Thursday, 31 August 2017

It has to be Google...

One of our staff has a bit of a thing for Italian sports cars. His needed a repair, so he used a company called Chipsaway. 

Before doing so he consulted every resource on the web - the marque forum and all the review sites. Chipsaway's local franchisee had no reviews on Google, but was so convincing when he visited to quote he was given the job.

Afterwards our man was invited by Chipsaway HQ to post a review to TrustPilot, but he decided to write his review to Google. Why? For three main reasons:
  1. Chipsaway already had over 1500 reviews on TrustPilot
  2. TrustPilot's system did not allow a review to be posted of the local franchisee who actually carried out the work, just Chipsaway in general (although the review could, of course, have mentioned Jas - the franchisee who carried out the work, future customers would have had a devil of a job identifying Jas amongst the 1500+ reviews)
  3. Jas, the franchisee who carried out the work, had no reviews on Google

Today - five months later - our man received an update from Google (he's a local guide). What did that reveal?


 this image, viewed 1042 times in five months, is only ever seen by someone clicking on 'see photos' in the business's knowledge panel or reading the review in question

...that his photograph - and, we must therefore assume, his review (for his review remains the sole Google review of this business in this location) has been viewed over 1000 times. To put that in context: to see that photograph someone would have had to do the following:
  • search for 'Chipsaway Chiswick'
  • view their knowledge panel:

  • and then: click on 'See photos' 
  • or the review itself... see that photograph.

Now, Google guard the metrics of their page-views very carefully, but this is pretty conclusive evidence that Google reviews are reaching a very wide audience indeed.


So what do businesses need to do to be seen in 2017? We would humbly suggest that they need reviews on Google. Way over and above any other site.

Before that, to make sure that their reviews are factually accurate and not harmfully misleading - or even posted maliciously - they need HelpHound, which will also mean they have star ratings in natural search and a link in the Google knowledge panel under 'Reviews from the web'...

     1: the business's own reviews and star rating, collected with HelpHound; 2: Google reviews invited using HelpHound; 3: the business's own reviews - again - linking direct to the business's own website; 4: Google rich snippets gleaned from the business's Google reviews

...not to mention great independently verified reviews of their own on their own website. 

Thanks Jas; you did a great job, and we sincerely hope that this review has helped - it has certainly helped us understand just a little more about the power of Google reviews.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Resolution™ - managing inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews

One of the prime concerns we hear from every single potential client is "What can we do about negative reviews?"

And often we sense that the immediate response they would most welcome would be something along the lines of "we have a mechanism that will prevent them being published, either on your own website or anywhere else."

But that's not our response. Our response is guided by two things:
  • sensible business practice
  • the CMA regulations governing reviews

Let's look at both of these:

Sensible business practice

Just let's suppose, for argument's sake, we did have a system that magically filtered out negative reviews; what would the real-world impact of such a system be? 

We don't have to look far for our answer, as there are plenty of independent review sites that operate systems that favour the business, either by denying the reviewer the right to post a review unless specifically invited or by having a mechanism that allows the business to impose conditions on the publication of negative reviews.

Both these systems have the same medium to long-term effect. They drive dissatisfied customers to post to Google - the one site a business needs to look at its very best on. We see examples all the time. Here is just one...

 The same business - on an independent review site (L) and on Google (R). An increasingly common disconnect, almost always caused by the business inviting 'happy' customers to post to the reviews site, leaving 'unhappy' customers no option but to post to an open site - Google being the obvious choice

Sensible business practice dictates that whatever system a business adopts it must positively welcome all kinds of reviews from everyone and anyone. After all, Google does. 

What happens next is important. At HelpHound we value our own reputation as a force for good in the somewhat murky world of reviews, and to maintain that reputation means treating both sides of the review equation equally - we have to be seen to be fair and credible to both business and consumer, and we need to be seen to be adding value in both directions. That means that the business should be fairly and accurately represented through its reviews and that the consumer should be able to rely on those reviews as an aid to their purchasing decision.

Inaccurate reviews - in this case pricing - help neither business nor consumer

Fake reviews, of any kind, help no-one. Inaccurate or misleading reviews ditto.

HelpHound's Resolution™ to the rescue - for both parties

The full process is detailed in this article. To summarise, Resolution™ is designed to minimise the chances of fake, inaccurate or misleading reviews being published, as none of these benefits anyone.

Here's an example. This review was posted recently:

Under the terms of Resolution™ - understood by both business and their customer - the review is first submitted to the business for comment. In this case there had been misunderstandings between the two parties concerned, as well as miscommunication (there were language issues). Resolution™ allowed for private communication between both parties and, again, as of right, the customer is invited to post a review after that communication (which can be their original review, but seldom is). This is what they did post:

Some might say that it would be helpful for both reviews to be published (and there is nothing to stop the reviewer doing so) but that would be to assume we inhabit a perfect world in which everyone communicates in both directions every time. Far too often a consumer will post an inaccurate or misleading review - often straight to Google - leaving the business nothing to do but post its own response. But that harms the business's reputation unfairly, especially through Google's scoring system - an unfair or misleading 1* review, even responded to by the business, remains to impact the business's score - a shorthand guideline increasingly used by consumers to winnow out a shortlist (and by Google itself through its filter).

The CMA regulations

A full analysis can be found here. Two of the core principles of the CMA regulations (which have the force of law in the UK) are:
  • that the reviewer should be able to write a review at any time of their own choosing
  • that the business must do nothing to prevent that review being published
At HelpHound our clients incorporate a button like this on their websites so absolutely anyone* may write a review at any time...

And we promise to publish any genuine review. And this means that the reviewer can have an inaccurate or misleading review published. The fact that they seldom do is down to Resolution™.

And one final point: always remember that, whatever review system you employ, your competitors will often attempt to undermine it. If it favours the business at the expense of the consumer, or if it is seen to be non-compliant, that hands a significant weapon to them.

*This surprises some businesses t first, until it is pointed out to them that they often have many more stakeholders than they have customer email addresses: husband/wife/partner/neighbour/employee/potential customer/'friend' of customer/professional advisor of customer and so on...any of whom can write a review of the business to Google at the click of a mouse, and often do - unless they are given a more attractive alternative.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Estate Agents: What a half-year that was!

Every six months we highlight articles published in the previous half-year. The last six months have seen some of the most radical changes in the world of reviews, so here goes...

For our clients...

  • see our new API in action with Winkworth, Curchods and Burns & Webber - tailor-made solutions for professional review management

 So much of Google search is now given over to reviews - but only if a business has them!

For those yet to join...

Our API means you have total control over the look and positioning of your reviews on your website - complementing your branding at the same time as attracting new customers
The reviews tab - at top right under the business details - was introduced by Google in June to make reviews even more accessible on mobile

and finally:

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Google reviews continue to accelerate - the reasons

You may have noticed it with your own business, and you will almost certainly have noticed it when searching online for other businesses. We estimate that Google reviews are accelerating at a factor of between 1.5 and 3 a year. 

A glimpse into the future? Not for this business! More and more people are writing reviews now, especially Google reviews

As many of you know, we carry out audits on every business we meet - simply to understand their current exposure to - and engagement with - reviews. Just this week we have encountered two businesses, one in recruitment and one in estate agency, where the number of Google reviews has gone - in the last 12 months - from 91 to 263 and 29 to 86 respectively. 

What is driving this growth?

A number of factors, many of which we alluded to in this article almost exactly a year ago. Let's list them and highlight some that are new...
  • more people can physically write a review - Google just has millions more people signed up to one of more of their services (G+, Gmail, Youtube and so on)
  • more people have 'broken their duck' - once they've written one review they are far more likely to go on and write more
  • peer approval - writing reviews is becoming the norm. A common response to the complaint 'I've experienced bad service' these days is: 'Then write a review'
  • review site fatigue - it's the name we've given to a syndrome that we reckon is becoming more common by the day: people cannot be bothered to register with multiple review sites, one for a hotel, another for a plumber, yet another for their estate agent - now they just go to Google 
  • credibility - ever since Google began insisting that a review is attached to a Google account (you will still see old 'A Google user' reviews, but they can no longer be written) credibility has made a quantum leap. Google understands that consumers want credible reviews from real consumers and is determined to deliver them

Take a minute to read this review - it would be harmful if it were one amongst dozens, but it was the first review written about this business, and remained the only review of the business until a potential client mentioned that they had seen it. Now this business has many reviews from happy customers, but wouldn't life have been a whole lot less stressful for them if they had formulated a review management strategy before this review had been posted? At the very least conduct a search on your business once a week to see your business as those searching on Google see it.

  • businesses are driven to proactivity by a negative review - there's nothing like receiving a really well-crafted negative review to bounce a business into action - most often the wrong type of action (the major errors we see are invariably infractions of the CMA code)
  • NEW! The Google Filter - enabling consumers to filter businesses that score less than 4.0 out of searches - has undoubtedly prompted some businesses to act to increase the flow of reviews
  • NEW! Google Guides: Google prompts its Local Guides to write reviews - it knows where they have been...

  your business is featuring in multiple lists like this

Add to this the propensity for consumers to write negative reviews - the motivation is just so much greater...

Here's a typical example: this person has only ever written four reviews - estimates vary, but the general consensus is that people are nearly fifteen times more likely to write a negative review

Then we begin to see that businesses need to find a proactive strategy with regard to reviews.

Where next?

Today a business with twenty reviews looks good (as long as the reviews and resulting score are positive, of course).  

But soon a business with numbers like these will become the norm:

Review management cannot guarantee your business scores 4.9 - like this client of ours - but it will minimise the chances of harmful inaccurate or misleading reviews being posted 

And then there will be some real heart-searching in marketing departments across the world. Why? Because Google scores (and therefore the Google Filter) operate on a purely mathematical average. The impact of this is to make it increasingly an uphill struggle to 'correct' a bad score. Look at the numbers...

A business currently has a score of 3.0 from 10 reviews. How many five star reviews to get that score up to 4.0 (and therefore pass the filter)? Answer: 10 (and no 4, 3, 2 or 1 stars meanwhile!).

But a score of 3.0 from 100 reviews? The business will need a hundred five star reviews. And so on upwards. And that's only to get to 4.0; to really impress consumers your business should look to be scoring at least 4.5. You do the maths.

Our recommendation

One day your business is going to have this many reviews - and only proactive review management is going to ensure that your score is a fair and accurate representation of the service you provide.

Engage - and engage before your business finds that it is failing the Filter or, worse still - and we have seen this on more than one occasion - the phone stops ringing.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Reviews: How far behind can you afford to fall?

Here are screenshots, taken today, of two similar businesses we met over two years ago...

  When Greene & Co joined these three locations had zero, zero and three reviews respectively, very like the business on the right (and I'm sure they won't mind admitting - it's a matter of public record after all - that those three were not quite as complimentary!),

 ...the difference? Nothing discernible - except the one on the left has been a client of ours since then (and, apparently, keeps longer hours!).

The latest review from one of the four categoiries of reviews - buyer/seller/landllord/tenant - on a single branch. Just how reassuring do you think a review like this is for someone considering using this business?

We don't know about the second business, but we do know that Greene & Co a very pleased indeed to be where they are today - both on their own website and on Google. And not just because they look great in both places - which they do. They have found that, in consequence:
  • they get more enquiries, both direct and through their website
  • they win more instructions - their negotiators carry their reviews with them - usually on an iPad
  • they look great - in search and on their own website - by comparison with their competitors
  • office morale is boosted - even estate agents enjoy reading just how good a job they have done!
  • feedback has become a useful management tool
  • they can relax about 'having the right reviews solution' and, importantly, compliance with the CMA regulations

What made Greene & Co join*? In a single word? Trust. They trusted us with their reputation, and they trusted us to give them the best advice and follow that up with a professional service. And the ensuing results have proved us both right.

*Of course there was more, much more - and it's encapsulated in the articles on this blog and, right up-to-date, in this presentation

Five ways to get great reviews - and a great score - on Google...

...but only one of these will ensure that your business looks as good as it possibly can everywhere that matters, with no downside at all.

The five:
  1. Do-it-yourself - straight to Google
  2. Do-it-yourself - via an independent reviews site
  3. Do-it-yourself - via your own website
  4. Do it in conjunction with your web designer
  5. Do it with HelpHound

1. Straight to Google

Many businesses try this at first; after all, they run a great business and no-one will have anything negative to say about it, will they?

All customers are invited to post a review to Google (All - thus complying with the CMA rules) making sure they understand that they can post whenever the wish (also compliant).

To make absolutely sure the business is complying -  an invitation to post a review to Google is added to its website and at the bottom of all its email communications.

Pros: as compliant as any business can be without outside - independent - help

Cons: no independently verified reviews on the business's own website - and the slightly nerve-wracking feeling that even those that do rate the business 5* may include inaccurate or misleading statements in their review.

2. Use an independent reviews site

There are certainly plenty to choose from - many hundreds at the last count. There are all-encompassing sites like Yelp and specialist - industry specific - sites like TripAdvisor. The core principle of most of these sites is that the business invites their customer to post a review and then the site adds value to the reviews of that business by - in some ways - adding credibility and visibility.

This is where the issues arise...

Pros: it's better than doing nothing - possibly.

Cons: let's look at those twin advantages. First - credibility: to be credible the solution must, at the very least, comply with the CMA rules (they are analysed in full here, but, at their simplest they state that a customer must be able to write a review of the business in question at a time of their own choosing). Somewhat surprisingly we still see non-compliant solutions being marketed to business daily.

Secondly: visibility. Independent reviews sites used to show up well in search, but over the last three years their visibility has decreased - usually at the expense of Google reviews. Google has been very clever: they still display a link to 'Reviews from the web' in the knowledge panel and the independent site will show somewhere in search, just not quite as often as it once did and not quite as prominently. As a business this shouldn't worry you - it's far more a disadvantage for the review sites than it is for businesses, who can always find a solution that plays to Google's strengths. 

There's a 2.b we see more often as time passes - and it plays fast and loose with the independent sites and Google. The business simply asks its customers to post to a less-than-prominent independent site and then asks those customers that have posted a five star review to copy their review to Google. We first noticed this in 2016 when a large estate agency went from scoring 2.1 on Google with less than a dozen reviews to scoring over 4.0 from over fifty reviews within the space of a month. If a business's score on Google is at odds to its score on a site it pays - we look harder (and if we look harder, you can bet that business's more savvy competitors will do so as well - eventually).

More reading: Our current position on independent review sites 

3. Via your own website

This is where terminology is confusing (and confused, sometimes less than innocently). There are two words commonly used - 'review' and 'testimonial' - and they have increasingly well-defined meanings.

A 'review'... independently verified, by an outside agency.

A 'testimonial'... chosen by the business and displayed by that business.

These two definitions are increasingly enshrined in law and regulation; in the UK by the aforementioned CMA.

There are no 'pros' and 'cons' here, just 'legitimate use' and otherwise. If you control the content of what your customers are saying about you on your own website you cannot describe those comments as 'reviews', they are testimonials and should be described as such.

4. In conjunction with your web designer

We sometimes see web designers promoting their own 'reviews systems'. There are at least two variants: the first allows the business to invite 'reviews' to its own website and display them as such; the second allows the business to display chosen reviews from either Google or an independent reviews site. In both instances the fact that the business effectively controls the reviews that are displayed invalidates the mechanism - and we have yet to encounter such a system that would satisfy the CMA regulations

5. HelpHound

Here we are again! HelpHound - being review managers, not a reviews website, always has its clients' best interests at heart - and if that means...
  • having independently verified reviews displayed on your own website (which it almost always does)
  • having reviews on Google (which it generally does)
  • having reviews on Facebook (which it does, more and more)
  • having reviews on important review sites (TripAdvisor is an obvious example for our clients in hospitality)
  • ensuring you are compliant with CMA regulations (essential)
  • acting in the way you would expect any of your other professional advisors - your accountant or your lawyer - to act, being proactive with advice to keep your review management strategy current and effective
...then that is what we will do for your business.

Five key questions to ask anyone proposing a reviews solution for your business

Here's a list of questions for anyone proposing a reviews solution:
  • Show me an example of what a client of your looks like in a Google search for their business - this is what they should look like: first on a desktop...

  A great Google score - 4.8 - from a significant number of reviews, leading to three great rich snippets, then their own reviews: a great rating - 4.7 this time - shown, with stars (top left) and under 'Reviews from the web' (centre right, in the knowledge panel)
...and on mobile...

 Much the same (just a different layout - with their own reviews top left). Note the rich snippet from a Google Local Guide - identified by the star on their avatar.
  • Show me what a client of yours looks like in a general search - [business] + [location] (e.g. [estate agent] + [Kennington]):

  Note the Rating - in natural search for the desktop (bottom left) and mobile (bottom right) - both derived from the business's own reviews, reinforcing the impression already created by the Google rating and reviews

  • Show me what a client of yours looks like on their own website:

 Everything a potential customer needs to reassure themselves that the reviews are genuine: the 'write a review' button, a significant amount of reviews and an explanation of HelpHound's role - all just a click away

  • Show me where a customer of a client of yours is able to write their review (see the button in the screenshot above)
  • Show me where your clients promises to publish every legitimate review they receive:

 This 'promise to publish' under our logo is what gives the business's reviews credibility - and is vital for compliance with the CMA regulations

There's a supplementary you might also ask "Who owns the reviews - you or us?" After all, they are your customers - you should own the reviews.

And finally...

Speak to one of us and then get professional review management working for your business, getting it looking just like the one in the example above.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Google reviews - encourage your customers to post images

Google tell reviewers just how many times their photos have been viewed. Here are some examples:

A restaurant...

...with over three thousand views in three months.


A car repair service:

A shop:

A hotel:

An art gallery:

Here is an example of the weekly statistics Google send to their Local Guides*:

The message?

Encourage your reviewers to post images. They get seen - and aren't they sometimes 'worth a thousand words'?

N.B. *Be aware of the new Google points system - Local Guides are motivated by it.

BBC Watchdog: Purplebricks references reviews

Transparency works in every direction. We were interested to see that the CEO of Purplebricks referenced its TrustPilot reviews more than once when defending his business on Watchdog last night. We make no comment on TrustPilot's solution to reviews here - our views on independent review sites are well known - but we will take this opportunity to reinforce how a HelpHound client might respond if they were found in a situation where they had to defend their reviews mechanism.
To be completely credible, a reviews solution must fulfill the following criteria:

1. The reviewer must be able to write a review whenever they choose

 If you don't have a button like this on your website your reviews system is probably non-compliant

Before they become a customer, during the time they remain a customer, after they have ceased to be a customer.

2. The reviewer must retain the right to have their review published at any time - even if it is factually incorrect.

 If you don't offer consumers the opportunity to write a review - and have it published - whenever they want, they will find somewhere that does

The business will always have the right-of-reply, but it cannot be seen to be filtering or editing reviews.

3. The review system must be compliant with the Competition and Markets Authority's regulations

These regulations have the force of law - and we see so many independent solutions that are non-compliant. The onus on compliance is on the business - it is no defence to say 'But I was told [by the review company]...'

4. Anyone must be able to write a review

 At the risk of repeating ourselves...

Some solutions pride themselves on 'customer verification' - requiring the reviewer to prove that they have had dealings with the business. This, at first sight, looks like a great idea - but it does not work in practice; anyone who has had any experience of your business, officially a 'customer' or not, is a stakeholder in your business's reputation. If they cannot write their review via your reviews solution they can via Google - so if you want to drive them to air their negative opinions on the most read reviews site in the world use a 'verified customer' solution.

Further reading:

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

HelpHound - the five questions most asked

There are nearly a million words in the 660 articles on this blog, so there is probably an article addressing every aspect of reviews and review management anyone can think of, but it occurred to us that almost all of this can be distilled down into the answers to the five questions we are invariably asked when we first meet a potential client - so here they are:

1. How can we be sure we won't be risking our business's reputation?

This is the first, and most important, consideration for most businesses; while all good businesses want to see lots of positive comments they also welcome constructive criticism, but we are all well-aware of the damage a negative review can do, especially to a high-value service business such as wealth management, recruitment or estate agency. Put simply: a review criticising the colour of a pair of shoes is relatively harmless (potential customers will 'read through it') but a review - malicious or not - unfairly attacking a business's core values is potentially extremely harmful, in both the short and long term.

There are two aspects of HelpHound's service that our clients - and their customers - find reassuring: the first is Resolution™, our mechanism that serves potentially misleading or inaccurate reviews to the business pre-publication. We estimate that this enables businesses to manage over 95% of such reviews, including nigh-on 100% of identifiably malicious or fake reviews by competitors and disgruntled ex-customers and staff (it happens!) - and is equally welcomed by consumers - they don't want to make fools of themselves, on your website or on Google.

The second is our appeals service: if a business has a pre-existing review on a public platform (Google or TripAdvisor, for example) that potentially contravenes the platform's terms and conditions - or violates common law - we will provide professional advice on how best to appeal it.

Put simply: HelpHound is by far the safest way to engage with reviews.

2. Why shouldn't we just use an independent review site?

Which one? And, just as importantly, will it still be the right choice in five years' time?

Independent review sites come in all shapes and sizes, from the likes of Yelp and TripAdvisor which bestride the planet to small industry specific sites like AllAgents (estate agency in the UK only) and Feefo (online retail in the main - again, UK specific) and many serve a purpose for businesses that have specific requirements. We tend to advise against most on the following criteria:
  • visibility: Google dominates, so you need reviews there - and on your own website
  • ownership: why add value for an independent review site when you should be owning your own customers' reviews yourself (data is money in the bank nowadays)?
  • compliance: it is important to comply with the CMA regulations and many independent sites do not - the onus is on the business to comply (HelpHound will ensure you do)
  • long-term success: reviews are here to stay, you don't want to be changing systems every year or so, discarding valuable reviews as you go
If an independent review site is part of the solution for our clients, rest assured that we will recommend it, as we do with Facebook for nearly all of our clients and TripAdvisor and some of the other influential OTAs for our clients in hospitality.

Put simply: professional review management has all of the advantages of an independent review site but none of the disadvantages.

3. Can we do it ourselves? 

 Showing independently verified reviews on your own website is a proven driver of both enquiries and new business

You can always invite testimonials to your own website, they are a universally recognised marketing tool, but 'reviews' (legally defined as being verified by a third-party) are so much more powerful, because they carry so much more credibility with consumers.

The star rating, score and number of reviews  under this business is taken from the HelpHound reviews hosted on the business's own website - owned by the business itself, forever

To gain a star-rating in organic search like this you will need externally verified reviews. And the way you collect and display those reviews must be compliant. Here are two extracts from the CMA regulations...

 This is an extract from this article about compliance with the CMA regulations

You can invite reviews directly to an external site - Google or TripAdvisor or Yelp or any other 'open' reviews site, but to comply with the law you must invite all your customers. 

  It's easy to get a great Google score like this - you can have it with just one review - but for credibility you will need reviews in numbers, just like this, and HelpHound will give you the confidence, the tools and the support to do so

So many businesses have managed to look next to perfect on Google by hand-picking happy customers (let's face it, if a business cannot find twenty of those it will be struggling anyway, but 200+?) without realising that what they have done is in contravention of the CMA regulations - and they have the force of law.

Put simply: why deny your business the benefits of professional review management to save £tens a month?

4. What is it going to cost - in time and training as well as cash? 

Straight answer? From £60 a month (for up to 100 customers) - scaling upwards dependent on traffic - hotels, for instance, are £1 a room per month. There are volume discounts for multiple branches/locations.

We will provide you with all the training and support, both initial and ongoing, that you will need to make a success of your membership. Bear in mind that an unsuccessful member is the worst kind of advertisement for HelpHound and we're determined that won't happen.

Put simply: we want you to succeed, and we will make every effort to make sure you do.

5. Are there any guarantees?

If we don't pay for ourselves within six months of your business joining - and it's our fault (in other words: you've done as we suggest) we will refund you every penny.

You only have to look at our existing clients to see their success stories - see 'Further reading' below - and please speak to them too. One of our main 'guarantees' is the fact that we don't insist on a contract at outset (unlike many independent review sites!) - we want you to prove HelpHound works for your business  without any ties.

Put simply: join now, you have nothing to lose. 

In summary

 Professional review management doesn't just get you reviews - it gets you great reviews, the kind that attract great customers

Businesses join HelpHound so they can demonstrate their prowess and professionalism to potential customers in what has now been proven beyond doubt to be one of the most effective drivers of new business there is: effective and professional review management.

It's nice to look good in search; it's nice to look great - in the eyes of your own customers - on your website; it boosts staff morale if they see compliments in writing, and that also aids recruitment, but it's great to do more business as a direct result of all those factors combined!

Further reading:

and finally: