Wednesday 13 December 2023

The world of Google reviews is upside down - it's up to all of us turn it the right way up!

Google reviews are available in inverse proportion to their need. There are 100 times more Google reviews of any McDonald's than there are of lawyers or financial advisers, and many more of those than there are of medical specialists. Why is this the case? There are two main reasons...

  1. More people use fast food outlets than GPs or lawyers
  2. The professions, and service businesses in general, are extremely wary of Google reviews - for good reasons (see 'moderation' below)

Note: All of the following discount 'personal recommendation'. Of course, we all welcome and take note of personal recommendations, especially for categories 0 - 4. But the further up our scale we go, the less likely any individual or business is to know someone well-qualified to recommend such a business. Note we don't say 'impossible', but far less likely. This leaves the responsibility for getting Google reviews fairly and squarely in the hands of the '6 - 10' businesses:professions and services in the main.


0 - 1

Entertainment



More people write reviews of entertainment venues than read them! How can we tell? By the very few 'Likes' the individual reviews receive

Few people read reviews of venues. If your favourite actor/band/play is on at the ABC Theatre that's where you're going. Reviews of the venue may warn you that the queue for the toilet at the interval is horrendous or that the refreshments are overpriced but you will still attend. We do read reviews of performances - but not Google reviews!


Retail



We want it? We buy it. Savvy retailers will use product reviews to add/drop lines - when did you last see a 1* toaster for sale on John Lewis's website?


Well-known services




McDonald's? Boots the Chemist? RyanAir? Reviews are written - by unhappy customers in the main, but will that stop most of us from using them? Will we even read their reviews? 


2 - 3

Hotels and Restaurants - hospitality 




Most consumers now use a specialist site when booking hospitality - and, to make doubly sure, the sites dominate search by block-booking Google ads (note - of all the links in Booking.com's site that could have been served, it's 'Top Reviewed Hotels' that gets the nod)...



And just a click away, with over 6,500 reviews...



The one sector where specialist websites win hands down. Of course, a good Google rating helps, but TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking.com and the like are so well-established (and funded) that it is a secondary consideration.


6-9

Business services

As the consumer's need for them rises, the number of Google reviews dwindles dramatically...



Accountancy, recruitment, advertising, PR, marketing, web design, SEO, review management (!). All of these are a minefield, especially for SMEs. Why 'especially SMEs'? Because large businesses often have in-house capability, at least enough to be able to judge a specialist service - for example: a CFO of a large business will invariably have accountancy training and qualifications, so will be better placed to make an informed choice of an accountancy service; an SME director, almost always an entrepreneur, will seek out as much independent reassurance as possible. If your business is targeting the SME market, it needs to find an effective, and safe, way to engage with Google reviews.


Education



This is an interesting one. There is a huge amount of information available about educational establishments from preschools all the way up to universities and beyond. But with pastoral care increasingly in the headlines these days, parents, especially, are looking for added reassurance - outside of their own social circle (When did you ever hear a friend say 'I chose XYZ school for my little Jimmy and it's rubbish'?!). Very few schools indeed - if any - have yet to find a safe way to proactively engage with Google reviews. Prospective parents and guardians, as well as other stakeholders, need those educational establishments to find a way to engage.


Legal



Heard the term 'A legal minefield'? Of course you have, and it sums up the quandary facing anyone about to engage with the profession. There is a huge discrepancy in both areas of expertise - will the solicitor that conveyances your house purchase have the expertise to manage your divorce? - and quality of advice.

Those seeking legal advice will seek out Google reviews for reassurance. But is that law firm finding a complaint way to engage with Google reviews?


Financial

Financial advice, investment management, banking and insurance. Financial institutions spend fortunes promoting the value they supposedly add for consumers, whatever their specialism. The only true benchmark is past performance combined with Google reviews - and my, do they seem to do everything they can to ensure the bare minimum of Google reviews are written. Here is arguably the UK's largest retail fund manager, in the news this week...



And, to be fair, it's not alone in not engaging with Google reviews...




10

Medical and healthcare



GPs, specialists from ENT to oncology, hospitals, and nursing homes. Here we are often dealing not only with the person involved but with relations as well. Reviews - Google reviews - will be actively sought out and read. We stress 'read' because in the 1-6 categories a Google score will often be all the reassurance someone needs before contacting the business; in the case of medical and financial businesses, the reviews themselves are far more likely to be read.

The reason they all send you so many requests for reviews - either directly to them or to an otherwise obscure site, but almost never to Google, is because they - and/or their advisors - understand that a negative opinion will do far less harm on a specialist review site than on Google. It's a purely defensive measure. But it doesn't help those seeking out the right practitioner at all.


A shining beacon

There is one sector that has embraced Google reviews like no other, and we wonder if you can guess from the following clues which it is...

  • The average transaction - across the whole of the UK - is just shy of £300,000
  • The average revenue to the business - per transaction - is £4,000
  • It is one of the top 10 'Least trusted occupations' in the UK, after politicians and press!
...and you would think it would be one of the last to want to invite its customers to post their opinions to Google. But it's not. Why not?

Back in the middle of the last decade we were approached by a well-known and well-regarded Plc estate agency. They took the plunge when estate agencies had few reviews, and many of those reviews, across the profession, were negative (you can imagine the kind of thing, we're sure).

We had just introduced moderation - the function whereby every review that is posted through HelpHound is read and, if it contains errors of fact or potentially misleading statements, a process is initiated to ensure, as far as is legally possible within UK law and the CMA regulations, that those are corrected before publication. We already had enough experience of this moderation process to reassure Winkworth Plc that their franchisees would not be exposing their businesses to reputational risk (as would have definitely been the case without moderation - roughly 1 in every 10 reviews is subject to some kind of moderation, and many of those would cause considerable unfair damage to the business if published unchallenged). 

Here's just one of their offices on joining...




And now...


And in local search...



This, understandably, lit a fire across the entire profession when their competitors realised the power of Google reviews to drive business through their doors, so a search now looks like this...



We have examples of other high-value and sensitive sectors as well. For anyone thinking, quite understandably, that 'my clients/patients won't want to write publicly visible reviews', just take a look at this client and take a minute to read their reviews...


Not a huge volume - but enough grateful patients to provide a very helpful impression have taken the trouble to post a review to the Clinic's own website and then on to Google


Conclusion

The most complex and demanding businesses - and the consumers that use them - need reviews far more than simple ones, by a huge factor. The only thing stopping them is a safety net to prevent unfair reputational damage, and it's called moderation. With moderation, the business can relax in the sure knowledge that the factually inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair reviews it might receive if it simply took the - unnecessary and unhelpful - risk and invited its customers to post a review directly to Google, will be highly unlikely to see the light of day.

We hope this encourages businesses in those '6 - 10' sectors to become proactive - to give their prospective clients/customers/patients the moderated reviews* they crave and you will see enquiries/clicks and inbounds surge - guaranteed. 

*Note: alongside the safety features inherent in moderation there are other helpful 'side-effects'...

    1. The reviews posted through a moderated system tend, on average, to be longer and more detailed and, as a result, more helpful to readers - your prospective customers. Consumers also report that they are far more likely to be convinced to interact with a business having read a detailed review (see 'Results' below)
    2. Consumers that have posted a positive review of a business tend, on average, to be more likely to interact with that business on multiple occasions or remain as ongoing customers of the business they have reviewed
    3. Consumers are far less likely to post critical reviews of businesses when the review process is initiated by the business under review


Further reading

  • Moderation - protecting both business and consumer from factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews
  • Results - businesses with great Google scores and significant numbers of reviews commonly see rises in both enquiries (often in the 15 - 25% range) and the quality of the resultant transaction

Monday 4 December 2023

Review Moderation - and why it is essential for all professional and service businesses

We were prompted to introduce moderation, way back in 2013, when a prospective client said...

"If my business gets 99 five-star reviews but one really well written but factually incorrect, or just plain unfair, review, all the wonderful impression made by the 99 may be undermined."

And they weren't wrong. If we look at the many thousands of reviews that have been corrected before publication by HelpHound's moderation process over the years, some were simply bad English, but so many were what we call 'call and click stoppers', the kind of 'factually inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair' review that will stop someone searching for a service from making that first vital contact with the business in question, even if it has been highly recommended by a friend or colleague.

How can we prove this? You would be right to ask. We have three answers to that key question...

1.  Why have many businesses still not engaged with Google reviews? Is it because they don't think scoring 4.8+ with 50 or more Google reviews will win them more new business? 

With the help of our clients, we have proved that doing so will win between 15 and 25 percent more than the equivalent business with a lower score or fewer reviews - and not only in numbers, but in quality as well. See those exact numbers here. So it's not that engaging with Google reviews is unproductive.
 
The reason for the lack of engagement is simple: the businesses are, just like the potential client back in 2013, very much afraid of the damage a single unfair or inaccurate review will have on their inbound enquiries. They are searching, still, for a solution that will enable them to engage with the absolute minimum of risk.

 

2.  Imagine your business receives a review like this... 



This is an actual review (the firm's name redacted by us) left on a well-known review site.  Luckily for the business the review did not appear on Google, where it would have been far more visible and done far more damage. As it is, the firm was awarded £25,000 in damages by the court. 

 

 



These two extracts from the Law Gazette reinforce our point; to the firm's undoubted chagrin the case was picked up by all the mainstream media, from the Mail to the Guardian to the TV news


The salient point here is that, unlike in US civil actions (where punitive damages may be awarded), the damage to the firm had to be proven beyond reasonable doubt to the judge. £25,000 is a lot of enquiries deflected by a single review, and the firm was able to prove its case. And can you imagine how much soul-searching took place before the firm went to court, with all the attendant publicity?

Again, had this firm adopted a moderated solution, it is possible that the client in question would have gone down that route - at least initially; allowing the business at least the opportunity to resolve the issues he had.

 

3.  Another salutary tale: We had a client - every business has one such - that, despite us reducing their fees by 50% throughout Covid, taking it from a handful of Google reviews when it joined to critical mass (well over 200 reviews on its own site and in excess of 100 on Google, advising it on constructing an appeal against two extremely damaging negative Google reviews aquired before it joined (both far more potentially damaging than the one above - they were both on Google and both written by someone who understood the power of social media very well indeed - we were, among other things, able to identify the author) and visiting it on multiple occasions to explain its options, still persisted in cancelling its membership in order to invite their clients to post their reviews direct to Google, thus 'saving' them less than £200 a month.  

And imagine what happened next? They received two more damaging - and demonstrably unfair and misconceived - Google reviews, but this time, instead of having a moderated HelpHound feed on their website, they had a feed straight from Google - so double the exposure for those 1* reviews and the only too predictable damage to the flow of inbound enquiries.




This kind of Google reviews feed is available from a number of third-party suppliers, mostly US-based, as it is legal in the US to manipulate the feed so only positive reviews are shown. It is not legal to do so in the UK (or EU)
 

We were called by its advisers and asked if we would be prepared to act on the business's behalf again in appealing both reviews to Google, a service we offer to all our clients. Our response was: of course, should they wish to rejoin. Instead it simply chose to delete the Google reviews feed from its website until such time as it had been able to muster sufficient new positive reviews to drive the damaging 1* reviews down the list. Cunning? Yes. Legal? No*. 

*It may be that the business in question is never sanctioned by the CMA, but it would be optimistic in the extreme to assume that none of their competitors had noticed the changes to their website. Playing fast and loose with reviews fatally undermines their value (by playing directly to the cynical consumer's 'You cant trust reviews' attitude), as well as calling the business's own ethics into question. 


Now follow this link and read about our charges. Some clients view them as an insurance premium -  their online reputation is, in their view, just as important and valuable and in need of protection as any other business asset; most, though, just like to be seen as offering their potential customers an effective and credible window onto the services they provide in a manner that is fully compliant with UK legislation.


And finally...

We frequently meet businesses that have perfect - 5.0 - Google scores. When we meet these 'perfect' businesses we sometimes have to remind them that not all their customers are as 'perfect' as they are. Then they invariably look at each other and name names...'What would happen if we asked that Mr Jones from Reading to write a review?'

The author of the 'A total waste of money...' review shown above was just such a case. Great businesses need great review management. Welcome to HelpHound.


Further reading

  1. Compliance with the law - and how non-compliance hands compliant competitors a big win
  2. Results - professional review management will bring more customers to your door, guaranteed
  3. Moderation - more on this key ingredient (and, by the way, HelpHound currently offers the only moderated review management service, globally)

 



 

HelpHound fees - 2024

As clients know, we have held our fees since well before the onset COVID-19 (we also reduced them by half for the duration of the pandemic). For 2024 we are introducing a new fee scale - this will reward clients that...

  • achieve critical mass with both their own and Google reviews
  • recommend us to other businesses

The basic* fee scale is as follows...


Joining, set-up and implementation                            £ 495

Monthly                                                                       £ 349
until 100 reviews on own site and 50 on Google

Monthly, after the above numbers are achieved         £ 145

Drafting a Google appeal                                            £ 200-500 
Against a review contravening the Google terms of service


Important Notes:

  1. 'Joining, set-up and implementation' includes everything from supplying the code for your web designer to enable them to implement our API (or module) on your website to advising you how best to train your management and staff to achieve the optimum results from your membership.
  2. The monthly fee includes full moderation of every review submitted via your website or any other mechanism - your email to your customer inviting them to submit their review, for instance - and full support by our client services team from 9-5 on every weekday as well as an emergency number to contact us outside those hours
  3. The reduced monthly fee reflects the fact that once these numbers are achieved you and your management and staff are likely to need far less input from HelpHound - you will have achieved critical mass on both your own website and on Google, where the positive results of Professional Review Management really begin to bear fruit: increased enquiries through both your own website and through Google search.
  4. Drafting a Google appeal: the chances of you needing this service after you have joined HelpHound are much reduced (our moderation will ensure that) but in cases where a customer - or another poster: a disappointed applicant or a competitor - writes a review, direct to Google, that contravenes their terms of service we will use our extensive experience to draft an appeal to Google.
  5. *The fees outlined above are 'per location' and assume a flow of reviews to the business's website of <= 30 per calendar month. In instances of businesses with multiple locations/branches a scale of reduced fees will be applicable. In cases where review flows average significantly in excess of 30 per month, fees will be agreed on a case-by-case between HelpHound and our client.

Initial meetings

We will begin with an online meeting to establish your business's exact requirements, during which we will agree on a strategy for implementation and training. In the majority of cases this meeting - which is free - will be all that we both need to progress to full implementation. If on-
site meetings are required we will agree on the fee scale for such meetings at outset.


Recommending HelpHound

As any business knows, some of the best clients often come by recommendation from existing clients. In this case, HelpHound credits the recommending business with 25% of the fees invoiced to the recommended business for the first year of membership. 


Further reading
  • Partnering with HelpHound - a great way to help non-competitive business contacts and add an income stream for your own business