Monday 30 March 2020

How can we all help businesses in these troubled times?

There is no doubt that many businesses will emerge from the current crisis to face pent up demand, from everyone from home sellers to those needing a much-needed break from isolation. So which businesses are going to get that trade? Most important of all, are the right businesses going to benefit?

It is now beyond argument that a great Google score plus a good number of reviews influence consumers in every walk of life. This might be a core decider - the type of person who says 'I won't use a business unless it scores at last 4.5 out of 5' or a marginal influence, for example: where a home seller says 'I chose agents A and B because I know their local reputation and they have been recommended by friends but I also invited agent C to pitch because they looked so impressive on Google.'

Like this...

So how can you help a local business in these stressful times? The answer is simple: write one - or more - Google reviews. 


You will either be signed up to Google already, in which case you will see this (with minor differences depending on whether you are on mobile/tablet or desktop)...

And you can go right ahead and enter your rating - from one to five stars - and continue to write your review (and add a photo, if relevant).

Or you will be new to Google reviews, and you will see this...

Click 'Create account' bottom left and you are a minute away from writing your first review!

And if you enjoyed doing that (you can be sure the business you review will enjoy receiving it*), you may even consider becoming what Google calls a 'Local Guide', it's a way for everyone to identify reviewers who add more value for those seeking out really great local businesses.

*Google has temporarily suspended publishing reviews - but don't let that put you off writing them, they will be published as soon as Google works out a way for its moderators to access the relevant systems from home.

Friday 27 March 2020

Google suspend new reviews, business responses and Q&A

Google has suspended the publication of new reviews on every business's Google listing, this includes the ability of businesses to respond to existing reviews as well as the Q&A function. The fact that the Q&A, which might be considered to be one of the most useful functions in the current crisis, has been suspended indicates that this is a staffing issue. We suspect that Google moderators are not being granted access to areas of the Google internal machine while they work from home.

The full article is here

The implications for businesses

Our advice is to continue to invite reviews to both your website, where we will publish them,  and to Google.  In fact, we are advising clients to ramp up their review gathering efforts wherever possible - see this article; Google will accept the review but not publish it for the time being. We will alert you as and when Google does publish reviews so you can then respond. Any reviews your business currently has will remain.

Don't do nothing: this will leave the field clear for any disgruntled customers who happen to use their current oversupply of free time to write their review which may then dominate the impression given on your Google listing when reviews are reinstated. 

Monday 16 March 2020

Emerge from this crisis in pole position

There's no doubting the fact that commercial activity has slowed down for almost everyone. So what to fill the time with, especially if staff are working from home? There's always admin to be caught up with but no-one reading this article will be surprised to see us suggesting 'reviews'.

What follows gives you some benchmarks to aim for and some advice as to how to achieve the position every business wants: a dominant position in local search.

The statistic referred to above comes from this BrightLocal survey...

So, in an ideal world, your business will have...

  • Recent reviews

  • A Google score of at least 4.5 (preferably as close to 5.0 as possible)

  • At least 100 Google reviews 

  • At least 200 reviews on your own website, partly to feed Google, partly for potential customers that bypass your Google reviews...

showing in all your Google searches...

including the all-important local search...

  • responses to all reviews on Google

Here are some more key survey findings, usefully aggregated by Gatherup...

All of which reinforces what we have been saying for many years now:

  • your potential customers want to see reviews and will trust them
  • they want to see them on your own website and on Google
  • they actively welcome being invited to write a review
  • the independent sites (e.g. TrustPilot/Feefo) - aside from Yelp, which no longer operates in the UK - are no longer relevant

Contacting customers for reviews

We strongly recommend you continue with your current procedure...
  1. Send the email requesting the review to your own site - this has a direct link to your HelpHound module
  2. Follow up with a phone call - preferably within ten minutes. Response rates to the email alone are generally less than 2 percent, response rates with a follow-up call have been known to exceed 50 percent
  3. Our system will then automatically invite those that write an email to your own site to copy it to Google - you will receive a copy of that email. We recommend that you leave a twenty-four-hour gap between that email and your second follow-up call
There are two advantages of doing this under the current circumstances: you will find many more of your customers with time on their hands, whether at their place of work of working from home, and they will - mostly - be entirely sympathetic to your request as they will almost certainly be in a similar situation.

If you would like any help or have any questions at all we are, as ever, here to support you.

Important note for any business not a client of HelpHound

Please bear in mind that simply inviting selected customers to write a review to Google is illegal under UK law. For an explanation of how the law applies to your business and its engagement with reviews please read this.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Coronavirus - reviews have a part to play

You will, by know, have heard reports of profiteering by businesses selling masks and hand sanitiser at vastly inflated prices. So far, most of these stories emanate from eBay and the online world, so you would be forgiven for resorting to your local pharmacy, but should you?

We keep an eye on our local forum - - and this afternoon this story bubbled up:

Concerning by itself, but when combined with these Google reviews, of all three of their outlets...

The individual reviews - of which there are 134 across the three branches - mention alleged overcharging in so many instances, and over a period well before any of us had heard of Coronavirus.  The message? Loud and clear - check Google reviews before you use any business and, for the sake of your fellow consumers, write reviews to warn them of establishments that, in your opinion, provide poor service or value for money.

Thursday 5 March 2020

Which? criticises online travel agencies - and rightly so

Booking a hotel falls right in between booking a restaurant and finding a reliable doctor in most people's priorities (the restaurant being 'low priority/risk' and the medical practitioner being 'critical'), but it's amazing how little time and effort some people are prepared to put in when there are thousands of pounds and their comfort and happiness are at stake.

Why is this the case? There would appear to be one reason that rises above all others when we mine down: people believe the online travel agencies' marketing. The example above is a particularly egregious example: there is no way the same room - for the same date - would show anything like that price variation across differing OTAs (online travel agencies). In our extensive experience consumers are far more likely to get a result like this:

Shocking, isn't it? No wonder Which? and the CMA are interested (we think the ASA ought to be as well).

For Times subscribers, here's a link to the full article.

The Times of 3 March scratched the surface, on the back of a Which? survey, but Mary Wakefield at the Spectator had a much firmer grasp of just how sinister the OTAs are:

You can read the full Spectator article here (no paywall)

Some of you will by now be wondering 'what has this to do with reviews?' The answer is simple: many - most even - people go to these sites in the first instance because they host guest reviews.

We wrote this article back in February of last year:

And it's not the first time we've been critical of OTAs. But we rely on the CMA to take action to protect consumers, so when these businesses are providing absolutely no added value - bar the reviews - we implore them to take swift action.

  • Does booking through an OTA save you money? NO - and the Which? survey proves that.
  • Does booking through an OTA get you any other benefits? NO, none that cannot be obtained by booking direct with the hotel
  • Do OTAs boost hotels in their search results as a result of payment by those hotels? YES, many do
  • Do hotels use OTAs to sell their substandard/less popular rooms? YES, the best rooms go to regular guests (who book direct) and those that book direct with the hotel
  • Why are the booking sites (OTAs) allowed to impose a 'no discounting below the rates offered on our site' rule on hotels? We don't know, and it's illegal in Germany and Australia

Here's a comment on the Times article that neatly sums up our position: