Friday 22 July 2022

Online reviews - the BASIC basics

The most recent article on here is entitled 'Online reviews - the basics'.  We commend it to you if you have fifteen minutes to spare, and it will surely repay you a hundredfold, even if you were previously unaware of just one of the 12 points we made there.

But some people - completely understandably - want something brief. Punchy even! So here goes...

Q1.  What reviews do we need?

A: Google reviews. Not Trustpilot. Not Feefo. Not Yelp. Not Why? Because Google reviews always appear every time someone searches on your business - or your type of business.

Note: if you have any doubt about this just look at the share price history of the two biggest quoted review sites. Yelp peaked at $97 in 2014 and trades at $31 today. Trustpilot peaked at £4.81 in September last year and trades at 71p today. Ouch! 

Q2. Where do we need them?

A: On Google and on your own website. Customers increasingly rely on reviews - so why not give them reviews where they can easily see - and read - them?

Note: Just search and see. Try the local search 'estate agent Blackheath' and then the specific search 'Winkworth Blackheath'. Then check out the business's website and see how impressive their reviews look there.

Q3. Can we get them for free in both locations?

A: Yes. Invite customers to write reviews to Google and display them on your website using any one of the free widgets out there (an online search for Google review widget/plugin will throw them up - but don't respond to any of the ads - best of all consult your web designer).

Note: As with anything that's free in life, be wary. Read all about moderation in Qs 4 & 5.

Q4. Why might we need HelpHound's moderation?

A: If you are happy with a Google score of 4.3 you don't. If, in addition, you are prepared to break the law and only invite 'happy' customers to post reviews to Google you may even score 4.8. If you are prepared to go further down the illegal road and 'gate' (prequalify) you will score 4.9 or even 5.0. 

Note: if you break the law you won't only be running the risk of being noticed by the regulators (the CMA), you will undoubtedly be spotted by your sharpest competitors. Don't hand them a win.

Q5. Right, so what kind of business needs moderation?

Professional businesses and businesses that deal with complex issues. Financial, medical, legal and the like.  Any business that calls its customers 'clients' or 'patients' is useful shorthand. Why? Because customers of these kinds of businesses can easily misunderstand matters and write factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews.

Note: We keep a record of the numbers of reviews moderated on behalf of our clients; our moderation enables a potentially harmful inaccurate or misleading review to be corrected before it goes live at least once every six months for a typical client.


Need more? Call us.

Further reading...

Here are some useful articles that will take you deeper into the science of review management...

  1. Results. Review management pays for itself. Here's how.
  2. Moderation: the keystone of review management.
  3. Compliance. Why not be compliant with UK law?
  4. 'Killer' reviews - examples of single reviews that stop the phone ringing.
  5. A shocking case history - where the business took on the review site and the reviewer

Wednesday 13 July 2022

Online reviews - the basics

A new client reminded us that some people are still on first base regarding reviews and that we haven't written a 'beginners guide' for quite some time. Here we address all the questions someone coming new to the subject of online reviews might have - if you have any that aren't answered here please let us know and we'll add them in.

1.  Who reads reviews?


The simple answer? Everyone. Why? Because they are placed front-and-centre of every Google search. And that in itself tells you a lot: if Google are putting such value on reviews we know that it knows consumers are a) reading them and b) acting on what they read.

2.  Who writes reviews?



You might be surprised. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that those who write reviews are lonely people with far too much time on their hands; review writers come from across the spectrum.  But, in a way, it doesn't matter who thy are, because, taken together, they have immense power - to drive business towards or away from any given business. As the graphic above says: ask and you will receive.


We include this review to show you that businesses that provide great service - even in such a sensitive area as this, will attract reviews, providing the invitation is worded sensitively. And how valuable must such a review be to people in a similar situation?


3.  Do reviews have credibility?



Again, this can be argued until the cows come home. The fact is that the more urgent the need and the more complex the issue, the more people rely on reviews. Shirts and socks? Not so much. Health, finance and legal? Far more so.


4.  What impact will 'opting in' with reviews have on our business?

It will light up your online shop window. No matter how much marketing and PR a business does, at the end of the day it's going to be searched for online - even if that's simply to find an address or phone number. At that point the potential customer is going to see reviews - Google reviews - and they will read them, it's only human nature.

From a statistical point of view we tend to advise businesses to expect an uplift in enquiries - through both their website and Google search - of between 8 and 15 percent. Some experience far more than that, but none experience a fall. Adopting moderated review management is a win/win all the way.


5.  How can we measure this?


Every month Google sends your business a report. In that report are the hard numbers for the calls and clicks you've received in the previous month. These will reflect any uplift as a result of your online efforts, including reviews. The image above is a screenshot of a client's first Google My Business report post-adoption. It shows a remarkable uplift in calls and clicks through to their website - +18% and +27% respectively; you can see the results in your own GMB report, every month.


6.  What about all the review sites?



Google reviews only came to prominence after the review sites had been founded - the likes of Yelp, Trustpilot, and Feefo all preceded Google reviews. Now the review sites offer no added value for a business: they are less visible and less credible. Ultimately all business needs to do is ask itself 'Would we rather have 100/1000 Google reviews or the same number on [Trustpilot/Feefo...]? 


7.  What can we do if we get an unfair or inaccurate negative review?

Google has very tight guidelines for appeals against reviews. That is why moderation - see 8. below, is so important. We conduct Google appeals on behalf of clients all the time and some do succeed, but it is important that businesses employ some kind of moderation in order that factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews are spotted before they reach Google.


8.  How does moderation work?

The review is written to the business's website. HelpHound reads the review before it is published and reverts to both business and reviewer if there is any contentious content. In order to be compliant with the CMA regulations the reviewer retains the right to have whatever review they want published, at any time during or after this process. Here's an example of moderation in action...

At any time during this process, or at any time subsequently, the reviewer could publish their review - or an amended version of it. The fact that few choose to do so is a reflection of the efficacy of moderation in resolving misunderstandings.


9.  What impact will hosting reviews on our website have?


Consumers want reviews; of that there is no longer any shadow of a doubt. So modern businesses show reviews, prominently. And enquiries flow as a result.


10.  How will we get stars in Google search?


Here's a typical local search on Google; the stars next to Winkworth Blackheath relate the score and reviews hosted on its website, not its Google reviews and score.

This is where your web designer comes in. We provide them the API and they implement it in such a way as the Google schema pulls the ranking we show on your site through to search.


11.  Why not go direct to Google?

Indeed. If you are happy to score 4.3 and have 5-15 percent of your reviews rating your business at one star then by all means focus on Google without moderation. But if your competitors are scoring 4.8 - by fair means or foul* - you will need a moderated system.

If you work in sensitive professions - medical, legal, financial and so on, where multiple reviews are read by consumers before making their initial enquiry it is vital to minimise the number of factually inaccurate or misleading reviews. And not just for your business's sake but for the sake of your future customers/clients/patients who may otherwise be put off taking the next step towards using your services.


12.  *Fair or foul?

It is illegal - in the UK anyway - to...

    • selectively invite customers to write reviews
    • control the timing of such an invitation
    • perform any action to establish whether or not a customer is likely to write a 5* review before inviting those who do so to write one (known as 'gating')

But that doesn't mean that many businesses don't do exactly this: in our experience the overwhelming majority of businesses do, wittingly or unwittingly. Moderation gives such businesses the comfort that they won't be breaking the law in future.

Thats all. As we said at the start, please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions - through this blog or direct at or by phoning 020 7100-2233. 

Monday 11 July 2022


That's how we were described by a client's head office - writing to one of their branch offices - just last week.

It's an interesting adjective. Here's the dictionary definition of its meaning...

So: how does something that many consider just a 'useful addition' become 'indispensable'?

Here's precisely how...

1.  Google reviews are everyone's holy grail these days, and rightly so, but inviting customers to post a review direct to Google involves a distinct element of risk. That risk is that a customer may post an inaccurate or otherwise misleading review. All businesses understand that negative reviews have the potential to cause significant harm - just read this horror story if you have any lingering doubts - and no compliant system can (or should) stop a purely negative review, but moderation is extremely effective at ensuring that reviews accurately reflect the customers' experience of any given business or transaction. 

2.  Moderation - the act of engaging with the customer after the review has been written but before it is posted publicly anywhere - is the only compliant way of ensuring that unfairly damaging reviews are posted, on a business's website or on Google. For moderation to work effectively - and have credibility - the business must employ a third-party. 

3.  An important side effect of moderation is that it enables the business to be compliant with the CMA rules - the law. CMA rules clearly state that a business, if it is to invite reviews at all, must...

    • allow every single customer to write a review...
    • a time of their choosing 

Now, a business can be fully compliant with the CMA rules by importing Google reviews into its website and inviting them to be written from there. The issue then arises when the latest Google review is factually inaccurate or misleading - in other words: capable of unfairly influencing consumers against the business. Then the business realises it needed a moderated system.

It works!

HelpHound cannot provide an absolute guarantee against factually inaccurate or misleading reviews (aside from anything else that would flout the CMA regulations), but many years of results for our clients show that our moderation is over 97 percent effective in managing such reviews. Here are the statistics for just one multi-location client... 

Just to be crystal clear: over the period under consideration, many thousands of reviews went through the moderation process (every review submitted is moderated - read for factual errors or potentially misleading statements). Of those thousands, 173 were identified as containing wording that might be contentious in any of the following ways:

  • Personally abusive. Abuse helps no one, not the reader of the review, not the business under review, and almost certainly not the reviewer (who will often be writing the review in order to have their grievance addressed). In these cases, HelpHound will simply message the reviewer and ask them to rewrite their review.
  • Legally contentious. A review is not the arena to make threats of legal action. That should be done through the proper legal channels.
  • Factually incorrect. This covers the overwhelming majority of moderated reviews: the review simply contained a factually incorrect statement. In these instances HelpHound will refer the review to the business for comment and then relay that comment to the reviewer, in private. As you can see from the 'Not published as a result of moderation' and 'Modified...' numbers above this action works for the overwhelming majority of such reviews. What is interesting is just how grateful the great majority of reviewers are when they realise that their review had 'got the wrong end of what is often quite a complex stick'. As many readers will know, HelpHound's clients are, in the majority of cases, professional businesses dealing with complicated matters - often legal, financial and/or medical - and it is understandable that some reviews will initially reflect misunderstandings of such transactions.
  • Potentially misleading. In the most basic of senses: not all our client business's customers speak - or write - English as a first language. A review that simply doesn't make sense will be spotted by our moderators and they will engage with the reviewer in order to correct the use of language so everyone - again: the reader of the review and the business under review - benefits. Other examples include...
    • misunderstanding of contract terms/terms of business
    • misunderstanding of billing
    • misunderstanding of legal responsibilities
    • misunderstanding of tax implications
  • False or plain fake reviews*: these don't happen that often, but when they do it is essential that they are identified pre-publication; they may be written by competitors or ex-exployees or just by someone who has nothing better to do (here's an example of a viewer adversely reviewing accommodation that he had seen on TV; joking aside, the hotel's booking slumped as a direct consequence of that one review - until an appeal managed by HelpHound got it taken down).
*On that last subject - malicious (fake) reviews: while HelpHound will almost certainly identify and therefore challenge any such review written to the business's own website we cannot, for obvious reasons, do anything about such a review being written direct to Google. What we can do, as we did in the case of the hotel cited above, is draft an appeal to Google in a way that is most likely to have a chance of success.

The impact - in numbers

The difference between a business - that complies with the law - and a business employing professional review management:

Typical well-run business inviting reviews direct to Google...

Typical HelpHound client...

Important note: there are plenty of businesses out there that score well on Google, but when we meet them we inevitably discover that they are - inadvertently, in the main - flouting one or more of the CMA's core rules: they either cherry-pick happy customers to invite to write Google reviews or they 'gate' (gating being the act of pre-qualifying customers to identify those most likely to write a positive review). Not only are both these 'strategies' illegal, they will be obvious to competing businesses and therefore used against the non-compliant business in pitches.

To summarise...

  • All other factors being equal a business that employs independent review management will have a higher Google score than the equivalent - CMA compliant - business that does not
  • The business will be in full compliance with the CMA regulations - the law
  • Its potential customers will have accurate reviews - on the business's own website and on Google - to rely on
  • Enquiries, through both Google search and through its own website, will increase by a measurable amount (see the link directly below)

Further reading...