Wednesday 16 February 2022

Trustpilot sues a business for posting fake reviews

The last time Trustpilot took action against a business it was for the business in question suing - successfully - a Trustpilot reviewer/customer (there's an excellent article by a qualified solictor here and our own analysis of the action and impact here). Trustpilot suspended law firm Summerfield Browne's listing in February last year and it remains suspended as we write; no more reviews, frozen in time, but still appearing on Trustpilot's website, over a year later

And goodness knows how many times that 1* review has been seen since (it's obviously written by the person in the lawsuit); it's been voted 'useful' 145 times - and we use a 1:20 rule of thumb - if one person votes for a review, you can be sure at least another 19 have read it, so that makes another 2,755 people who were looking for a solicitor who may well have been put off contacting the firm by this review).

We're not sure how fair this is, on the law firm or on consumers. 

But back to the latest case. here's what the business's Trustpilot listing looks like today:

We have some questions for Trustpilot:

  1. How did they identify the fake reviews?
  2. How did they decide which reviews to delete and which should remain?
  3. Why have they not suspended the business's account in the same way as they have suspended Summerfield Browne's?
  4. How do they propose to prove that the business is 'soliciting fake reviews'?
That answer to that last question will be interesting. We often see what we suspect to be fake reviews, all over the web, but 'suspecting' and 'proving in a court of law' are vastly different matters.

We will be following this story closely. And we'll report to you when we har anything more. Meanwhile, our advice to you all remains the same: focus on Google, get Google reviews compliantly (don't cherry-pick or gate) and build your reputation there, where all your potential customers are looking, not on review sites.

Why not Google?

 Here is a well-known and much-marketed national brand, on its own website:

Now, given that we all know that Google reviews are:

  • more visible - in all searches
  • more viewed by consumers
  • more credible - at least Google knows the online activity of the reviewer
Why are they not promoting their Google reviews? Maybe the answer is here, in searches on their HQ...

...and London:

And here, with the second organic result when a potential customer searches for 'Purplebricks reviews':

Ouch! Three times ouch!

Now, we are not commenting on the effectiveness of the business. We've never used them. But we are commenting on the effectiveness of their review management strategy; it is misguided.


At the very least, employing not one but two review sites - why two, we have been asking ourselves and our readers for years? - has led unhappy customers to ignore the business's chosen channels and write their reviews to Google (and another review site). This is a well-known habit we christened 'deflection' (this article was written over 5 years ago).

Lessons for them - and everyone else

First and foremost: a business's review strategy should be based on and built around Google reviews, not any of the independent sites.

Next, if you run a complex service business such as an estate agency - or a financial, medical or legal practice, where your good reputation is a vital plank of your marketing* - you need an independently moderated system. This will ensure the bare minimum of inaccurate, misleading or just plain unfair reviews see the light of day.

Having accepted those two basic ingredients you will need to find someone like HelpHound so you can host your own reviews on your own website and have them moderated and as many as possible copied across to Google.

Back to the original question: why have Purplebricks not adopted such a strategy? We haven't the faintest idea. Please comment if you have.

The City knows what it's doing

Not always. But in this case it looks as if it does:

* 'Isn't every business's online reputation important?', we hear you ask, quite sensibly. Well no. High Street retail and quasi-monopoly businesses such as utilities will trade quite happily while their customers rate them 1* online. Think Starbucks or Vodafone. Definitively not the case for a solicitor or a gynaecologist - they have to look the best they possibly can; if you have any doubts at all please read this horrifying case history.

Friday 11 February 2022

Reviews drive revenue

It's that simple: when a business gets its review management right it should expect it to pay significant financial dividends (more below).  But there are four key rules that all businesses need to follow if reviews are to drive revenue without compromising the business's legal integrity and its ultimate long-term reputation. They're all straightforward, but 'break' one of the four and your review management will ultimately* fail.

*Ultimately: far too many businesses have either taken a short-term view on Google reviews - get as many as possible, all positive, irrespective of the law - or they have been sold a solution that will ultimately result in harm to their brand, often by diverting reviews away from Google to a review site, where their reviews are increasingly invisible to their prospective customers. 

Marketers need to be planning at least a decade ahead where review management is concerned and should be able to answer the question 'Where do we want to be with regard to reviews and what impression do we want to be creating in 3, 5, 7 and 10 years time?' with confidence.

Rule 1

Obey the law. 


It is rare to come across such hard evidence as Points 1. and 3. on this Trustpilot/Yell notice to staff, But we estimate that well over 50% of businesses have some such demonstrably illegal scheme in place, whether focussed on Google or a review site (or both).  The CMA has powers to confiscate computer equipment and email records, and it will use them. And if you knew a competitor was doing this?


Very few businesses currently do - obey the law, that is. There's a simple test: if a business does any of the following...

    1. Invites selected customers to write reviews
    2. Controls the timing of the review
    3. Rewards staff for attracting positive reviews
    4. Rewards customers for posting reviews
    5. In any other way 'filters' customers to eliminate those less likely to write a favourable review

...then the business is not compliant with the CMA rules or UK law.

In addition, if the business pre-qualifies those it wishes to invite to post a review to Google, a practice known as gating, it will be in breach of Google's terms of business (customer surveys are a popular mechanism here). If found to be doing so by Google the business will have all its Google reviews deleted without recourse to appeal.

The single most frequent reason given for this non-compliance is 'but our competitors do the same.'  No defence, obviously.


So: in order to obey the law and be confident of protecting its hard-won reputation a businesses must find a solution that allows all of their customers and other stakeholders* to write a review direct to it rather than straight to Google. It must then publish all those reviews on its own website (having had them moderated - see Rule 2 below), and then have as many of those as is practicably possible copied by the reviewer across to Google.

*other stakeholders: it is a common misconception to assume only paying customers will write a review to Google; we estimate that up to 20% of negative reviews are written by people where the experience they are reporting happened before any financial transaction took place, (think of the disappointed potential tenant or failed purchaser of a property - or the classic example of the prospective patient frustrated by their dealings with the doctor's receptionist). It is important that businesses give such people a route to vent their dissatisfaction before they resort to Google.


Rule 2

Adopt a moderated solution. 


 This single review, on a review site with far less visibility than Google reviews, caused enquiries to the business in question - a firm of solicitors - to drop by over 40% overnight. Here's a link to the full case history including the judge's summary of findings in the subsequent court case and an analysis of the financial impact on the business which led to the award of damages

We often meet businesses that are sanguine about the possibility of attracting damaging negative reviews, until they actually receive one. Moderation cannot eliminate inaccurate, misleading or even plain fake reviews but it will go a long way - as far as is possible in today's review and compliance environment - in doing so. If you ask any one of our clients about their experience with review management they will invariably rank moderation in the top two advantages, alongside the positive impact on revenue flows that is the object of this article (see below). Moderation eliminates the fear of the negative consequences of compliance.

So: be aware that a single well-written but factually inaccurate or potentially misleading review can do significant harm to business flows. Far better allow dissatisfied or disgruntled customers to post a review to your own website where it will be subject to moderation than simply hope they won't post direct to Google.

Rule 3

Host your own reviews on your own site. 

Yours, not Google's or any other review site's. Why? Because by inviting reviews to your own site you will achieve the following...

    • you will be able to have them independently moderated pre-publication. It's the only way to prevent factually inaccurate and/or misleading reviews appearing there and on Google
    • You will be giving potential customers who visit your site, and may have missed or bypassed your glowing reviews on Google, a reassuring point-of-reference that almost all savvy consumers actively seek out these days
    • You will own your own reviews: they are a valuable asset and you should not be giving that asset away unless the circumstances are exceptional - getting the reviews across to Google qualifies as 'exceptional'; having reviews on a site like Yelp, Trustpilot or Feefo does not

So: Allow customers to post reviews direct to your own website; then have them independently moderated and invite the reviewer to copy the review to Google (HelpHound's software sends this invitation automatically).


Rule 4

Embed that solution throughout the business and all its processes.

Review management needs to become part and parcel of the daily routine of your business, alongside all your other sales and marketing practices and CRM. 

Review management is no longer a 'nice to have' add-on. It has to be core. Ask the key question: do we want to be the first of our competitors to see the benefits of professional review management or the last? Engage all management and staff and ensure review flows, to both your own website and Google, are constant and consistent. Invite reviews on your website, invite reviews by email, tell customers in face-to-face contacts that they will be invited to write a review.

So: test it; proof of concept is a challenge we relish. Any respectable solution won't tie your business in or cost a fortune (HelpHound has no contract periods - and a client once said 'it's a round of coffees on the last Friday of the month' which is an apt a cost analogy as any). Use all the resources and experience a service* like HelpHound can provide to maximise results. And monitor those results carefully - through your monthly Google My Business report, website metrics and staff feedback.

*service: most review solutions are purely software driven: the sales person is the last point of human contact; at HelpHound the sale is just the beginning of our contact with your business. Our most successful clients are often those that pick up the phone to us the most.

Driving revenue

If you obey these four rules your review management will not only become immediately compliant with UK law, it will have a rapid and sustained impact upon your inbound enquiries, through Google search and through your own website...

Just one example of a company's Google My Business report from the month after full implementation: we have seen these numbers - the percentage rises in calls and website visits - go as high as three figures

...and will then go a long way to providing the kind of support described by this customer when acting as an aid to conversion in the sales environment:

In summary

Your business has nothing to lose, and everything to gain from partnering with HelpHound...
    • more leads through Google - quantifiably
    • more leads through your own website - quantifiably
    • enhanced SEO - Google gives you credit in local search rankings for hosting reviews
    • the reassurance of employing a moderated solution
    • the reassurance of employing a compliant solution
    • excellent support in the close - from both your score and individual reviews
    • a constant flow of wonderful marketing and PR material
    • a boost for staff morale
...all with no contract period.

Further reading

  • Review denial: not yet engaged - or even consciously decided against engaging with reviews? This is a must-read article
  • Going it alone - inviting reviews to Google: why this is a high-risk long-term strategy
  • Review sites: the likes of Yelp, Trustpilot and Feefo have now been overtaken by moderated Google review solutions: far more visibility, more credibility and with a far longer shelf life. It's also now recognised as best practice to own your own reviews - don't give them, and their value, away to a review site
  • Results: expanding upon the 'Driving revenue' section above
  • Benefits: a post from which this article was distilled, including screenshots of client websites and Google searches
  • Index for 2022: this blog, running as it does for over ten years, contains nearly 1,000 articles - it can be interesting to jump back five years or more to see if our advice then was correct! -  but the articles in this index are the ones that potential clients will benefit from reading the most

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Google Guaranteed - a contradiction?


Our reaction? Simply put: then just about any business at all! Before we go on to give you a real-life example of the kind of business that scores 3.0 perhaps we should remind everyone that a consumer cannot score a business 'no stars' on Google. So, even if they consider they were robbed blind they still have to score the business one star if they are to write a review. 

This means, mathematically speaking, that a business such as the one below scoring 3.0 from 36 reviews has 18 one-star reviews which still contribute eighteen 'points' to their overall review score. So what does a three-star business look like? Well, here are some of a 3-star plumber's one-star reviews (in fact: all of those that show on its Google Local Ads listing, where the other nine are we don't know - we only know they exist because the bar chart below shows half of the 36 reviews scoring 1*)...

And here's their shiny green Google Guaranteed tick...

The big question - and one that we have as yet been unable to unearth the answer to, despite many hours of searching - is 'Just how many Google Guaranteed claims have Google paid out on?'

Here, from Google's own website, are the terms of the Guarantee.

Our concern is that Google users will take the Guarantee at face value: that the work performed by the business will be guaranteed, albeit up to a ceiling of £1500, and, more importantly, that the Guarantee implies a certain level of expertise on behalf of the business and its employees/agents. 

Businesses such as the one above have certainly adopted it - at a cost of £500 a year and c. £25 a lead - with alacrity.

We will continue to monitor this with interest. Meanwhile, our advice to businesses is to keep on inviting reviews to your own websites, get them moderated there and then as many as possible onwards to Google, whether you choose to subscribe to Google Local Ads and the Guarantee or not.