Wednesday, 5 May 2021

The NHS and feedback - there is a better way

One of our staffers had occasion to pay a visit to a hospital this week. And guess what they saw? This...

Here's the form...

And this was next to the lifts...

How is this feedback collated? (Goodness knows). Is it visible to other patients? (not that we can see). Does it recieve a response? (No). Is it shown on their website? (No). Seriously? In 2021?

Let's look at another medical operation, a relatively recent client of ours:

This form can incorporate specific questions if required (and these can be varied over time)

All collated, scores recorded, incorporating a response mechanism, paperless, visible to all potential patients.

That last point is crucial: what does anyone considering medical treatment need more than almost anything else? Yes: reassurance. 

And as many as possible on Google as well:

Need we say more?

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Reviews: never too late to adopt the right strategy

This article recently appeared in a trade publication...

Wow! 2,000 reviews. But where? To Google, where they would all be seen by everyone?

No - as the headline makes clear - to Trustpilot...

The core point is 'why Trustpilot?' or, even more pertinently 'why not Google?' It's the $64,000 dollar question that all Trustpilot's 20,000 paying subscribers should be asking themselves: 'what are we trying to achieve with reviews'?

Here are the questions all businesses should be asking when looking for a reviews solution...

  • Will our reviews be visible to the most potential customers?
  • Will our reviews be credible - and therefore trusted?
  • Will our chosen reviews solution still be around in five/ten year's time?
  • Will our solution incorporate a mechanism to enable us to avoid, as far as is legally possible, reputational damage?
  • Will our solution, and its operation, be compliant with UK law?
  • Will we own our own reviews?
  • Will our solution be compliant with Google's terms of service?
  • What will we be paying for, over and above Google's - free - offering?

Regular readers will know that we have, for many years now, recommeded that our clients focus on Google reviews alongside hosting their own reviews on their own website, whilst incorporating HelpHound's moderation. Simply put, that enables them to 'tick all the boxes' listed above. 

So why do websites like Trustpilot and Feefo exist? 

Again, the simple answer: they were around before Google became a major player in the reviews sphere; we sometimes use the 'railways and canals' analogy: just because railways came along didn't mean some people didn't still continue to use canals, even though they were demonstrably less efficient.

There is another reason: Google haven't monetised their reviews; they don't market a reviews solution. That leaves the way clear for the review sites' considerable salesforces. 

So let's conduct a test against the 'ideal' criteria listed above:

  • Will our reviews be visible to the widest possible range of potential customers?
With Google? Yes. With any other solution - demostrably less so.
  • Will our reviews be credible - and therefore trusted?
Google? Reviewers have an identity known to Google, and all their reviews are written under that identity, so the likelihood of a 'fake' review or reviewer is far lower with Google than with aany other solution.
  • Will our chosen reviews solution still be around in five/ten year's time?
This question must be taken seriously. We have lost count of the review sites and aggregators that have come and gone from the UK - from the massive Yelp to tiny 'industry specific' sites such as RaterAgent. We reckon that Google reviews, being a core part of Google's current strategy, will pass the test of time.
  • Will our solution incorporate a mechanism to enable us to avoid, as far as is legally possible, reputational damage?
Moderation, while 'nice to have' if your business sells products, is essential for service and professional businesses. A single inaccurate or misleading review has the power to stop the phones ringing for those in the latter category. Here is a case history.
  • Will our solution, and its operation, be compliant with UK law?
Under UK law you have to demonstrate that you enable all of your customers to write a review. To be clear: 'cherry-picking' (as the regulators call the practise) happy customers to write reviews is illegal. This is the single most frequently quoted rason for not engaging with reviews.
  • Will we own our own reviews?
By inviting your customers to post reviews to your own website you will own their reviews. Not so with review sites: they will own the reviews and the associated - very valuable -data.
  • Will our solution be compliant with Google's terms of service?
Google specifically prohibit gating (the practice of filtering reviews via another review site or through a customer feedback mechanism). Businesses caught gating have all their reviews deleted.
  • What will we be paying for, over and above Google's - free - offering?
With HelpHound? Almost certainly less than £200 a month.


So what should Brightstar have done?

How much more powerful if those stars were gold (Google)?

They should have focussed their strategy on Google and their own website. Just imagine if they had nearly 2,000 reviews in those two locations?

What should Brightstar - and any business in a similar postion today - do now?

Refocus towards Google; they have nothing to lose - they will retain their 2,000 reviews on Trustpilot - and can immediately begin building on their Google reviews whilst owning their own reviews on their own website into the bargain.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Trustpilot - what really makes it so attractive to businesses?


This infographic is the tip of a much larger - and, dare we say, more important - reviews iceberg. Spending on holidays, electronics and even male grooming may be important, but in terms of significance, we would suggest sectors such as health, finance, legal and property are far more likely to be injurious to consumers' health and wealth than most of those listed above. 

The essential truth, though, remains the same: consumers are influenced by reviews, so the CMA is dedicated to ensuring that reviews project a fair picture of the business under consideration and are not manipulated in the business's favour.

Regular readers will know that we have consistently recommended that businesses use Google as their destination of choice for customer reviews.

After all, if the businesses have reviews there they will...

  • be seen by everyone
  • have greater credibility 
  • be visible there for the foreseeable future
And, above all, their impact will be measurable. Google reports on calls and clicks every month.

So - why would a business use any other system? We have covered this before, but since we last visited the subject evidence has been piling up.

Have a look at this screenshot...

What do we see? We see Trustpilot's much-vaunted 'quarantine' in action. The business in question has 'flagged' thirteen 1* reviews, we don't know the content of the reviews, but what we do know is that none of the thirteen reviewers couldn't be bothered to respond to Trustpilot when they were emailed requiring them to substantiate their review. 

What is unarguable is that thirteen 1* reviews have not seen the light of day.

This, on the face of it, would seem to be great for the business. Negative reviews harm businesses by reducing the number of potential customers who will click through to their website. But there is a major issue here. 

What issue?

The CMA regulations specifically state that businesses should 'Publish all reviews, including negative ones, provided they are genuine, relevant and lawful.'

The problem review sites have with this is that businesses resent paying review sites that then publish negative reviews. 

So? So they bend over backwards to allow businesses to challenge what they consider to be 'unfair' reviews. Trustpilot is not unique in this, but it does employ a unique mechanism: 'quarantine'.

Trustpilot's quarantine system

As you can see in the panel above, business members of Trustpilot have the ability to flag reviews. When a review is flagged Trustpilot will then contact the reviewer and require 'proof of purchase'. 

So far, so reasonable. But here is where the system plays in the business's favour. First of all, even genuine customers can either a) find it tiresome to hunt our proof of purchase and then send it to Trustpilot and/or b) have no 'proof of purchase' as their involvement with the business did not include such a thing (think 'customer who visited an estate agent/doctor/financial adviser/lawyer with a view to instructing/retaining them but did not do so as a result of an unsatisfactory experience at that first meeting').

In the real world, there is now overwhelming evidence that putting even this obstruction in the way of a reviewer will result in no review being posted. The CMA recognises this and directly addresses this in its open letter to businesses ...

Whilst we would be the first to accept that all of the above statements are open to interpretation we would urge businesses to ask themselves this one simple question...

"If we adopt this review solution will it enable us to deflect honestly held negative opinions of our business?"

And if the answer to that question is 'Yes' then we would respectfully suggest that the solution in question is non-compliant with the intent if not the letter of the regulations - the law.

This is not to say that no moderation whatsoever should be employed. One of the core aspects of our service to our clients here at HelpHound is moderation. But there is a key - and compliant - difference...

  • with HelpHound, the reviewer always retains the right to have their review posted
This does not mean that the business has no opportunity to correct errors of fact or potentially misleading statements. HelpHound's moderation process is specifically designed to allow that to happen. What it does mean is that the reviewer can never be stopped from having their say - even if it is factually incorrect or has the potential to mislead readers.

The response function exists specifically to allow the business to correct both of those if the reviewer does not do so during the moderation process. 

It is this function that makes HelpHound watertight from a compliance point of view - and, just as importantly, credible to users of our system and our clients' customers.

To summarise

Here is Trustpilot's own entry on its own website; 1,840 reviews have been removed from the site simply because the reviewer 'didn't respond to Trustpilot's request to resolve the breach of Trustpilot's guidelines' without any further clarification from Trustpilot as to the content of the review and the issues it found contentious.

The Trustpilot system is open to abuse. For the simple reason that businesses soon understand that few flagged reviews ever return to the site.

If a review system is open to abuse it fails the core test as far as consumers are concerned: credibility. This, in turn, causes unease amongst the regulators. And anyone who doubts this contention can easily search 'Trustpilot reviews' and see that consumers - even those commenting on Trustpilot itself - have severe questions about this (currently 18% of reviews of Trustpilot on Trustpilot rate them 'poor' or 'bad').

On top of this, Google reviews are free! So, added to the advantages of credibility and visibility, Google wins hands down on price as well. All a business needs to add is an independent moderator such as HelpHound.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021 - it has a role

We occasionally come across a potential client that is either a client of - or is considering using - In this article we analyse just what kind of business benefits most from this kind of solution.

So, first, what do we know of

The business was founded as ReputationDefender in 2006 which specialised in 'correcting' search engine results for individuals. In 2011 its name and business model changed to and it began providing B2B services.

Since then has developed a suite of business tools to enable businesses to invite and monitor online reviews and their search engine listing on a variety of platforms, from Google to Facebook to the various review sites and other social media.

Who are its clients?

Its clients, in the US at least, where over 95% of its business is transacted, are almost exclusively large corporations with multiple hundreds of outlets.

There is a good reason for this demographic forming not just the core, but the overwhelming majority, of's clients: it is a business sector that, while looking 'good' in terms of reviews is essential, looking 'great' is viewed as a definite bonus. Why? No-one expects car dealerships or telecoms companies to have near-perfect track records. 

Let us explain:

There are several types of business from the point-of-view of reviews, and it's important for every business to understand exactly where it falls on the spectrum before establishing what kind of review solution best suits it.

We categorise every businesses and/or service as one of the following:

Let's look at the very different needs of each category of business, along with an example of each, so we can see what type of reviews solution, if any, might suit them.

Category 1 - Businesses that don't care about reviews

As close as any entity can come to being impervious to reviews. Does anyone think JobCentrePlus ever look at their reviews, let alone cares?

Category 2 - Businesses that sell products, irrespective of the service alongside that product

This McDonalds has received more than 1500 reviews on Google. Do they bother to respond? No. Do they care? Almost certainly not. If they did they would respond - it's free, after all.

The plain fact of the matter is that no-one reads a review to decide whether or not they want a Big Mac. The reviews are overwhelmingly written by three categories of customer;

  1. Happy customers who use a review as a way to thank staff for good service (see the one from the bottom above)
  2. Unhappy customers, for whatever reason (see the first and second reviews)
  3. Google Local Guides who will often review every single business they ever come across 

We also suspect franchisees and regional management also glance at reviews occasionally from an HR perspective. But that's about it.

Category 3 - businesses that customers are bound to use

Most consumers know what to expect from Sainsbury's - and every other supermarket. So, yet again, we see businesses that see little profit in engaging with reviews, so long as they don't identify any systemic faults.

And their reviews all say mostly the same things. 

Category 4 - businesses that are vulnerable to reviews

Now we are getting somewhere. While restaurants and hotels provide a product - food and rooms respectively - they also incorporate a substantial element of service. This can give one business in any given location an edge if they look particularly great when potential customers are searching the web. The hotel above is notoriously committed to reviews and proactively manages every guest touch-point with the ultimate review the guest will write in mind. The result? All the hotels in the group score way above average for their category, guest facilities and location. The resulting knock-on in terms of occupancy and room rates is measurable.

Category 5 - businesses in competitive and often sophisticated marketplaces

No we are moving on to more complex and sophisticated - and often B2B - offerings. Business buyers do far more research pre-purchase than most consumers but they are just as influenced by reviews, even if they may think otherwise! Why? Because they will not only be taking personal responsibility for whatever choice they make, they will be answering to management or the board - or even shareholders - as well. 

And this, perversely, is where we get into areas where businesses would appear to do their level best to avoid attracting reviews altogether - see the recruitment consultants above. Why? Because this type of business knows that just a single well-written criticism of their services can herald the death-knell of new business through the web. 

Any system that simply invites every client to post a review direct to Google - remembering that it is illegal to pick and choose those to invite - is never going to appeal to such businesses.

Category 6 - service businesses

The top tier: businesses that provide the kind of service that anyone considering them - whether B2B or B2C - will want to reference as much as is humanly possible. If you put yourself in the position of someone...

  • requiring urgent medical care - cardiology or oncology, for instance
  • needing a home for their life savings or pension
  • having a complex legal problem
  • needing a reliable letting agency for a portfolio of properties
The point about all of these is that health and/or wealth is at risk. The business owes it to its customers - clients/patients - to provide reviews, but has yet to find a mechanism that it can safely use without exposing itself to unfair public criticism.

How else can the absence of reviews on businesses such as these be explained?

And this is where professional review management - and HelpHound - comes in

At HelpHound we leave categories 1-4 to Google - and, if a business sees a cast-iron reason for using a review site such as Feefo or Trustpilot, to them or to a business like (although we would be wary of using the offshoot of a US business in the UK as they have a habit of 'doing a Yelp' and giving up on the UK/EU market as Yelp did in 2016, leaving thousands of businesses and their reviews stranded).

One of the main drawbacks of the offering for Cat 5/6 businesses is their review display widget; businesses like the one below, being extremely vulnerable to single well-written (and therefore credible) negative reviews - the kind we christened 'killer reviews' - do not want to be importing the latest one-star Google reviews into their own websites...

So they have now got around that by simply selecting the reviews they want to show to potential customers, in this case at least, with a link to all their reviews on Google...

...and this client of theirs, illustrating how the quest for volume is trumping quality - is this review helpful?

...and not even providing:

  • a link to their Google reviews
  • or any way for the visitor to their website to actually write a review of their own (at least in the first example the savvy visitor stands a chance of finding their way to Google)

Apart from these 'work arounds' being highly questionable from a legal and compliance point-of-view, these businesses are fooling themselves if they think potential customers won't just shrug their shoulders and find their way to reading their Google reviews anyway (we call this 'deflection' - more on that here).

And, furthermore, given that there is a fully compliant way of being completely transparent, why not adopt it? Look at this...

What do we find on the right? A star rating, a link to all of the reviews of the business, a link enabling anyone to write a review straight away, a sample review and a full explanation of the process.

Everything anyone looking for reviews could want.

Leading to this...

And/or this...

And then this on Google...

Leading to this in local search; the score of 4.8 and stars in the Google '3-pack' at the top are taken directly from the business's Google reviews, the stars, score and number of 'votes' in organic search are taken from the business's own reviews hosted on its own site.

And the disadvantages of a review harvest system focussed on volume as opposed to quality has other undesirable impacts for high-value service businesses: imagine, for a minute, you are looking for an estate agent to sell your home, your main asset (as we are always being reminded) or any of the other Category 6 services listed above. This agent has loads of reviews and a good overall score...

And so does this one...

Which, on the balance of probabilities, gets your call? 

The key difference:

Is moderation. At HelpHound we moderate all our clients' reviews. We politely request that the reviewer rewrite any that we consider to be...
  • legally questionable
  • offensive - in language or tone
  • factually inaccurate
  • potentially misleading
And we don't allow ratings (reviews that only contain scores). On top of that, we correct bad English. This can impact volume* - but what business wants volume over accuracy? And what consumer wants or needs to read one, two or three-word reviews?

*But there are plenty of ways to counteract that, just ask us.

How to measure success?

We have three yardsticks...

The first is simple - it's the business's Google score. We will not rest until it is as close to 5.0 as it possibly can be. If this means addressing the whole of a client's CRM, or even their core business model, then so be it. We are 'review managers' not just a reviews platform. And that means that we work with our client businesses to identify any issues that may conceivably cause customers to rate them at anything but five stars.

The second? How our client looks - and ranks - in Google search...

So many businesses have yet to understand just how important hosting your own reviews on your own website is when it comes to Google scoring it for ranking in organic search...

The third?

The raw material of new business in the 21st century: inbound calls and clicks. Great scores and great underlying review content drives new business. It's this that proves the worth of professional review management above all else.


If you want volumes of reviews, irrespective of their content, then a solution such as just may be the right one for your business (but bear in mind you can always embed a free widget to import Google reviews to your website, so you need to be asking 'Just how much value is adding?').

If, on the other hand, you want accurate and consistently helpful reviews - to your own website and to Google - then we humbly suggest your business and your customers will be rewarded by becoming part of the HelpHound experience.

Further reading 

If having read all the above you still feel that a direct import of Google reviews into your site is a viable solution for your business - you don't need moderation (inaccurate and/or misleading reviews aren't going to harm your particular business) or the SEO kicker hosting your own reviews gives your business in local search (you don't care where your business ranks in search), watch this video and then import them to your website - no charge - no contract. Completely free.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

John Lewis and the power of reviews

The press this week has focussed on John Lewis's store closure programme. What has, perhaps understandably, been missed by most commentators is the huge success of John Lewis's online offering.

John Lewis Partnership (JLP) online

This now produces over 60 percent of JLP's turnover and an exponentially rising element of their profitability. A quick search online may give us some clues to this success.

104 customer reviews, the overwhelming majority of which score the appliance 5 stars...

And we cannot argue with this comment...

Reviews drive business. It's been proven time and time again. This story is simply the latest in a long line.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Don't hand your customers' reviews to a third-party

It is so important to think long-term when making decisions about reviews. We have already alerted readers to the value they are giving away in terms of customer data, but what about the reviews themselves.

Perhaps a short story will best illustrate what we mean. There was a national firm of estate agents that, back in 2012, was sold a reviews solution called Yelp...

But Yelp decided to pull the plug on its UK and EU operation in 2016, after the business had invested considerable time and energy getting hundreds of customers to write reviews on their platform (which Yelp retains to this day).

So they joined another review site called Rateragent...

But they folded. So the business responded to a sales call from Feefo...

But then realised that the so-called advantage that site was closed to everyone except verified customers was backfiring, and lots of tenants were simply going straight to Google as a result, so they moved to Trustpilot...

When they realised that, yet again, they had lost control of some very valuable content and their reviews weren't being seen a fraction as often as if they had been displayed on and by Google, and had to begin all over again.

This time they got the correct solution, a solution they could have adopted ten years ago - or eight, or five, or three, but did not: review management...

  • Getting their own customers' reviews to the business's own website, where they are able to take ownership
  • And then getting them across to Google, where they have maximum impact, far, far more than on any review site

That way they now retain ownership of their reviews and have them displayed on the most powerful medium on the web today. We cannot see a scenario where we will have to advise our clients to redirect their reviews away from Google, but should that become necessary at some far distant date, they will then be able to do so, without losing their historic reviews.

This is also a very good reason not to focus all your business's review efforts solely on Google, besides the fact that Google loves businesses that host their own reviews and gives them credit for that through their SEO algorithm.

The point of this story?

Is not to criticise the review sites, they have a business to run and exist in a competitive marketplace, it is to show you that it is essential that you commit to a solution that...

  • doesn't involve you 'giving' your customer reviews to an outside business, then losing all those reviews when you change solutions
  • has maximum visibility and credibility 
  • that will be as valid in ten years' time as it is today

The proof of the pudding...

These reviews, hosted on the business's website are owned by the business...

...and a high proportion have been copied across to Google...

Professional review management, not just a better solution - the only solution

Friday, 19 March 2021

Reviews - you are all breaking the law!

Got your attention*? Good. For years now we have been tactfully explaining the law as it currently stands - in the UK and the EU - to businesses, but still we see the epidemic grow. So please excuse us if this article is a little blunt.

*If you're already a HelpHound client you can relax, you aren't breaking the law. This article is for those yet to join.

This business's Google score and the reviews underlying it look impressive; until you realise that they have been acquired illegally.

First: the law

In simple terms, you (businesses) are not allowed to...

  1. select customers to invite to post a review - anywhere, to Google, to your own website, to Trustpilot, or anywhere else
  2. control the timing of when your customer is invited to write a review
  3. delete or otherwise filter out reviews you 'don't like'
  4. incentivise customers to write [positive] reviews

Let's see what most businesses are doing currently...

1.  They are hand-picking customers to invite to write reviews

...which is against the law

2.  They are controlling the timing - by only inviting/allowing reviews when they think the customer is most likely to rate them 5* (it is fine to email a customer to invite them to write a review, just not using a system that prevents them writing a review at another time of their own choosing)

...which is against the law

3.  They are filtering out unhappy customers by 'gating': using a feedback mechanism to pre-qualify customers and then only inviting those that have previously indicated their satisfaction with the business to write a review

...which is against the law

4.  Offering cash, discounts, rewards or vouchers for positive reviews.

...which is against the law and Google's terms of service

Now, what do we hear when we speak to some of the businesses engaged in these illegal - yes, illegal - practices?

  • 'Everyone else does it'
No! 'Every other business' is not dishonest. But some business people appear to see this form of cheating - sorry law-breaking - as a badge of honour. It is somehow seen as 'macho' to break the law. 

The CMA have announced a crack-down and the press are hot on the trail of businesses that manipulate reviews

  • 'We would be swamped with bad reviews if we allowed anyone to write one'
This bears thorough examination. Would the bad reviews come because you are running a substandard business? Or because you don't trust your customers to write reviews that accurately reflect their experience of your business? 

If the former, then - respectfully - you need to address the issues within your business before you engage further with reviews. If the latter - a more reasonable objection - you need a moderated review management system, of which more later

  • 'One 'unfair' review could do untold damage to our business'
And so it could, but law-breaking is not the answer; stories like this one make businesses extremely wary of opening themselves up to reviews without some form of illegal filtering. 

Again the answer is moderation; independent moderation allows you to invite all your customers to write a review whilst minimising the chances of inaccurate or potentially misleading comments appearing in print

  • We won't get caught
That's as maybe - although the CMA has reviews and their abuse right in its sights, and it has teeth (remember the estate agents fined £600,000 for price-fixing? that was the CMA). 

What is certain is that your competitors will notice, and they won't be backwards in letting your potential customers know the you are decieveing them. And who wants to entrust their life savings/home sale/health/legal affairs to a business that breaks the law to look good?

  • 'It's expensive to comply'
This is referring to the reaction to the idea of adopting a professional review management strategy. The short answer? You don't have an option. The long one: professional review management, which incorporates moderation to minimise the likelihood of inaccurate or misleading reviews ever seeing the light of day, invariably earns a business money

How so? Because hosting independently verified reviews on a business's website is proven to drive clicks and calls and therefore new business (there are many more benefits - see 'Our pitch to you' below)

How about these stars? They light a business up in local search - and drive calls and clicks. And no wonder: every survey ever conducted has proven that a great rating and a significant amount of reviews does just that. Put it this way: if we were to tell the business above that they were going to lose those stars and that score - and revert to looking like their four other competitors in this search - and lose0 this on their own website, what do you think their reaction would be?

We rest our case.

Further reading...