The law (in the person of the CMA regulations) makes it clear that the following two practices are illegal:
- Cherry-picking - selectively inviting 'happy' customers to post a review to Google (or anywhere else)
- Gating - pre-qualifying customers opinions before inviting those that appear to be 'happy' to post a review (commonly done by email, sometimes done by inviting the customer to post 'feedback')
So: a business can embed a link to their Google knowledge panel into their website that allow potential customers (and anyone else) to read and post reviews to Google. This will make the business fully compliant with the CMA regulations. Anything less than that (showing Google reviews without a link to post a review, embedding a link into the business's email signature block etc., is not compliant).
Now that is the first essential first step - compliance with the law - dealt with. Now we move on to the commercial advantages and disadvantages of adopting a compliant 'direct to Google' reviews strategy and compare that with the benefits of professional review management.
Moderation is the act of having each review read, pre-publication, to ensure, as far as is humanly possible, that reviews which contain errors of fact or comments likely to mislead any future readers are addressed pre-publication. By definition, if your business is inviting customers to post direct to Google (without cherry-picking or gating, naturally) you run a significant risk that inaccurate, and therefore damaging, reviews will be posted.
Here is just one very simple example of a Google review where the business has no way of knowing who wrote it or, indeed, if the person who wrote it was, or is, a customer. The review does not contravene any of Google's T&Cs, so it remains visible in every Google search to potentially deflect any future customers, perhaps to their own detriment as well as to the detriment of the business. The score will, of course, be factored in to the business's overall Google score, driving that down as well.
This would be fine if businesses had some way of having such reviews removed from Google, but currently the only reviews Google will remove - and the appeals process is lengthy - are those that contravene Google's own terms & conditions, and those make no provision for the removal of reviews that are the subjective opinion of a reviewer, even where that opinion is demonstrably inaccurate or incorrect. Unfair? Undoubtedly. True? Absolutely.
Every review written through HelpHound, however, is moderated by a professional moderator. If one of our moderators considers that the content, in whole or in part, of any review is likely to be factually inaccurate or misleading in any way they will refer back to both the reviewer and the business under review. The reviewer always retains the right to have whatever review they wish, as inaccurate or misleading as that may be, posted to the business's own website, but long experience has shown us that reviewers welcome our moderators intervention as much as our client businesses do; they may be happy or unhappy, they may have written a 5* review or a 1* review, but in almost every instance they are as concerned not to publicly post inaccuracies or content that might mislead a fellow consumer as we and our client business are.
The advantages of displaying independently verified reviews on your own site
We will highlight the obvious benefits to start with:
- Not all your customers will come to your website via Google - so hosting reviews on your own site can often give potential customers the confidence they need to take that vital first step - to pick up the phone of send you an email (or even use your live chat function)
- When customers see that they can write a review at any time they are given a positive impression of the business, especially if competitors do not offer such a function. 'Transparent and honest' is a phrase that we often hear
- Every single business we have ever spoken to would rather a customer that has an issue with their business would contact them direct before airing that issue in a Google review; in practice customers will often click on the business's own 'write a review' button' to do so, but in default of that they are resorting direct to Google in increasing numbers
Now onto the important, but less obvious, benefits of hosting reviews on your website
- SEO: Google loves reviews, it likes its own reviews, but businesses are often surprised when they find out just how much value Google imputes to the business's own reviews (and here we should stress that we are speaking of independently verified reviews, not testimonials). Google will never quantify exactly how much they value your reviews, but much research has gone into monitoring the search results for businesses that 'play Google's game' and host such reviews. We, and our clients, are certainly very pleased with the medium-to-long-term improvements in rankings in local search achieved. These findings have been reinforced when, for a variety of reasons, clients have ceased to tag their reviews with the Google schema and we have seen corresponding falls in their positions in local search, only to see these rise again when the schema is reinstated
- The Google schema: we are reluctant to over-promote the benefits of the Google schema for two reasons: firstly Google could unilaterally withdraw them (just like they have done recently with Google+) at any time; secondly, they are extremely fickle, for reasons that no-one - perhaps not even Google! - yet understands. But they are extremely popular with businesses, simply because they enable the business to stand out in the most important search of all: local competitive search. Here is one such search...
And it is easy to spot our clients: Burns & Webber and Curchods in this example, simply because they both host reviews on their own sites that are Google schema-tagged and pulled through into local search, along with their star ratings, scores and the number of reviews. Many people mistake these scores and ratings for Google scores: they are not, they are the aggregate scores of the business's own reviews hosted on the business's own website. They may also appear again in a specific search for the business...
...and in 'Reviews from the web' in the business's Google knowledge panel...
You will notice something in all these examples - and just about every HelpHound client is the same - they have more reviews on their own website than they do on Google. That is for a very simple reason: they invite their clients to write a review to both, either one at a time or both together, but not everyone is able - or willing - to write a Google review. Everyone, though, providing they have an email account so we can communicate with them, can write a review through our software to our clients' websites.
And there's one last benefit which we cannot provide a concrete reason for: the reviews written to our clients' websites and to Google tend to be far better quality, in terms of written English and content, than the average Google review. They are just the kind of reviews potential customers are looking for to give them the confidence to take the next step...
When you become a client you benefit from years and years of experience here at HelpHound. We don't want to sound immodest, but we invented the term 'review management' and we are proud of that. We are not a reviews site, we are not reputation managers, we provide full-time ongoing professional advice to our clients on all aspects of review management.