Monday, 15 April 2019

Google reviews: don't sacrifice quality - or honesty - in the quest for volume or scores

Every business wants - needs - a great reviews score. But many are adopting the wrong strategy to achieve it.

Let's first examine why a great Google score is so important...

1. Every potential customer, bar a very few of those that physically walk through your door, will have seen your Google reviews and the attendant score. How so? Because it is right there when they search, even if only for your phone number...



This is a screenshot of a client's Google knowledge panel - the mechanism Google use to feed all searches, specific (on the business's name) and local ('estate agents Woking').

2.  Correction to point 1: even those the 'walk through your door' will have seen your reviews, because they will invariably have searched on Google to find directions...


3.  Businesses with a Google score of 4.5 or more attract more enquiries, both through their websites and through other channels (calls and emails). The weight of research proving that is now overwhelming. Here are the results for a client of ours...






4. Businesses that score 4.4 or less are vulnerable to the Google Filter; local search is vital for most businesses: now you see [all of] them...



Now you don't...




Three out of the seven businesses listed in the unfiltered search have fallen out of search altogether.


Strategies...

As soon as most businesses understand the power of Google reviews they do the most obvious thing: they begin selectively, and very carefully, inviting their most satisfied customers to write reviews to Google. This strategy, however, is in direct contravention of the CMA's core regulations.

So then a business might look at one of the many reviews websites. Here is where we often see the quality drop ('plummet?'). Look at these reviews...





There are over a thousand more, so why so short? Because the 'review' that is being invited is of the quality of the customer touch point - invariably a phone call. So what is wrong with that? Superficially? Nothing. But let's look at how these reviews are aggregated...




And then shown in a Google search...




All of which would be fine if the reviews host and/or the business concerned made it clear to potential customers that a significant proportion of the 'Genuine Customer Reviews' are of telephone calls rather than of the business's core offering.

And it is all too easy to use a mechanism like this for gating. All the business then has to do is invite all those that post a 5* review on the reviews site to copy their review to Google. Gating is not only against the CMA regulations, it contravenes Google's own rules regarding reviews and when this happens Google are prone to deleting all a business's reviews without appeal.

This is the sort of thing we define as a 'review'...




It's on the most important site by far - Google - and it adds value for both business and consumer. It has also (April 2019) been viewed 172 times.

We realise that this article is turning into a pretty good guide on how to game the system to get a great Google score and ultimately mislead prospective customers into using your business (or at least contacting it). That would be so, were it not for the presence, in the UK at least, of the government sponsored regulator (the aforementioned Competition and Markets authority) which is specifically directed to sanction those businesses abusing reviews for their own ends, whether cherry-picking or gating or adopting even more sophisticated methods to improve their image for any given search.


Moderation - managing out the fear

The reason so many businesses are breaking the law is fear. Interestingly, they are not afraid that customers will write fully-justified and accurate criticism - unless they have bad customer relations - they are concerned that reviews may contain factual inaccuracies and/or misleading statements that will deflect future business. And they are right to be, as a single well-crafted review can - and has - stopped the phones ringing.

The solution to this - for the benefit of future consumers just as much as for the business under review - is moderation. When a HelpHound client business invites and receives a review, that review is read by a moderator before it is published anywhere. Only when our moderator is reassured that the review is accurate will it be published on the business's website and the reviewer invited to copy it to Google. This process may take mere seconds (as it does in the overwhelming majority of cases) or will involve an exchange between us, the reviewer and the business under review. Whatever the case, moderation benefits all stakeholders...

  • the reviewer has posted an accurate review
  • the business has received an accurate review 
  • Google has received an accurate review
  • consumers have reviews they can reliably base purchasing decisions upon


Your competitors

We are increasingly meeting businesses that are fully aware that their competitors are in breach of the CMA regulations in one way or another. Often we are asked 'if they are getting away with [cherry-picking/gating etc.] why shouldn't we?' Our answer is as follows...

  • the CMA will use their powers
  • the CMA, in common with other government agencies such as HMRC, relies heavily on whistle-blowers and should a customer, competitor or ex-employee 'blow the whistle' by informing the CMA that a business is in breach, it is bound to investigate
  • the business that is non-compliant is handing a very effective stick to its competitors for them to beat it with. How? Because the kind of business referred to above, the one that understands the regulations, only has to tactfully enquire as to whether their prospective customer 'wishes to appoint a business that contrives to unfairly burnish its reputation' and the pendulum swings away from the business manipulating reviews


In Summary

As you can see from reading this and other articles posted here, there is no need to game the system or break the rules (one and the same thing). Getting proper professional review management working for your business has so many benefits besides enabling you to sleep at night, safe in the knowledge that your business won't be getting a knock on the door from the regulators (or be being undermined by your competitors) that it puts any decent business in a win/win position.


Further reading...




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