Friday 16 July 2021

HelpHound - the next £1billion solution to reviews

Are we joking - or even exaggerating? Let's see. We have several reasons for not adding a '?' to the title. Just read on.

Up until this year, there was only one review business with a stockmarket listing: Yelp (market cap currently just shy of $3 billion). Unfortunately, after investing over £100 million in its UK HQ Yelp withdrew from the UK and EU as a result, we assume, of UK and EU regulatory clashes with its business model. You can read the full story here but, in a nutshell, Yelp's business model depended on boosted listings (businesses paying to appear in searches) which clashed with the CMA's determination - quite correct in our opinion - that review sites should not boost paying businesses over others.

Then along came Trustpilot's IPO

A serious comparator at last. 

Trustpilot's target market:

  • Primary:  Product retailers. It has become an industry standard that retailers display online reviews of any and every product, as well as reviews of the business itself 
  • Secondary: Businesses in general, the professions and services; this is a secondary market for Trustpilot as it almost certainly recognises that Google provides a more credible and visible platform when it comes to business - and especially professional and service - reviews

HelpHound's target market:

  • Primary:  Service businesses and the professions; health and medical, legal,    financial services, estate agency

The above highlights a serious differentiator. Trustpilot's offering is far from ideal for service businesses and the professions (for an in-depth analysis read this). And already there is comment appearing in industry blogs questioning the intrinsic value of product reviews from the consumer's point of view. If, as is suspected, over eighty percent of all product reviews rate a product 4 or 5 stars, irrespective of any other criteria, how useful are reviews bar confirming that 'this camera/washing machine/e-bike works' as opposed to a true indicator of relative quality? If two cameras score 4.5 from 1,000 reviews, do you simply buy the cheaper camera? It's a tricky one - for consumers and for Trustpilot.

Surely consumers would be far better off relying on professional reviews, be they online, in the press, or from organisations such as Which?, where ratings and value for money are the results of expert - or at the very least comparative - findings? Buy a pair of trainers because a Love Island influencer wears them and they're rated 5* by Trustpilot, but select an oncologist on that basis?

Moving swiftly on to reviews of service/professional businesses:

Here, we would contend, reviews can add significant value for consumers*. Put yourself in the position of someone requiring the services of...

  • a family lawyer*
  • a gynaecologist*
  • a pensions adviser*
  • an estate agent*
*Many people react to this by saying 'I would only ever use [one of the above] on the basis of personal recommendation' and it is obviously true that a personal recommendation for any of these categories is extremely valuable. But pause for one second and ask yourself 'Then why do these businesses expend significant sums on marketing. PR and advertising?' The answer is, of course, that such activity does bring in new clients/patients. People do read reviews of such services, even if they have been alerted to them by a friend or colleague. 

In these instances reviews, we would contend, can provide a really great guide, providing, of course, that they are obtained in full compliance with the CMA's regulations and Google's terms of service.

Fifty reviews of a medical practitioner, all written by the surgeon's family and friends, are of little value. Fifty reviews written by their verified patients, so much more so. The regulation of reviews in the UK is in the hands of the CMA, and they are on the case in this respect. That - compliance -  is not the central point at issue in this article; if you want to read more see here.

Trustpilot, as any cursory examination of their website will disclose, can enable a business to accumulate hundreds, even thousands of such reviews. But herein lies the problem (actually two problems) and the difference between two businesses - HelpHound and Trustpilot - that may, at first encounter, look very similar.

Trustpilot reviews remain on the Trustpilot website, unseen by the majority of consumers until they arrive at the business's own website, and sometimes not even then.

The reviews gathered by a HelpHound client arrive first on the client's own website and then, in a great many cases, post-moderation, on Google. Where they are seen by just about anyone looking for the business.

This creates what we call the 'golden circle of reviews':

They are seen on Google and seen again on the business's website and then again on Google if and when the potential customer returns there - potential customers simply cannot avoid seeing the business's reviews.

Here, again, are the two fundamental differences...
  • Visibility
  • Moderation
And they make all the difference in the world - to the consumer searching for reviews and to the business that wants its reviews to be seen by the maximum number of potential customers.

Just try it for yourself - search for 'estate agent [in] Blackheath':

Our client, Winkworth, appears twice in this, the most popular search for those seeking an estate agent: first, leading the Google 3-pack (with their Google reviews showing) and second, leading - again - Google's natural (organic) listings (where their own - HelpHound - reviews show, along with their score and star rating).

This is not accidental, but nor is it based - yet, anyway - on the business's review score; as most readers will know it is all the result of that dark art: SEO. And there's no doubt whatsoever that hosting your own reviews boosts SEO. In the future we predict that Google will begin to allow users to search based on review score; the only reason they don't currently (although users can already filter out low scoring businesses in Google Maps) is that Google probably considers such a move to be premature - with too many businesses remaining to actively engage with reviews. But it won't be long now. 

Then read their reviews; try to read them from the perspective of someone who desperately needs to retain the right estate agent (as if anyone does not!):

Carry on reading until you are satisfied, read the negative reviews as well and read the responses posted by the business. 

Then - if you have been impressed enough - click through to their website:

Where you will see how many reviews they have there - their own reviews on their own website, not Google reviews (yet*) and their average score; you will also be able to click through to read all their reviews, good bad or indifferent (and search on those three criteria):

*every single person who writes a review on the business's site is asked to copy that review to Google - and given a link to do so along with the text of their original review to make it as easy as possible.

Here - for comparison - is the same local search - where do you suppose the Trustpilot client... 


You could conduct the same exercise with any HelpHound client in any local search and the answer will invariably be very similar: our clients look great on their own websites, great in Google reviews (and scores) and great in all kinds of search - and the calls and clicks they get reflect this.

Gauging the uplift in business as a direct result of HelpHound membership

Back in the day marketing savvy businesses simply invested time, effort and energy in acquiring as many Google reviews as they could; they simply sensed that looking great in search would generate more clicks and calls. This evolved over time into more formal - and legally compliant - mechanisms, with the aid of HelpHound's moderation, but it remained difficult to quantify the benefits in hard cash.

That all changed with the advent of the Google My Business monthly report: new clients finally had an accurate measure of the uplift in clicks and calls as soon as they joined - all independently measured and audited by Google. Here's just one example:

The anecdotal evidence began to pile up as well; posts like this one on Linkedin:

And stories like this one from a client of another branch of Winkworth:

"I was visited by seven agents, including Winkworth who happened to quote the highest percentage commission (the spread betwen lowest and highest was 0.8%); when I asked her how she justified this she responded by handing me her iPad and asking me to read the reviews of their service.

After I instructed Winkworth - who then fulfilled all their promises relating to the sale of my home - she explained that all her instructions and a great many of her office's enquiries, especially through their website, were gained thanks to their reviews. 

She went on to stress just how important it would be, once my sale was finalised, for me to write a review to their website and then copy that review to Google, which I am pleased to say I have done more than willingly."


That 0.8% adds up to £3,933 on the average London house price; multiply that by the number of properties sold by the agent in question in a year and you begin to realise just how valuable professional review management can be - bearing in mind that estate agents are competing over a finite sales and lettings pool and the only way to improve results is by maximising instructions and then commission per deal.

So: the $64,000 - or rather £1 billion - question

If you were a business looking for a long-term value-for-money effective solution to online reviews, which would you choose?

And, selfishly from our own point-of-view, which solution would you think was the better investment?

Answers on a postcard - or email, preferably - to, or even comment below.

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