Friday 28 July 2017

Businesses abandon independent review sites

Businesses - especially those in high-value services such as estate agency and wealth management - are abandoning independent review sites in numbers.

Why? Because...

  • human nature: people are so much more motivated to write a negative review than a positive one; this means that a business that in reality has less than one or two per cent of its customers unhappy with its service might easily have anything up to twenty per cent of its reviews saying damagingly negative (and not always factually correct) things about it on any given reviews site - and served for all to see in Google search
  • why pay to look bad? It's bad enough that unhappy customers - or disgruntled ex-staff or even competitors - can post to Google and other open sites (Yelp, TrustPilot, TripAdvisor and so on) but to pay to have your business's reputation harmed - no thank you!

We are seeing increasing instances of the love affair between these sites and businesses waning. Here are some numbers from just three such businesses:

 the figures for both years are annualised to ensure equivalence

As the businesses in question have realised the potential for harm - especially considering that the businesses in question have been hosting feeds on their own websites - the businesses have begun taking action... grass roots: their staff have stopped requesting reviews head office or management level: review feeds on the business's own sites have been discontinued

Our advice

 So many independent solutions have the potential to end up like this - and all it would have taken to prevent the business's reputation being put at long-term risk of significant harm was one call to us

We have consistently warned readers of this blog of the various pitfalls and disadvantages of relying on independent reviews sites (read this and this and this).

It is important that businesses see review management as a discipline that needs to be taken just as seriously as any other form of marketing - and paid for accordingly. Far too many businesses have fallen for 'free trial' blandishments from some reviews sites and not looked to the long-term (or, in the cases highlighted above - not so long-term) consequences of choosing the wrong solution.

There are also the - very important - Competition and Markets Authority regulations to be considered - and so many independent solutions fall foul of these in one way or another as well.

All in all - just speak to us (especially those of you already using an independent review site). You don't have to spend a penny to do that - and you may easily end up saving your business's hard-won reputation into the bargain. At the very least you will be forewarned and forearmed.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Google Local Guides - how might they influence your customers?

Google makes changes every day - some small, some large, some large that may at first glance appear small. This is one such.

Google Local Guides are now badged in reviews:

And they are prompted - like this:

And incentivised - like this:

So what is a Google Local Guide?

A Google Guide is a regular reviewer - that's all. But they are a reviewer who has proactively volunteered their services as a Guide. Once a Guide reaches level 4 (it's a points system) they begin to have more influence than a 'normal' everyday Google reviewer.

How so? Well, first they get a badge to identify them (as well as the words 'Local Guide' next to every review they write - even if that business is a thousand miles from their physical home); next: we have begun to notice a pattern of Guide's reviews appearing when the search - automatically - defaults to 'Helpful', we have also noticed that Guides are being 'thanked' (the blue thumbs-up) more often than the average reviewer. 

  We reckon these Local Guides are helping the Scarsdale Tavern, put it this way: they cannot be hurting it!

But try and think of it from a consumer's point-of-view: don't Guides strike you - more than most - as 'real' people. From our own experience Guides tend to take more care over their reviews - more words, more photographs, less expletives, less ratings (scores with no written review attached). It's early days, but their reviews may even end up being preferred for the influential rich snippets that Google show in every business's Knowledge Panel.

 The opposite of the reviews for the Scarsdale above, unhelpful for the business, even without the 'Local Guide' status. With it? We will let you decide.

And what does that mean for your business? We think it means, all other things being equal, that a review from a Google Local Guide is more influential - in both directions.

Recommended action

We are not suggesting you rush out a marketing campaign to attract Local Guides just yet, but just be aware that they exist; if you have a customer you know to be a Guide you might want to go that extra mile to encourage them to post a review.

And if you have any experience of dealing with a Guide - positive or negative - we'd love to hear from you. We will doubtless be updating this article in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Your business - Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp?

Regular readers will know that we sometimes compare the world of reviews with the old Wild West - and just like in those far flung days there are 'goodies' and there are 'baddies' - and amongst the baddies there are snake oil salesmen too!

In this article we hope to help the uninitiated reach the right conclusion as to the correct solution for their business - for now and for the foreseeable future.

   If someone is recommending a reviews solution that seems to good to be true and is not backed up with solid real-world test cases then you need to be asking 'is this, just maybe, snake oil?'!

If you recognise anything that follows we strongly suggest you speak to us; we will advise you - professionally - how to extract your business and set it on the road to successful - and legally compliant - review management.


Successful review management will enable your business to shine in search and impress on your own website. Those two features will drive more enquiries and more business your way. 

Legally compliant? 

Many businesses we meet have yet to understand that the onus is on them - the business - not the reviews solution or the reviews site, to comply with the law. If you are not completely familiar with the Competition and Markets Authority's rules - read this article and then call us.

Doing it (wrong) yourself:

The first temptation - especially if your business has recently been subject to a negative review - is to do one of the following:
  • hand-pick customers you think will be virtually certain to write a five star review
  • hand-pick customers who have already written you a five star review of your business somewhere else and ask them to copy it to the website that currently concerns you

This business, by their own admission, went from a handful of reviews on Google and a score of less than 2 out of 5, to this in a matter of days. How? By choosing every client that had written a five star review on a specialist independent site over the previous three years and asking them to copy it across to Google. Ingenious, but of doubtful legality.

Stop! The government regulations clearly state that what ever reviews solution you choose you must invite all your customers to write a review and they must be able to do it at a time of their own choosing

That's good news, because it gives your reviews credibility, and anyway: what business wants to have to confess to a savvy customer that their reviews are only written by their happy customers? 

Employing a 'reputation manager':

 If you see the word 'reputation' in any review solution's marketing you should question whether you are addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. better to get your own customer relationship management house in order than pay an outside agency to paper over the cracks.

There are many businesses out these that promise to 'repair your business's reputation' and they are not all selling snake oil, but many of them will take tens of £thousands and spend it on relatively ineffective or short-lived SEO when what they should really be recommending is the business clean up its own customer-facing act and then engage a professional review manager.

Employing an independent reviews site

Here is a screenshot of a review - by an employee - of an independent reviews site written on the employer/employee reviews site Glassdoor in the last week:

Ever so slightly undermined by a) the bad English and b) this, from a negative review of the same business:


And here is a sample of reviews of the self-same business on another reviews site:

Is it just us, or should we all begin to question the kind of operation - the review site this employee purports to work for and the review site that is hosting those negative reviews?

And just how many reviews sites are there out there?

We have counted nearly 700 in the English language alone!

We have also been in the reviews business for over ten years now and we reckon any business will reach over 90% of its market by focusing on just two...

...and will be nearly as effective if they focus simply on Google and then the site most often neglected:

It is only a review if it is independently verified - anything else is a testimonial 

Their own!

Of course some specialist review sites - like those in hospitality such as TripAdvisor and - should be not be ignored (and we will advise accordingly), but just one glance at some of the publicly listed review sites' share prices will give you an indication of where they are headed.

But 'we want to be able to protect ourselves against unfair or inaccurate reviews' we hear you say...

Quite right. You need a system that allows you and your customer to interact before such a review is posted (we hear some say: 'but we have right-of-reply' -  and that is correct, but it ignores the fact that the original - damaging - score stands and impacts your business's overall score). 

Something like this.

In summary...

You need a reviews solution that:
  • will work for you irrespective of changes in the reviews landscape in future
  • is compliant
  • allows you to do your best to ensure inaccurate or misleading reviews - that are helpful to no-one - are posted
In eight words: your business needs to adopt professional review management.

Thursday 13 July 2017

HelpHound for hotels - Resolution™ working for everyone

This is a very simple - but extremely common - example of Resolution™ in action. A regular guest says nothing, either in hotel or at checkout. But this review is received:

 The scores say it all - we don't need to show you the accompanying review!

HelpHound moderators place it in Resolution™ - simultaneously emailing the reviewer and the hotel, inviting the hotel to respond, privately, to the reviewer, which they do. This paragraph from the hotel's much longer response is key:

And that's exactly what this guest did. Leaving this review of their most recent stay today:

Four words that say it all. A happy guest and a regular customer retained. 

This is an example of Resolution™ working for everyone concerned. not all guests want to raise their concerns face-to-face, for a multitude of reasons. For those guests this aspect of HelpHound's service enables them to resolve whatever issue might otherwise occasion them to look elsewhere for accommodation next time and the hotel retains the guest's loyalty and custom.

Friday 7 July 2017

Responding to reviews - a great opportunity to impress everyone

Suppose, just for a moment, Google rang you and said 'we are going to allow you unlimited space to promote your business*, all you have to do is write the words'. What would you do?

Decline politely? Write the bare minimum? Or, as we are suggesting, give serious consideration to every word you craft? *Because that's exactly what Google are allowing you to do when responding to reviews.

Here are some tips on how to respond to online reviews - whatever your business, and whatever the reviews platform. Some are basic CRM, some may be less obvious, but nonetheless important; let's start with the basics...

  1. Respond.  Businesses that respond to reviews do more business. It's as simple as that.
  2. Respond to all your reviews. It constantly astonishes us how many businesses only respond to negative reviews. A response takes minutes at the most, seconds usually.
  3. Be aware that you are speaking to every potential customer when you respond. Most businesses address the writer of the review and forget that they have an opportunity to impress all those who read it.
If this is as far as you read (and then act) you will already be doing a better job than 90% of businesses on the planet. Read on if you want to get into the top 1%!


A simple 'Thank you' or 'We're sorry' is better than nothing at all.  

Tailoring your response

It should not take long (and if it does it usually means the review in question has the potential to do real harm to your business if not responded to correctly). Here are some tips and examples.

This is a fairly 'standard' negative review. There is nothing the business can do - it is not against Google's T&Cs, so it cannot be appealed (consult us if you do have an unfair or inaccurate negative review, we will advise you if there is a chance that it may be taken down on appeal) - except respond, which the business has done.

But how could the response be refined? Perhaps something like this (if the customer is recognised):

Or this (if the customer is unknown to the business):

Points to note - 'Dos':
  1. Always begin by using the reviewer's name (as posted - not as you may know it internally). If the reviewer has posted as MickeyMouse123 then address them as such - that is the convention
  2. Write so as to impress any third-party (a potential customer) reading your response that you are represent a well-managed caring business. Expressions such as 'As soon as I saw...'
  3. Refer to the positive nature of the majority of your reviews
  4. Refer to the fact that it is company policy to proactively invite reviews
  5. Predict a positive outcome
  6. Always sign the review in person - never 'Customer services' or unattributed
  7. If you don't want to disclose an individual email address make sure your business has a dedicated address for review correspondence
 Points to note - Don'ts:
  1. Never disclose a customer's personal or financial details in a response: 'your credit card was declined' or 'your references were unsatisfactory'
  2. Don't get into a confrontational situation - it helps no-one, least of all your business, if you agrue in public (bear in mind that reviewers can edit their review - both ways)
  3. NEVER offer financial incentives - either for posting reviews or for modifying them - a comment along the lines of 'They offered me £x to delete this review' is difficult, if not impossible, to come back from

Responding to positive reviews

You would think this would be a piece of cake - what could go wrong? Well, in two words: 'missed opportunities'. 

Let's look at an example:

Here the business has responded - a massive step in the right direction. but could they have done better? Remember Google's invitation? Here goes...

See?  Don't miss the opportunity to refer to products and services that may be relevant to anyone reading the review and your response. And, again, do sign off with your name and position.

In summary

If you follow the advice contained in this article you will see more of the benefits of properly engaging with reviews, whichever platform they are on.