Wednesday 30 March 2022

HelpHound - why it is the only option for professional businesses

In spite of our fifteen+ years of experience working - full time - with reviews, our exhaustive knowledge of Google and the likes of Trustpilot, Yelp, Feefo,, TripAdvisor, and the rest, and - even more puzzling - the amazing case histories (link in the first paragraph of 'Do reviews drive revenue?' below) we still, frequently enough to have us write this article, encounter responses along the lines of 'No, we are doing [insert current ineffective or often downright illegal strategy] and we're going to stick with it.'

We know it's only human to be defensive when you have invested time, energy and resources into a solution, even if that solution can be proven to be deficient (remember just how many people persisted in buying Vauxhalls or Lancias back in the day when the whole world - from friends to the motoring press - was telling them, time and again, that they would be driving a worthless rust-bucket in a few years' time?).

The role of this article is to calmly work through the solutions that don't work or are likely to endanger a business's reputation - or are just plain illegal, so you can make a rational and reasoned decision for your business.

First: do reviews drive revenue?

If you have already experienced the power of positive reviews to drive up clicks and calls then skip this section and begin again at 'Benefits are measurable'. 

With well over 90% of consumers consulting reviews before they purchase a product or service, reviews - and professional review management - are not a 'cost'. They are most definitely a profit-generator - for those businesses that are prepared to put in the effort and overcome the 'fear'. 

A business scoring over 4.5 on Google with over 100 reviews will attract more clicks and calls than a business scoring less with fewer reviews. Read these case histories and you will see exactly what we mean. Great reviews and great scores lead directly to...

  • increases in enquiries, both through a business's website (providing reviews are hosted and shown there) and through Google. This can easily be quantified by reference to the business's Google My Business monthly report which will show you the uplift in clicks and phone calls through Google search. 
  • greatly enhanced SEO: we are constantly asked 'How does XYZ HelpHound client consistently appear at or near the top in any given Google search?' The answer is complex and shrouded in mystery (it's Google's 'Coke formula'), but Google tells us that it gives significant SEO credit to businesses that host reviews - proper reviews, not testimonials - on their own websites.

Benefits that are measurable

Cost - as we all know - is only relevant when viewed in the context of benefit. Fortunately, Google sends every business on the planet a monthly report that tells it exactly how many enquiries - click-throughs and phone calls - it has had as a result of Google searches in the last month. Again, here's a complete article on results here, but this screenshot of a business's uplift in both clicks and calls after joining HelpHound really says it all...

18 per cent more calls and 27% more clicks for less than £200 a month (much less if you have multiple branches)? 

Now on to the various solutions available to businesses...

Google - direct

Great. Spot on. Google reviews are it. Way ahead of anyone else's. Unless your business is vulnerable to the occasional inaccurate or misleading review. The business world is divided into three categories...

  • those that are impervious to online reviews: the likes of your mobile phone provider, utility companies or banks. They'll carry on trading irrespective. Here's an example we all know of...

Ticketmaster is just about as impervious to negative reviews as a business could be 

  • those where the business - often selling products as opposed to services - recognises that it needs to score 4 out of 5, but that's enough. Online retail is a good example: if someone is buying a shirt and it scores 4 out or 5 they will still buy it. Less than 4 and they will probably look for a better rated product.

Boden will no doubt shrug at a score of 3.0 on Trustpilot. A similar score for a doctor or a solicitor on Google would almost certainly close them down, from the point-of-view of search-generated business anyway

  • Professional services, where consumers are looking for as close to perfection as is reasonable. We know, from hard experience over many years, that a Google score of over 4.5 is crucial for the likes of medical, financial, legal or 'large ticket' services - estate agency being another obvious example. Please read the following review carefully...

This law firm had enough evidence to convince a judge to make a five-figure damages award as a result of the impact of this single negative review. 

And their image on Google must be doing them significant harm as well...

Just look at this single critical review on Google:

And now note just how many people have voted it 'helpful'

Note for those still thinking 'negative reviews can't harm my business': The five figure award was made because the firm of solicitors were able to provide concrete proof of declines in both telephone enquiries and clicks though to their website subsequent to the publication of the critical review on Trustpilot sufficient to convince a judge sitting in an English court of the fall in revenue it had experienced. Given that Trustpilot reviews are only visible to those actively searching for them and Google reviews are seen by just about anyone searching for the business in question we don't feel that we are exaggerating in saying that a negative review on Goggle is going to do at least ten times the damage that a similar review on Trustpilot has been proven - to a court's satisfaction - to have been done here. The full story is here.

Businesses in the last category - professional and services -  need to combine Google reviews with a moderated system whereby the client or patient is first invited to post the review to the business's own website, where it can be checked for factual inaccuracies or the potential to mislead pre-publication; only then is the reviewer asked to copy their review to Google. It is also nice to know that this helps with SEO and ranking in local search. 

Breaking the law

This is the biggie: most businesses don't understand the UK law as it relates and applies to reviews and those that do misunderstand the consequences of breaching it.

The law

Is quite straightforward: the following three actions are expressly forbidden...

    • selectively inviting customers to write a review. Any business proactively inviting reviews must be able to prove that any customer is able to write a review at any time of their choosing
    • showing selected reviews on the business's website
    • 'gating': using a mechanism - which might be a 'customer survey' or another less visible review site - to establish which customers are most likely to write a positive review and then inviting only those to do so

        The consequences

    • the less obvious, but potentially just as harmful: the fact that any of the three illegal activities listed above will be obvious to any savvy competitor; they are then almost certain to use that information in competitive pitches 'Yes, their reviews are wonderful aren't they? But we're bound to tell you they are that way because they are illegally acquired/filtered. Do you really want to be dealing with a business that flouts the law?'
    • and in the case of gating: this is expressly against Google's Terms of Service as well. Google will simply delete all the reviews of any business it considers to be gating. And there will be no appeal

Review sites

The fact that Trustpilot's share price is now over 70 percent down from its peak of 449p in only six months (against a market that has risen 6%) shows just what investment professionals think of its prospects. By deflecting client businesses' efforts away from Google it is doing them a long-term disservice.

This article was published here on our blog four years ago. And it wasn't the first time we warned businesses against using, let alone paying for, a review site. The review site gets all your lovely client data in exchange for what? Giving you a star rating that's far less credible or influential than a free Google one.

Yet we see them everywhere. How so? Simply because they predate Google reviews (there would have been no review sites if Google hadn't been so late to see the power of reviews). Also: they have salesforces who are trained to maximise the wafer-thin benefits of these sites and minimise the power of Google reviews. But just perform any simple search - on your own business or any other - and what do you see?

Google reviews. End of.

So: if your business falls into the first two categories you just need a Google widget on your website and then invite customers to post directly to Google.

If you are a professional or service business you will need a moderated but Google-focussed system that gets reviews - your own - to your own website and then get as many as possible of those across to Google. Like this...

240 here, then...

...151 to Google (note the extracts appearing in the Google rich snippets at bottom right and the original reviews hosted on their own website showing alongside their organic listing at top left). Then the all important local search...

...where they lead both the Google 3-pack and natural (organic) search.  

Review aggregators

What a great idea. What could possibly go wrong? For clarity, review aggregators scour the web for any reviews of your business and then present them on your website for potential customers to see. Fine, until you realise that there's no safety net. No way of moderating what is being written or said before it's published front and centre. That's fine if you are an online retailer and people are looking for you to score 4 out of 5 before they order your shirts or socks (one review site was even founded by such a business) but potentially hugely damaging for a professional business providing easily misunderstood complex services to clients or patients.

We wonder just how long before this one-star review - fed through by an aggregator - was noticed by the business? All we do know is the business in question is no longer using the aggregator.

And another...

We stress that both these screenshots were taken from the front page of each business's own website. And guess what? They're no longer there. Review aggregators don't work for high value and/or complex service and professional businesses.

Time and human resources

When we speak to our clients they tell us that once they have embedded review management into their daily routines they simply don't notice the time taken to look as good as they do. Most mention the fact that they find the exercise hugely rewarding from a management and staff morale point-of-view. And when they have experiences such as this...

...any thought of time or effort vanishes into thin air.

In conclusion...

If your business falls into any of the following categories:

  1. Yet to actively engage with online reviews - from fear of the consequences or just because you have been meaning to but just haven't got around to it.
  2. Engaged in the past but had a negative experience - a harmful review on Google or any other site, for example.
  3. Already inviting clients* to post direct to Google but are aware of the risks that this entails.
  4. Already inviting clients* to post to a review site, but concerned that you may be missing out on the power and credibility of Google reviews.
  5. Cherry-picking or gating - sometimes euphemistically called 'selecting' and 'pre-qualifying' but nonetheless illegal - to ensure your online reputation is protected (don't worry, you're not the only ones, but you will sleep a whole lot easier once you have adopted a legally compliant solution).
You owe it to yourself and your business to, at the very least, take the first step in the direction of a professionally managed review system; call us and we'll talk you through all the implications for your business** and answer all your questions

*Note 1: we use the term 'clients' here advisedly. If your business has 'customers' and you sell those customers 'products' - as opposed to some kind of service, be it financial, medical or legal (or a hybrid of those such as estate agency or recruitment) - we will still be able to add value, but HelpHound was specifically designed to enable professional and service businesses to enage - compliantly - with reviews.

**Note 2: each business is different, and therefore each solution must be tailored. Review sites tend to operate on a 'one widget suits all' basis. They also tend to be 'sales heavy' and light on ongoing customer service: something that we at HelpHound pride ourselves on.

Our objective is to only have clients where we can add value - right to their bottom lines - so we have no incentive at all to take on a business where we are unable to do that.

Monday 7 March 2022

Trustpilot: yet another question


This article appeared today. So we had a look at the listing it refers to:

And then we checked the underlying reviews by score:

Which raised a wholly different question: how on earth does a business that has 43 percent of its reviews scoring 'Bad' (rated the lowest: one star) get a 4-star rating from Trustpilot with the accompanying accolade of 'Great'?

What we can tell you is that based on the spread of reviews shown above, both HelpHound and Google would score the business at 3.2, giving a Trustpilot rating of 'Average'. 

Trustpilot, in their explanation of their scoring system state as follows:

We would comment on each of these bullet points:

  • Weighting more recent reviews. We would recommend that any review system that is going to stray from an unweighted mathematical calculation completely discount reviews that are over three years old; part of the point of reviews is that businesses should learn from them and therefore consumers should be given a snapshot of the business as it currently is, not skewed by ancient reviews. In the case of OnTheMarket, they have received 11 five-star reviews and 8 one-star reviews since 1 January 2022; any 'weighting' would struggle to find a positive outcome from those stats.
  • Frequency. We have no argument in principle, but the basis of calculation or weighting should be clear. We have no clue what the sentence 'Because the most recent review holds more weight, a TrustScore will be more stable if reviews are coming in regularly.' means.
  • Bayesian average. Fortuitously one of our directors used to work at HM Treasury and so is familiar with Bayesian averages. He has explained that these are usually used to smooth statistical subsets; he says that the application of a Bayesian average cannot explain why a business that should be scoring 3.2 might suddenly score 3.8. For those of a mathematical bent here is the Wikipedia entry for Bayesian averages.

Here's their star rating and 'Excellent/Great/Good/Average/Poor/Bad' matrix:

Which illustrates the difficulty - for the consumer - inherent in such a system. Any business scoring in the range 3.8 - 4.2 is 'labelled' 'Great'. Seriously? Such a business is likely to be rated at 1* by at least twenty percent of its customers (Bayesian average or not). Would you use a doctor/lawyer/financial adviser where one in five of their customers rated them one star, bearing in mind a business cannot be rated 0 stars?

Last, but not least, this:

We have no argument with the last line, but the rest? Really? Well, yes, in the case of Trustpilot. Businesses paying Trustpilot do score better than those that don't. But that's the same with any review system - businesses that are passive invariably pick up 1* reviews from unhappy customers as they are so much more motivated. HelpHound clients invariably score 4.5+ but that's because they are excellent businesses with dedicated CRM. But, as all our regular readers know, we advise our clients to focus their efforts on their own websites and Google - in other words, where their reviews will be seen.

In Conclusion

It's best to let consumers read reviews and make up their own minds, by reading the individual reviews in conjunction with an 'unmanipulated' score, as to whether the business is good or not.