Wednesday 31 May 2017

Three reasons to avoid independent review sites

You cannot go anywhere these days without encountering businesses that have signed up to independent review sites. The positive is that businesses are finally waking up to the power of reviews - the negative is that some businesses are being 'sold' review solutions that benefit the review site more than their client.

At HelpHound we have consistently said that 'there is a better way' and those of you who are clients or are regular readers of this blog will know that; but we make no apology for restating the case - and seriously questioning whether any business should commit to an independent review site. 

Why? Read on...

1. You need to own your own reviews - and get them to Google

They are written by your customers about your products and services - so why would you want to give them to someone else? We have seen so many examples of businesses adopting one reviews solution, committing - wasting - time and effort, and then realising that there is a better alternative out there.

 This is a good example of professional review management - with HelpHound and the business working effectively together. the business has over 100 reviews on its own site which are linked to by Google in the knowledge panel ("Reviews from the web") and displayed under its listing in natural search (top left). On top of that over 40 of those reviews have been got to Google, giving the business a great score there too, as well as three great rich snippets (at the bottom of the knowledge panel).

You need your reviews on your own website - and then - almost always, to get them to Google*

*and then Facebook, and just one or two specialists sites (like TripAdvisor if you are in the hospitality business).

2. You need to obey the law - be compliant

So many review sites are not compliant with UK law; either they don't allow anyone to post a review or they only allow someone to post a review at a given time (usually immediately post-purchase). This is against the law - and the onus is on the business to comply. For more detail read this article.

3. Perhaps most important of all - you don't want to be forcing your unhappy customers to post to Google 

Look at this example of a business that decided to commit to an independent review site a year ago:

The independent site in question scores the business 4.5 out of 5, so far so good...

And now look at it on Google:

 A dreadful score - when combined with the negative text of the six one star reviews - gives a terrible first impression of the business (Google reviews are always seen first). We would love to show you the individual reviews, but that would be unfair on the business in question; you will just have to trust us that they wouldn't encourage anyone to use it!

So what has happened? 

Something we see more and more; the business invites its happy customers to post a review to the independent site - leading to a great score (it's not a 'perfect five' simply because the business cannot possibly identify 'happy' customers 100% of the time).

The business's unhappy customers have either not been invited to write a review or they have decided to write it to Google instead - not all of them, but enough to create this negative score and impression.

What should the business have done?

It should have focussed on on its own site and on Google. Here is an example from our latest presentation:

In search...

...and on the business's own site:

 For the full presentation see here

This ticks all three boxes:
  • the business owns its own reviews and has got them to google in significant numbers
  • its procedures and systems are complaint with the CMA's regulations
  • it looks impressive - both in search and on its own site

What more could any business possibly want?

Friday 19 May 2017

Google Lens turns your phone's camera into a reviews feed

One day soon you will be simply able to point your camera at a business and see this:

 And whose reviews do you suppose? Google's of course! And by the way, your business - unlike the one in the image Google have used above - had better score north of 4.5 if it seriously wants to attract business

Think of the implications:
  • for potential customers - no fumbling in search, just point and press
  • for those attending meetings or pitches - just aim at the office and by the time the lift doors open you'll know what the business's customers think of it
But most of all - it is yet another validation of reviews - as Google are quoted as saying in today's Times:

"Users will be able to photograph... shops and restaurants* to find reviews" - yes, reviews, not Instagram or Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. If that is not sending businesses a very strong message to engage with reviews nothing is.

*Be sure they won't stop at shops and restaurants, any business listed on Google is bound to be included.

Google have not announced a launch date - so watch this space. For more read this article on TechCrunch or you can watch the official Google IO7 keynote video on Youtube (we've already watched it for you).

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Another business pushes back against a review site's alleged sales tactics

This month it's the turn of Happy Fish Sushi. According to the Peoria Journal and Star (we're sure you all read that!?) they allege that Yelp has been bombarding this business with sales calls and the business itself alleges that their Yelp rating dropped - inferring that Yelp were filtering out positive reviews.

Yelp - the largest single general reviews site on the planet - pulled its sales operation out of the UK and Europe at the end of last year. This decision may not have been entirely unrelated to the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) involvement in the regulation of the UK reviews market. 

Yelp's business model is based on selling advertising on non-paying business's listings. Fair? We'll leave you to decide.

In desperation - we assume - this business has decided to reward customers for writing one-star reviews!

But seriously: it is difficult for a reviews site to comply with the spirit, let alone the letter, of the CMA regulations - which have the force of law. Most reviews sites in the UK rely on Google partnering for much of their revenue - which in turn relies on the client business being willing to tie themselves to long-term pay-per-click strategies in order to see their review scores appear in search - scores that, with effective review management would appear next to the business's natural listing - and in the knowledge panel, for free.

 Winkworth's reviews - not HelpHound's, but verified by HelpHound (see below):

Note the 'write a review' button - anyone can write a review at any time - no wonder potential clients give their reviews credence.

Sales tactics

We hear first-hand reports of review sites employing boiler-house techniques - multiple calls by different staff, often in the same day, is just one example, 'free trial' periods (during which the business will be innocently generating revenue for the review site) is another. Often the offering is non-compliant in some way (check it against the six criteria here). 


We consider that it is well-nigh impossible for a commercial review site to comply with the current CMA regulations and make money at the same time - the conflict of interest is just too great. It is possible - although we hasten to add that we have no evidence - that Yelp's decision to quit the UK was influenced by legal advice; after all their business model rests on being able to up-sell advertising above its natural listings as in the screenshot above, something that the CMA might not entirely happy about.

Businesses must realise that there is no 'magic bullet' where reviews are concerned, that whatever solution they adopt must not mislead consumers and must be truly open and accessible to all. 

The only solution - fortunately for well-managed businesses with a strict consumer focus - is proper professional review management; compliant with the regulations and effective for the business and consumer alike.

Further reading:
  1. The CMA's criteria for business reviews - the rules you must obey
  2. Review sites - the unintended consequences - driving negative reviews to Google
  3. Reviews solutions must be credible (and legal) - a checklist for your business
  4. Professional review management v. review sites - a look at actual out-turns


Tuesday 9 May 2017

Your reviews solution must be credible (and legal)

Note: this article, by the very nature of its subject, makes frequent reference to the law and rules governing reviews in the UK - the Competition and Markets Authority regulations. If you would like to spend five minutes bringing yourself up-to-date with these there is a guide here.

Regular readers will know that we have issues with many of the reviews solutions currently being promoted to businesses. They usually come under one or more of the following headings:
  • They favour the business over the consumer
  • They favour the consumer over the business
  • They don't moderate their reviews
  • They allow businesses to filter reviews
  • The enable businesses to look better than they are in reality
  • They make businesses look worse than they are in reality 

None of the above are helpful - in either the short or long run, for the business or the consumer. Importantly - all but two are downright illegal (although frequently seen). Let's look at each 'category' in more detail.

  • Favouring the business
When businesses first approach the subject of reviews they ask one question more than any other: 'Can we control the reviews that are shown?' and for very good reasons. The larger review sites - and for this purpose we include Google and TripAdvisor as well as pure review sites like Yelp - are notorious, rightly or wrongly, for allowing negative (and even fake) reviews to go unchallenged. And most businesses now understand that even a single well-crafted negative can do untold harm. But sites that allow businesses to challenge any negative review are breaking the rules. Only by adopting really effective review management can a business protect its reputation and comply with the CMA rules.

  • Favouring the consumer 
Many sites favour the consumer by adopting a policy of 'the reviewer is always right unless the business can provide incontrovertible proof that what they have said is factually incorrect/libelous and or written with impure motives (they are a competitor or a disgruntled ex-member of staff, for instance). This policy at the main sites - Google and Yelp - has driven many businesses into the arms of sites that are more 'generous' to the business - they will allow the business to appeal a wide range of reviews. At first sight this looks attractive for businesses, that is: until they understand that almost all of these so-called solutions break the rules and therefore the law.

  • Un-moderated reviews
You will almost certainly be aware of the recent controversy around Google and YouTube and Facebook allowing un-moderated content - ISIS propaganda and so on - onto their sites. The same applies to reviews. Moderation - for the uninitiated - is the act of checking a review for its source and content. It is an inexact science - if someone wants to fake a review badly enough they will find a way on most sites (not with a negative through HelpHound though - and we have a two strikes rule if a client is caught writing a positive) they mostly will be able to. We see examples of this daily.If your reviews system gains a reputation for hosting irrelevant reviews of any kind - and Yelp and TripAdvsor have both admitted to doing so - that will impact on the credibility of your reviews.

  • Allowing filtering
Not a day passes when we don't see another example of a review site and a business doing this. The business has subscribed to the review site and the review site then allows the business to selectively display reviews on their site (as you can imagine, these reviews invariably score the business 5 out of 5). They are both breaking the law. Another version is the business that selectively copies reviews from another site - we have seen examples of this with Google and many others - onto their own site; again: the business is breaking the law. Another variant is the business that takes the score from a well-known site and displays it, but attributes a higher score - believe it or not, it does happen, and we have an archive of screenshots to prove it!

  • Making businesses look better than they are
We've already seen examples of this under 'Allowing filtering' above. Any mechanism that allows the business to prevent unhappy customers from writing a review is breaking the rules. We hear businesses every day saying 'But I know Mrs B will give us one out of five.' The only answer to that which will wash with the CMA is one that allows all of your customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Mrs B has to be able to write a review, whenever she wants.

  • Making businesses look worse 
Interestingly all review sites - Google included - by definition make businesses look worse than they are in reality. That is because unhappy customers are statistically far more likely to write a review online. Studies by both Cornell University and Harvard Business School have confirmed that - and the figures they have produced indicate that this impact is around a factor of fifteen times. To put this in plain English - if you see a business with 100 reviews and ten are negative less than one per cent of that business's customers are, in reality, dissatisfied. It is just that the unhappy ones have taken the trouble to write a review. Just look up any hotel you know and love and you will see this theory in practice.

So - a quick checklist for any system you are considering:
  1. Does it in any way favour the business?
  2. Does it allow you - the business - to choose which reviews are displayed?
  3. Does it give an unfairly favourable impression of your business?
  4. Does it allow you - the business - to select who you invite to write a review?
  5. Does the reviewer have to wait to be invited to write a review?
  6. Is the reviewer prevented from writing a review except by invitation from the business?

If the answer is 'Yes' to even a single one of these questions the system is in contravention of the CMA rules - and the onus for compliance is on you - the business - not on the provider of the reviews system.

The good news is that there is another way - the HelpHound way - adopt professional review management - now.  

Thursday 4 May 2017

All the reasons you need to adopt HelpHound

Here is our latest presentation (click to enlarge the individual slides) - showing our API in action - with added notes...

Please note: Although we have used an estate agent client to illustrate this presentation it applies equally to any business, from accountancy to zoos!

'Professional Review Management' - as with any professional adviser, it should be a lifetime relationship, capable of moving with the times and adapting to change. 

Harness the power of customer opinion and then get it displayed everywhere in search... well as on your own website and in all your other marketing - POS, print, email, web

It's these that drive enquiries and business. They do get read by potential customers.

This slide contains all the 'boring but important' things you need to know.
  • Own your own reviews - don't give them to another site
  • Resolution™ is an important safety feature - for you and your customers; it ensures that inaccurate or misleading reviews don't get posted. Read more about it here.
  • Our clients tell us: Google drives visits to your website, your website drives business
  • Don't use a system that breaks the law (we are amazed how many do). The onus is on you to comply - more on this here
  • You will welcome our support - the world of reviews is constantly evolving and we'll make sure you and your staff are always up-to-date
  • You - and your web designers - can incorporate HelpHound into your website exactly as you wish

For more client comments see here...

...and to see how HelpHound increased visits to a clients website by 27% on joining see here.

To see what Rightmove's consumer survey said about the importance of getting reviews to your own site and to Google reviews read this

To understand how HelpHound enables businesses to minimise inaccurate, misleading or malicious reviews read this.

Now speak to Fiona or Karen on 0207 100-2233 and they will answer any other questions you may have.