We commend this years' to everyone - our clients and those yet to join - because so much has happened in the world of reviews in the last twelve months, and the pace of change is unlikely to slacken any time soon.
Almost always the first topic - simply because Google is the gateway to your business (even if just to find your phone number). 2016 and the first weeks of 2017 have seen fundamental developments that directly impact every business.
- There has been a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour when searching for a business on the web - away from the independent review sites towards Google
- There has been a huge upswing in both the number of reviews being posted on Google and reviewers posting there; businesses that had no - or few - reviews last year now have dozens
- Google have introduced a filter for users that enables users to exclude businesses from search results if they have fewer than five reviews and/or they score less than 4.0 out of the maximum 5
- Alongside the filter Google have begun rolling out 'Top Rated' which has the same effect as the filter with a single click
Reviews are regulated by the government through the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA has rules - the spirit and wording of which must be complied with by businesses and their professional advisers.
- businesses cannot call testimonials 'reviews' - there is now a legal definition of the term 'review'
- to qualify as reviews businesses must enable all of their customers to write a review (or reviews) at a time of their customers' choosing
Some businesses, often prompted by a competitor or a single negative review, have embarked on their own review management. This can be a useful first step, but a word of caution from those at HelpHound for whom review management is a full-time job:
- To comply with the CMA rules (see above) whatever mechanism a business adopts must be open to all its customers, not just those that the business knows it can rely on to write a positive review
- it is difficult for a business to invite and display its own customers' opinions on its own website and call them reviews, the first stumbling block is often the business's reaction to the idea of displaying a harmfully negative comment that it has invited itself
- inviting all customers to write a review without a mechanism for managing inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews in place risks lasting harm to your business's reputation
Independent review sites
From the early 2000's independent review sites led the way while Google slumbered like the proverbial giant it has become. These sites appeared prominently in search and, despite flaws - fake reviews, fraudulent reviews, flaming and trolling - those that achieved critical mass like Yelp and TripAdvisor flourished. The recent surge of Google into a space that it alone controls - search - has sounded the death-knell for the smaller independent review sites (and even Yelp, which pulled out of the UK in 2016). They now simply don't have the visibility - the world of reviews outside of your own website now consists of Google first and Facebook next.
- 'Closed' review sites - those that are 'invitation only' where a customer cannot simply go to the business's website at any time and write a review - do not comply with the spirit of the CMA rules and have proven to have another damaging side-effect: if an unhappy customer cannot write a review to the business or to its chosen review site when they want, they are now much more likely to air their grievance by posting a Google review.
- Google now hides links to a business's reviews on any independent site in 'plain sight' by providing a link in the knowledge panel
- Independent sites are not always bad advice; sites like TripAdvisor and Facebook will often form part of our recommended strategy for clients. As it says in the title of this article: 'If an independent site is right for your business...'
Reasons not to engage with reviews addressed
Up until the recent Google surge most businesses outside the world of hospitality could adopt a fairly relaxed approach to reviews - if they were getting reviewed it was mostly happening on small sites with little - and reducing - visibility in search. Now it is Google all the way - even one review on Google is served prominently for everyone to see. Your potential customers may not even be looking for reviews, but they will see them anyway.
So let's look at some of the reasons that businesses have so far not engaged:
- Fear: fear that engaging with the world of reviews might do their reputations lasting harm. For well-managed businesses all that is needed to allay these understandable concerns is our Resolution™ mechanism
- Doubt: as to the power of reviews to drive business. We challenge you to look at the 'with' and 'without' examples in this article and ask if your business would not improve its bottom-line performance by engaging review management professionals?
- Cost: is review management yet another drain on business resources? Or is it an essential business tool in the 21st century?
- 'Would our customers object to being asked to write a review?' We hear this less and less, but this article addresses our clients' experience of asking their customers for reviews
Reviews seem such a simple concept, but we hope that this article has shown that it is important to ensure that the right approach is taken every step of the way, and that professional review management such as we at HelpHound provide for our clients is an invaluable asset for any business or service.
If you require more information about any of the topics covered here please don't hesitate to contact us - just use the box on the right - or phone 020 7100-2233 and we will be delighted to help.