Friday, 23 August 2019

A reviews solution for your business? It is a question of 1, 2 or 3


Important note:

In the following example we have used estate agency, partly because they, as a profession, are as engaged with reviews as any other. But what applies to them applies equally to any other business – financial, medical, any professional business at all. Online retailers, on the other hand, would be well advised to remain with the review sites.



Your business's choice? One of the following...




Or...



Or...



Now, assuming that your choice is not going to based on anything subjective (the colour of the salesperson's shoes, or even unsupported promises by salespeople) but our old friend ROI, pure and simple, we assume you are going to conduct the following tests:

1. Visibility: which of the above three is the most visible in search?
2. Credibility: which has the most in the eyes of your prospective customers?
3. Compliance: which is least likely to get you into hot water with the regulators?
4. Longevity: which will you want to look good on in five or ten years' time?

After this, you will choose Google.

'Wait!'
 we hear - some of you - say. And then the following may be added...

'But... [insert name of major competitor] uses one of the others.'

'But... [insert name of reviews site] has promised me a massive leap in ROI as well.'

'But... Google has not tried to sell me their reviews system.'

And, perhaps most important of all...

'But... if I choose Google how can I be sure the reviews I get will be accurate and fair?'


Let's look at these, one by one:

Your competitor uses a review site:

They're wrong. Review sites are last year's solution. They evolved before Google came up with its own reviews solution. Heard of Beebo? Probably not (unless you were a teenager around the millennium); they were the No 1 social media site before Facebook happened along. If you want to be ahead of your competition with reviews: choose Google.

A big leap in ROI:

The only way to find out? Do it! You will know within weeks (a client of ours saw a twenty percent jump in clicks through to their website and a thirty percent rise in inbound calls from potential customers within six weeks of refocussing their efforts towards Google.

Google hasn't tried to sell me their system:

Of course they haven't, it doesn't earn them revenue. But PPC does, so choose a reviews site that's a Google partner and they will be very happy indeed.

On that point: some businesses choose a reviews site to get this - in organic search...



See the one with the stars next to it, that also happens to be heading natural search? Yes? That's our client!*

*Stars in search need three key ingredients:
  1. reviews hosted on your own website
  2. a regular flow of those reviews
  3. a web designer and/or SEO specialist that knows their business inside out
If you would like us to introduce you to a 'No. 2' please just ask.


How can I be sure the reviews will be accurate and fair?


Perhaps the most important question of all. Inaccurate and misleading reviews help no-one, not the reviewer, nor the people relying on the review to lead them to the right business nor the business itself. There's only one legal* way to make sure your reviews are accurate and fair and that's by having them moderated. Read this article to understand all about HelpHound's moderation system.

*Legal: we have all come across businesses that look great simply by virtue of selectively inviting those customers they know to be happy to write reviews, to Google or to any other platform. This is illegal. If you have any doubts whatsoever please read this analysis of the CMA regulations (the law).

Finally...

As with any other decision of this importance, we would encourage you to speak to an existing client, someone who has experienced the journey for themselves. To speak to a HelpHound client, just contact us, we will be happy to effect an introduction.






Monday, 19 August 2019

Hosting your own reviews is vital for SEO - more feedback from Google

Last week we had a very interesting discussion with a Google staffer. In this case we went through every constituent of a client's website, item by item. The Google expert stressed one factor above all: the value, from an SEO point-of-view, of hosting independently verified reviews on the website.

Independently verified reviews, he stressed, meant just that: reviews of the business in question posted to the business's own website via a recognised third-party. Not - he went on to add - Google's own reviews shown on the business's website or an aggregated feed of reviews from external sources.

In other words, this:





Or this:




Or this:



But not this:



Or this:



Or this:


In fact, Google positively discriminates against any kind of duplication - if its crawlers find content in two locations, they effectively ignore it from an SEO perspective. 


Conclusion

It is straightforward: host independently moderated reviews on your own site. They will count towards your SEO score and considerably improve your chances of appearing in the Google 3-pack:



And high up in organic local search:






Thursday, 15 August 2019

Repairing the damage: a case history

The problem with being 'sold' a solution, as opposed to 'buying' a solution, is often that the 'sold' solution will have done your business harm long before you notice that any damage. 

This was the case with a client of ours when we first met last year. They had taken a reviews site on board and - as far as they were concerned - everything was going swimmingly. But was it? Luckily a well-respected industry figure suggested they speak to HelpHound.


What did we find? Whenever we meet a prospective client for the first time we conduct a full audit. This covers...

  • The business's current exposure to Google reviews - or lack of it in many cases
  • The business's current exposure to reviews sites - this will be exhaustive, covering  general sites (sites that host reviews of any kind of business) such as Yelp, Trustpilot, Feefo and Facebook and industry-specific sites (in the case of estate agents this would be allAgents and GetAgent, in the case of hotels, Tripadvisor and the like)
  • Compliance - almost every business we meet has compliance issues. It is increasingly important for businesses to take professional advice to ensure that they comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law regarding reviews 
In the case of this estate agency - a group with twenty plus locations - we found the following:

1.  Their individual locations looked good on the reviews site they had been sold...




...but they should have better. Why? Because the reviews on this site are not moderated - and why should they be? After all, the site is designed for reviews of shirts and shoes - products, not sophisticated services. Without a reviews solution that incorporates moderation (see the end of this article for a full explanation) the business is always going to leave itself open to unfair criticism, and that leads to a misleading impression being created in the eyes of potential customers. 

2.  They were creating a universally negative impression across almost all their locations on Google...



...thanks to deflection. Deflection is where the business invites customers to post a review to the site of its choosing and its happy customers do as they are asked, but unhappy customers say 'No, I'll post it where it will hurt them most - by being the most visible - and that's on Google'.  For a full explanation see 'Further reading' below.


3.  They had compliance issues as a direct result of the reviews site they had adopted. The CMA's regulations specifically state that if a business invites any of its customers to write a review it must enable all of its customers to do so - at a time of their choosing. The following is an extract from the letter to businesses sent by the CMA back in August 2016...


Feefo is a closed site - that means that the business controls the timing of the invitation to write the review and therefore the timing of the review. That is non-compliant with the CMA regulations. More than that it is 


Our conclusion

The business had been sold the wrong solution - in this case, a solution designed expressly to meet the needs of online retailers, not high-value and complex transactional service businesses such as estate agency. It needed a solution that was expressly tailored to its own needs. 


Our advice

Our advice was simple: 

  1. Adopt a compliant solution
  2. Adopt a moderated solution 
  3. Focus on Google and the business's own website - get reviews to both

CMA compliance is a given in every piece of advice we ever give; moderation is essential if the reviews are going to be accurate and therefore helpful for potential clients; the business - and all its locations - needed to look good on Google, not on an independent site, simply because its prospective customers are all looking at Google; it needed reviews on its own website, not only in order to facilitate moderation but also to engage visitors to its site and to supply a vital SEO 'kicker' to help its locations up the local search ranks.


The results




The business's locations are now scoring an average well above 4 on Google. They look great on their own websites -and are providing the SEO kicker Google want there - and their reviews are accurate on both platforms. 


Further reading...

Monday, 12 August 2019

Woodford: A question for financial advisers and wealth managers...



This screenshot is taken from an article in Saturday's Times entitled 'The worst-performing funds, from St James’s Place to Woodford Equity Income'. It highlights ten funds with a total of funds under management in excess of £20 billion. There is no doubt whatsoever that some investors in these funds will currently be looking for a new home for their capital. Our question for the investment management industry is simple...

'Does it think it has a duty to help potential investors when they are looking for a safe home for their capital?'

Let us explain

You will have written to your clients explaining just how your firm is safeguarding their capital and addressing their objectives without involving them in the kind of risks we have seen bring about Woodford's downfall, just as you would have, given a similar crisis of confidence in, say, 2009, 0r 1999, or 1989?

But here we are in 2019. And there is a mechanism out there that was not available in 2009: Google reviews. But very few in the financial world have worked out just what a powerful message positive reviews are able to convey to existing and potential clients alike.

The advantages of Google reviews - from an investors point-of-view

Google reviews can be posted by anyone at any time; this gives them credibility. They are also highly visible - appearing front and centre in any given Google search.

Well managed, Google reviews provide potential investors with reliable first-hand corroborations of the business's own marketing. Here's an example - on the business's own website (you will be familiar with this kind of thing):





But reinforced by over forty opinions on Google (often before the potential client even arrives on the company website):






The advantages, from the fund manager's point-of-view

A reassured potential client/investor is much more likely to become a real-live client/investor. And these reviews (and the remaining 40-odd) are nothing if not reassuring.


So why do most financial advisers and wealth managers look like this on Google?





Or - in the overwhelming majority of cases - this:





How about the largest UK wealth manager?





We didn't have to look far to find this example. The first ten St James's Place offices in map/mobile search return the following:




Perhaps it is because they are aware that there are disadvantages inherent in engaging with reviews. Awareness of these, we suspect, has gone a long way towards the current state of inaction. We spoke to two businesses, one with a significant amount of reviews and one with none, and the answer became clear.

Human nature

There was either an extreme, albeit rare, case of optimism: 'We don't need reviews, all our clients come to us through word of mouth' or, uch more common, pessimism 'We would never consider inviting our clients to write a publicly visible review, you never know what they might say.'

The first one is difficult to answer, except to say that even those introduced by word-of-mouth have been known to consult the web, even if only to find contact details (and they will see reviews when they do).

The second was answered by the adviser with lots of reviews: 'We were extremely wary, so we dipped our toes into the water very gently; soon we realised that we should have faith in ourselves and our clients. We work hard to give them the best advice and service and they have recognised that in their reviews - both in terms of the scores and content.'

They did, however, go on to say that they were highly selective when it came to those clients they invited to write reviews. This is important. The CMA regulations clearly state that a business that proactively invites reviews must enable all its customers to do so. When we mentioned this to the businesses with reviews they were at first surprised, then concerned. The overwhelming reaction was 'so how can we possibly prevent unfair (negative) reviews being posted?'  Read on.

Moderation

Some of you will have been wondering 'if we do become proactive with reviews, where does HelpHound fit in?' HelpHound adds value in many ways, but by far and away the most important, in the context of Google reviews, is moderation.

When HelpHound clients invite customers to write reviews those reviews all come back via a HelpHound moderator. Our moderators read every review, post those that contain no contentious issues straight to the business's website (where they are available for all to see), but should they come across any that contain factual inaccuracies and/or statements likely to mislead anyone reading them they revert to the reviewer for 'clarification'. This invariably results in an accurate - and helpful to all parties - review.

Conclusion

All  Businesses - and that includes wealth managers and financial advisers - have everything to gain from adopting a proactive stance where Google reviews are concerned, with these caveats:

  • that they do so in compliance with the law - the CMA regulations
  • that they employ a moderated mechanism



Further reading...










Thursday, 8 August 2019

Google - it's past high time to address the quality of some of your reviews (and reviewers)

Last night a representative of a London City law firm appeared on Channel 4 news. One of our staff googled the firm. What did they see? This...





31 reviews. Those, in theory, should give any potential client a pretty rounded picture of the business and its services. Do they? You be the judge...




Our opinion? A resounding 'NO!'

Why? Because not a single one of these is written by someone that has first-hand experience of the services delivered by the business.

Local guides

A great idea - Google Local Guides - that has backfired on Google (and its users, both businesses and consumers). Google incentivises local guides - they earn points for every review or rating, as you can see from this:


Just how helpful is this review for someone looking for an international corporate lawyer?




Or this one?



Ratings

A lazy way to generate content at best. Maybe they work for pizza parlours, but they are worse than unhelpful for service businesses and their potential customers. One star - why? Five stars - why again?



Helpful?


What should Google do?

  1. Eliminate ratings
  2. Insist on a minimum character count for reviews - say 50
  3. Suspend local guides that 'review' businesses they have not used

What should the business do?

  1. Contact Google and ask for all these so-called reviews and ratings to be deleted
  2. Adopt a proactive review management programme, so they begin to look like this in search:




Helpful for potential clients? Generating more business for the business? We will leave you to answer the first question. Our answer to the second? You will see in your first Google My Business monthly report after joining. Here is one:





Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The CMA act against fraudulent use of reviews

Last month the CMA announced a 'programme of work':




Here at HelpHound we have been warning that this was in the pipeline since 2017. This article was, as you can see, published in April 2017:



And we seriously commend it to any readers who have yet to study its contents.

The first action by the CMA has already been taken: they have contacted Facebook and eBay regarding the sale of fake reviews.


Where next?

We cannot be sure, but if we apply basic logic then it will look something like this:
  1. address review providers (the reviews sites) that allow or encourage businesses to defy the regulations
  2. address high-profile businesses that manipulate reviews in order to give a false impression of their business

Both of these in more detail:

The reviews sites:

Reviews sites are under intense competition from Google reviews, and Google reviews are free, so what 'benefits' are review sites offering businesses? Here are just two:
  • 'Quarantine': in examples we have seen (and documented) the reviews site in question allows the business - the paying business 'member' - to challenge reviews. These reviews are then withdrawn from the site until the reviewer provides 'evidence' that the transaction under review actually took place. on the face of it, fair enough. In reality, this function is being exploited by businesses to a) make it harder for a consumer to get a negative review published, if at all and b) when that review is - eventually - published it appears well down the list of recent reviews of the business, and is therefore much less likely to be read
  • 'Closed reviews sites': sites that only allow reviewers to post a review if invited to do so by their paying business 'member'. This enables businesses to exclude customers from the process altogether.

Manipulation by businesses:

The law states - categorically - that if a business invites any of its customers to post a review it must allow all of them to do so. It also states that this function must be available at a time of the customer's own choosing (on the day of purchase, the next week, the next month or a year later).

There is much more on this here.

Another commonly used ruse: invite reviews of 'product or service A' and then use those reviews to promote 'product B' (an example: the business collects reviews of one product, in this instance a vacuum cleaner, it then runs a marketing campaign for a brand-new product - an electric bicycle - referencing the rating acquired for the cleaner). 

How about inviting the review right at the beginning of the relationship? Upon order or, in one prominent case, for an estate agent upon instruction?

Or invite those simply calling your premises to rate the quality of the call (rather than your full service)?


One simple question:

Ask yourself 'is everything we do with regard to reviews designed to ensure a full and unvarnished picture of our business in the eyes of our potential customers?'

If the answer is 'Yes, but...' then we humbly submit that you should be speaking to us.