Thursday, 23 May 2019

HelpHound - index of essential reading

This index is primarily intended for those new to the world of reviews and review management, but it is just as useful for our clients to act as a resource for refreshing knowledge. It will be updated as and when we publish a fresh article that meets our criteria for inclusion...
  1. Essential reading - legal and compliance, for instance 
  2. Case histories - we all learn from each other's experiences
  3. Success stories - like case histories, but all about how to maximise financial returns
Note for those thinking they have reviews and review management 'under control': please read the first article under each heading; we have yet to meet a business where we could not add value to their existing review management processes.

Legal and compliance

Nearly every business we meet - certainly those that are already proactively inviting reviews - is in breach of one or more of the UK government relating to reviews. It doesn't matter how great you look, if you got there by breaching CMA regulations you will need to take action.

Case histories

There is something for everyone to learn from each of these experiences.

  • Deflection explained: since Google entered - and began to dominate - the reviews sphere there has been an unintended side-effect for businesses committing to sites such as Trustpilot or Feefo: looking demonstrably worse on Google, something we christened 'deflection' because negative reviews are being 'deflected' to Google.
  • We published 'No better proof' quoting five clients over two years ago now; all five are still clients and all five look even better in competitive searches now than they did back in March 2017.

Success stories 

By far and away the best way to learn: from the hard-won experience of others. If, once you have read one or more of these, you feel you would benefit from speaking to the client concerned, just speak to us and we will arrange it.

  • Not long to wait: nearly twenty percent more calls and nearly thirty percent more visits to this clients website the month after full implementation.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Top secret! An amazing case history

Why 'top secret'? Read on and we are sure you will understand.

Company 'A' - a home counties estate agency - joined HelpHound in 2017. Over that period it has seen its market share - as measured by Rightmove - increase from under twenty percent to over forty percent. The fact that they attribute the extra ten thousand visits a month they are seeing to their review management strategy must be helping too!

What have they done differently - other than joining HelpHound? Nothing - they have carried on with all their other marketing as before.

So let's see what they looked like when they joined, and what they look like now...

On Google in June 2017...


On their own site...

And here's an extract from an email from another twenty+ branch client; they have analysed their reviews in detail, branch-by-branch, since joining last year:

HelpHound's review management - it's about so much more than just looking great.

Further reading...

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

All businesses should learn the lesson of Richer Sounds

Here's a link to the full article for those who subscribe to the Times; when you have read our piece we suggest you ask a simple question: 'If Julian Richer were to see our business in a Google search, would he pick up the phone?'

Richer Sounds, founded in 1978 by Julian Richer, is notoriously one of the most profitable private businesses in the UK. Its original store under the arches at London Bridge station made the Guinness Book of World records for the 'highest sales per square foot of any shop in the world.

In an age of 'stack 'em high' and self-service check-outs Richer Sounds have taken on the likes of Comet and Dixons and won, and not just by a short head: they have thrived in a sector where just about every other business has suffered.

So what has been Julian Richer's secret? Nothing except customer service, owning his premises and reviews.


Richer Sounds embraced customer 'reviews' way before the web arrived (when we first encountered them back in the 1990s they were inviting customers to post handwritten comments of the reverse of the store's copy of the customer receipt)

Since before the advent of the web Richer Sounds' staff have been asking every single customer for feedback. When the web and reviews sites arrived Richer sounds were quick to adopt them; when it became obvious that Google reviews were where it's at, Richer Sounds began inviting customers to review them there.

And the result: from Chelsea to Cheltenham Richer sounds scores well and looks great. And in search:

Dominant in both the 3-pack (map search) and leading organic search (bottom).

We have already mentioned that staff are encouraged to get reviews. Actually, Richer Sounds go further than that, and reward staff financially for getting reviews to Google (nothing at all wrong with that, as long as there is no cherry-picking or gating involved, which there is not at Richer sounds - it makes sound sense from every business perspective).

If Richer Sounds were to adopt HelpHound? Three things would happen...

1.  They - and their potential customers - would see stars and scores in organic searches, like this:

And this (competitive local search):

Above you see just three of the dozens of businesses in that location; the top three in a competitive local search - perhaps the most important search of all - which business would you rather your business looked like? The one that has no score or reviews? The one that has 4 reviews and is rated at 3.8 out of 5? Or the one that scores 4.7 from 177 reviews and appears in the map search?

2.  All their reviews would be moderated - to prevent misleading or factually inaccurate reviews being published.

3.  Their SEO would be reinforced. They would have an added 'kicker' for Google to include in their ranking algorithm, so, all being equal, they would rank higher for any given search, just like Winkworth above.

So why don't they?

They would be more than welcome, but, strictly speaking, they fall outside HelpHound's target marketplace. That marketplace? High-value complex transactional businesses and services such as the legal, accounting and medical professions, financial services and estate agency.

But that should not stop businesses in those areas from learning from Julian Richer's success: adopt a professional and proactive review management policy. Get reviews to your business's own website (for SEO, moderation and those who visit there) and to Google (for those searching for a great business to use).

Finally - a quick note on the legal/compliance aspects of reviews:

It is illegal - in the UK at least - to selectively invite customers to write reviews (or select which reviews the business publishes). So many businesses are currently exposing themselves to sanction by the Competition & Markets authority by doing just that, mostly because they know they need to look great on Google but don't understand there are ways of doing so in compliance with the law. This article is essential reading for any of you that are currently in that position.

For those readers who are not, but want to understand the positive impact - in hard cash terms - that review management will have on their businesses we recommend you read this case history.

Monday, 13 May 2019

A review that proves the value of reviews!

Read this review...

'On the basis of their online reviews'. That really says it all. And ROI? less than £100 a month to look like this...

Without having to invest in PPC! 

And this...

If you look under that last review you can see just how many people 'found [that] review helpful'.

And, speaking of ROI, here are the highest and lowest asking prices for a two-bed flat in Pimlico today according to Rightmove:

At 1.5% commission? £96,750 and £7,500 respectively.

Further reading...

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Where is Google heading next? Reviews may be about to get a whole load more important

Google recently sent out a questionnaire to many of its Google My Business contacts - you may even have received one. But what was underlying the questions Google is asking business owners?

We don't know for sure. But Google dropped more than a handful of hints. Let's look at just a few...

Straight away Google reference their Google My Business knowledge panel. Up until now, as most readers will know, the contents of this panel have been listed by Google for free.

We were interested to see that Google - which never does anything by accident - has chosen to use a business with a) very few reviews and b) a pretty awful score (3.3 equivalent to having one five-star review, one three-star review and one one-star review). 

Is this in any way the kind of business Google may be thinking will be slap bang in the target market for whatever is coming next? Read on, and we'll see.

Google then asks what features you might like to see... 

The ones we were particularly interested to see were...
  • 'Remove ads from your business profile'
  • 'Offers' - currently free
  • 'Featured review' - may cause regulatory issues in the UK
  • 'Automated response for reviews' - Wow! Google knows your business that well?

There is more...

  • 'Google search results placement' - sounds remarkably like Google ads to us
  • 'Get leads from competitor profiles' - are Google seriously suggesting that they will feed one business leads from a search for another?

Now we move to the multiple choice section...

That asks businesses to choose which features they would like (pay for?).

Delete that last question mark!

Our concerns

Google and its parent company Alphabet are US-based. We are concerned that some of the features listed here, especially those that would appear to offer businesses the facility to promote [positive] reviews, may be in contravention of the UK CMA regulations. 

Our advice to our clients

Whatever Google finally decide to do, we strongly advise our clients to do their very best to maximise the number of reviews they have, both on their own websites and on Google. Businesses that have critical mass in terms of Google reviews - something we tend to loosely define these days as between 50 and 100 reviews*, with a score of at least 4.6 out of 5 - will not find themselves in the 'Handy Cleaners' position - where they need to resort to other mechanisms to attract business.

Further reading...

Here's the full Google survey And here's a detailed analysis, also courtesy of SEO agency Optimisey. 

*And don't break the rules in a headlong rush to achieve these. Cherry-picking (selecting satisfied customers to write reviews) and gating (pre-qualifying customers to ensure the business only asks 'happy' customers to write a review) are both illegal in the UK. Here are the CMA's rules and our analysis of them.

Monday, 29 April 2019

What do so many schools fail to grasp the massive opportunity Google reviews present?

This article was prompted by a piece in yesterday's Sunday Times about the head of Ebbsfleet Academy...

Whilst any rational human being could only have sympathy with the situation Ms Colwell has found herself unable to cope with any longer, there is maybe more to this story than meets the eye. Let's do what any prospective parent (or pupil or teacher) considering this school might reasonably be expected to do - let's look at its Google reviews.

Here's the Academy's headline score...

And here are just three of their seventeen one star reviews...

We're betting your first reaction, like ours, was 'why not address the school directly?' but we now live in an age of social media, like it or not. Our 'second' reaction?

Why has the school not engaged - and responded to these reviews? 'Why should they?' we hear some of you ask. Here's our response...

Whatever you may think of the truth or otherwise of these reviews, the motives of the people that wrote them and the rights or wrongs of the contentions contained in them, the school has done a disservice to all its stakeholders by not responding to them. By addressing - responding to - the reviews in an entirely positive manner the school would achieve the following...
  1. The reviews state many negative things about the school, its teachers, its attitude to discipline and its academic record. All of which can be addressed - for the benefit of the reviewer and, importantly, all those reading the review.
  2. By responding the school will show that it cares about what is being said about it and what impression is being created by one of the most powerful opinion-formers in the world today: Google reviews.

How about this - in response to Charlotte King?

"Dear Ms King,

I am saddened to see this review. Since my appointment as headteacher both I and my staff have addressed the very points you have detailed and, whilst I accept that we still have challenges ahead, we know that significant progress has already been made. Academic results are the best for seven years and incidents of violence and abuse, by both pupils and parents, are at a record low. Both our uniform and detention policies, which I accept are not universally popular (it is in the nature of teenagers to 'kick against' such discipline sometimes, I am sure you will agree) have been proven to work over the years since they were implemented at Ebbsfleet, as they have been at other similar schools. You also mention the difficulty you have in contacting reception; in this instance I am sure you will understand, with over a thousand parents, there will be times when reception is engaged. You have both the school email address and the mobile number of your son's heads of year and I would encourage you, and any other parent reading this to use those methods of communication where possible.

I also would urge you to come in and discuss the issues facing your son after such a short time at Ebbsfleet, I have asked [head of year] to make an appointment as soon as we can find a time that suits you. In the meantime please do not hesitate to email me directly on 

Now, to a school at the other end of the spectrum: private...

This school has made a significant investment in promoting itself to future parents. This is an Instagram advertisement:

This advertisement is costing the school around £1 per click - and what would most prospective parents, seeing this in their Instagram feed, do? A quick Google search? Highly likely, we would say, for what better guide to a school than the opinions of past and present parents and pupils (the school even references that in the strap-line of their ad)? So let us see just how much of a 'hit' the school is...

If this were an exam in maximising social media impact to support one's advertising we are not so sure the examining board would be awarding an A*. In an end-of-term report one might even expect the oft-used phrases 'could do better' or 'could try harder' to feature (although they have made an effort on Facebook, but no reviews there since 2016, and now Facebook have suspended their reviews function).

Everyone involved - parents, teachers and pupils but most important of all future parents and pupils, need schools to engage with modern methods or referencing, foremost among which are Google reviews.

So what should schools be doing? Here is a strategy that will achieve the ends that both school, parents and pupils both want and need:
  1. Invite all stakeholders to review the school by posting their comments to the school's own website
  2. Moderate those reviews to ensure factual accuracy* 
  3. Publish those reviews
  4. Invite everyone who has posted a review to the school's website to copy it to Google

Like this...

How helpful are these?

*Moderation: is essential to ensure that reviews are factually accurate for the benefit of all: the school, its pupils, its parents, its staff, prospective parents and pupils and the reviewer themselves. It is the answer to the question we pose in the headline of this article: schools are rightly afraid of an unmoderated reviews environment (which, ironically, is what they get if they do not engage with Google reviews) - there's more on this important topic here.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Reviews websites reviewed - some worrying results

Here we are going to take as dispassionate look at reviews websites as we can. This article forms the third part of our recent series of pieces aimed at driving reform of the reviews market in the UK - links to the other two articles can be found at the end of this piece.

Trustpilot: On Google...

Consists of….

5*        5
4*        2
3*        -
2*        -
1*        44

Further analysis…

The 5* reviews:

One of another business altogether...

One extremely tongue-in-cheek – we are assuming!

Now Trustpilot are immigration consultants!

 Next: ratings – not reviews – we would question their worth.

The first of these 4* reviews is from someone that wants a job with Trustpilot (only four stars?).

The second would appear to be for some kind of ‘technical service’, possibly another review of a Trustpilot client posted in error.

The remainder are all one star reviews, mostly conveying the same sentiments...

On their own site, where you might expect to make more sense...

Seriously? If nearly a quarter of your reviews rated your business 'poor' or 'bad' – on your own platform - would you begin to worry?

You don’t have to look far for reviews like this…

Now: on (a rival platform):

A Google search on ‘reviews of Trustpilot’ returns this…

 So we click through, to find this…

Then we close the pop-up warning, to see this…

Followed by a breakdown…

That shows that less than ten per cent of reviews rate Trustpilot at five stars.

So we read some of the five star reviews that have apparently – according to – been ‘written by Trustpilot employees’. Here are the most recent examples of five star reviews of Trustpilot on…

Forgive us, but they don’t look like Trustpilot employees’ reviews. They look like genuine reviews of other businesses that have been mistakenly left on Trustpilot’s listing.

So – becoming increasingly mystified – we check for reviews of on Trustpilot (a very much larger site) and what do we find?

Not so many reviews, but a similarly awful rating.  To be fair, we conducted the same Google search as we did for Trustpilot. don’t appear to have a Google knowledge panel but their ‘alter ego’ does, and here are all five reviews contained within it…

And here is what the search for ‘reviews of’ throws up…

Now some of you were thinking ‘they’ve forgotten Feefo. So here they are. In a Google search:

No reviews on Google, when even the smallest plumber in the UK has a handful? Maybe Feefo is small too? Let’s see what they have on their own site…

622 reviews, mostly 5*, and not one of their happy customers found their way to Google? Feefo on Trustpilot?

And on

In summary

You are probably as confused as we are by now. If you think you understand what is happening here please don’t hesitate to contact us – there’s a box below.

But much more important - what about consumers (and, in this instance consumers means businesses and their customers, because the business is the consumer when it buys the services of one of these reviews sites).

Our conclusion

The first question we ask ourselves – and anyone else we meet in our professional lives – is ‘Why not Google?’ Google reviews are by-far-and-away the most visible and most credible reviews on the web. They are just about the only reviews a business really needs. So why are businesses [still] using reviews sites?

We can only think of two reasons…

1.     Legacy: Google reviews only came to prominence after most reviews sites were established, so some businesses have stayed with the reviews solution they signed up to back in the day. They should be urgently reassessing that decision in the light of the above.
2.     They were sold: the reviews sites have sales-forces, Google (in the reviews context) don’t. No-one is going to phone your business and sell you Google reviews.


The only body with the power to resolve the confusion detailed above is the Competitions & Markets Authority - the UK government body directly responsible for reviews.

Some of you will have read our recent open letter to them, if you have not, it is here.

Further reading...

The future of reviews - could it be bleak?

Without such intervention we would suggest - and have suggested in this article - that reviews as a whole are in danger of losing all credibility, which would be a huge loss for consumers, as genuine credible reviews are a massive force for good.