Friday 9 February 2024

Why, oh why, not Google?

It's a question we ask all the time. Why would any business invite its customers to write a review to a review website rather than to Google?

There's currently a very high-profile example displaying on three e-billboards on the M4/A4 'Gateway to London'. Here is a similar, but far smaller one...



Now, given that this kind of advertising is designed expressly to drive people to their mobile/tablet/laptop to check out the brand and then switch suppliers, what do we see when we do just that?

We see this...


And this...




And then these, over 50 of them...




And on and on they go - 56 one-star reviews (and, unlike their 5* reviews, many of which are simple ratings, their unhappy customers tend to go into quite a lot of detail about their experience with Octopus - which does not use Google's free review response facility, but that's another story).

And that's about as far as most potential customers will get, they won't mine down into Google for more reviews, why should they? But we persevered on your behalf and found this...





So - again -  the question: 'Why do businesses like this use a review site in preference to Google reviews?' Why not simply ask customers to post to Google (which, apart from all the other advantages outlined below, is free)? 

We put these questions to Octopus Energy, and this is what they said...


NOTHING!


Despite three telephone conversations with their PR department and two separate emails - both containing a draft of this article. So, like any responsible journalist facing a brick wall, we began to mine further down into Octopus Energy's use of reviews, and Trustpilot in particular. 

What did we find?

1.  That out of its 230,000 plus, mostly glowing, Trustpilot reviews, it has over 7,000 one-star reviews.

2.  That these one-star reviews are not just tales of minor dissatisfaction, they often contain a litany of non-communication by the company, much like our own experience. Call after email after call without response, mostly about money - serious amounts, often in the £hundreds and £thousands. You can read them here.

3.  Octopus tends to be quite slow in responding to these, sometimes quite urgent ('we've been cut off', 'I've gone overdrawn') reviews. As regular readers will know, our own benchmark Is 'same working day'.

4.  Its responses are mostly generic 'Thank you for your review, please email us...' and rarely address the issue raised.


Our conclusion

This is, admittedly, going to be very one-sided, due entirely to the Octopus Energy PR department's unwillingness to answer even the most basic of questions. Here goes...

We think Octopus, and companies like it, are choosing independent review sites over Google for one very simple reason...

...that no one will find, and therefore read, their negative reviews.




Their prospective customers might read the individual reviews - that is, if this, on Octopus's home page, were hyperlinked to their Trustpilot listing. But it's not - strange, no?

When we say 'no one' we exaggerate, of course. Those who go to Trustpilot to write negative reviews obviously do read the other reviews - because they often quote them in their own ('Just like John X, I had the same issue.'). But just how many people looking for an energy supplier and seeing Octopus's review-driven advertising (see top of the page and any local billboard or radio station) find their way to Trustpilot? Very few, is our educated guess.

One final point - Octopus are proactively inviting customers to write reviews; so far so fine, but one of the questions we were going to ask them was 'You send out a customer survey by text before you invite the customer to write a review to Trustpilot. Do all respondents to the survey get asked to write a Trustpilot review, or only those that rate their experience business highly?' If, as we have seen with many businesses over the years, the latter is the case, it is in breach of the CMA's core regulations.

And this is what we think about the independent review site v. Google argument...

  1. Google reviews carry far more credibility - due to being attached to a 'real' person's Google account (as opposed to 'MickeyMouse123' on a review site).
  2. Google reviews are far more visible. By a huge factor; your prospective client/patient searches and what do they see? Google reviews, every time.
  3. Google has far greater reach - many consumers head directly for Google reviews every time they are considering using a new business - especially if that business is in the professions or is a service industry. When was the last time you considered such a business and thought 'I must check how their customers view them on [Feefo/Yelp/Trustpilot...]'? Google dominate search in the UK to a vast extent  - at last count, 95.53% of internet searches in the UK were made on Google.
  4. Anyone can write a Google review. Until recently, it was a common misconception amongst many businesses that the reviewer 'needed a Gmail address'. They don't, they just need to have used one of Google's plethora of services over the last two decades, and few people have not.
  5. Google reviews are location-specific. If your business has multiple locations it will receive Google reviews for those specific locations (what consumer, considering using a business in Durham, wants to read reviews of HQ in Reading?).
  6. Google is free. Google doesn't charge for hosting and prominently displaying your business's reviews. Why should they? Considering that you are donating your customers' valuable data to Google, that's added value enough for them.


Our advice - to any professional or service business

  1. Invite your customers - clients/patients - to write reviews on Google
  2. Use a moderated system so those reviews can be checked for factual accuracy and/or misleading statements before they are published for all to read
  3. Publish those reviews on your own website - don't hide them
  4. Think long term (a) - in five years from now Octopus will look far, far worse on Google than it does now
  5. Think long term (b) - Google will still be around in five years' time. Review sites? Maybe not. Imagine your chosen review site folds and with it, all your hard-won reviews end up in the ether (remember Yelp quitting the UK and EU?)?
But if your business is selling shirts or headphones - stick with the review site; you only need the star rating, very few people read reviews of products (as opposed to services) as long as the headline score is 4.8+. And if the review site goes under? You are selling hundreds or even thousands of units a week, so you'll soon reach critical mass on your new review site, and all you will have to do is plaster their stars all over your marketing.

And finally, if anyone - anyone at all - at Octopus Energy reads this article and would like to comment: they know how to contact us.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

A New Year's guarantee

To be of any value a guarantee must deliver measurable positive benefits for your business. Because HelpHound is many things, depending on the position our clients find themselves in on joining, our guarantees vary depending upon that position. This post will identify those starting points and apply the relevant guarantee.

Note: we have used real Google business listings to illustrate this article. We make no comment on the individual businesses or the appropriateness or otherwise of their individual Google reviews and/or Google scores.


Starting point: Less than thirty Google reviews


The business in this example finds itself in the same position as many professional practices: it has yet to find a safe way to invite reviews to Google and it may even be cognisant of the CMA regulations that expressly forbid hand-picking clients to post reviews; it has just about kept its head above water, Google score-wise, by inviting two or three clients to write a Google review as and when it is subject to a 1* negative. It has at least one review that contravenes Google's own ToS and would undoubtedly be removed by Google were the business to submit a correctly worded appeal.

 

Guarantee

  • 100 Google reviews in 6 months

  •  A Google score of at least 4.8 within 3 months of joining

  • a 10% upift in enquiries at that point

  •  Full compliance with the CMA regulations 


Starting point: More than thirty but less than 100 Google reviews



This firm of lawyers has yet to find a compliant and effective way to invite their stakeholders to write reviews to Google; it is not as if they don't invite reviews, just that they are being invited to a site that is next to invisible in search. Can you see it in this screengrab of their Google knowledge panel in a standard Google search?




But how many potential clients never get past their Google headline of 3.9 from 50 reviews?

 

Guarantee

  • 100 Google reviews in 6 months 
  • A Google score of at least 4.8 within 3 months of joining

  • a 5% upift in enquiries at that point

  • Full compliance with the CMA regulations 

 

Starting point: 100+ Google reviews

 

 


A respectable headline score - 4.6 - is only partially masking a steady drip of 1* reviews. A moderated review management system would undoubtedly enable this business to address some of the issues raised before the reviewer felt the need to commit to a potentially misleading or just plain inaccurate - or indeed unfair - Google review. 

 

Guarantee

  • 10 new Google reviews per month
  • A Google score of at least 4.8 within 6 months of joining

  • Full compliance with the CMA regulations - from the date of joining 
  • More enquiries through Google searches


Conclusion

There you have it: a 'no lose' situation for those joining HelpHound in 2024. All the business has to do is implement HelpHound's recommendations in full* and we will guarantee your money back if the agreed results are not achieved. 

*At the outset HelpHound will conduct a full audit of the business's exposure to reviews, Google as well as others; this will form the statistical base for our recommended strategy. This strategy will be agreed and signed off by both HelpHound and our client at inception and before implementation.


Further reading



Saturday 6 January 2024

Trustpilot - big business's 'useful idiot'?

We get it, we really do, if you are in retail - especially online retail - all you need is this...





As a matter of fact, all your business probably needs is this...




But, before you rush to add to Trustpilot's cash mountain, you might like to consider the following points:

Why would a business want to use Trustpilot - and pay them - when Google reviews...




...are free and unarguably trump Trustpilot for credibility* and, most important of all, visibility. Strange as it may seem, the answer would seem to be just that - visibility. Trustpilot reviews - and the business's headline score, rarely appear in search. This leaves the business free to use them both as, when and where it suits them best.

After all, if you were Yodel, you wouldn't be promoting your Google score...




...would you? But that's exactly what searchers are going to see - every single time they conduct a Google search. Like this...




Another possible use of review sites

Suppose a business came to us, or any other agency, and said 'We want to bury negative reviews of our business as far away from the eyes of our potential customers as possible whilst being simultaneously open and welcoming to comments.' Let's look at a real-life business that would appear - we stress 'appear' - to have done just this (no names):




Best in the world? How does this business look on Trustpilot?






Now, we know the 'Best in the world' bar is set pretty low when it comes to retail banking, but even Trustpilot, with its notoriously generous (some might say 'business-friendly') descriptors can only bring itself to call it 'Average'. That 28 percent represents nearly a third of all reviewers and more than 10,000 1* reviews


But does it really matter when those reviews, and that distinctly 'average' score, are not returned in the first fifty search results when the business's name is googled? Cynical observers might say 'Job done: reviews welcomed but invisible to all but the most diligent searcher.'


Conclusion

All professional or service businesses - as opposed to online retail - should focus on Google reviews. But wait, we hear some of you say, that would mean that all our potential customers will see all our Google reviews in every search they make. But they already do! So get HelpHound's moderation working for you to ensure that those reviews are as accurate as they possibly can be - no factual inaccuracies or misleading statements (and with any errors in English corrected).


*Google's credibility derives, in the main, from the fact that almost all of us know that we can write one whenever we like and that there is no Google mechanism for preventing us (Trustpilot allow businesses to appeal negative reviews - actually any review, but we'd be surprised if a business appealed a 5* review). It also derives from familiarity - we all consume Google reviews, consciously or unconsciously, because we see them and their attendant headline score in every single Google search on a business we make.


Further reading

  • Getting your business's Google reviews strategy right will not only protect its online reputation - it will boost it so inbound clicks and calls rise to a higher level and remain there. Read all about the results you can expect here
  • In case you missed the link to the advantages of a moderated review system above, here is an article that explains just why it is the key to successful long-term review management


 

Friday 5 January 2024

Education - the one professional sector lagging behind with reviews

 


In the metaphorical 'race to succeed with reviews' education is the runner in white at the top of this photo finish. Luckily the analogy is flawed: in the world of reviews the race is never-ending. The white-shirted runner (who is actually a lap behind the rest in 2024) can still catch the field, and even win the race.

But first, let us examine why entering and then running in the race is so important: according to a recent article entitled 'How to choose the right school for your child' in Independent School Parent magazine (note: this post relates to all types of educational establishments, not simply independent schools) the first thing any parent should do is 'Research your options'. 

And what is almost every parent's first 'research' move? Often even before speaking to friends, before looking at individual schools' websites, before consulting Ofsted, even if looking for a specific school? A Google search of course.

But what do they currently find? 



An almost universal lack of engagement. From zero reviews to very few, few schools have yet to find a way to successfully harness the opinions of their stakeholders and turn them into a credible presence online.

How is this?

It is simple really: they have not found a safe way to do so. Safe? Exactly. Simply inviting stakeholders to post a review directly to Google can be a high-risk strategy: no educator needs us to tell them how often misunderstandings arise and having those misunderstandings aired for evermore, for everyone to see, in a Google review, can risk unfair - and difficult to repair - damage to any organisation's long-term reputation (if any readers doubt the harm a single online review can cause we would suggest reading what happened to this firm of solicitors).

HelpHound to the rescue

Of course, we have a solution - actually, the only solution - why else would we be writing this article? For over ten years now we have operated our moderated review management system on behalf of clients in the professional services sector. The key word is 'moderation': we define moderation, in the context of reviews, as the practice of engaging with the review and the reviewer pre-publication. 

At least eighty per cent of reviews are what we term 'clean'; in other words, they are the genuinely held opinion of the reviewer (client/customer/patient/parent) and they 'pass' moderation straight away and are published on the business's website and the reviewer is invited to copy their review to Google. 

Of the remaining reviews - still in moderation - some will simply be written in English that is poor enough to mislead a reader. Our moderator will correct them with the reviewer's permission. Others, more seriously for the business and unhelpfully for readers, will contain errors of fact or statements with the potential to mislead those who in future may come to rely on the review. 

In these cases, a three-way dialogue will often ensue, between the reviewer, the business (in the context of this article: the school or other educational establishment) and our moderator. The object of this dialogue is solely to ensure that the final published review is as factually accurate as possible and to allow the business and the reviewer to understand each other's position to that end.

Results

When we first introduced moderation we held our corporate breath. Would reviewers allow us to engage with them and would they be happy to engage with the business under review? The answer, to our relief and that of our client businesses, was a resounding 'Yes'. That is except for two categories of reviewer: the troll (to use current internet parlance) - someone who was simply airing an unfounded opinion of a business of which they had no first-hand experience, and the 'five-thumbed typist' who had reviewed the business in error (company names can be very similar).

Everyone else, with very few exceptions, reacts positively: from grudging acceptance - 'OK, I exaggerated...' - to sheer relief - 'I hadn't realised I was wrong in what I had written, thank goodness you stepped in.' 

There you have it: a safe way to engage with Google reviews, guaranteed. With the added bonus of independently verified reviews to host on your own website.

A note for 'perfect' establishments

We sometimes encounter businesses, of all kinds, that say 'We are so great at what we do we won't need moderation, we'll simply invite our stakeholders to post reviews direct to Google.' Those businesses should remember that they may be perfect, or as close as makes no difference, but it's their customers and other stakeholders that may not be quite as 100% on the ball. Moderation is expressly designed for great businesses - under the CMA regulations we cannot aid or abet any filtering or deflecting of any genuinely held negative opinions - but one misconceived negative review has the potential to do untold harm, and it is just that review that moderation is expressly designed to address. We refer you to the case history already mentioned above.


Conclusion

Educational establishments have nothing to lose and everything to gain...
  • shining in every Google search
  • wonderful content for their websites and social media
  • savings - in both time and money - on all other forms of marketingnt
...from engaging in professional moderated review management. At the time of publication, HelpHound is the only channel currently providing this, not to mention our 10+ years of experience in doing so. We look forward to helping your educational establishment achieve all of the above - to A* level!


Further reading

  • Compliance is key - so many businesses flout the CMA regulations that expressly forbid cherry-picking known satisfied customers to write reviews
  • Results: all of our clients see positive results - Google scores of 4.8+ from hundreds of reviews and consistent uplifts in contacts and enquiries. This article puts numbers to those promises
  • The hotel that was very nearly unfairly shut down by a single 1* Google review

How fast will our advice impact your business's online reputation?

 How's this? The business on 1 December 2023...



And now?




Early days! But a great start - especially given the holiday period - and we look forward to the business getting to the hallowed 4.8* any day now.


Update 22 January 2024 

And now, after a successful appeal against a one-star review that contravened Google's terms of service!



*4.8? Years of research and client feedback show that this is the score at which consumer trust really kicks in; below 4.8 and consumers will read all a business's negative reviews, 4.8 and above and they will simply make contact.