Friday 13 July 2018

Why are online estate agencies using reviews sites, not Google reviews?

Regular readers will know our views on two important issues...

  1. Reviews sites
  2. Killer reviews

...but we are going to revisit them here for the benefit of all. The BBC, as some may know, has taken an interest in what the marketplace calls 'online' estate agents (Purplebricks featured on Watchdog recently). It was reported today that a BBC researcher is asking - via Twitter - for anyone with experiences of using 'online' estate agency. Should anyone doubt the angle the BBC is taking they would do well to note the title of the programme the researcher is working for: 'Rip-off Britain'.

Now, all disruptors come in for criticism - not everyone liked/likes Laker Airways, or Google, or Uber, or AirBnB - some of it undeniably justified (growing pains?) but there are aspects of the marketing practices adopted by some of these businesses - the online estate agencies - that bear further scrutiny, and that's what this article is all about - from the reviews perspective, anyway.

1.  Reviews sites

We have one simple question for these businesses (the online agencies, not the reviews sites): 'Why not ask your customers to post to Google?'

 All our clients' customers are asked to post to the business's own website (that's where Google sources the stars and rating at top left, as the 'Reviews from the web', centre right) and Google - helpful, for both business and consumer? We certainly think so.

Google provides a highly visible reviews platform, much more visible than any reviews site (see the screenshot above) and totally dominant in mobile search. So we are at a loss as to why any business would choose any other solution. Unless, that is, the reviews sites are offering 'added value' over and above Google. But they are not; what they are offering, consciously or not, is a mechanism that has the potential to be abused by the businesses in question.


You run a business. You don't want inaccurate or misleading comments appearing anywhere your potential customers may be looking - that's fair enough, but the key words we have used are fundamental: 'inaccurate or misleading'. But never a day passes here at HelpHound that we don't come across a business that is guilty of abusing reviews - mostly out of fear, sometimes cynically. Here are the most common...
  • 'Cherry-picking' - inviting only 'happy' clients to write a review - against the CMA regulations
  • 'Friends and family' - (actually, more commonly - staff). inviting only sure-fire bets to write a review - also against the CMA regulations
Then we move onto the reviews sites...
  • 'Invitation only' reviews sites - sites where the business controls who writes the review and when it is written - what we call 'closed' reviews sites: against the CMA regulations. These specifically state, in their core rules, that any reviews mechanism must be open for the customer - any customer - to write a review at a time of their own choosing
  • 'Malicious appeals' - some reviews sites will suspend reviews pending appeal. This function was no doubt introduced by the reviews sites with the best of intentions. The flaw (and abuse) begins when you understand how some businesses use this function: by appealing just about every negative review, knowing what the reviews sites will do next (and how they differ from Google). If you appeal a Google review, the review stands until Google are satisfied that the business has grounds for appeal - only then will it be taken down (and, trust us, the appeals process is rigorous). We know of at least one reviews site that will suspend a review immediately it is appealed by the business and only reinstate that review upon proof-of-purchase by the reviewer. This behaviour is also non-compliant with the CMA regulations.

Important note: using a non-compliant reviews mechanism has far-reaching implications for businesses...
  • the CMA has the power to impose significant fines - and will use that power
  • those fines come with publicity
  • competitor businesses - if and when they become aware that a business is using a non-compliant solution - will draw potential clients' attention to that fact in negotiations
  • it leaves an indelible paper-trail - there for all (CMA/competitor businesses) to see, forever

Is there any solution?

More and more now we are meeting businesses that are aware of the CMA regulations - and have therefore decided to retreat from any reviews solution ("if we have to invite everyone, then we would rather invite no-one"). They understand the power of reviews to drive business, but they (quite rightly) have weighed this against the possibility that the solution they choose may be non-compliant. 

How does HelpHound square this circle?

Every HelpHound client has a 'Write a Review' button on their website - enabling anyone to write a review at any time. This sometimes concerns businesses until they realise that if they don't allow unhappy customers to write to them (where the review will be moderated, at least) they will take a much less desirable alternative - they will write their review to Google

By focusing first on our clients' own websites - we enable them to invite reviews there (from anyone at any time - therefore compliantly). At this point all reviews are moderated and with any that are inaccurate or potentially misleading - that crucial phrase again - we invite the business and the reviewer to engage with each-other, pre-publication. Both know that the reviewer has an absolute right to have their review - whatever its content - published, but in practice the system works wonderfully well, for both parties. The company is saved the pain caused by an inaccurate or misleading review, the reviewer is almost always grateful that they have avoided being corrected in public (via either HelpHound's or Google's response mechanism), and, perhaps most important of all, consumers who read the reviews (and use the business's Google score as a guide - as so many now do) are not misled one way or the other.

At this point - after the review has been published on the business's website - the reviewer receives an automated invitation from HelpHound to copy their review to Google (it could so easily be a reviews site instead, but why would it be?).


We would like to say that results are universally great, and they almost always are. Our clients, by definition, tend to be good businesses run by committed management. But we cannot make a bad business look good - it's one of the reasons that we are popular with businesses and consumers alike: if a business looks good on HelpHound it is good! As one client - in estate agency, no less - said to us 'HelpHound is the gold standard - and we wouldn't have it any other way; we look good on HelpHound because we are great at what we do for our customers.'

Good businesses will thrive with proper professional review management

But that's not the only feedback we get from businesses - there is another positive benefit (that feeds through to the consumer): 'As soon as we introduced HelpHound to our staff they all upped their game - because they knew they were going to be reviewed.'

The key, though, is that HelpHound is currently the only viable solution for high-value service businesses such as estate agency, wealth management, accountancy, legal and medical services - where the accuracy of reviews is paramount for everyone concerned.

Further reading...
  • Fear - don't be afraid of adopting review management for your business
  • Review aggregators - moderation is so important, that's why aggregator systems - which, by definition lack moderation (if there's a damaging review on Google or Facebook an aggregator will show it on your site) - harm their clients reputations in the long run
  • Independent review sites - this article is nearly two years old - how right were we then?

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