Radio 5 Live Investigates devoted an hour to reviews sites on Sunday morning. While they initially focused on fake reviews and the commercial relationship between the reviews sites and their business customers, sites such as Trustpilot and TripAdvisor came in for serious criticism for some of their business practices.
The podcast is well worth investing an hour to listen to - not least because it reinforces what we have known for some time: that consumers rely on reviews - but our response cuts right through the whole argument: why use any other review mechanism in preference to Google? Google provide two free reviews solutions - one for products and one for services (the main Google reviews that you see when you search for any business).
We have been recommending Google to our clients for years now, and we are frankly amazed that businesses continue to use reviews sites when they have an option that is...
- more credible
- less easily gamed
- compliant with the Competition & Markets Authority regulations
The only conclusion we can come to is that the USPs of the reviews sites, varying as they may from one to another, all offer businesses 'advantages' and, as much as the representatives of Trustpilot and TripAdvisor strove to make out that those 'advantages' were legitimate - and we are not for a moment suggesting that the reviews sites have cynically built in mechanisms that disadvantage dissatisfied consumers - there are businesses out there who are doing their level best to take advantage of weaknesses in their business models.
It's always a good idea to read reviews written by the reviews site's sales staff on employment sites - they can be illuminating!
A listener called Laura called in about her experience with Trustpilot and their clients, the online estate agency PurpleBricks. She commented that whilst she had posted her two star review - and had that challenged almost immediately, with Trustpilot asking her for proof that she had been a bona fide client, which she had provided 'within an hour' - by the time her review was reinstated on the site it was 'many pages down the listing' and 'unlikely to be seen by all but the most persistent reader'.
Both sites interviewed by the BBC claimed to have algorithmic filters to spot fake reviews (The BBC bought their review on eBay). We tried that years ago - and it does not work. The only moderation that does work is human moderation. You cannot cut corners.
It is mechanisms like these that have us asking, time and again,'Why not use Google?' and there is a very clear answer: businesses are aware that unhappy consumers have massively more motivation to write reviews and unless they have some mechanism that allows them to question negative reviews they will have damage - often irreparable damage - done to their business's online reputation, and they look for someone to hold their hand.
Unfortunately the current crop of 'hand holders' cannot compete with Google...
So how does HelpHound do it?
If you look at the screenshot above you will see two sources of reviews - the business's Google reviews (and score and star rating) in the knowledge panel on the right and the business's own reviews (and score and star rating) at the top of organic search.
It may surprise you to know that the business in this example had only two Google reviews when they joined - and none of their own. They, just like almost everyone else, had looked at all the alternatives and decided against them - the reviews sites because of lack of visibility and Google because of the aforementioned risk of looking bad.
HelpHound - because of our 'manual' moderation - were able to reassure Greene & Co that the risk of factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews appearing, on their website or on Google, would be minimised (but not eliminated - see below and a detailed description of our moderation process here). And if you mine down into the review in both places, that is exactly what has happened.
HelpHound's moderation will not prevent a genuine negative review appearing, so the business must be on its toes where customer service is concerned, but it will mean that the content of the reviews will accurately reflect the business - and that benefits the consumer just as much as the business (arguably even more so).
So, back to our central theme: business's don't need a reviews site - all they need is good review management and Google. Simple really.
And one final point: as every businessperson knows, you get what you pay for in life. Helphound may be fractionally more expensive than the reviews sites (those moderators don't, unfortunately, work for nothing, after all) and we don't offer 'free trials', but we do offer a solution that works, producing concrete results the like of which you see illustrated above and throughout this blog - today, and as far as can possibly be predicted: for the future as well.
- The vital importance of employing a medium-to-long-term reviews strategy
- Why break the rules when their is no need?
- Greene & Co - a case history
- Reviews of Feefo on Trustpilot
- Reviews of Trustpilot on Reviews.co.uk