Tuesday 25 August 2020

Reviews are vital if you want to rank in search

We make no apologies for banging this drum again. Not only are reviews - those hosted on your own website
and Google reviews - valued by your potential customers (88% of whom rate them as highly as a personal recommendation) but they are valued as much as any other factor by Google when determining your business's position - rank - in search.

Look at this typical search - the one all your potential customers make (this is an estate agent, but it could just as well be any other professional or service business):

Now look at the factors that influence Google when ranking businesses in search:

So, you need:

  • Review quantity: Fifty is a first threshold. How do we know? We don't, and Google are never going to tell us, but common sense dictates that 50 is about the level that any algorithm is going to begin to notice review activity.
  • Review velocity: It's no good having a 'blitz', as so many businesses do, getting a decent number of reviews and then easing up. Google wants to see regular reviews.
  • Review diversity: Not just 'great business, use them' every time, and definitely not just Ratings (stars with no review content). Google wants reviews that help users decide which business to click through to.
And we would add:
  • Review quality: a subset of 'diversity' above. Again: Google values information - the more the better, and it also values good written English (our moderation process ensures that).

Here's another case history (Winkworth, above, are also HelpHound clients):

The business concerned is a small independent with one location. How do they lead the Google 3-pack and Map Search? By ticking as many of the boxes listed above as possible, with help from their web designers and HelpHound: hosting 655 reviews on their own website and having 135 on Google.

Standing out in a crowded marketplace:

Friday 21 August 2020

Inviting customers to write reviews direct to Google is unwise

Unwise? More like positively suicidal from a business's point-of-view. Here's a case history. 

What did the business do (wrong)?

The business in question knew that inviting selected customers to write a review is illegal so they took what they thought was the next logical - and most cost-effective - step: they put a button on their website inviting anyone to post a review direct to Google. Like this...

What is the impact of adopting this strategy?

1.  It made the business compliant with UK law - which states that if a business invites reviews at all it must enable all of its customers to do so at a time of their own choosing. This is important, not just because a business doing otherwise risks a fine and other sanctions, but because the knowledge that a business is flouting the law is extremely effective in the hands of its competitors.

But that's just about the end of the positive outcomes. Now for the negatives:

2.  Very few of the business's satisfied customers used this avenue: a much higher proportion of unhappy customers, perhaps even malicious reviewers with another agenda, made the effort to follow the link on the business's website straight to Google and write their - one-star - review there.

3.  As a direct result of adopting this solution: the business's Google score immediately began to fall. In the last two months the business has received the following Google reviews:

Five-star:    6

Four-star:   1

Three-star: 1

Two-star:    0

One-star:    14

That, in percentage terms, means sixty-eight percent of their reviews posted to Google since implementing the 'direct' policy now rate the business as one star. Any continuation of this trend - which will be inevitable without independent moderation (see this article) - will see the business's Google score fall until it is failing the filter. 

Just as damaging (maybe even more so): this strategy increases the likelihood of one or more negative reviews leading the business's reviews - and negative reviews dominating overall:

A hard-won online reputation tarnished in a matter of weeks - down from the Holy Grail of 5.0 to 4.7 and with the direction of future travel obvious to anyone with the slimmest grasp of review management and basic maths. 

Understanding the psychology

Having a button like this on your website:

...opens a communication channel between the business and its customers. The clear subliminal message conveyed is 'if you are hesitant about contacting us by phone or email, here is another channel you can use', it also tells every visitor to the business's website something about the business: that they welcome open feedback.

One like this, on the other hand:

...is an open invitation for all kinds of people* to post their 'opinions' straight to the most visible site on the planet: Google. It transmits an entirely different message: 'Don't tell us, tell the world' and invariably results in all kinds of unhelpful - to both business and consumer - reviews.

*it is now common knowledge amongst consumers that it is highly unlikely that any appeal a business will make to Google in respect of inaccurate or misleading negative reviews will succeed, therefore whatever they write is highly likely to stand. This has resulted in increasing abuses by reviewers that have the potential to cause extreme damage to businesses.

We commonly see businesses that have adopted this strategy with many hundreds of reviews. A 'good thing', you might reasonably think? No. The reason for those hundreds of reviews is that this strategy attracts a steady drip of critical 1* reviews that can only be countered by a high flow of 5* reviews. 

Look at this example: 

On the face of it a good score and lots of reviews. But the reality:

The first two of eighty-one, yes, eighty-one extremely damaging one-star reviews. And a monster to feed, with managers constantly demanding positive reviews from staff to counter these negative reviews and simply keep the review score above the vital 4.0 (below which experience dictates consumer confidence in a service or professional business will significantly suffer).


Reviews are important. Google reviews - and scores - are hugely influential. But negative reviews are extremely damaging, especially where high-value service businesses - medical, financial, legal, and the likes of the estate agents shown here - are concerned. Very few businesses continue to deny these three self-evident facts in 2020.

Independent moderation is not just 'nice to have', it is vital.

Further reading

  • Moderation: the only legal mechanism that will save your business from unfair, inaccurate and misleading reviews.

Monday 10 August 2020

Moderation - the Golden Key to reviews

Note for regular readers: we have introduced this 'key takeaway' box to summarise the essential points of each article; hopefully, it will enable you to decide if you need to read further, or even pick up the phone straight away! As ever, we welcome feedback and you can comment by clicking the link at the bottom of the article - we will respond, you can be sure of that.

Now: on with the article...

All indications show that people are spending much more time on pre-purchase research in the 'new normal'. Why?
  • because they have more time on their hands - often because they're working from home
  • because they are more concerned that they make the correct purchasing decision
  • because, for a lot of people, their finances are more stretched, or are under threat of becoming so 
Impulse buying, for big-ticket items and especially services, is fast becoming a distant memory.

So, in practical terms, what are consumers now doing pre-purchase? They are...
  • Speaking to friends, family and colleagues 
  • Researching on the web - often extensively
  • Reading Google reviews - especially negative ones
  • Comparing competitive products and services
Let's take a look at these in more detail.

Speaking to friends, colleagues and family

We have all always done this, haven't we? Yes, but not nearly as extensively as we do now. There are two key reasons why we ask more questions of more people these days. First: we are aware of just how fragile the economy is becoming and when this happens people are naturally more cautious. Secondly: many people have much more time on their hands - they have 'commuting time' if they are now working from home and they have 'social time' because they are not getting out nearly as much.

Researching the web and reading Google reviews

Pre-COVID consumers may have read a business's Google reviews, or even simply relied on the business's Google score. Now they have both the time and the inclination to mine down further. 

Take this high profile business as an example: back in the pre-COVID environment a score of 4.4 (although marginally failing the Google filter) might have sufficed:

But now? Suppose a potential customer takes just ten more minutes on Google, what might they discover? First stop: read the negative Google reviews:

Then read the first Google 'People also ask' question:

Then read what their employees say about them on employment sites such as Indeed and Glassdoor:

And read the business's responses to negative reviews...

...to see if they address the issues raised.

Comparing equivalent services

Every Google search - even one on a specific business such as this for Pimlico Plumbers  - throws up alternatives:

Making it easy for consumers to compare any business or service.

What should a business do?

To take this example: Pimlico Plumbers have over two hundred self-employed tradesmen on their books and they deal in a highly contentious area: emergency services. They are bound to have customer disputes. The problem they have - in common with just about every other service business - is that all their disputes have the potential to be aired in public, on the web, often as Google reviews. 

Without what follows, consumers will resort to posting a negative and potentially damaging review, often in the heat of the moment, without any meaningful dialogue with the business, and we have a pretty good idea that's what's happened in the majority of cases where Pimlico Plumbers have received a one-star review. And those reviews will be deflecting business.

This is quite easily addressed by one straightforward mechanism - independent moderation.

Moderation: how it works, for you and your customer

Moderation involves an independent agent acting as an intermediary between the reviewer and the reviewed business - HelpHound in the following example. The moderator reads each and every review before it is then published on the business's website and the reviewer is subsequently - and automatically - invited to copy their review to Google.

Benefits for the business

All our clients' websites host a 'write a review' button that enables anyone - anyone at all - to write a review of the business in question at any time:

A review such as the one for Pimlico Plumbers above would have had a very good chance of being submitted through this system and therefore become subject to moderation (the client so obviously requires a response from the business - why wouldn't they use a mechanism that promises a response?).
Even if it were not the business would be able to respond to this Google review inviting the customer to take such a course of action. Lastly, the business would be able to respond publicly on Google saying that 'All our customers are able to take advantage of our independently moderated customer review system by simply clicking on the button on our website.' and at the very least show others that they have gone to lengths to enable both happy and unhappy customers to communicate with them.
N.B. This review was only written two weeks ago and already six Google searchers have voted it 'Helpful'. We estimate that less than one in thirty people who read a review bother to vote, meaning that at least 180 people have read the review.

Moderation ensures that the business is able to comply with the law - which requires all businesses that proactively invite reviews from their customers to ensure that every one of them is able to write a review at a time of their own choosing - without undue risk that its reputation will be harmed by inaccurate and/or misleading reviews.

Above all it gives the business the confidence to actively invite reviews - with the proven advantages such a strategy has, without the real fears inherent in adopting an unmoderated approach.

Benefits for your customer 

Moderation also ensures - as far as is humanly possible - the accuracy of each and every review and as such it is welcomed by reviewer and business alike (and we're pretty sure Google is all in favour as well!).
Very few reviewers want inaccurate or misleading statements publicly published (and we have never yet met a business that was happy with such comments either). Perhaps, most important of all, is the effect moderation has on the relationship between business and customer: customers who post inaccurate or misleading reviews are most unlikely to use the reviewed business again, they are simply too embarrassed; moderation enables mediation to take place, in private, so misunderstandings are resolved before the crucial businbess/consumer relationship is irrevocably damaged. Put simply: moderation retains customers.


With moderated review management everyone wins. The business:
  • is given the confidence to invite all its customers to post a review
  • becomes instantly legally compliant (see below)
  • retains more customers
  • achieves a more impressive Google score
  • has great reviews and a great score on its own website and those reviews and scores drive more clicks and calls (see below)
The consumer:
  • is impressed by the business's Google score and the individual reviews
  • is far more likely to contact the business  
  • is far less likely to be put off using a business by its negative reviews and lower Google score
  • is given reviews they can trust
  • is much more likely to remain a customer - even after a negative experience

Further reading...
  • Moderation - a full explanation of the process
  • The law - so many businesses currently run foul of UK law relating to reviews
  • Killer reviews -  essential reading for anyone that thinks 'the odd bad review won't hurt'