Tuesday 30 March 2021

Reputation.com - it has a role

We occasionally come across a potential client that is either a client of - or is considering using - Reputation.com. In this article we analyse just what kind of business benefits most from this kind of solution.

So, first, what do we know of Reputation.com?

The business was founded as ReputationDefender in 2006 which specialised in 'correcting' search engine results for individuals. In 2011 its name and business model changed to Reputation.com and it began providing B2B services.

Since then Reputation.com has developed a suite of business tools to enable businesses to invite and monitor online reviews and their search engine listing on a variety of platforms, from Google to Facebook to the various review sites and other social media.

Who are its clients?

Its clients, in the US at least, where over 95% of its business is transacted, are almost exclusively large corporations with multiple hundreds of outlets.

There is a good reason for this demographic forming not just the core, but the overwhelming majority, of Reputation.com's clients: it is a business sector that, while looking 'good' in terms of reviews is essential, looking 'great' is viewed as a definite bonus. Why? No-one expects car dealerships or telecoms companies to have near-perfect track records. 

Let us explain:

There are several types of business from the point-of-view of reviews, and it's important for every business to understand exactly where it falls on the spectrum before establishing what kind of review solution best suits it.

We categorise every businesses and/or service as one of the following:

Let's look at the very different needs of each category of business, along with an example of each, so we can see what type of reviews solution, if any, might suit them.

Category 1 - Businesses that don't care about reviews

As close as any entity can come to being impervious to reviews. Does anyone think JobCentrePlus ever look at their reviews, let alone cares?

Category 2 - Businesses that sell products, irrespective of the service alongside that product

This McDonalds has received more than 1500 reviews on Google. Do they bother to respond? No. Do they care? Almost certainly not. If they did they would respond - it's free, after all.

The plain fact of the matter is that no-one reads a review to decide whether or not they want a Big Mac. The reviews are overwhelmingly written by three categories of customer;

  1. Happy customers who use a review as a way to thank staff for good service (see the one from the bottom above)
  2. Unhappy customers, for whatever reason (see the first and second reviews)
  3. Google Local Guides who will often review every single business they ever come across 

We also suspect franchisees and regional management also glance at reviews occasionally from an HR perspective. But that's about it.

Category 3 - businesses that customers are bound to use

Most consumers know what to expect from Sainsbury's - and every other supermarket. So, yet again, we see businesses that see little profit in engaging with reviews, so long as they don't identify any systemic faults.

And their reviews all say mostly the same things. 

Category 4 - businesses that are vulnerable to reviews

Now we are getting somewhere. While restaurants and hotels provide a product - food and rooms respectively - they also incorporate a substantial element of service. This can give one business in any given location an edge if they look particularly great when potential customers are searching the web. The hotel above is notoriously committed to reviews and proactively manages every guest touch-point with the ultimate review the guest will write in mind. The result? All the hotels in the group score way above average for their category, guest facilities and location. The resulting knock-on in terms of occupancy and room rates is measurable.

Category 5 - businesses in competitive and often sophisticated marketplaces

No we are moving on to more complex and sophisticated - and often B2B - offerings. Business buyers do far more research pre-purchase than most consumers but they are just as influenced by reviews, even if they may think otherwise! Why? Because they will not only be taking personal responsibility for whatever choice they make, they will be answering to management or the board - or even shareholders - as well. 

And this, perversely, is where we get into areas where businesses would appear to do their level best to avoid attracting reviews altogether - see the recruitment consultants above. Why? Because this type of business knows that just a single well-written criticism of their services can herald the death-knell of new business through the web. 

Any system that simply invites every client to post a review direct to Google - remembering that it is illegal to pick and choose those to invite - is never going to appeal to such businesses.

Category 6 - service businesses

The top tier: businesses that provide the kind of service that anyone considering them - whether B2B or B2C - will want to reference as much as is humanly possible. If you put yourself in the position of someone...

  • requiring urgent medical care - cardiology or oncology, for instance
  • needing a home for their life savings or pension
  • having a complex legal problem
  • needing a reliable letting agency for a portfolio of properties
The point about all of these is that health and/or wealth is at risk. The business owes it to its customers - clients/patients - to provide reviews, but has yet to find a mechanism that it can safely use without exposing itself to unfair public criticism.

How else can the absence of reviews on businesses such as these be explained?

And this is where professional review management - and HelpHound - comes in

At HelpHound we leave categories 1-4 to Google - and, if a business sees a cast-iron reason for using a review site such as Feefo or Trustpilot, to them or to a business like Reputation.com (although we would be wary of using the offshoot of a US business in the UK as they have a habit of 'doing a Yelp' and giving up on the UK/EU market as Yelp did in 2016, leaving thousands of businesses and their reviews stranded).

One of the main drawbacks of the Reputation.com offering for Cat 5/6 businesses is their review display widget; businesses like the one below, being extremely vulnerable to single well-written (and therefore credible) negative reviews - the kind we christened 'killer reviews' - do not want to be importing the latest one-star Google reviews into their own websites...

So they have now got around that by simply selecting the reviews they want to show to potential customers, in this case at least, with a link to all their reviews on Google...

...and this client of theirs, illustrating how the quest for volume is trumping quality - is this review helpful?

...and not even providing:

  • a link to their Google reviews
  • or any way for the visitor to their website to actually write a review of their own (at least in the first example the savvy visitor stands a chance of finding their way to Google)

Apart from these 'work arounds' being highly questionable from a legal and compliance point-of-view, these businesses are fooling themselves if they think potential customers won't just shrug their shoulders and find their way to reading their Google reviews anyway (we call this 'deflection' - more on that here).

And, furthermore, given that there is a fully compliant way of being completely transparent, why not adopt it? Look at this...

What do we find on the right? A star rating, a link to all of the reviews of the business, a link enabling anyone to write a review straight away, a sample review and a full explanation of the process.

Everything anyone looking for reviews could want.

Leading to this...

And/or this...

And then this on Google...

Leading to this in local search; the score of 4.8 and stars in the Google '3-pack' at the top are taken directly from the business's Google reviews, the stars, score and number of 'votes' in organic search are taken from the business's own reviews hosted on its own site.

And the disadvantages of a review harvest system focussed on volume as opposed to quality has other undesirable impacts for high-value service businesses: imagine, for a minute, you are looking for an estate agent to sell your home, your main asset (as we are always being reminded) or any of the other Category 6 services listed above. This agent has loads of reviews and a good overall score...

And so does this one...

Which, on the balance of probabilities, gets your call? 

The key difference:

Is moderation. At HelpHound we moderate all our clients' reviews. We politely request that the reviewer rewrite any that we consider to be...
  • legally questionable
  • offensive - in language or tone
  • factually inaccurate
  • potentially misleading
And we don't allow ratings (reviews that only contain scores). On top of that, we correct bad English. This can impact volume* - but what business wants volume over accuracy? And what consumer wants or needs to read one, two or three-word reviews?

*But there are plenty of ways to counteract that, just ask us.

How to measure success?

We have three yardsticks...

The first is simple - it's the business's Google score. We will not rest until it is as close to 5.0 as it possibly can be. If this means addressing the whole of a client's CRM, or even their core business model, then so be it. We are 'review managers' not just a reviews platform. And that means that we work with our client businesses to identify any issues that may conceivably cause customers to rate them at anything but five stars.

The second? How our client looks - and ranks - in Google search...

So many businesses have yet to understand just how important hosting your own reviews on your own website is when it comes to Google scoring it for ranking in organic search...

The third?

The raw material of new business in the 21st century: inbound calls and clicks. Great scores and great underlying review content drives new business. It's this that proves the worth of professional review management above all else.


If you want volumes of reviews, irrespective of their content, then a solution such as Reputation.com just may be the right one for your business (but bear in mind you can always embed a free widget to import Google reviews to your website, so you need to be asking 'Just how much value is Reputation.com adding?').

If, on the other hand, you want accurate and consistently helpful reviews - to your own website and to Google - then we humbly suggest your business and your customers will be rewarded by becoming part of the HelpHound experience.

Further reading 

If having read all the above you still feel that a direct import of Google reviews into your site is a viable solution for your business - you don't need moderation (inaccurate and/or misleading reviews aren't going to harm your particular business) or the SEO kicker hosting your own reviews gives your business in local search (you don't care where your business ranks in search), watch this video and then import them to your website - no charge - no contract. Completely free.

Thursday 25 March 2021

John Lewis and the power of reviews

The press this week has focussed on John Lewis's store closure programme. What has, perhaps understandably, been missed by most commentators is the huge success of John Lewis's online offering.

John Lewis Partnership (JLP) online

This now produces over 60 percent of JLP's turnover and an exponentially rising element of their profitability. A quick search online may give us some clues to this success.

104 customer reviews, the overwhelming majority of which score the appliance 5 stars...

And we cannot argue with this comment...

Reviews drive business. It's been proven time and time again. This story is simply the latest in a long line.

Monday 22 March 2021

Don't hand your customers' reviews to a third-party

It is so important to think long-term when making decisions about reviews. We have already alerted readers to the value they are giving away in terms of customer data, but what about the reviews themselves.

Perhaps a short story will best illustrate what we mean. There was a national firm of estate agents that, back in 2012, was sold a reviews solution called Yelp...

But Yelp decided to pull the plug on its UK and EU operation in 2016, after the business had invested considerable time and energy getting hundreds of customers to write reviews on their platform (which Yelp retains to this day).

So they joined another review site called Rateragent...

But they folded. So the business responded to a sales call from Feefo...

But then realised that the so-called advantage that site was closed to everyone except verified customers was backfiring, and lots of tenants were simply going straight to Google as a result, so they moved to Trustpilot...

When they realised that, yet again, they had lost control of some very valuable content and their reviews weren't being seen a fraction as often as if they had been displayed on and by Google, and had to begin all over again.

This time they got the correct solution, a solution they could have adopted ten years ago - or eight, or five, or three, but did not: review management...

  • Getting their own customers' reviews to the business's own website, where they are able to take ownership
  • And then getting them across to Google, where they have maximum impact, far, far more than on any review site

That way they now retain ownership of their reviews and have them displayed on the most powerful medium on the web today. We cannot see a scenario where we will have to advise our clients to redirect their reviews away from Google, but should that become necessary at some far distant date, they will then be able to do so, without losing their historic reviews.

This is also a very good reason not to focus all your business's review efforts solely on Google, besides the fact that Google loves businesses that host their own reviews and gives them credit for that through their SEO algorithm.

The point of this story?

Is not to criticise the review sites, they have a business to run and exist in a competitive marketplace, it is to show you that it is essential that you commit to a solution that...

  • doesn't involve you 'giving' your customer reviews to an outside business, then losing all those reviews when you change solutions
  • has maximum visibility and credibility 
  • that will be as valid in ten years' time as it is today

The proof of the pudding...

These reviews, hosted on the business's website are owned by the business...

...and a high proportion have been copied across to Google...

Professional review management, not just a better solution - the only solution

Friday 19 March 2021

Reviews - you are all breaking the law!

Got your attention*? Good. For years now we have been tactfully explaining the law as it currently stands - in the UK and the EU - to businesses, but still we see the epidemic grow. So please excuse us if this article is a little blunt.

*If you're already a HelpHound client you can relax, you aren't breaking the law. This article is for those yet to join.

This business's Google score and the reviews underlying it look impressive; until you realise that they have been acquired illegally.

First: the law

In simple terms, you (businesses) are not allowed to...

  1. select customers to invite to post a review - anywhere, to Google, to your own website, to Trustpilot, or anywhere else
  2. control the timing of when your customer is invited to write a review
  3. delete or otherwise filter out reviews you 'don't like'
  4. incentivise customers to write [positive] reviews

Let's see what most businesses are doing currently...

1.  They are hand-picking customers to invite to write reviews

...which is against the law

2.  They are controlling the timing - by only inviting/allowing reviews when they think the customer is most likely to rate them 5* (it is fine to email a customer to invite them to write a review, just not using a system that prevents them writing a review at another time of their own choosing)

...which is against the law

3.  They are filtering out unhappy customers by 'gating': using a feedback mechanism to pre-qualify customers and then only inviting those that have previously indicated their satisfaction with the business to write a review

...which is against the law

4.  Offering cash, discounts, rewards or vouchers for positive reviews.

...which is against the law and Google's terms of service

Now, what do we hear when we speak to some of the businesses engaged in these illegal - yes, illegal - practices?

  • 'Everyone else does it'
No! 'Every other business' is not dishonest. But some business people appear to see this form of cheating - sorry law-breaking - as a badge of honour. It is somehow seen as 'macho' to break the law. 

The CMA have announced a crack-down and the press are hot on the trail of businesses that manipulate reviews

  • 'We would be swamped with bad reviews if we allowed anyone to write one'
This bears thorough examination. Would the bad reviews come because you are running a substandard business? Or because you don't trust your customers to write reviews that accurately reflect their experience of your business? 

If the former, then - respectfully - you need to address the issues within your business before you engage further with reviews. If the latter - a more reasonable objection - you need a moderated review management system, of which more later

  • 'One 'unfair' review could do untold damage to our business'
And so it could, but law-breaking is not the answer; stories like this one make businesses extremely wary of opening themselves up to reviews without some form of illegal filtering. 

Again the answer is moderation; independent moderation allows you to invite all your customers to write a review whilst minimising the chances of inaccurate or potentially misleading comments appearing in print

  • We won't get caught
That's as maybe - although the CMA has reviews and their abuse right in its sights, and it has teeth (remember the estate agents fined £600,000 for price-fixing? that was the CMA). 

What is certain is that your competitors will notice, and they won't be backwards in letting your potential customers know the you are decieveing them. And who wants to entrust their life savings/home sale/health/legal affairs to a business that breaks the law to look good?

  • 'It's expensive to comply'
This is referring to the reaction to the idea of adopting a professional review management strategy. The short answer? You don't have an option. The long one: professional review management, which incorporates moderation to minimise the likelihood of inaccurate or misleading reviews ever seeing the light of day, invariably earns a business money

How so? Because hosting independently verified reviews on a business's website is proven to drive clicks and calls and therefore new business (there are many more benefits - see 'Our pitch to you' below)

How about these stars? They light a business up in local search - and drive calls and clicks. And no wonder: every survey ever conducted has proven that a great rating and a significant amount of reviews does just that. Put it this way: if we were to tell the business above that they were going to lose those stars and that score - and revert to looking like their four other competitors in this search - and lose0 this on their own website, what do you think their reaction would be?

We rest our case.

Further reading...

Tuesday 9 March 2021

UK Businesses are still buying fake Google reviews


Here's the full article

Our first reaction? It's so frustrating that it's still going on. We could give the CMA, the responsible regulator, a 'hit list' to be getting on with (we are in communication with them currently, as it happens). We blogged about this very issue for the first time in October 2015 - that's nearly six years ago.

'Not us', we hear echoing around the offices of UK Plc. But then which businesses are buying reviews? The answer, according to Which? ranges from a stockbroker in Canary Wharf to a car hire company in Surrey to a locksmith in Cambridge, as well as firms of solicitors and dentists.

In other words, it's endemic, and with the kinds of businesses where a single paid-for review could mislead a consumer into making the wrong - and potentially life-changing decision. 

Why is this a 'bad thing'?

Reviews are, these days, relied on by consumers - very heavily. Especially when buying high-value items and especially the kinds of services that can be very expensive indeed, and compounded if the consumer has been influenced, illegally, to use the wrong business. Harley street oncologist, anyone? Estate agent, with £tens of thousands of fees and ultimate proceeds at stake?

It is also against the law.

It is also, as Which? points out, manifestly unfair on businesses that obey the law.

How can Which? and anyone else, tell a review is fake or even bought?

This is a trick of our trade, but we're going to disclose it here for the greater common good: first, find the business you suspect of buying fake reviews. That's not as difficult as it may first seem, especially when it is your day-to-day job; you get a nose for them, the English is 'off' (if you visit the website shown above you will see what we mean by that!). Or the pattern is questionable (in the case of the stockbroker mentioned above, it had received a steady stream of critical reviews over many months and then a sudden surge of 5* reviews). Or every single review mentions the name of a member of staff: 'Jackie was wonderful...' Peter was wonderful'. There are many more indicators, but we expect you get our drift.

Once you have the business in your sights it is then a matter of cross-referencing the reviews posted by the individual reviewer. Google, uniquely, provides a map of the individual reviews posted by each and every reviewer; this enables anyone to check the geography of that reviewer's reviews. Some questionable reviews are posted by some very well-travelled people that also use an extraordinarily wide range of businesses!

Is this confined to Google reviews?

Absolutely not! Here's reviewr.co.uk's list (and it's only their 'Top Services')...

Here's their shopping cart, just to round out the picture...

The 'How much review you want' probably gives you a fairly good indication of the kind of reviews you will be buying! But if the business urgently needs fifty reviews to get its Google score or Trustpilot rating up, do they really care that much? If the Which survey and our experience is anything to go by, not that much!

How about the review sites themselves?

Our opinion, backed up by many years of hands-on experience, is that the review sites have all but abdicated their responsibility for ensuring that reviews are the genuine opinions of real customers. In many cases, their [potential] stock market value is directly linked to the number of reviews - and therefore valuable data - they host and hold, so there is a financial disincentive to moderate reviews. A look at the reviews they all host of their competitors is also enlightening, as is a check of the reviews posted by their employees on sites such as Glassdoor.

Google, by dint of the fact that one needs a Google account linked to every other activity one performs on Google, including one's search history, is probably the most reliable in terms of the least number of fake reviews (also partly because it doesn't directly rely on reviews to boost its earnings). This is a good thing because it is also the most visible and the most influential.

What should the regulators be doing?

Fake and bought reviews are only the tip of a very large malpractice iceberg when it comes to reviews. They are manipulated, both by businesses and the sites that host them, in many other ways, all to the detriment of consumers as well as honest businesses.

It is essential that these practices are stamped out as quickly as possible, otherwise many millions of consumers will continue to be misled and many honest businesses will continue to lose out to their less honest competitors.

We have asked to meet the regulators and will be opening our extensive archive for them to examine. We will report back here in due course.

Further reading...

Monday 8 March 2021

Reviews: so many choices - but only one long-term solution

Let's assume your business realises that it does need some kind of solution to reviews. What mechanisms are there, and what are their downsides?

Here's a return for a typical Google search any business might reasonably be expected to make...

So let's examine the offerings by those paid advertisers (we'll exclude the top result - it's a link farm, and they're to be avoided at all costs)...


Useful for product/online retailers, where there's no temptation to game, but not fit for purpose where complex services are concerned. There are also issues surrounding compliance with UK law which requires review solutions to allow reviewers to post at a time of their own choosing and without being specifically invited. Feefo's system is 'invitation only', which is probably OK for products such as clothing or household wares (although some might reasonably suggest that a review posted two years after purchasing a washing machine has more relevance and use for your fellow consumer than one posted when it's fresh out of the box), but not for financial or legal services, estate agency or medical/health. And they own your customers' reviews, you don't.


A less visible and less credible alternative to Google with far less reach. With a monthly fee payable for its most important benefits, and reviews that you never own (they do). It has been repeatedly criticised for its 'quarantine' system whereby businesses can have a review suspended pending 'proof of purchase'. Its sales methods have also come under scrutiny as ex-sales staff claim that they were advised to cold-call businesses that had recently received negative reviews on their platform.

Google (alone)

Free reviews. Free widget. But no moderation. Why is moderation so essential, especially for the professional services sector? See '*Moderation' below.


Why not just import the Google widget for free? If you need a reporting function any software developer will build you one that won't tie you into a monthly fee. Again, unmoderated, which tempts business users to gate and cherry-pick happy customers to post reviews, both illegal in the UK (for a definition of both read this). Potentially damaging unfair and or/inaccurate reviews posted to Google are automatically imported to the business's site via their review display widget. Again - see '*Moderation' below.

Other sites that host reviews...


The big daddy of them all, after Google of course; retired hurt from the UK and EU in 2016.


Yes, it still exists, although quite how or why eludes us.

Checkatrade - and similar sites

These are lead generators for trades that rely on their members lack of understanding of just how Google works. They are paying up to 20% commission on every job, where, if they committed to Google, they would be able to spend that 20% on their own marketing. Or, as one tradesperson we spoke to said 'If I needed to spend twenty per cent of my turnover to generate business I wouldn't be doing my job properly'.

In the same search that returned the ads above, Google even returns this on page one...

The author of this article has patently never been on the receiving end of what we call a 'killer' review. What is a killer review? It is a review that stops the phones ringing.

Last month there was a well-publicised case of just such an occurrence, when a firm of solicitors received such a review. The result? A documented fall-off of inbound enquiries to the business of nearly forty percent (this was proved to the judge's satisfaction by the firm in question). Just the one review - and, thankfully for the business concerned, on Trustpilot, not Google, where every single person searching for the business would have seen it and the impact would have been far greater.

*Moderation - the only way to fight back against inaccurate/malicious/fake or misleading reviews

Aside from all the other obvious functions HelpHound performs for both its business clients and its reviewers - principally displaying those reviews on the business's website and then enabling the business and the reviewer to get the review copied across to Google - there is one which they may not initially pay much attention to, or place much value upon, and that is our moderation function.

But when it is needed? It can save a business's life, literally.

How does it work? Beavering away behind the scenes is our moderation team; they read every single review before it is posted on every single one of our clients' websites for...
  • typos - no-one, reviewer nor business, wants typos, so we simply correct them
  • foul language - this benefits no-one, so we simply revert to the reviewer and politely request that they resubmit their review minus the offending - and offensive - words
  • accusations of illegal behaviour -  a review is not the place for that; if there is any basis for accusations of that kind it is the courts, not in a review, that such an accusation should be tested. This is probably the most contentious aspect of moderation, so bears further examination: if the customer/client/patient seriously thinks they have been lied to/stolen from/defrauded in some way' then we will speak to both the business and the reviewer in an attempt to understand the issue. In the case referred to above the reviewer accused the firm in question of "being another scam solicitor" and had £25,000 in damages awarded against them (to reflect the loss of earnings the judge agreed had been caused by the review). If the reviewer in question had simply related the facts of his dealings with the business as he honestly saw them - and as HelpHound would have advised him so to do - then his review would have stood and he would have saved the £25,000
  • factual inaccuracies - saying you were charged £10,000 in a review when the actual amount was £1,000 helps no one (and may well have been a typo)
  • criticising a business for something entirely beyond its control - writing a negative review of an estate agent when you should be criticising your surveyor, for instance
  • potentially misleading statements - often written by 'English as a second language' reviewers (this is possibly the category of reviewer that is most frequently grateful for our intervention), bad English can harm businesses unwittingly
  • second-hand experiences - we will not accept 'I saw X business on the TV and didn't like what I saw' reviews. We had an example of this some years back where a viewer of Channel 4's 'Four in a Bed' wrote a review - On Google - because he 'didn't like the look of' the hotelier; it stopped bookings in their track until we advised said hotelier how to appeal - successfully - to Google. 
Overriding all of this - and moderation probably only applies to one in two hundred reviews anyway (but, my goodness, when it does, both reviewer and business under review are so glad) is the reviewer's absolute right to have whatever review they wish published - we would be acting in disregard of the CMA regulations if we did otherwise - but we always remind reviewers that the business also has and absolute right to have their response published right underneath the review in question. 

Moderation - it's not just 'nice to have', it's essential for professional services

Friday 5 March 2021

Gating - an important warning

What, exactly, is gating? It's the practice of using a formal mechanism to identify those customers most likely to write a positive review of your business. And it's illegal.

Why is gating illegal?

Because it is demonstrably an attempt by the business engaged in gating to hide the reality of its customers' real opinions of that business.

Not only is gating illegal - expressly against the UK CMA's regulations - it is also against Google's terms of service. The difference between the action the CMA might take and Google? Any CMA action will have the force of law, Google will simply delete every single review of any business it deems to have engaged in gating, with no recourse to appeal

It is a refinement of cherry-picking, which is even more common: selecting known happy customers to write reviews. Again: illegal.


For those of you who like chapter and verse: here is the relevant UK legal position. If, having read that, you recognise any of your business practices we suggest you a) stop and b) call us.

Back to gating - in practice

There is more than one way to gate. Here is the most common process:

1.  Employ a relatively insignificant review site. Every review site, including Trustpilot, Feefo and Yelp, is 'insignificant' in every way - reach, visibility, influence, credibility - by comparison with Google.

2.  Invite all customers to write a review there

3.  Then invite only those who have written a 5* review to copy it to Google

It's as simple - and as easy - as that.

The second most popular mechanism:

1.  Conduct a customer survey - of every customer

2.  Then invite only those who have written positive comments to write a review to Google

If anything, even simpler.

An example...

A business on Trustpilot:

And the same business on Google:

By combining cherry-picking (only to Google) and gating a business can make itself look even better.

What action is being taken?

In the UK? The CMA has instituted an investigation into malpractice. Google? They have already acted against businesses - one law firm in the US recently had all its reviews deleted. In practice it is likely to be very similar to HMRC action - driven by complaints by whistleblowers - the CMA is actively canvassing for insider knowledge of infringments. And those whistleblowers? Likely as not ex-members of staff.

Killing the goose..

Reviews are the 'golden egg' of marketing. Currently they are trusted by over 80 percent of consumers as much as a personal recommendation from a friend. As a result they drive considerable business towards those businesses that rank and rate well. 

But businesses that engage in gating and cherry-picking are not helping anyone, even themselves. Over time, consumers - who currently trust reviews (Google reviews, at least) will become more and more cynical, reviews, as a concept, will become devalued, and we will all be the poorer for it.

And finally...

Our question for readers of this article? Why, if it is not for gating purposes, would any business invite reviews anywhere else but Google? Feel free to comment below.

Thursday 4 March 2021

Review sites: is there 'something rotten in the state of Denmark (and the US and the UK)'?

The announcement that Trustpilot has chosen the UK stock market for its
£1 billion IPO has shone more light on the sector as a whole - and this on top of the recent court decision to award a business subject to what the judge described as '[a] negative review [that] has led directly to the drop in enquires and in turn to the number of enquiries which have been turned into instructions' that was hosted by Trustpilot.

Overarching all of this is the fundamental question...

Is there a role for review sites in 2021 and beyond?

So let's look at this in more detail...

What function do review sites, such as Trustpilot and Yelp, perform? 

First from the consumer's standpoint...

  1. They allow consumers to post reviews of their experience of businesses and products of all kinds
  2. They enable consumers to read reviews of services and products they are considering purchasing
From the business's standpoint...
  1. They provide consumer corroboration for the business's other marketing
  2. They provide a feedback channel
Now, if it were all as simple as this, there would be no need for review sites. Why? Because Google provides all of these functions for free.

So why do sites such as Yelp and Trustpilot exist at all? For two obvious reasons...
  1. They were founded well before Google made reviews core to their business model, often with significant investment ($56 million in the case of Yelp, founded in 2004 and $193 million for Trustpilot, founded three years later)
  2. Google doesn't 'sell' its reviews service, so the market for 'sold' review services is wide open
Yelp is the only publicly quoted reviews site, and its share price history reflects the entry of Google into the reviews market...

So, if the Trustpilot IPO gets away it will be intriguing to see how its share price performs. We take the view that just as Yelp and Trustpilot saw the demise in all but winding-up of Yell/Hibu (the old Yellow Pages) that Google, even though not directly marketed, will see off the likes of Yelp and Trustpilot, simply because...
  • Google reviews are seen by everyone - those of Yelp and Trustpilot are not
  • Google reviews have credibility - partly as a result of their ubiquitousness, partly because reviewers and businesses find it far more difficult to 'game' Google reviews 

Other controversy surrounding review sites

As regular readers will know, we have not recommended a review site to any of our clients since Google entered the market. A cursory reading of reviews on these sites - of their own offerings - continues to reinforce that decision. 
  • Trustpilot hosts over 20,000 reviews critical of its own services on its own listing, and the tone is pretty universally along these lines...

Another 'no smoke without fire' source of information about businesses is Glassdoor. One or two negative opinions by past employees are to be expected, but when they number in dozens? Here's just the latest of many...

The final nail, for us, was provided for us by Peter Muhlmann, Trustpilot's CEO, when he said...

“I’m not claiming that we are perfect. The new way to be perfect is to be transparently imperfect and show that you care.” 

No. The way to be 'perfect' is to have a transparent, consumer-focussed, compliant review management strategy. And that means Google reviews. Nothing else.

Potential abuse

Another disadvantage, for both consumers and businesses, is the complete lack of moderation by these review sites. Anyone can leave a review of any kind. on top of that, paying member businesses can challenge reviews, leading to swathes of quite genuine reviews never seeing the light of day because the reviewer cannot 'prove' they had dealings with the business.

We will be speaking to the Competition and Markets Authority on this and other subjects as they are currently conducting an investigation into review sites. Why? Because there are many thousands of businesses paying these review sites and, as a direct result, potentially misleading millions of UK consumers, wilfully or not, into use the wrong business.

And HelpHound - where does it fit in?

For the best part of the last decade, HelpHound has advised anyone who would listen to adopt a Google-centric reviews strategy. Focussing on professional services as we do, we almost always advise businesses to adopt our moderation system to ensure - for the benefit of their potential customers - that as few inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews as possible see the light of day. But we have one core precept: 'The customer always has the right to have their view heard' - combined with 'the business always has the right to respond'.

And finally...

Think about it - your business invests time and effort in reviews, do you want to end up, as businesses who were sold Yelp in the UK did, with your review site giving up on UK business altogether, leaving you to begin all over again?