Monday 8 April 2024

Review gating - it's illegal, but why?

We are regularly asked this question (often alongside 'Why shouldn't we cherry-pick?', cherry-picking being the act of selecting which customers to invite to write a review), once the person asking understands exactly what gating is.

Gating - the definition

Gating is the act of using a mechanism (examples below) to pre-determine which customer is most likely to post a 5* review and then asking that sub-set, and only that sub-set, to write a publicly visible review, commonly to Google, but the applies equally to any review acquired in this manner. 

So: what is wrong with gating and why is it illegal in the UK and in contravention of Google's terms of service worldwide? 

Examples of gating mechanisms

Questionnaire 

 


 
How often do we all receive one of these? And many are innocent - the business just wants feedback on its products or services. The legal line is crossed when those who respond positively to the questionnaire - and only those - are then invited to post a review to Google...



 
...and those that score the business less than a perfect 5.0 receive this...


 

Email

 

 

'How did we do?' A sub-set of the questionnaire really. People that respond with '10' (and sometimes even '9') will be invited to write a review.

 

Using a less visible review site

 

 

This is a 'cunning' solution. Take a business that fully understands that Google reviews are by far and away the most important. But it begins by inviting customers to post a review to a review site; only when they have done so are those that have written a 5* review there invited to post a review to Google. 

Oh! And there's one more: handing the customer an iPad at point-of-sale. This - a derivative of cherry-picking - risks a complete deletion of all the business's reviews on Google. There was a famous case of a hotel that climbed to the top of the rankings by doing exactly this. No longer: Google hates multiple reviews being written from the same IP address. 

 

Why do businesses feel the need to gate?

It's simple - and understandable - until one begins to look at the bigger picture. Businesses know that scoring well on Google - 4.8 and over - will drive more enquiries and sales through search (for unequivocal proof see 'Results' at the end of this article). And they will do just about anything to achieve that, and that includes cherry-picking (frequently) and gating (less often).

The bigger picture? 

Reviews exist to enable consumers to pick the most suitable product or business for their needs. That may be something as basic as a mobile phone or an item of clothing, or as vitally important as someone to conduct a legal case, a financial transaction or a medical operation.

Our more regular readers will already be aware of where we are going with this line of argument: so what if you buy the wrong phone or dress? You may be mildly inconvenienced or irritated, you might even lose a small amount of money replacing the item in question - but an oncologist or a family lawyer, an investment manager or an executive search consultant? Get that choice wrong and your whole life could be turned upside down, or worse: put at risk entirely.

So consumers, especially consumers of high-value services and the professions, need to be able to rely on reviews as completely as possible. Gating and cherry-picking are not victimless crimes. That is exactly why the CMA regulates reviews in the UK with the force of law.

And it is also why HelpHound exists: to ensure that our clients' reviews are, as far as they can be, factually accurate and a fair reflection of the interaction between business and consumer. Our clients don't need to cherry-pick or gate. They know they will be protected - by our moderators (see 'Further Reading' below) from the kind of reviews that make other businesses contravene the CMA regulations. 

There's one more thing we hear occasionally: 'How likely is it that the regulators/CMA will sanction our business?' And we cannot answer that; all we do know is that the CMA is on the case - they really don't like consumers being misled into using the wrong business - and the last time they sanctioned a business for something similar they fined it £375,000 and barred its directors from running a limited company for 10 years. 

Gating and cherry-picking are so easy to identify:

  • the emails and reviews sites used in gating leave an indelible paper-trail (the ones illustrated above fell into our inbox less than an hour after the article was begun), not just visible to regulators but to other interested parties (competitors are delighted when they can tell prospective cleints or patients that another firm under consideration is effectively breaking the law to enhance its reputation) 

  • cherry picking - ditto: a business has 36 reviews over a three year period, but its books show it has transacted business with over 400 people, it is almost certainly cherry-picking

But far more likely is that a competitor business will work out just what the cherry-picking/gating business is up to and use that in competitive pitches: "Did you know that ABC Plc only looks so good because they're breaking the law?" 

Why go to all that trouble - and risk your business's long-term security - when there is an effective alternative?


Further reading 


Wednesday 27 March 2024

Trustpilot - major investor sells and cuts losses




On the third anniversary of Trustpilot's IPO - at £2.65p - Vitruvian Partners sold 15.5 million shares at £2.00p. Some might say that's not a great return (a loss of nearly 25% over three years), especially against the FTSE which is up 16% over the same period. But we are not here to say whether or not Trustpilot shares are a good investment, but rather whether or not businesses should invest their hard-earned money by employing Trustpilot to enhance their reputations in their various marketplaces.

The question that we return to again and again is a simple one: 'Why pay Trustpilot when Google reviews are free?' and more importantly...

  • more visible - by a massive margin (as regular readers will have noted: we have strong suspicions that some businesses are using Trustpilot specifically to channel reviews away from the public eye as Trustpilot reviews of a business rarely appear on 'page 1' of seach)
  • more credible - again, by a huge margin (users now understand that anyone can write a Google review and it will stand. Google reviews are now also mostly posted under a 'real' identity)

And the answer we continue to arrive at is...

'If your business is seeking a reviews mechanism to back up its product marketing - we stress 'product', as opposed to 'service' - then a Trustpilot rating may be an effective tool. But if your business provides a professional service - financial, legal, medical, educational, B2B and the like - it has to be Google all the way.'

Just look at these search results...



What reviews - and scores - do we see? Google - every single time. Now let us look at another service sector that has taken review marketing more seriously than most...



For readers saying, quite understandably, 'Our business acquires most of its new clients/patients as a result of word-of-mouth recommendations, referrals or as a result of our advertising and PR efforts' may we say 'Great, but remember what the overwhelming majority of people do when they are recommended a business by a friend or colleague, or see great marketing: they Google the business in question. And what do they see then? They see this...



Compare the search above with a similar one in a different sector...




No Google reviews, no reviews on their own website and no stars in search


And there are two major reasons why HelpHound clients look so great in search (apart from the fact that they self-define as highly consumer-focused)...

1.  Moderation: every reviewer who responds to our clients' invitation to post a review - whether by direct contact or indirectly by using the 'Write a review' button on their website - has their review read by a HelpHound moderator in order to ensure, as far as is possible within the CMA regulations, that the review contains no factual inaccuracies or comments likely to mislead a future reader. 

 


There is no longer any doubt that the star rating drawn from the reviews on the business's own website drives enquiries

2.  'Stars in search': (see specifially points 6 & 8)  the stars, rating and 'votes' you see right underneath the business's natural listing, in both searches (local and specific) - as opposed to in the Google knowledge panel on the right in the second image - are derived from the business's own reviews, hosted on its own website, not from its Google reviews. The fact that most consumers assume they are some sort of Google 'vote of confidence' is not necessarily a bad thing! 

We recommend you conduct your own search on the business above to see them - the stars - 'in action' and how they make the business stand out in searches. We know how highly valued they are by businesses because on the very rare occasions when our feed does not deliver them in search we get very prompt calls asking for it to be reinstated ASAP!


In Summary

We see no contest between Trustpilot or any of its fellow review sites - Yelp, Feefo, Reviews.io and the rest - and Google when it comes to driving business through reviews. A moderated Google solution wins on any criteria a business may have. If, on the other hand, your business sells products and you'd rather its reviews were not delivered in Google searches, then maybe, just maybe, the five green stars are for you.

Monday 25 March 2024

Make the most of your great reviews

 



There is an understandable tendency for businesses to focus on their review score and the absolute number of reviews they have, in the same way as consumers use these two indicators as a short-hand way to whittle down prospective services into a shortlist.

Your business has great reviews - on your own website and on Google. Of course it does, it's a HelpHound client. But don't just leave it there: use them in all of your marketing...
  • print
  • conventional media - PR and advertising
  • social media - Instagram/TikTok/Facebook
  • customer-facing displays
We know we are stating the obvious to some of you but we are still coming across businesses that hide their lights under a bushel. Well, not quite, but they do tend to stop once they have great reviews and great scores in the obvious places. 

If you think we've missed anything that works well for your business or would like us to share ideas that have worked for other clients please just call.

Friday 15 March 2024

How many people are seeing that 1* review?

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that negative Google reviews of your business are either 'not seen' or 'have no impact' (if you want reviews, but don't want them to show up in search there are always the review sites: Yelp, Trustpilot, Feefo and so on). For reasons better known to Google, it stopped showing the number of views a review received, like this...




...a while back. There's no point in us even trying to guess Google's rationale, but it definitely enabled those who persist in thinking that the odd negative review 'doesn't matter' or 'won't get seen by many people' (those 'people' being potential customers) to relax in the comfort of their own self-delusion.

There are two lessons we can all learn from this simple screenshot:

  1. That hundreds, even thousands, of people will see any negative reviews of your business
  2. That if a negative review is 'liked' - the only statistic that Google still shows (the thumbs up at bottom left)...



...you can be absolutely sure that it has been viewed, and read, by a whole lot more - not necessarily in the ratio of 1:1300 indicated by the first review, but the multiple will be considerable.

So: take negative reviews very seriously indeed - do everything in your power to avoid receiving them in the first place (HelpHound's moderated review management?) and then deal with them professionally when they do arise. 

 

 

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Moderation - every professional business's key to reviews

With apologies to regular readers, but this subject is so vital - it is at the core of everything we do for our client businesses and their customers. We're going to keep this article brief - but we will include links to more detailed information and analysis for those who want to mine further down into this vital aspect of managing a business's online reputation.

Here goes...

1.  What is moderation?

This is one of the most important questions we are ever asked - and one of the most important services we ever provide, to both our business clients and their customers. So let's look at a real example; here is a review, posted through the business's website and picked up - pre-publication - by our moderator...




We have purposely chosen this review as it is an excellent example of the kind of review that, if posted straight to Google, would remain on the business's Google page for the foreseeable future; there is nothing in the review that would give us cause to think there was any chance of an appeal to Google succeeding as it does not remotely infringe any of Google's terms and conditions.
 
Indeed, on the face of it, the review is an entirely genuine opinion and record of a consumer's - in this case a patient's - interaction with the business - in this case a medical practice. Also, on reading, it is a pretty convincing argument not to use the business. And therefore potentially hugely damaging.

So: what happened during the moderation process? 

Our moderator acknowledged the review by messaging the reviewer to tell them that we would be consulting the business before publishing the review. Simultaneously the review was sent to the business for comment. We make it completely clear to businesses that their response must be with our moderator by close of business the same day (if a business wants to be sure of provoking a review direct to Google, then any delay at this point is a good way of ensuring that happens). 

In this instance the clinic reverted to our moderator the same morning, addressing each point in the review in turn.  This response was forwarded, immediately, to the reviewer who was then invited to do one of three things:

    • Amend their original review
    • Have their original review posted
    • Message the business via our moderator and leave the review unposted
In this case, as happens in so many*, the latter course was chosen by the reviewer...




Not only the right outcome but the fair outcome. The clinic's reputation was protected and the relationship with their patient was restored. Both parties benefitted.

*The overwhelming majority of consumers - especially where there is a professional ongoing relationship or service at stake - are entirely receptive to a full and truthful explanation of the facts of the matter under review. Indeed, they are often grateful in the extreme for our moderator's intercession.


Moderation is the act of 'having a review read and analysed for factual accuracy and/or misleading statements' by a person independent of the business under review. It is the only legal way for businesses in the UK (and the EU) to ensure that, as far as possible, their reviews are an accurate reflection of their business and its services.

2.  If our moderator finds either of those - factual inaccuracies and/or statements with the potential to mislead someone who may rely on the review (a potential client/patient, for instance) what exactly do they do?

They message the reviewer - in private (example above) - and suggest modifications to the review before it is published. They will also correct obvious mistakes in spelling and grammar.

3.  Will our moderator ever involve the business?

Sometimes. Our moderators are experienced and understand our clients' businesses, but if there is something in the review that needs clarification - the 'he said/she said' kind of thing - they will refer to our point-of-contact at the business as well as back to the reviewer (again, see the example above).

4.  Do reviewers ever object to our moderation process?

Very rarely. We always make it clear that the reviewer always has the right - excluding profanities or allegations of illegal behaviour - to have whatever review they wish published (this keeps every party in compliance with the CMA regulations, which specifically prohibit businesses from using any mechanism that prevents the consumer having their say).  On the contrary, we often receive messages from reviewers thanking us for our intervention. Vanishingly few consumers want to have inaccurate reviews published for the world to see (the actual figure, from our own data, is far less than 1% of the 3% of reviews that enter the moderation process).

5.  What should we expect our business to score with moderation?

This is the question we get most of all: before we answer it - and we will give you actual numbers at the end of this section - we should explain that there are two elements in the customer relationship chain that we, at HelpHound, cannot (and should not) control: the first is the behaviour of your staff, which is entirely your responsibility and the second is the behaviour of your customers. We often meet 'perfect' businesses with far-from-perfect Google scores; what we know for sure is that our moderation process will address a great proportion of those mistaken negative reviews. So...



A (near) perfect business with (near) perfect clients? Or a business that has felt the need to selectively invite 'happy' clients to post reviews to Google? Bearing in mind that 186 reviews divided by the six years since their first Google review = 31 reviews a year = just over one fortnight, the available evidence points to the latter. 


If your business currently scores between 4.8 and 5.0 - it will have the very best chance of maintaining that score with HelpHound's moderation (and it will be fully compliant with the CMA regulations - as will all the solutions below)



This business has worked hard to get 300 Google reviews, possibly in order to dilute the 26 one-star and 3 two-star reviews it has received, almost of which would have been effectively managed by our moderation process (a quick scan of their negative reviews shows a mix of misunderstandings - language issues in the main and plain wrong-headed comments). Going forwards they should be looking to raise their percentage of 5* reviews from its current level of 91% to far closer to 99%. This will see their score rise to 4.8/4.9 alongside their most successful competitors.

  • If your business currently scores between 4.5 and 4.7 - it will have a great chance of achieving a score of at least 4.8 with HelpHound's moderation



This firm had a clean sheet - scoring the full 5.0 - until a matter of weeks ago. Its experience illustrates just how vital a moderated review management system is for professional businesses. We cannot guarantee that the 3 one-star reviews posted recently would not have been posted, but the firm would have had vastly more than 14 five-star reviews to counterbalance them. This should be its aim going forward: to invite clients to post to Google as a standard practice.

  • If your business currently scores between 4.0 and 4.4 - it will have a great chance of achieving a score of at least 4.8 with HelpHound's moderation



We're going to take an educated guess here: someone within the firm began asking their satisfied clients to post reviews four years ago, then a colleague pointed out the CMA anti-cherry-picking regulations and they stopped doing so. Then some unhappy people - not necessarily clients - posted a handful of critical reviews. So their Google score has gradually declined from 4.9 to its current 3.9. Being the lowest-ranked solicitor in its area will not be helping to drive new clients through the door. But all is not lost: a low score from a few reviews is easily rectified, whilst a low score form hundreds - or thousands - takes time (but will still be achieved)

  • If your business currently scores less than 4.0 - the only way, as they say, is up! That is, unless our initial audit pinpoints a flaw in your CRM, in which case we will advise accordingly and delay implementation until the flaw is rectified

To reinforce these four assertions we recommend you read these two articles:

1.  Results: two case histories that demonstrate the uplift in Google score, the subsequent increase in new business enquiries and the resultant critical quantum shift in the quality of customers acquired through Google search.

2. Our guarantee of success: see exactly what we absolutely guarantee will happen when you join HelpHound.

Does all of the above mean that HelpHound can make any business look great in search?

We understand, at first glance, this might appear to be the case, but it ignores two significant factors in HelpHound's own business model...

  1. We only work with the professions and service businesses, and most, if not all, service businesses can improve their CRM to the stage where HelpHound's review management will work effectively for them. This is not the case with product-based businesses: a substandard product will always be a substandard product, and we leave those businesses to the review sites.
  2. We recognise that the reviewer always retains the option to write their review directly to Google or one of the review sites, so we always advise our clients to facilitate the maximum number of reviews through their own CRM and website. If a business ignores that advice they run the very real risk of negative reviews, often factually incorrect or just plain unfair, being written to Google.       

A vital - and hugely valuable - unintended consequence of moderation

Very soon after we introduced moderation we began being asked, by virtually every business we spoke to (especially those that had taken the trouble to understand the CMA regulations - the law)...

'Do we have to ask all our customers to post a review?'


Our initial response was...


'No, you don't, you are compliant with the CMA regulations by dint of the fact that you offer all visitors to your website the ability to post a review.'


Sighs of relief all round! But then we took a long hard look at the individual negative reviews being posted. And we had an epiphany: we realised that clients of relationship-based businesses didn't often 'warn' those businesses that they were dissatisfied with whatever long-term service they were being provided with - they just resigned/left. And, as any such business will tell you, once a client or patient is gone they're almost always 'gone gone'. The chances of clawing them back are as close to nil as makes no difference. 

But our moderators also noticed a distinct pattern emerging: businesses that had invited all - or just about all - their stakeholders to write a review were receiving warnings of the 'about to go' kind. The review of the clinic at the top of this article is a good example. And, as all businesses know, a customer saved is worth a great deal of marketing £s. 

So we revised our advice: proactively invite as many people as possible to write a review; the 5* reviews are gold-dust, but the 1* or 2* review that is resolved in moderation is platinum.


Lastly...

If you interrogate this blog and its 900+ articles you will find plenty that reference moderation.  The first was written on 26 April 2013, eleven years ago now, but here are two more recent ones that will explain everything that this article has left out in the interests of brevity.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

New to HelpHound? Try this 2 minute quiz

Score 100% and you won't need us. Score less and we will guarantee to positively impact your earnings. This may appear, at first sight, to be a slightly light-hearted approach to what is, for all professional and service businesses, a serious enterprise. After all, adopting the wrong solution will - not 'can' - have serious long-term deleterious effects on all a business's other marketing.

 

Question 1

Does your business host independently verified reviews on its website?

 

Question 2

Are those reviews moderated before publication?


Question 3

Are those moderated reviews copied to Google?


Question 4

Does your business respond to all its reviews?


Question 5

Is your business compliant with the CMA regulations with regard to cherry-picking and/or gating?


That's the 'Quiz' done. Now let us expand on these five questions.


Hosting independently verified reviews



By definition - and by law - a 'review' must be independently verified, if it is not it is defined as a testimonial. It can be fed to the business by a review site (Yelp/Trustpilot/Doctify/Feefo and so on) or from Google. These days consumers, especially consumers of professional services, demand reviews; if they don't find reviews on the business's own website they know they will be able to find them on Google. From the business's point-of-view, especially if it has expended resources on attracting the consumer to its website the very last thing it wants is the potential customer to revert to Google and see its competitors listed under 'People also search for'...



And just before we move on to Q.2 we ought to deal with a question we still hear (albeit less and less): 'Do people read/reference reviews on businesses' websites?' Look at this review (it's only 4 months old):




Already 12 people have taken the trouble to 'vote' it 'helpful'. The number that have seen/read the review will be far higher.


Are all the business's reviews moderated before publication?

There is a reason that most HelpHound clients' reviews, whether hosted on their own websites or on Google, are overwhelmingly well-written and factually accurate: they have been moderated pre-publication. Our moderators correct spelling and grammar and query statements of fact that may be proved to be incorrect or misleading for readers (always with the permission of the reviewer)


Is the business maximising the number of reviews it gets to Google?




Every time a review is posted on one of our clients' websites the reviewer is automatically invited to copy that review to Google. Not only does this mean that virtually all the business's Google reviews are factually accurate (for more on moderation see here and read on below) and therefore reliable and trustworthy for consumers, it also means that our clients have a constant flow of up-to-date reviews there. Great for driving business and great for SEO.


Does the business respond to all its reviews?



This is the kind of generic response that we see all the time. It fails to address any of the issues raised in the original review and equally fails to impress a potential customer. Below is a response to a Google review drafted on behalf of one of our clients.




Surprisingly few businesses get this right - at the last count nearly 9 out of 10 businesses don't respond to any reviews. It is vital to respond to every review, both positive and especially negative. The response must be unemotional, address the issues raised (without compromising confidentiality) and aim to impress anyone reading it. Even responses to negative reviews can be turned into positive messages if drafted correctly. We are on hand to advise clients on these vital responses and it is a very popular part of our service.


Is the business compliant?

Businesses that we meet for the first time break down into the following four categories...

  • unwittingly cherry-picking - defined in the regulations as 'Not allowing everyone the equal opportunity to write a review'
  • unwittingly gating - defined in the regulations - and in Google's own ToS - as 'using any method to pre-qualify customer opinions so as to ensure that less than satisfied customers are not invited to post a review'
and in a minority:
  • wilfully cherry-picking - selecting customers to invite to write a review
  • wilfully gating - sending out a questionnaire and then only inviting positive respondents to write a review
The only businesses we see, with very few exceptions, that are compliant with the CMA regulations* - the law in the UK - are those that are not inviting customers to post reviews, 

*A note on compliance: there is a fairly widespread feeling in some sectors of the marketplace that 'We won't be the first to be fined/sanctioned by the CMA'. This is to miss some fundamental points: non-compliant businesses are very easy to pinpoint, for competitors as well as regulators, they also leave an indelible paper trail of that non-compliance: emails selectively inviting reviews and so on. Always remember that a competitor's best friend is that ex-member of staff who left knowing exactly how the business glowed so brightly in reviews. 

We get it, we really do. If we had a pound for every time a prospective client said 'What? Does the CMA expect us to invite every customer to write a review? Are they crazy?' we would be very well off indeed.

There is a solution that ensures compliance and enables businesses to survive in the world of reviews, and it is called 'moderation'. Let us walk you through it...

The business does not have to proactively invite all of its customers to write a review. What it does have to do is have a publicly visible mechanism that allows any of its customers to write a review at a time of their choosing. The key word here is 'allows'. Look at this website...




That 'Write a review' button ensures that the business is compliant. It also leads directly to one of our moderators. As soon as the review is written...





...it is checked for any factual inaccuracies and/or potentially misleading content. In 97% of cases the review is what we term 'clean' and is immediately published on the business's website (with any obvious typos, spelling or grammatical errors corrected). In the other 3% a conversation - by email - takes place between our moderator, the reviewer and - if necessary - the business under review**.

**A note on moderation and moderators: first, all reviews are read by a person. We are fully aware of some review sites where much is made of algorithmic moderation - 'our software can spot anomalies in reviews' - well, particularly with the advent of AI, we would beg to differ, it takes a well-trained human moderator to a) pick up on both the tone and the content of a review and b) then conduct a 3-way conversation with the parties involved. Interestingly, reviewers are almost always very pleased when a moderator becomes involved. Few people want what the law allows them to want - to have a factually inaccurate or misleading review published for all to see (often under their real name).


Conclusion

By now you will have realised that being able to answer 'Yes' to the 5 questions will put any business in a very strong position from a purely marketing point of view: 'Yes, we display independently verified reviews prominently on our website; yes, we have all those reviews moderated to ensure they are accurate and won't mislead those that need to rely on them; yes, we get as many of those reviews as possible copied to Google; yes, we respond professionally to all our reviews, wherever they may be and yes, we obey the law in doing all the above.'

We look forward to welcoming you to HelpHound!


Further reading
  • This article shows exactly how dramatic the impact of professional review management can impact a business, both in terms of footfall and in terms of the marked increase in quality of each piece of business transacted


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.