Thursday 7 September 2023

Review Management - a Guide for PR, Advertising and Marketing agencies

You know that an outstanding presence in Google reviews is a must-have for all of your clients; you also know that achieving that - a score of 4.8+ and 200+ reviews - is easier said than done, especially while maintaining compliance with the CMA regulations. What follows is a step-by-step guide to achieving this for them without running any risks - of attracting adverse reviews or of breaking the law.

This article is intended as a reference point for agencies to decide how best to advise all of their clients, whatever their current situation.

And if you haven't time to read the whole article, just scroll down to the final paragraph: 'So - after all of the above - are there any other benefits for our agency?' and you will see a precis. But we strongly recommend you follow the 'Bezos principle' (see video above) and read what follows - we promise it will reward the effort.

Note for readers

It is so easy to promote a 'one size fits all solution' to reviews, after all, that's what the review sites do. But businesses differ, not only in the way they market their products and services - see what we did? There are two distinct categories of business already! - but in the way they have historically approached (or avoided approaching) reviews.

In this article we are going to address review management from two distinct perspectives: the type of business and the current situation each business finds itself in. All of your clients - and, indeed, your own business - will be in one of the following 4 categories. For the purposes of this exercise we are going to ignore those in 1, 2b, 3 and 4 (you will understand why as you read on). For those in category 2a we will further break them down by their current status with regard to reviews and follow that with specific relevant advice.

Then it is over to you. Speak to us and we'll arrange a mutually beneficial approach to those of your clients you feel we can help. That will usually mean starting out with an individual review audit* and then progress to providing definitive tailored advice. And it will end with your client scoring 4.8+ with three figures of reviews, a great SEO kicker and in full compliance with UK law. 

As you read this article you will see continuous references to both compliance and moderation, each one hyperlinked to a full explanation. They are the two underlying planks of effective review management, so we make no apolgy for repetition.You can read them now or as you read on, the choice is yours. 

* A review audit - as the name implies, begins with examining every aspect of a business's experience with reviews to date and ending with a summary of advice and recommendations. Covering the likes of existing presence on review sites - Google/Trustpilot/Feefo/Yelp/ and so on - and compliance with the UK government (CMA) regulations, as well as providing a roadmap to effective and compliant review management for the future.

First: the 'type of business'...

Almost every one of the UK's 5.5 million businesses falls into one of four categories...

1.  Product-based - retail in the main. Broad-brush we know, but most people will buy a pair of shoes or a dishwasher irrespective of the service element involved in their purchase. Otherwise, such businesses are served by the commercial review sites (oddly, rarely by Google reviews) - just see any online retailer's website or advertising.

2a.  Service-based - the professions and high-value transactional businesses: medical, legal, financial, educational and the like (estate agency is a good example - a service business that is infrequently used but where the consumer is aware that the wrong choice may potentially cost them many thousands of pounds) as well as 2b. Trades - plumbers, electricians, and so on.

3.  A hybrid of the above two categories - car dealerships for example - they 'sell' cars and 'service' them (We know, but we want to make quite sure there are no misunderstandings given what is to come later). 

4.  'Impervious' businesses - utilities and transport companies are two obvious examples: where the consumer either has no choice at all (South West Water or a train from Paddington to Bristol anyone?) or the business is so massive that, often despite protestations to the contrary, it really doesn't care what people are saying online (it's easy to tell: they don't repond to customers' Google reviews, when it's free and easy to do so). 

Now something about HelpHound. In an ideal world, we would welcome clients from any of these four categories, but years of experience have taught us to concentrate all our efforts on Category 2a: the professions and service-based businesses. And there is absolutely no doubt that it is in that sector that HelpHound can add the most value - in pure £££s as well as in many other ways.

Why would HelpHound effectively ignore the other three categories?

We can add value for any business, whatever its nature, but...

Category 1: After all they love reviews, don't they? Yes, they do, and the review sites - Yelp, Trustpilot, Feefo,, etc. - have targeted them very effectively. They would do better with professional review management, but we can add more value for other kinds of business.

As long as they score 4.0 they're generally pretty happy.

Category 2b: Trades and  'man+van' businesses, which often don't have dedicated business premises - needed for a Google profile - are covered by the likes of Which? and lead-generator businesses such as Checkatrade and TrustedPeople.

Category 3: Businesses, where the major earner is sales, and service is sometimes even a loss-leader, tend to focus on in-house reporting rather than reviews. They shouldn't, but they do. We'll be here for them when they come around.

Category 4: 'Impervious'. Well, they must be - why otherwise do they make next to no attempt to address - or even respond to - reviews from their customers (we'll repeat it - it's free!)?

So, we are left, happily, with 2a. The professions - medical, legal, educational, and financial as well as the likes of recruitment, estate agency, and so on. Most of these businesses really care about their images online...

We make no apology for using a HelpHound client to illustrate this category. When this business adopted HelpHound they had just 2 Google reviews!

  • it knew that scoring 4.9 on Google would drive business through its doors
  • it knew that a Google score of less than 4.5 would hinder their new business efforts
  • it knew that everything else being equal, numbers of reviews matter
  • it knew that its work is complex and often misunderstood
  • it knew exactly how harmful a well-written but factually inaccurate review can be
  • it knew that hosting their own client/patient/customer reviews gives them valuable feedback and data
And - once they understand the CMA regulations...
  • it is very pleased that it is in full compliance with UK law

Now to the sub-categories of 2a

You may be surprised to read that there are very few businesses in 2a that have adopted the correct solution. Here we go (you should be able to allocate one of the following descriptions - A to G - to each of your clients)...

A - No reviews

Still regularly encountered. Reason: almost always fear, with a capital 'F'. And that fear is fully justified: if a business provides complex and difficult to comprehend services there will be a proportion of people who will grab the wrong end of the stick with both hands and then be tempted to beat the business with it. And these days that stick - which used to be a relatively harmless 'green ink' letter or an angry phone call - is invariably a 1* Google review. 

The fatal flaw in the 'Don't engage with reviews' strategy is that it put's the business's image way beyond the its control. We used to encounter hotels that had 'no review' contracts for airline staff staying - that didn't last when the same staff realised that all they had to do was create a new Google account and fire away! One day one such unhappy customer will find their way to writing a Google review.  Best have 100 5* reviews there when they do. Even better still, have their review directed to your business where it will benefit from HelpHound's moderation.

It's the very reason we invented moderation. Moderation gives businesses of all kinds the confidence they need to compliantly invite reviews from all their customers. The alternative - crossing fingers and toes in the hope that unhappy consumers don't write reviews - may have worked ten years ago, but it's far too high risk a strategy in 2023.

B - Few reviews - less than 50 - and a high score (4.6 and up)

Often the result of at first engaging and then stalling: the engagement is often prompted by receiving a one-star review - 'let's squash that one!' - or a member of staff driving engagement short-term (we know of one keen young person who stayed late at work once a week for a month and got their business 40 Google reviews, then he left and the business got three reviews for the rest of the year). 

The key here is to embed professional review management into the business in the same way as every other essential discipline. Many businesses do this and then fall at the compliance hurdle: they cherry-pick (invite selected customers to write reviews) or gate (use mechanisms like surveys to pre-qualify 5* reviewers), all understandable until you realise they are both against the law. Our question to prospective clients is 'Why break the law when a) it so quickly becomes obvious to your competitors and b) it is so easy not to?' Needless to say, no agency professional wants to find themselves in a position of advising a client to adopt a non-compliant solution.

C - Few reviews - and an average score (4.0 - 4.5)

Believe it: a score of under 4.6 will result in two things: the business comparing less favourably with its competitors as well as a handful of damaging 1* reviews underlying the score (a score of 4.0 from twenty reviews means at least four harmful 1* reviews). Neither need happen if the business adopts a moderated solution.

D - Few reviews - and a low score (lower than 4.0)

This is a tricky one: we need to establish why the business has attracted negative reviews: it's either a flaw in their CRM - put bluntly: they're not that great at what they do.  Our advice in these circumstances is simple: sort your CRM and we'll speak when you have done so.

Or they have left the field clear for a tiny minority of unhappy customers. More common than one might think: once a business has experienced the power of a negative review to harm enquiry rates - clicks and calls - it is not uncommon for business owners and managers to retreat into 'denial mode'. We hear comments such as 'reviews don't matter' (they do), 'our score doesn't influence the flow of enquiries' (it does) or 'people pay no attention to negative reviews' (they do, in spades). 

Once such businesses have been introduced to our moderation process they quickly shed such denial, which is exposed for what it is - an understandable but mistaken reaction to the fear of attracting more negative reviews.

E - Many reviews - over 50 in most cases - and a high score (4.6+)

Now we must tread carefully.  There are many businesses that have high Google scores by simply being great businesses, but once a business has more than 50 Google reviews and a high score the very numbers generally - not always, but generally - indicate a proactive stance towards reviews. Put plainly: the business is inviting reviews. 

Fine, as long as the business has some mechanism that allows all of its customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. The CMA's definition of 'all' and 'at a time of their own choosing' is, as one might expect from a government agency, very precise. We have businesses constantly trying to convince us that they comply by various means - 'we include a link in the signature block of every email' or 'we email customers inviting reviews on a regular basis' but the only sure-fire solution is to include the link you will see on every HelpHound client's website. Before you say 'But that is asking for trouble' (we would agree, if it weren't for what follows) bear in mind that the link will invite a review to your own website that will then be moderated. So a 'win/win': compliance and moderation (and credibility) all in one.

F - Many reviews - and an average score (4.0 - 4.5)

There are some businesses that continue to believe that scoring 4.4, or even 4.0, is fine. Good even. But if you are to win business against competitors that have adopted professional review management your business needs to be scoring 4.6+ (in some cases even that score will leave a business languishing by comparison with its competitors). If your business is scoring between 4.0 and 4.5 and is leading the field in search then our advice has to be: take that lead and extend it before one or more of your competitors does. Nothing gives us more satisfaction here at HelpHound than seeing a client's Google score overtake its competitors.

G - Many reviews - and a low score - (less than 4.0)

Very few businesses find themselves in the arguably luxurious position of being able to ignore reviews

Now we are in the territory of 'don't care', which is at the extreme end of the denial syndrome we discussed earlier, or what we term 'review immunity'. Some businesses, often those that have a very high public profile such as fast food multiples: when did you last see a McDonald's franchisee bother to respond to a review? an airline? or a utility (South West Water - see above)? But these businesses are in the minority; most businesses are vulnerable to Google reviews, be that their headline score or the negative reviews underlying it. 

Note on scores and numbers of reviews: these are, of necessity, subjective but they are based on over ten years of experience and are backed up by hard statistics. In some marketplaces - financial services is an obvious example - it is currently unusual to find a business with double figures of Google reviews, whereas in estate agency any business worth the name probably has north of a hundred Google reviews. Why? HelpHound has to take part of the blame here; when we took on our first high-profile Plc client in estate agency enough of their branch network - of over 100 - took the bull by the horns and trusted us that they wouldn't be swamped with unfair reviews (thanks to our moderation process) and went on to prove us right. That set a fire under the whole sector: if your competitor scores 4.9 with 200 reviews you had better do something to compare with them or you will be losing significant business.

This Harley Street medical clinic client also answers the question we are sometimes asked about confidentiality: 'Do we see resistance from those using sensitive services?' The Harper Clinic specialises in treating menopause symptoms, how much more sensitive could a business be?

The red arrow is pointing at the key to all of our clients' compliance with the CMA regulations, as well as the route to moderation. By clicking on 'Write a review' anyone can write a review whenever they wish, and that review will be moderated to ensure, as far as is compliantly possible, that it contains no errors of fact or statements likely to mislead a reader

This also, by coincidence, provided proof of another kind. When faced with a business that is concerned with allowing all of its stakeholders to post a review whenever they choose - in other words: in compliance with UK law - we don't hesitate to point out that estate agency is hardly the least criticised business sector of all time, so, if we can show it working, for the professional agencies at least, how great a risk would a medical practice or a firm of financial advisers be taking?

So - after all of the above - are there any other benefits for your agency?

There are two answers to this - both of which provide tangible benefits for your business:
  1. Your clients will be grateful that you introduced them to HelpHound. There is no downside for them. They will be compliant with the CMA regulations from the day they join and just one look at our 'Results' will show them the potential uplift in enquiries through both Google and their own websites. HelpHound membership will earn them extra revenue over and above our fees, from the outset*. It also has the potential to make them significant savings on the likes of Google Ads, as well as the boost to their SEO.
  2. By becoming a HelpHound introducer you will be adding a growing quarterly income stream for your own business
*If you have a client that already has a score of 4.9 and 200+ Google reviews they will be just as glad they joined: aside from a continued compliant flow of reviews to Google, they will be hosting their own reviews - valuable data - on their own website and benefitting from our moderation going forwards. No more cherry-picking or gating and a great SEO kicker too.

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