wait to be invited - and they will always be invited to publish their review.

How does that work in the context of Resolution?

Here's a detailed overview of Resolution. Resolution is designed to fulfill two purposes:
  • to make sure our clients' reviews portray as accurate a picture of their business as possible, for the benefit of future customers
  • to show to potential customers of the business in question that they will be able to write a review - and have that review published - at any time during (or after) their relationship with that business
So a customer can write an intentionally misleading review of our business and have that review published?

In theory - yes. It's the price paid for complete transparency (and the credibility that flows from that transparency). In practice it very seldom happens - and if it does happen the business always has the right-of-reply. 

Resolution is designed to minimise the chances of an inaccurate or misleading review being published by allowing the business and the reviewer to engage pre-publication. But the reviewer will always be invited to post their review. In the many years of experience we have of operating Resolution (and the many thousands of reviews that we process on behalf of reviews and our client businesses) we can count the instances of a reviewer persisting in publishing a review containing an error of fact on the fingers of one hand. Inaccurate or misleading reviews benefit no-one - and that's the reason for having Resolution in the first place.

Are there any more safeguards?

We will do our best to establish that the reviewer has (or has had) a relationship with the business. If we can establish that the reviewer has purely malicious intent we will revert to the reviewer and ask them for more particulars of their relationship with the business. No-one - not HelpHound, nor our clients, nor - most important of all, consumers - benefits from the kind of reviews that have got sites like Yelp a name for publishing false and malicious reviews. 

In summary

This as much about compliance with the law as about being - and being seen to be - open and honest. Our advice can be summed up with two 'Don'ts' and two 'Do's':
  • Don't confuse testimonials with reviews - a business cannot, by definition, publish its own reviews without verification by an outside agency
  • Don't select - 'cherry-pick' - those customers who you invite to write reviews
  • Do allow all your customers to write a review
  • Do allow them to write that review at any time they wish
If you follow these simple guidelines you will find that your business is rewarded by those consumers who appreciate openness and honesty.


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

2016 - what a year for estate agency reviews!

2016 has been a dramatic year for reviews. Here we discuss why, and explain what action your business needs to take.

Google reviews come of age

Here is a selection of agencies from around the UK that illustrates the growth of Google reviews in the last 12 months:

Until this year Google reviews really had not gained traction. 2016 has seen all of that change - reviews written to Google are up by over five hundred per cent and counting. If your business has not yet adopted a review management strategy it should be very seriously considering doing so in 2017. But make absolutely sure you choose the right one. 

Independent review sites dwindle

Yelp has pulled out of the UK and Europe altogether. Some of the smaller independent review sites have been wound up. Why? Because Google now dominate the reviews space to such an extent that any focus on the independent sites is either time wasted or comes a very poor second.

Worse than that - as Google reviews gain traction, businesses focusing their review efforts on independent sites are now unconsciously driving negative comment to Google. Read this to understand why

Google introduce the Ratings Filter

Google understand consumers want the best businesses when they search. It didn't take a genius to predict the introduction of some kind of mechanism to achieve this (we did - intelligent forecasting is part of what you pay us for) and, lo-and-behold, on January 2, the first day back at work in 2016, there it was

Initially introduced for hospitality, and in main centres, the Filter continues to be rolled out both geographically and across different kinds of business. If your business and area are not subject to the filter yet, you will be soon.

     Seven estate agents in a row - all failing the Google Filter, many with no reviews at all
Read more about the Google filter as it relates to estate agency, here.

Google introduce 'Top Rated'

A logical extension of the Filter. Top Rated follows in the filter's slipstream, and does what it says on the tin - lists business by their Google score. To 'pass' the Google filter your business needs to have more than five Google reviews and score 4.0 out of 5. It is surprising just how many businesses don't (see above). If you want your business to show in the Google 3-pack (and what business does not?) you will need it to look like these:

The power of reviews - doubts are over now

Just look at the growth in trust in reviews:

 BrightLocal ask consumers this question year-on-year, just look at the fall in those that do not trust reviews since 2010 - from just under a third to just under one in ten. And the rise in those who do read reviews 'regularly' - from a third to a half in one year (we don't think that this is coincidental - it dovetails with the proliferation of Google reviews mentioned above).

In tandem with the rise in Google reviews we see daily evidence of the power of reviews - to both attract and deflect business. Consumers are reading them and acting on what they read. Great independently verified reviews on your own website and on Google drive business. No reviews on your website and no, few, or negative reviews on Google deflect business.

Here's another interesting chart:

At first glance the figures for hospitality look high and the figures for property look low. If you think how often people use those services then we submit the figures for hospitality are the low figure and property the high one - given the relative frequency of use of those services

Review denial is a thing of the past.

Selectively inviting clients to write a review - commonly known as cherry-picking - is a thing of the past

 This includes 'selection' - all your clients should be able to write a review - for more detail see this article

The Government - in the shape of the Competition and Markets Authority - is clamping down on doubtful practice in the reviews arena. This includes everything from businesses writing (or paying for) fake reviews and, importantly (because they are so prevalent), mechanisms which allow businesses to in any way 'select' which customers or reviews to show. 

This means that any business using a 'closed' reviews system - one that only allows a client to write a review by invitation -  will come under scrutiny. Going forwards it will be important to be able to demonstrate that all your clients can write a review whenever they like and that the review will be published if they so wish (for more on this subject see here).

It's not all about Google

If your prospective client comes to your website via any other marketing channel - advertising, referral, PR, local sponsorship, you will convert more visitors into enquiries if you host verified reviews there. If they come via Google then you need to look great there and on your own website.

To summarise

  You will see a button like this on every HelpHound clients' website
Your business needs a solution:
  • That enables it to invite and display reviews on its own site
  • from all its clients
  • at any time
  • and gets those reviews across to Google
  • whilst enabling you to manage inaccurate or potentially misleading comment pre-publication
And that's what we do here at HelpHound.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Google score of 4.1 is simply not good enough

It is very easy to fall into the trap of looking at your business on Google and thinking "We score [between 4.0 and 4.5]" and then sitting back and relaxing. Don't!

Here are three reasons why not:

1. A Google score of less than 4.6 invariably contains a significant proportion of negative reviews. just look at this example:

Here negatives show in Google's default ('Most recent'). Consumers invariably click on 'Lowest score' when searching, especially if negatives don't show immediately. And they are influenced by what they see there - a single, well-written, negative review has the power to deflect them away from taking the next step - making contact.

2. A score of less than 4.6 leaves your business a handful of negative reviews away from the Google Filter - especially if you don't have critical mass in Google reviews (a great score and significant numbers of reviews):

The top business - a HelpHound client - passes the Google Filter (top right in this screenshot) with flying colours. The second is vulnerable to a flurry of negative reviews driving its score down towards the filter, purely because it does not have the numbers of reviews to counteract the impact of two or three negatives, the third is filtered.

3. Your business runs the risk that it will fall out of search when Google introduces 'Top Rated':

Google will introduce 'Top Rated' for services - estate agency, medical, financial and so on  - it's only a matter of time - and we will ensure that our clients are ready to top those searches.



Adopt a DIY solution. You will inevitably be cherry-picking 'happy customers' - and that will hand your competitors a massive advantage. More importantly: you will miss out on the opportunity to display independently verified reviews on your own website - the next port of call for anyone who has been impressed by your Google reviews.


Adopt professional review management. It will enable you to address inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication and it will enable you to display reviews on your own website with complete credibility. It will also enable you to look like Winkworth Kensal Rise - and our other clients - in Google search.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Independent review sites for estate agents - the unintended consequences

The last six months - when the penetration of Google reviews has massively accelerated - have highlighted one of the most damaging consequences of adopting an independent review site as a review management solution: unintentionally driving unhappy clients to Google.

Let's look at two examples - where two separate review sites have been used by two agencies. Here are the current Google scores for those two agencies:

Now - and this is where it gets interesting - this is what those same two agencies look like on the respective independent sites that they use:

What is happening? Why is the disconnect between the Google score and the independent sites so marked? When we mine down into the dates of the Google reviews all becomes clear:
  • in the first example the agency is a recent adopter of an independent solution to reviews. When they adopted that solution they had two Google reviews (and, as a result, no Google score). Since adoption three more one star Google reviews have been posted (and, as a result, they do now have a Google score)
  • in the second example, the agency has a long-standing relationship with the independent site. But all bar one of the negative Google reviews have been posted in the last 12 months
The answer to the question posed above now becomes clear. Since more and more people have become aware that they are able to easily post a review to Google, agencies like these are unconsciously driving their dissatisfied clients to Google. In the case of one of them, where they have adopted a 'closed' solution (one where the review is posted by invitation only) more so. Not inviting unhappy clients to write a review used to be a solution - albeit one that called the probity of the business into question - before Google reviews achieved critical mass - that's no longer the case.

It's not only Google

If they - the unhappy clients - are not offered the option to write a review to the business they may well choose to do so on that other site with a global presence: Facebook. Here's what one of the agencies looks like there:

The only solution

Your clients must all be invited to write a review - to your website. There, any misleading or inaccurate reviews can be managed in private. They must then be asked to copy their review to Google (and/or Facebook). 

Then they will look like this:

And this:

And this:

Owning your own reviews - on your own website - and then having them on the sites that matter - the sites that are seen in search (and the sites that your prospective clients use and trust) is the only solution going forwards. Welcome to HelpHound.