Thursday, 14 March 2019

Your monthly Google report - it's in your inbox today

We are surprised at just how many people say they don't see this crucial report...

Not only does it tell you how many times you were found on Google in the preceding month, it contains vital information about exactly how many of those searchers went on to call your or click through to your website...

Which in turn confirms whether or not changes in your online marketing strategy are working (this report was sent to us by Curchods after they implemented HelpHound, showing the uplift in calls and clicks).


Find out who in your business is registered as the 'user' with Google My Business. If you don't know, or cannot find out, consult us.

Further reading

Good news...

And bad news (they do say it travels faster - both these reviews are six months old)...

Again, if you cannot see these 'views' numbers on any of your phones, just call us.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

A professional business with more than a handful of Google reviews? Almost certainly breaking the law.

Let us be crystal clear here - because this is a very serious subject. We are not talking restaurants or hotels or any 'well-reviewed' type of business. We are speaking of what are commonly called 'the professions'. For clarity we provide a pretty full, but far from exhaustive, list here...

  • the law
  • medicine
  • education
  • accountancy
  • banking
  • insurance
  • investment management
  • estate agency
  • surveying
  • recruitment

The exception

The exception to the 'more than a handful' rule is the business that has attracted multiple negative reviews on Google. Here is an example:

And a sample review:

Now we make no comment on either the star rating or the content of this review. How could we? We know neither the business nor the reviewer. But we can comment on the impact this review is having: it has been viewed nearly 1300 times. 

So this business has forty reviews, but is, as far as we can see, not breaking the law (it only has two five-star reviews (and a smattering of five-star ratings). How so? Because it has done nothing to address the negative impression that is being shown in every Google search. If it had, and had proactively invited 'happy' customers to post reviews, simply in an attempt to redress the balance, it would have been in breach of one of the CMA's core regulations. It would have broken the law.

So - onto those that are breaking the law. The 'more than a handful' businesses. Here's one, and we will look at it in some detail so you will be left in no doubt that something is amiss.

As you can see, there are twenty-one reviews in total. Sixteen of those rate the business five stars out of five, one at four stars and four at one star. 

And the order those reviews were written in? The first was a one-star, the next ten were five-star reviews, then the second one-star, then another five, then two one-stars, then seven five-stars. 

What does this pattern tell us? As review management professionals with years of experience under our belts it tells us that the business was upset to receive that first one star review and so it asked ten clients that it knew were fairly certain to write a five star review to do so (it may well have asked more, but ten ended up writing reviews). After the second two one-star reviews it repeated the exercise, this time making sure to keep the reviews coming on a regular basis.

Note: for anyone thinking that the four negative reviews of this business 'don't matter' they should be aware that they have been viewed over four thousand times.*

*If you would like to know how to find the total number of views for any single Google review please read this.

What this business almost certainly does not know...

Is that it is breaking the law. That's why we have given them the benefit of the doubt and kept its identity to ourselves. And after all: there's an outside chance they could be inviting every single one of their clients to write a review in spite of only getting these twenty-one in the last year.

What should this business do now?

There's no winding the clock back, but they should take immediate action to become compliant with the CMA's regulations.

This will involve adopting one of the following courses of action...
  1. stop inviting anyone to write a Google review
  2. embed a link to their Google knowledge panel into their website and invite anyone to write a review at a time of their own choosing - thus addressing the CMA's two core regulations
  3. adopt a professional approach to review management, by paying as much attention and applying as much effort to reviews as they do to every other aspect of their marketing and public relations
Option 1. may be the best short-term solution. It will, at the very least, make the business currently complaint while it seeks out a long-term solution.

Option 2. will make the business compliant with CMA regulations, but will also expose it to factually inaccurate and potentially misleading reviews, as well as denying the business significant SEO benefits.

Option 3. will give the business the best of both worlds: they will be able to engage with reviews - on their own website and on Google - safe in the knowledge that unfair reviews will be very unlikely to see the light of day and that they are complying with the CMA regulations. On top of that they will look great in all types of search, simply because Google rewards businesses that host their own reviews on their own websites.

Whatever your business's current situation, we would encourage you to to contact us; at the very least you will know for certain what compliance issues, if any, you are facing.

Monday, 11 March 2019

There's only one way to prove HelpHound will work for your business

And that's by doing it!

We can show you it working for our other clients - any of our other clients. And we can put you in touch with them so you can get their feedback first hand (just ask). And we can show you the numbers for a client who was gracious enough to share theirs the month after they joined...

But, at the end of the day, the only sure-fire test will be to do it for yourselves.

There's only one barrier - cost*, but given that the set-up costs plus the first three months' fees (by which time you will know for sure that HelpHound is driving new business) are likely to come in at less then £500, is there any significant risk?

*free trials? No. For the simple reason that we are not a widget driven solution like the reviews sites. We will need to be on hand - on the end of the phone or in person - for every day of those first three months to ensure that HelpHound is an unmitigated success for your business, and that will involve dedicated professionals providing very high quality advice (again: just ask any other client).

And finally...

Already got a solution? If you are 'doing-it-yourselves' (commonly by inviting happy customers to write a review direct to Google) you are inevitably in contravention of the CMA regulations - read more here - but, much more importantly you will be missing out on some of the most important benefits of professional review management. Wonder how the business above ranks so high in local search, and looks so good (stars etc.)? It's partly because Google loves businesses that host reviews on their own websites.

Using an independent reviews site? You may have noticed that some very big names have dropped these sites recently. Why? The answer is twofold: first, some of these sites are non-compliant with the CMA regulations and second, because they simply do not achieve what they promise. For further information on this subject, or on anything else reviews-related, please speak to us or read this article.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Many ways to get great reviews to Google...

Above: The 'Holy Grail' of review management - a great Google score, a great score on the business's own website and stars in organic search, all achieved in compliance with the CMA regulations and Google's own T&Cs.

Over the years we have encountered just about every strategy known to man or woman to achieve one single objective: a great Google score. Here we list all that we can recall.

  • Get happy customers to write a review to Google
  • Get all customers to write a review to an independent reviews site, then invite only those that post a 5* review there to copy it to Google
  • Use a system that allows the business to nominate those allowed to write a review
  • Use a system that is closed to members of the public not specifically invited to post a review by the business
  • use a system that allows the business to choose the timing of the invitation to write a review
  • Get all customers to email you with a report of their experience with your business and then invite those that respond positively to write a review to Google
  • Do the above, but then go the extra mile and set up a new Google account on behalf of the customer and then copy and paste their complimentary remarks there, adding a 5* rating
  • Send an email to the customer telling them they will be rewarded with cash/Amazon vouchers/M&S vouchers if the post a 5* review
Not forgetting...

  • Encouraging employees to leave a review
  • Inviting friends and family to leave a review
  • Inviting business connections to write a review

Let's examine them one by one...
  • 'Happy' customers
Illegal - the CMA regulations specifically prohibit what they call cherry-picking. If you invite a single customer to post a review you must be able to demonstrate to the CMA that all your customers are invited - and no, saying 'anyone can write a review to Google at any time' will not wash.

  • All customers invited to post to a reviews site and then those that score the business 5* asked to post to Google
Illegal - this is a practice known as 'gating' and it is self-evidently going to skew the impression any prospective customer is given when they look at the business's Google score and individual reviews.

  • Only nominated customers allowed to write a review
Illegal - the CMA regulations state that all customers should be able to write a review

  • Using a 'closed' system (often called 'invitation only')
Illegal - customers must be able write a review whenever the want

  • Inviting the initial comment by email (or even verbally)
Illegal - gating again.

  • Setting up a new Google account
Illegal - and, on top of that, strictly against Google's terms of service. 

  • Incentivising customers 
Illegal - and against Google's terms of service.

  • Employees
Just don't - no matter what.

  • Friends and family
Not a problem, but they should declare their connection (and have first-hand experience of your service)

  • Business connections
As for friends and family


The CMA regulations have the force of law. If a business is found to be in breach then they may be liable to...
  • an unlimited fine
  • publicity
  • being barred from acting as a director of a limited company in the UK
Google, on the other hand, will simply delete all of the business's reviews and flag all future reviews for special attention.

The overarching principle

The principle that the government, in the person of the Competition and Markets Authority, will apply in any investigation is as follows...

"Has any action or activity by the business engaged in the gathering of reviews the potential to mislead any consumer when reading the business's reviews and, furthermore, relying on those reviews when making a purchasing decision."

Put bluntly: Has the business done anything to make it look better than it otherwise would or should?

Further reading

Friday, 1 March 2019

Google adds 'view' numbers to reviews

Is this the end of denial as we know it (for those new to this blog 'review denial' is when a business receives a negative review but says 'No-one will see it/read it/believe it')? 

We will let you decide. This week an estate agent in Exeter called in the receivers - now there are bound to be a myriad complex reasons leading up to this sad event, but the one thing we now know for sure (because Google has just introduced the number of views next to every review) is that an awful lot of people had seen and/or read the following two reviews...

We have edited out the text of both reviews (aside from the first line) because the point we are making here is not about what the reviewers have said (although that was certainly unhelpful for the business) it is to show you just how many people are seeing those reviews when they conduct any relevant Google search. 

The lesson is obvious - we hope - and that is to take Google reviews very seriously indeed, because they are being seen, being read and being taken notice of. Employ a review management system that includes moderation, so you have a chance to defend your business against unfair or inaccurate reviews before they make it to Google.

Here's the flip-side...

The number of people that are seeing and reading a business's positive reviews.

How to find these numbers?

They are appearing - so far - only on mobile and only on the reviewer's stream there. So you will need to click on the reviewer's name and then search down their list of reviews until you find the one for your business. Under that you will see the number of views.

Further reading...

Thursday, 21 February 2019

'Choosing the right business is the most critical factor' - Zoopla

Zoopla - the property portal - has released the results of a nationwide survey that asked sellers 'What was the biggest single factor in selling your property?'

They gave respondents six answers to choose from...

  1. Dropping the asking price
  2. Picking the right agent and price
  3. Changing agents
  4. Changing market conditions
  5. Seasonal fluctuations
  6. Any other factors

As you can see from the chart, the overwhelming 'first choice' is 'picking the right agent and price' at 47% (beating the next highest - 'dropping the asking price' - by a massive margin).

So this begs the $64,000 question - how to choose the right agent?

Now we know there is no single answer. People will perm one (or more) from...
  • We have used them before
  • We know them personally
  • They have a very good reputation locally
  • We see their boards everywhere
  • My friend/work colleague/relation recommended them
  • Our neighbours sold through them
...and more. But, as I'm sure most readers have guessed by now, whichever of these reasons is relevant, they will almost certainly read the agent in question's reviews.

Not necessarily on purpose, either. Because Google reviews are so 'in your face' these days - looking up an agent's phone number? You'll see their reviews. And those reviews can do one of two things...
  • they can reinforce the good impression already made
  • they can undermine it

That's why review management is so important. Look like this...

...and you'll get the call or the click.

Look like this, however positive every other factor in the process may be...

...and you will see business leak away.

Now, we can hear some of you saying, what if the first business is just great and the second one is as bad as the reviewer makes out? Isn't that what Google reviews are all about - providing reassurance and highlighting businesses to avoid?

Now we know one of the businesses well - they are clients (and they are dedicated to doing a great job) and we don't know the second business from Adam. What we do know is that estate agents, especially those involved with lettings, suffer from a very high proportion of 'unfair' reviews.

What do we mean by an 'unfair' review?

An unfair review is one where the reviewer is mistaken in their criticism. It's not always the case (for all we know Eleanor Suggett's review of Jones & Chapman is entirely fair and accurate) but it is surprisingly common. We know because our moderators see every review of every client before it is posted - and well over three-quarters of those that are originally critical of the business are found to be either factually incorrect or would be potentially misleading if posted publicly.


The estate agent is criticised - and given a harmful one star review - when...

  • it was down to market forces
  • it was another agent in the chain's fault
  • it was the fault of a professional adviser - mortgage broker, solicitor, surveyor - unconnected to the agent in question
  • it was due to the reviewer misunderstanding elements of the transaction or contract
...and we could go on, as any agent will know. The point, though, is that professional review management minimises the chances that an 'unfair' (by which we mean inaccurate or potentially misleading) review will see the light of day.

The questions every good business should be asking...

Is 'What is it worth to ensure that our reputation, built over years and reinforced by our happy customers through word of mouth, is not undermined by inaccurate or potentially misleading comment on the web?' and then 'How?'

The answer to the second question first - adopt professional review management. It will minimise the chances of inaccurate or misleading reviews of your business appearing anywhere, but especially on Google.

The answer to the first? Depending on the size of your business, the price of a modern mobile phone contract per location would be about right.

Further reading...

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Why advertise? - when the first thing someone sees is this...

Instagram is taking off with estate agents in a big way. Mostly to showcase individual properties for sale, like this, from Knight Frank...

...patently primarily directed at potential purchasers. But there are also businesses out there who are beginning to use Instagram to promote their services to fee earners. In the following example we have hidden all references to the business's name for reasons that will become apparent. What we can tell you is that they ran an advertisement on Instagram targeted at landlords and tenants.

If you see an advertisement, especially one for a high-value service (as opposed to products), we know that a significant proportion of you will check the business out on Google. We did for this South London estate agent. And what did we find? We found these...

Not only these, but we know everyone always reads the negative reviews first. In this case the business has followed best practice and responded to most of the reviews, and here's the central point we are trying to make here: when you read the review and the response you just know that a Google review is not the best environment to be airing these grievances, for the business or its customer (or for future customers).

Moderation adds immense value - for all concerned 

If this business was using HelpHound, and these customers had posted their initial review to the business, in private, the overwhelming majority of them would have never seen the light of day. Why? Not because helpHound has some magic way of 'disappearing' negative reviews, but because almost every single one of these reviews contains a misunderstanding of the process in question - they are ultimately misleading (unless you want to know that tenants seldom get their full deposits returned and then blame their landlord's estate agents irrespective of where the genuine fault - if any - lies).

Moderation adds value...

  • for the business, because it at least has a chance t o correct - pre-publication - errors of factor statements that have the potential to mislead future customers
  • for the customer, because few actively want to publicly post reviews that mislead their fellow consumers or unfairly injure a business 
So: before you splash out on any kind of advertising or marketing - Instagram or otherwise - don't you think it might be a good idea to consider engaging in professional - moderated - review management?

Travel sites get the CMA treatment - who is next?

Today's Times reports that 'the [CMA] has been urged to take tougher action against travel sites...for promoting misleading discount claims'.

This has implications far wider than the travel industry, but let's stay with them for just a moment. here are two screen-grabs from a recent Trivago TV ad... might well be given the impression that the same room could be had for as much as £80 or as little as £44 (but they are careful not to say that). Next, a few seconds later...

...the 'top' price has risen to an eye-watering £87 - £1 short of double the 'lowest'.

So we did a few searches for ourselves, here's one (for a hotel in Paris)...

...mmm, from a low of £124 to a high of £153. Not quite the bargain - or the spread - the ad implies (especially when it looks like the rooms being compared are not exactly like for like - 'Classic Room' v. 'Twin Standard Room' - don't you just love the names hotels give to their cheapest rooms?), but we're sure Trivago has the numbers to back up its advertising.

So what? We hear everyone outside the hospitality industry say. The answer to that is - behave yourselves, or the CMA (backed up by media like the Times) is coming for you. Here is what they had to say to the Times in this instance...

So, if your are in any doubt that your business is misleading consumers in any way - and we're obviously talking reviews here - you need to review your current practices. You can speak to us, but you should start by asking yourself a very simple question: 'Does our approach to reviews, or the reviews system we currently use, give us an edge over our customers?'

If the answer to that is 'Yes' - whatever you are doing is almost certain to be non-compliant with the CMA regulations (in other words: the law).

Read this article... full here.

And to answer the question posed in the title: 'Who is next?'...

Well, considering we have filing cabinets full to overflowing with evidence of nearly every kind business you can think of breaking the law, we are sure the CMA has too, our betting is to perm any one from these three, on the basis that misleading consumers if you are in these lines of business can lead to far greater losses than just a few hundred pounds on a hotel room...
  • healthcare - you life, or that of a loved one
  • wealth management - your money 
  • estate agency - your largest asset

Watch this space.

Friday, 1 February 2019

The ever-widening gulf between professional review management and reviews sites

Many clients have joined recently - having previously been with one reviews site or another. At first they can be under the impression that they have adopted a similar - but better - solution. This is very definitely not the case. In this article we will set out the fundamental difference between a reviews site and professional review management.

Reviews sites - are for 'product' businesses

They give (rent) the business some software - this software enables the business to invite and display reviews. It's as simple as that. And it works very effectively for high-volume online retailers: they get stars next to their products that encourage purchasers to buy. They don't need to be moderated - the occasional one star review of a pair of shoes or a shirt won't put purchasers's an example:

...and you can bet they are selling thousands of these shirts.

The key here is that the software is cheap because the review site doesn't need to support the business that has bought it, it just sits on the website and does its job. The numbers take care of themselves - when you sell hundreds or even thousands of a certain product you only need a tiny percentage of customers to write a review.

But for 'service' businesses? It's review management all the way

These two issues come right to the fore - high-value service businesses need a very high percentage of their customers to write a review, and they need to be as sure as they possibly can be that those reviews don't contain errors of fact or misleading comments.

Let's take the example of estate agency - after all, we've all had experience of it (we could be talking legal, medical, financial or any other high-value service or profession) - point by point.

1.  Doing nothing is simply not an option any more - five years ago few consumers had discovered Google reviews, but now just about everyone has, and they know exactly how to write a negative review there if they are unhappy. Businesses that adopt a 'head in the sand' policy where reviews are concerned leave the field clear for their unhappy customers to dominate their reputations.

2.  Moderation is essential. A single well-written but factually inaccurate or misguided review can stop the phones ringing overnight. Moderators read reviews and revert to the reviewer if the review - or any of its content - gives cause for concern.

3.  Then the business needs to get its customers (clients/patients) writing reviews in significant numbers. This requires a certain mindset on the part of the business: a determination to get its staff engaged in the process. Let's look at what won't work first...

  • simply sending an email asking for a review. The response rates for this hover around one per cent, and that is simply not enough for most (all?) low-volume high-value businesses. For example: an estate agency branch processing a dozen sales or lettings a month might have to wait a year to get its first review!

Getting the volumes of reviews your business needs...

At HelpHound we call it the 'rule of 50 per cent'. What we mean by that is that we advise our client businesses to set targets for management and staff as follows...
  • encourage at least half of all your clients to write a review to the HelpHound module on your own website, and then...
  • aim to have half of them copy their review to Google
That's only one in four, so that leaves plenty of room for the 'I never write reviews' and 'I haven't got a Google account' brigade to drop out (by the way, it is estimated that over twenty-five million people in the UK can write a Google review by now - not just because they have a Gmail address - although that's a useful pointer, but because Google owns so many platforms that require Google registration: Youtube and Blogger being two of the more high-profile examples).

When your business first joins this is going to look like a mountain to climb - and it is, for the simple reason that your clients will not have been 'primed'. What do we mean by priming? 

Priming is where you, and all your customer-facing staff, reinforce the fact that your client will be required (note the use of the word 'required') to write a review at the end of whatever process you are involved in. If your client knows they will be expected, as a matter of professional courtesy, to write a review, your success rate will soar. What follows are extracts from a memo we give all our clients on joining...

Then the email - with a direct link to the box on your website where they will be writing their review...

And so will we (know it's not the email), so we will be able to provide you with advice on improving response.

Now comes the most important step of all - step 3 - the call.

There you go - in the second tip - the 'rule of 50 per cent' again. Miss out the call and results will plummet.

It's not easy - but it is simple

When this client joined HelpHound they had just two reviews on Google and none on their own website, With our ongoing support and advice they have now achieved 108 on Google and 171 on their own website: proof that the 50% rule can not only be achieved but exceeded

It's not easy, and we're the first to admit that, but if you look at our clients - on their own websites and on Google - you will see that it is possible to succeed. If you speak to any of those clients - and we're sure that they will be happy to speak to you - one of the things almost all of them will stress is just how they leaned on HelpHound from day one - on our experience of dealing with hundreds of businesses in very similar situations and the professional advice we give, the quality of which we are proud to stand by.

It's also why we don't promote our service with discounts and free trials - have you ever known a solicitor or an accountant do that? No, of course you haven't; professional advice doesn't come free or with 'trial periods'. But it works, and we have the experience and  resources to ensure that our professional advice will produce results for your business. How can you tell? Well, aside from speaking to an existing client you can do two things: look at the results we have achieved for them (here's just one case history - and here is what some of our clients have said) and then try HelpHound for your own business (and just like other professionals, we never ask our clients to sign time-constrained contracts either).

And our last tip?

Get all your management and staff to write just one Google review themselves - not of your business, obviously - but of a business that they have recently used, then they will be able to empathise with (and guide) your customers when they are asking them to write their review of your business.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Reviews - and how they boost your SEO

We are going to begin this article by making a prediction: one day Google will return the best business (in the opinion of that business's customers) at the top of organic search. And the only way it will be able to do that? Based on the business's Google reviews of course.

Meanwhile Google inches closer to doing so with every change it makes; in the beginning it incorporated reviews, then it introduced its reviews filter (enabling its users to modify their searches to exclude all but 'top rated' businesses, or those that score 4.5 or more), but all the while Google continued to recognise good SEO.

SEO and reviews

SEO - how ever much a business spends, is not gong to achieve either of the following...

  • a great Google score
  • a great reviews score on the business's own website
...that's down to you and HelpHound, but what it can do is flag up both - especially the reviews on the business's site - to Google.

It's what takes this...

113 Reviews on the business's website - properly displayed and tagged, so Google can find them

...and turns it into this...

Leading the Google 3-pack and heading organic search

HelpHound's role...

We are your review managers, and we will provide you with the best platform on the planet to get the raw ingredients - the reviews themselves. It is then up to your web designers and/or your SEO agency to implement our tech (our drop-in or our API) so Google can pull through the kind of information it wants - and display it for its users to see.

Adding value

In our journey with clients we have learned an important lesson: that some web designers struggle with this aspect of their role. Not to worry - we have met some really top-notch developers who can implement the code - and the tags for the schema (which produces the stars in organic search you can see next to Winkworth's listing). We will happily introduce you - or your web designers - to them, all you have to do is ask. 

Further reading...

This is what the mighty Forbes has to say...

But for those of you that haven't the time to read all of it, here are three vital extracts...


...and the financial impact?...

So, the inescapable conclusion is that reviews - your own and Google's, when combined with good SEO, are vital for any business that wants to compete in the modern marketplace.

And an important word of warning...

Please resist the temptation to short-cut the process; inviting selected customers to post reviews - anywhere - is against the law. Using mechanisms that favour the business over the consumer is equally illegal (there's much more on this here). But given that the cost of proper professional review management is about the same as that for the phone in your pocket (or as one client said 'the round of coffees I buy the office every Friday') there's every incentive to 'do it right'.