Monday 30 January 2023

HelpHound - Blog Index for 2023

The businesses we meet almost always fall into one or more of the following categories when it comes to reviews...

  1. No Google reviews - usually due to understandable caution (fear of unfair negative reviews, mainly); Read Item 1.
  2. Less than 100 Google reviews - as above, but the business has mobilised its most loyal customers to write a review. Again - understandable. But, believe it or not, illegal. Read Item 2.
  3. More than 100 Google reviews. An extension of Item 2. Read Items 2 and 3.
  4. Using a review site - Trustpilot, Feefo, Yelp, etc.- instead of or alongside Google. Read Item 4.
  5. Using a review aggregator:  a widget that scrapes the web for reviews and displays them on a business's website: Read Item 5.

Scroll down and read the paragraph that relates to your business and then read the notes about moderation and expected outturns at the end of this article. 

1. For a business that has yet to acquire any reviews:

Very few businesses in 2022 have no Google reviews at all. 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: its new review management strategy.

2. 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, it will enable you to confidently invite many more reviews - or expose you to risk, but it will mean you and your staff will be able to sleep at night.

3. 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 review 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 (in every case we are aware of such action by Google was prompted by a whistleblower).
  • Read this brief analysis. 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. 

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

See if yours is the kind of business - 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 just took what's best of the service provided by the review sites and combined that with their domination of the search market and came up with a far more attractive alternative, for businesses and their customers.

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, and a single inaccurate or misleading Google review can stop a business in its tracks.

5. 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 professions and related service businesses 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. Complexityproviding 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? These reviews, 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 is designed to make your business look as great as it is in all kinds of searches, as well as on its own website. But that would be 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 copy 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 (which they will be!).

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

Please take time to read the actual reviews on their website - for it is those, the individual reviews, that prompt contact from potential clients, just as much as the pure numbers (review score - 4.9 and totals - 443) 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 and PR 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 this client leading the Google 3-pack and organic search. 

You will also see the five gold stars highlighting the business's rating, drawn from their own reviews on their own website. And so will their potential clients!

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

We look forward to being of service. Most of all we look forward to seeing the concrete - measurable - results that HelpHound membership will surely provide for your business.

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Low Google score? - a guide to remedial action

So much of this blog is focused on achieving excellence we sometimes lose sight of the fact that many businesses continue to come to us because they are suffering from excessive negative Google reviews and a resulting low Google score. Here we describe the plan of action to be adopted in such cases.

The definition of a 'low Google score'

Back in the early days of reviews any score over 4.0 was considered pretty acceptable. Then businesses - sometimes prompted by the Google filter (that enable searchers to exclude businesses scoring less than 4.5), but more often by their competitors' success in achieving very high scores, legitimately or not, began to strive to achieve a score as close to the 'Perfect 5.0' as possible.


Many businesses continue to invite only selected customers to write reviews. This is contrary to the CMA regulations and therefore UK law. If a business fails to comply with the CMA regulations, which specifically dictate that if it invites any reviews whatsoever it must allow all customers to write a review as well as allow the customer to choose the timing of writing that review.

The cause

Businesses with bad CRM rarely approach HelpHound, so we will discount those where the score is an accurate reflection of shoddy customer service and concentrate on good businesses that suffer from a negative impression created by their Google reviews (and score).

For well-managed businesses that languish when it comes to Google reviews - there's an example above - there is usually one overwhelming cause for such disappointing results: lack of engagement. The business has yet to find a way of safely inviting Google reviews, so it just sits back and suffers the dilution of inbound enquiries caused by the low score and negative review content (worse: we see instances where businesses go into denial - attempting to convince themselves that their score and the underlying reviews have no impact, against all the evidence to the contrary - and see 'Further reading' at the bottom of this article). 

The key word here is 'safely'. Many businesses, especially those in the professions and service industries, deal in complex matters - finance, health, legal and related areas (estate agency or mortgage broking, for example) - where misunderstandings not on can but will occur.

So what is the difference between the example above and this one (both great doctors - we know them both, but only one is currently a HelpHound client)?

We gave you a clue in the last line, but let's break that down. 

Most business's first reaction when we suggest that they will need to enable all their customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing varies from extreme scepticism to abject horror. The common verbal response is 'What? All of them?'

All of them

Yes. Why? Because the law says so. The law - in the guise of the the CMA regulations - specifically states that if a business proactively invites reviews it must allow all of its customers to write a review. The key word here is 'allow'. The business is not forced to email every customer to invite a review. This button...

...on the business's website makes the business fully legally compliant. But we go further: we recommend all our clients invite all their customers/clients/patients to write a review - to their websites. Why? We have alluded to the answer already - because they are involved in complex issues and people will often write factually incorrect and/or potentially misleading statements in their reviews. 

Writing the review to the business's website - through an independent moderator (HelpHound in the example above) - allows a dialogue between the moderator, the business and the reviewer, where errors of fact and misleading statements can be corrected before the review is published

This could never happen if the business were to invite their customer to write a review direct to Google, and it certainly can't happen when a mistakenly unhappy customer reports posting a review to Google direct. Give that unhappy customer the option of writing their review to your business and most will take it; the result: an unhappy customer made happy (more often than not) and a customer retained for the business.

So we can stop negative reviews?

Absolutely not. First, that would be illegal - the reviewer must always retain the right to have whatever review they wish published. But most reasonable people, when they are gently informed that their review is either factually incorrect or has the potential to mislead future people looking to use the business, are only too happy to correct their original review. It's called moderation.

So, in the first example - where the patient is complaining about the doctor's reception - the review would stand? Yes. But the surgery would have the confidence that on important medical matters moderation would operate, and that confidence would lead them to be proactive in inviting reviews. The surgery in question has over 1200 patients - currently, their entire online reputation is being dominated by just eight one-star reviews. And, make no mistake, rightly or wrongly, their score of 3.3 is putting new patients off.

So we've reassured the business that their reputation won't be put at risk by inviting reviews to their own website. What next? Once the review is published on their website the moderator automatically requests that they copy their review across to Google. With a well-run business this usually results in 50% of reviews going on to Google. Here's a good example...

You can see the number of reviews -  418 - on their own website showing in 'Reviews from the web' in any relevant Google search. Here they are on that website...

Any other benefits? Well, Google scores every website in order to rank them in local searches. About 15% of that score is allocated to sites showing their own reviews, so this is a distinct possibility...

Top of the Google 3-pack, top of organic search and their star rating and score drawn from their own reviews (not their Google reviews) showing right under their listing.

Time to embark on proactive professional review management? You bet.

Further reading

Tuesday 10 January 2023

One-Star reviews - some you can ignore, others may stop the phones ringing

It is all too easy to break reviews down - as Google and the review sites do - simply by their star rating. But there's far more to a review, in both content and, crucially, impact on a business, than those stars. In this article we will analyse the different kinds of one-star reviews, dividing them into categories according to their potential impact on the business, and then provide advice born of more than a decade of experience on how to prevent/manage/respond to them. 

But first: a simple but vital point about how consumers 'use' reviews, especially Google reviews (everyone sees Google reviews, even if they have only searched for the business's contact details or website): they will always read the negative reviews. Even in your business scores 4.9 they will, as sure as night follows day, read that one one-star review.

The Rating

A rating is a review with no review. It's just what it says: a star rating on its own. Irritating, because it scores your business as low as can be, but relatively harmless (aside from impacting and diluting your overall score).

Harm done? 

Minimal - as long as the business has many* 5* reviews

 *'Many 5* reviews': we recommend all businesses aim to achieve 200 Google reviews as soon as they possibly can. 50 review is the first benchmark as this means an additional one-star review will have little impact on the business's overall Google score.

Action by the business:

Respond to the review immediately.

Example response:

"Hi [username or name]

As you can see from our other reviews here, we pride ourselves on the quality of [service/advice/care] we provide for our [customers/clients/patients] and so I was most disappointed to see your rating.

If you could contact me on or 0207 222-444 I will be glad to resolve whatever issue led to this rating. If, on the other hand, the rating has been left by mistake, I would be grateful if you could delete it.

With best wishes

Name (always name, never 'customer services' or 'patient manager')

The 'Off-topic'

This is the review that rates something other than your core business; it might be your delivery service or your receptionist's manner (the medical profession, in particular, has been known to suffer from these).

Harm done? Again, minimal, aside from the aforementioned impact on your overall score.

Action by the business: 

Respond with a calm and strictly factual answer. Resist the temptation to make the reviewer look foolish. Remember that it is potential customers who are going to be reading your response - respond as if you are speaking to them.

Example response:

"Hi Mr [Lastname] (don't use first names unless you have no other option),

I'm so sorry you found our receptionist's manner unacceptable when you called to make an appointment; I have spoken to them and they assure me it was not their intention and have asked me to apologise on their behalf. It is no excuse, but calls can sometimes come in at a fairly alarming rate - which we obviously cannot control - and sometimes, in our haste to answer the next call we can appear to be a little abrupt. Please be assured patient care - from first call right through appointment and treatment and ongoing care - are always our first priority, as you can see from the other comments here.

With best wishes

Name (always name, not 'customer services' or 'patient manager')


The 'One-liner'

Harm done? 

Varies. No-one likes to see their business described in negative terms but most prospective customers will take a review like the one above in their stride, as long as all the other reviews of the business are glowing.

Action by the business:

Respond to the review immediately.

Example response:

If you recognise the reviewer...

"Hi Mr [lastname]

I am so sorry you felt the need to leave this review. We [insert details of efforts the business had made to provide a satisfactory service or apologise for whatever issue led to the customer's dissatisfaction].

Be assured we pride ourselves on the level of service we provide - you only need to read our other reviews to see that - and I can only apologise for the fact that we did not come up to our own high standards in this instance.

If you would like to call me on [0207 222-4444] I will be delighted to explain what we will do to rectify matters.

With best wishes

Name (and position within the business). 

Note: do not include private phone numbers - mobile or direct line - in response to reviews.

        If you don't recognise the reviewer 

"Hi Mr [last name or name used to write review]

We have thoroughly checked and we can find no record of [either] your name [or the circumstances outlined in your review]. If you would care to contact me on or 0207 222-444 I will be glad to attempt to resolve the issue at hand.

On a further note - to readers of this review: as you will be able to see from reading our other reviews here, we pride ourselves on delivering first-class service to all our [clients] and I am confident that this would have been the case in this instance. Misunderstandings and miscommunication do occur and we do our very best to resolve them at the earliest opportunity, as I would hope to be able to do in this instance.

Now the two types of review your business really needs to take seriously...

The 'Detailed allegation'

Harm done? 

Read the review and then note the 17 upvotes. It is obvious that significant harm has already been done to the flow of enquiries into this business. 

In this case the 17 upvotes will almost certainly have been left by potential customers/patients of the business (who reads reviews of spinal clinics for fun?). We have long estimated that a single upvote on a review represents a minimum of twenty more readers, all potential customers/clients/patients who will have reacted in the same way - by not contacting the business. In this instance that adds up to 340 - and maybe many, many more.

Action by the business:

Respond: urgently but with maximum consideration for the impact upon future customers. Address the points made by the [customer/client/patient] without disclosing any personal details. In this particular instance the business has not responded - a fatal error, leading many readers to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the 'nil response' is an implicit admission of guilt by the business.

Example response:

 'Dear Mr [Hughes], I was most concerned to read your description of the clinic and the results of your treatment. [Address allegations individually]. I would urge you to contact me personally as a matter of urgency. I can give you my solemn word as a professional in this area of many years' standing that I will do everything in my power to ensure the best possible outcome.'


The 'Well-crafted'

Harm done? 

Potentially significant. Reviews such as these can do considerable harm to businesses in terms of choking off initial enquiries. Consumers commonly read negative reviews before contacting businesses - more so when high value (e.g. legal, financial and health) solutions are being sought - and few transactions are more financially significant than house sales. Note the 7 upvotes as per the 'Detailed allegation' example above.

Action by the business:

Step 1: check with staff involved regarding the veracity of the review. Far too many businesses respond to reviews like this without doing the necessary background research - we see generic responses to such reviews every day ('Thank you for your review, please contact us to discuss...'). 

Step 2: respond, in a considered manner, addressing all the points raised in the review - any point missed and left unaddressed will be seen as an admission of guilt on the part of the business. Resist the temptation to be confrontational - see the response to the 'Detailed allegation' above.


Both of these types of review - the 'Detailed allegation' and the 'Well-crafted' have the potential - if left unaddressed, to act as what regular readers of this blog will know we describe as 'Killer reviews'. Why 'killer'? Because they have the power to stop the phones ringing - and the enquiries flowing through the business's website, and we have seen far too many cases of them having done just that.

Moderation and the importance of inviting the review 

Right at the start of this article we mentioned 'prevention'. There's only one way to head off a negative review (aside from being a perfect business - and even perfect business have imperfect customers) and that is to enable a customer to write a review to the business before they resort to Google. To be sure that reviews accurately reflect your business you need two things: moderation and a mechanism to allow customers - and other stakeholders - to write reviews.


First the mechanism: if you allow anyone to write a review - a button on your website (supported by an email invitation)...

...both your satisfied customers and those who are less than perfectly happy* will use it. This screengrab illustrates this well - you can see the 'Write a review' button next to '418 reviews' (if you would like to see it working live just search 'Winkworth Kingsbury') and those 418 reviews perfectly illustrate just how effective moderation is: every time the business receives a review that appears to be factually incorrect or has the potential to mislead a reader our moderator contacts the reviewer and the business to give them both the chance to set the record straight - all the while the reviewer retains the right to publish their original review or a modified one (or none at all); this keeps the system compliant with the CMA regulations - so the reviews accurately reflect the business. 

At the conclusion of the moderation process the review is published on the business's own website and the reviewer is automatically asked to copy their review to Google.

This business is rated 5 stars on its own website and...

* 'less than... happy': most businesses' first reaction to allowing anyone to invite a review is understandably extremely cautious. Read on and understand why adopting the correct review management strategy will reassure the wariest business and enable the business to be CMA compliant at the same time.

... 4.9 on Google. You can also see just how many of those 418 reviews written to the business's own website have been copied to Google.

This is moderation in action: giving both the business and the consumer comfort that they can rely on those reviews. It also gives the business the vital comfort that it is very unlikely to receive inaccurate, misleading or just plain unfair reviews.