Monday 31 January 2022

Google Local Ads and the Google Guarantee - a moneyspinner for Google and the death knell for review sites?

Anyone who has conducted a local search recently will have seen Google's clever new offering: here's a common enough example:

With the tab at the bottom leading to...

With the green tick that means 'Google Guaranteed'...

Although the 'guarantee' provided by Google certainly doesn't relate to the quality of the workmanship or service on offer, if some of the reviews for the Google Guaranteed businesses are anything to go by...

...these go on for a long way

The basic premise is to be found here, but to summarise: the green tick means the business actually exists plus a few other knobs and whistles (we're disappointed they will accept businesses with only a mobile number), which we suppose is a step in the right direction when you think of some of the 'businesses' doing the rounds offering their services from the back of a white van.

But there are two serious issues at play here.

First, why, if Google reviews worked and businesses engaged with them in a legally compliant manner, is this service needed? Who needs it? Consumers? Why not just search for a plumber with a decent score and a good number of reviews? Google is charging businesses for that green tick and for the ability to appear right at the top of search, above ads, above the 3-pack and above organic listings. Isn't that why Yelp quit the UK and the EU? Didn't the authorities have issues with businesses paying to be bumped up the search rankings?

Second: that's it for the likes of Trustpilot. Why would any business pay for them when they can pay Google - per lead - and appear way higher in search as well?

Answers on a postcard, please.

Meanwhile, we record Trustpilot's share price here, just out of interest, so we can refer back in the months and years to come:

Monday 17 January 2022

By far the best way for service and professional businesses to get the maximum benefit from reviews

Reviews have been around for nearly two decades now, but businesses remain confused, and understandably so. This article is designed to end that confusion, once and for all.

But first, let's look at why businesses engage with reviews in the first place:

  • Consumers - just about all consumers - check reviews before even considering a particular product or service purchase nowadays; businesses with negative reviews or low scores suffer, businesses with great reviews and high scores prosper
  • Businesses know that, so they want their reviews and scores to look their very best in search, irrespective of how the consumer may have come across them in the first place; it may be they've been recommended by a friend or colleague or seen some of the business's other marketing efforts, but they'll still reference the business's reviews
  • Businesses are aware that their competitors understand the above two points and will be doing their very best to win the reviews race
It's just like advertising used to be: you advertised where your potential consumers were looking, be that in print, on TV/radio or on billboards and you wanted your advertisement to have the most impact, to impress your potential customers and to impress them more than your rivals, who were almost certainly advertising in the same media.

Google reviews

Then along came Google. And in many ways life became simpler: you just wanted your business - your product or service - to look great in search. But then you realised that, unlike the 'old media', you couldn't be sure that your potential customer would see you at all. At least with a newspaper or magazine you could be sure they would turn the page and there your ad would be, or the same for TV in a commercial break. But with Google we all soon realised that appearing on page 2 of search was akin to promoting one's business in Timbuktu.

Google, luckily for all of us, was pretty quick to understand that this benefitted neither business nor consumer (although it sure sold a lot of Google ads!). So they introduced reviews. 

Google reviews, after a sluggish start, partly because they were initially parked alongside Maps in Google Places, became the world-recognised benchmark for businesses as soon as they began being displayed in every search. If your business scored as close to the perfect 5.0 as possible and was shown on page 1 of search the enquiries and business would flow. If you scored less well and/or didn't appear on page 1 you needed to take action.

Let's deal with the page 1 part first: any SEO agency would quite happily take £thousands of your hard-earned and promise you the earth. Stories of SEO horror used to be legion. Then Google introduced the Google My Business panel and let businesses and their web designers know that if they 'played the game' there - by providing the information Google knew searchers wanted - they would rank higher; no guarantees, but better than paying out thousands for paltry results. 

Then came reviews - and the Google reviews filter. So businesses went after reviews - positive reviews - to get both their scores and their absolute numbers of reviews up. The Google filter, when enabled by a searcher, simply displayed only businesses that scored 4.5 and up - after all, who would be looking for a business that scored less, right?

Hot on the heels of this quest came hitch No 1: regulatory abuse. In the UK and the EU the law quickly caught up and stated - and still states today - that it would be illegal to only invite happy customers to write reviews (known as cherry-picking) and it would be even less desirable for businesses to come up with mechanisms to get only - or even mainly - positive reviews (known as gating). 

So now the Google reviews solution is looking less straightforward: how to demonstrate compliance with the law and, at the same time, maintain that flow of high-quality positive reviews? We all know that customers - for we are they when not wearing our 'work' hats - can be unreasonable, ill-informed, unfair, inaccurate in our recall of events and sometimes just plain wrong. How to play the reviews game without our business's reputation being harmed unfairly?

Review sites

Well, the salesforces of the review sites, which had been around since way before Google reviews (which, in themselves, have never been actively 'sold' by Google), had their pitches honed: ignore Google reviews and focus on theirs. Not only would they display your reviews on their sites, Google would list links to them in search - well, somewhere in search - and they would give you wonderful dashboards to share with your marketing teams. Crucially, they would also be as 'helpful' as possible when it came to 'managing' negative reviews.

The problems here - apart from the prominence of their brands in online retail marketing, where they were and are ubiquitous - were straightforward: 
1.  They just did not show up sufficiently in search, certainly by comparison with Google reviews. Go on: google any business and see whose reviews show. Google's reviews are right there every time.


reviews of Trustpilot on

reviews of on Trustpilot

2.  They have attracted increasingly negative reviews of their own - just search for Trustpilot on or vice versa and you will see what we mean.


3.  Negative mainstream media coverage has followed; the last thing any business needs is the credibility of their reviews platform being called into question.


4.  Legal and compliance issues are enough to keep any corporate compliance officer continually at odds with their sales and marketing colleagues, as well as awake at night: 'We can't use/abuse customer reviews in that way!' - 'If we don't we'll look worse than our competitors.' 'But that's illegal.' 'How can we compete if we don't?'

There is a better - much better - way

Combine all of the advantages of Google reviews:
  • visibility
  • credibility
  • SEO credit
  • longevity
With the following:
  • owning your own reviews - not possible with either Google or the review sites
  • moderation - having your customers' reviews checked for factual accuracy and potentially misleading statements before publication
And it's called review management, but as far as service and professional businesses are concerned it's called 'having your cake and eating it.' All the wonderful benefits of Google reviews combined with a compliant and moderated platform that will enable everyone involved to relax in the sure knowledge that they are not flouting the law*.

We invented it and we have proven it, year in year out, for more than a decade now: legally compliant, owning your own reviews, displaying them on your website, getting them across to Google, contributing to your SEO.

And all for the cost of a mobile phone contract - except that we are so confident of the results we generate for our clients that we don't have contracts!

*the Law

This is a biggie; just because your main competitor has hundreds of great Google reviews and scores 4.8 doesn't mean you should emulate their review strategy. Just asking nailed-on happy customers to write reviews and/or running customer surveys to find out who loves you and then inviting them to write reviews is illegal. It also hands a big win to any competitor who understands just how the business gets to look so great.

One of the first rules of review management is that the business must be able to answer any potential criticism as to the veracity of their reviews - all our clients can point to the invitation on their websites (see 'Write a review' at top right)...

...and our 'promise to publish'. To see just how effective this can be just take a minute to read this story...

How about that? Now read some more detailed numbers here. And remember, you doctors and lawyers out there, these apply equally to you too!

In summary...

It often helps if the business asks itself the following simple questions:

1.  Does looking great on Google matter to us (you might be surprised how many answer 'No' to that question - online retailers, large 'monopolies' - think mobile phone/utilities)? If the answer is 'yes' - as it should be for all service and professional businesses - then please read on. For businesses that already have Google reviews please pay especial attention to point 2.

2.  Does compliance with the law matter? We apologise for even asking this question but still, in 2022, at last half the businesses we speak to are horrified to find that they are unwittingly breaking the law - usually by cherry-picking or gating. The detail is here, but if your business is at all vulnerable to a well-written malicious review - and all service or professional businesses are - we suggest that a moderated review management system (see 3. below) is absolutely essential. 

Just speak to any business that has been a victim of such a review or read this article about a law firm that ended up having to sue one of its own clients because the review they had written was costing them tens of thousands in lost fees (as the judge in the case agreed).

3.  If looking great on Google matters - score and volume - do negative reviews that are inaccurate, misleading or just plain unfair matter? Of course they do - everyone reads them, and they're the single main reason some businesses are afraid of engaging with Google reviews (as well as being the single main reason that a searcher won't click through to a business's website). You need an independently moderated review management system that checks every single review before it's published. Moderation is explained here.

4.  Does ranking on Google matter? Do we need to rank high in search and look good there as well? This question is probably best answered graphically; here is a local search that features one of our clients:

Their specific search?

That's not putting anyone off clicking or calling, is it?

All legal, simple and most important of all: effective. Reviews from their own site showing with their listing and leading local search. Not looking bad on their own website either (where Google is pulling the information you can see in the search above)...

Price? Almost certainly less than the firm's daily petrol bill - per month! And no contract - ever.

Monday 10 January 2022

HelpHound - Blog Index for 2022

There are now nearly 1,000 articles on this blog now, so we thought it might be helpful if we provide an index of 'essential reading'. 

If you cannot find the answer to your own query here you have three options...

    1. Call us - a quick call to 020 7100-2233 will resolve any questions you may have
    2. Email us -
    3. Interrogate the blog - on the right you will see 'Search this blog'. Just type in a keyword or words and you may well find what you are looking for. If you still haven't found the answer we really need to hear from you, so please let us know!
So you can find the article that's most relevant we have broken the index down into sections:
  • Depending on the extent of your business's engagement with the most important, visible and influential reviews host of all: Google. 
  • Depending on your experience with other review solutions: review sites, aggregators and so on.
  • Sector-specific articles: legal, medical, financial etc.
  • Results. Saving the best for last: what will happen when your review management programme is correctly implemented and kicks into gear.

For a business that has yet to acquire any reviews:

Very few businesses in 2022 have no Google reviews. If one has none or very few this is invariably as a result of the justifiable fear of attracting inaccurate, misleading or just plain unfair reviews.

  • If this is the case this is the article for you. It maps the route your business will need to take to eliminate that 'fear factor' without, as is the case with so many businesses these days, flying in the face of the law.

In some ways this business is in an enviable position: once it adopts a review management strategy it will be in a position to measure its success very accurately indeed. After all, any uplift in clicks and calls post-implementation will be startlingly obvious and will almost certainly be attributable to one factor: their new review management strategy.

For a business with some, but less than 100 Google reviews:

It is very common for a business to invite its most loyal customers and connexions to write reviews, and then run out of steam. This is completely understandable but - wait for it - illegal (at least in the UK). So how to comply with the law and the regulations and get more reviews at the same time? 
Compliance won't hold you back - quite the opposite - or expose you to risk but it will mean you and your staff will be able to sleep at night.

For a business with many - more than 100 - Google reviews:

Again, the first step must be compliance. 'Cherry-picking' (selecting happy customers and then inviting them to write a Google review) and 'Gating' (sending a customer survey or using a little known reviews site to establish who your happy customers are and then inviting them - and only them - to write a review to Google) are both against the law; the latter is also against Google terms of service and, if detected, will result in all the business's reviews being removed.
  • Read this. It will reassure you that your business can reap all the rewards that come with having an impressive Google score alongside many great reviews and be bullet-proof when it comes to complying with the law.
  • Here's an article that specifically deals with gating. Imagine having dozens - or even hundreds - of great Google reviews and then losing them all overnight? That's what Google does to businesses it identifies as gating. No redress. No appeal. It's simply not worth the effort, especially when there's a legitimate alternative.

Both these articles will help explain why there's no need to cherry-pick or gate; adopting professional review management will protect and enhance your business's reputation, legally. 

For a business currently using a review site - Trustpilot - Feefo - Yelp etc.

See if yours is the kind of business - multi-line online retail, for instance - that can benefit from membership of a review site. And see why service businesses and the professions need a Google-focussed review management programme instead. 

It's no fault of the review sites, but it's rather like the Japanese car industry in the 60s and 70s: Google has just taken what's best of the service provided by the review sites and combined that with their domination of the search market and come up with a far more attractive alternative.

Google reviews are more visible and more credible - so businesses need to focus on getting them. They're the only reviews 90% of consumers will ever see. Your business needs Google reviews. 

But do remember to employ a moderator - see 'HelpHound's USP' below - because the influence works both ways: loads of great Google reviews drive business, a single inaccurate or misleading Google review can stop a business in its tracks.

For a business currently using a review aggregator - etc.

Whilst they look great, in theory, aggregators - sites that scour the web for reviews of your business and then display them on your website - have considerable downsides once you look under the bonnet.


Now for some sector-specific articles containing examples and advice:

The following professions are amongst those that most resisted review management back in the early days. Their logic - understandable, given that it takes years to build a reputation and one well-written negative review can undo all that work - was that...

  1. Their sphere of operations was complex and difficult for a lay person - their client or patient in these cases - to understand.
  2. Client - or patient - confidentiality was one of the cornerstones of their modus operandi; asking someone to effectively break that to write a review would be a bridge too far for many.
  3. Clients - and patients - would be extremely reluctant to reveal details of their personal experiences.
Interestingly, experience - long experience - has shown us that...
  1. Complexity: providing their reviews are moderated clients and patients are capable of writing extremely helpful and reassuring reviews that are hugely welcomed by prospective clients and patients.
  2. Confidentiality: the key here is to stress that writing the review is entirely at the client or patient's discretion. Those that are happy to write a review will do so, those that are not won't. There is no sign whatsoever of any hard feelings either way (although we do see the odd case of 'A - usually a friend or work colleague - was asked to write a review and I was not, please may I?').
  3. Reluctance: again, it's optional. Anyone who does not feel happy commenting won't do so and that's OK. But it's often surprising just how much detail someone who has been helped by a business will be prepared to go into.

How much more personal and confidential can such a relationship be? This review, and the many others on this Harley Street clinic's site and Google listing show just how willing a grateful patient can be when it comes to responding to a well-worded request to post a review. And for the person searching for this kind of service? We'll leave that conclusion to you!

Here are articles that address issues specific to the professions...

HelpHound's key - and crucial - USP

Everything we do here is designed to make your business look as great as it is in all kinds of search as well as on its own website. But that would be all as nothing without moderation. 

We read every single review written to our client's website, before it is published there and before the reviewer is asked to post it to Google. This is what enables our clients to relax in the knowledge that it is highly unlikely that a factually inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair review will ever see the light of day.

And finally...Results!

The ultimate objective of professional review management:

The above are actual figures for a client from Google exactly six weeks after they joined HelpHound. We have seen better but we reckon most new clients in the professional sectors we specialise in will be happy with similar results, especially when they are sustained.

And to have our clients looking like this on their own websites:

Please read this review - and as many reviews on their website as you can - for it is those, the individual reviews, that prompt contact from potential clients, just as much as the pure numbers (review score and totals) if not more so. 

And like this in local search:

Local search is used by everyone when conducting their initial search for a service, even if the business has been referred by a friend and/or their advertising is impressive. Making an impression there is vital if calls and clicks are to flow. If you look carefully at this search - and even conduct a similar real-time search yourself - you will see Winkworth leading the Google 3-pack and organic search. 

Their Google score, combined with the absolute number of reviews, will reassure potential clients, certainly enough to prompt them to make initial contact. The score from their own reviews on their own website (the 4.9 and 237 just under their listing in organic search) reinforces the impression created by their Google score and reviews 

We've already mentioned the intangibles: being 100% compliant with the law, focussing on Google and so on, but here is the clincher for your CEO/CMO/CFO...