Thursday 10 July 2014

Getting reviews to Google – should your clients be asked to post direct or via Dialogue?

Here’s a recent group discussion on Linkedin. The question posed to the group was:

“How important is an estate agent’s online reputation?”

Here we are going to highlight some of the comments, and share some of the lessons…

Dean Oakes at XanderMatthew estate agents... 


Good reviews might not always win you new business, but bad reviews can certainly lose it.

I think reviews have greater value for relatively small independent agents, just as a point of reference when cold-calling vendors or landlords. Everyone has heard of KFH, Foxtons, Winkworth etc. If I speak to a customer and tell them I'm calling from XanderMatthew, sometimes the immediate reaction will be "Who?!?" It's always useful to direct them to Google reviews.”

Robin Bruce (our CEO)…

“…other sites are increasingly being driven down (or, worse, onto page 2) by Google's own results (and in the main they also require the agent to link away from their own site - an absolute no-no). We focus on the agent's own site first and foremost and then on Google. That way any negative feedback can be managed in private.”

Note: The main reason more agents have not focused on Google and getting reviews posted there is not that they don’t think it’s a good idea (they do) but because they are terrified of the power of negative reviews: they see inviting reviews as just too high risk. The Resolution™ mechanism built into Dialogue allows our clients to rest easy on this crucial point.


“Dean makes a very good point about negative reviews - and they're certainly not restricted to the so-called cowboys. Anyone with a lettings agency is bound to attract some negative online reviews from disgruntled tenants who 'shoot the messenger'. So it is important to counter those by encouraging positive reviews.

He also quite rightly says they should be seen as part of a comprehensive marketing mix, but it should be borne in mind that every time anyone googles the agency reviews will be shown - even if the person googling is not specifically searching for reviews.”

It sometimes helps to sit outside the loop and ask oneself: 'if I were looking for a business to use, who would I be most inclined to believe - the business's own marketing or the opinions of its clients?'”

Dean again…

"On that last point Robin - isn't that precisely why getting reviews on your own website is largely worthless?

We copy and paste ours directly from Google+ and post them to our website just to keep content fresh. But if I were "outside the loop", and they weren't available anywhere else, I'd be sceptical about whether they give a true reflection of the business' service. As you said earlier, "negative feedback can be managed in private" that way.

If an agent is confident in their service then they have nothing to hide. The occasional bad review is inevitable, be it due to exceptional circumstances, an honest mistake, or the nature of the industry where the middle man (the agent) is automatically made the scapegoat! Do I have a problem with one of those popping up for every 50 five star reviews? Not at all. If nothing else it shows the reviews are genuine."

Note: Dean is absolutely right when he suggests that filtered/cherry-picked reviews on your own website are virtually ‘worthless’; for reviews to be effective in driving new business you must be able to demonstrate a) that all your clients are invited to review you and b) that any client who wants to write a review will have that review published.

Dialogue gets reviews published on the estate agent’s website and then gets the reviewer to repost it to Google (as well as giving the agent the chance to address any negative reviews in private first). 

The client can still opt to have the negative review published if they want to. Most (99.3%) don’t (why would they if the agent has resolved whatever issue it contained?). It is too late - the opportunity is gone - if a business asks a client to post direct to any third party website, including Google. 
RB again…

"You've hit the nail right on the head Dean - credibility is everything with reviews. If potential clients suspect the agency is filtering reviews in any way that credibility goes straight out of the window (there is one review site, for instance, that allows agents to choose which reviews are shown first).

But, and this 'but' is crucial: inviting clients to write reviews and then having a transparent mechanism to manage negatives is welcomed by everyone. It doesn't prevent the client writing a publicly visible review, but it does give the agent and the client an opportunity to resolve whatever issue there is before a review is written. Everyone wins: the client gets his issue resolved, the agent defuses a potentially damaging review.

The real clincher for us are the lessons learned from TripAdvisor: so many of the issues contained in negative reviews could easily have been resolved by having a chat with the hotel management, but the culture of 'complaint by TripAdvisor' has become embedded. Estate Agents won't want to replicate that experience."

Nilesh Patel (who originated the discussion)…

"…if a business just had great reviews only, you would still think twice. Also replying back to negative reviews is a must. You see a lot of bad reviews with no reply from the business, which makes you think do their care? Negative reviews are an opportunity to see the weakness in your business or staff and improve it."


"We have a lot of experience with businesses thinking (at first) that nothing but 5* reviews will challenge their credibility in the eyes of potential clients. In practice this is not the case, as long as the source of the reviews is credible.

Perhaps we should ask Dean (whose business has a flawless 5* record on Google, where any disgruntled client can post a review at any time - so: 100% credible) whether he would be overjoyed to see a 1* review appear to 'add credibility'?"

Dean Oakes…

"A fair point, Robin, perhaps I wouldn't - certainly as reviews tend to be ordered according to recency*. A scathing review coming up first wouldn't be welcomed just for the sake of credibility.

The reality is we have only actively pursued reviews from customers we know are very happy with our service (and I'm pleased to say that seems to be the vast majority). Anyone can leave a bad review if they wish, but we're not going to go chasing them for it! That being said, we now distribute online surveys to customers immediately after every appointment where we include a link to leave reviews, so the onus is on us to deliver on our word and impress them.

Incidentally, we also have reviews on, with an average of 4.5 stars out of 5. Most reviews are 5 star with three 1 star reviews - one is from before my time and seems justified, another is a case of the middleman taking the flak, and the other is a fake review from a competitor, which can't be removed and just highlights how some review systems are open to abuse. We deal with these as Nilesh suggests, by replying and stating our defence/apologising as best we can. It's then up to the potential client reading it to decide who is in the wrong."

Note: *Google’s default setting is ‘most helpful’: if someone connected to you by social media has written a review, that review will show first.


"@Dean - I think you've got a great strategy there; miles ahead of most of your competitors. Your experience with the three negatives mirrors our experience, with only one of the three being a genuine complaint where the agent may have been at fault.

I stress 'may', because with anonymity, unless the reviewer quotes specifics it's almost impossible to identify the client and therefore respond in anything but the most general terms to the issue raised. There's another issue with some of these sites, of course: the fake positives!

We think it's important to have a system that works equally fairly for both parties, and that's why we insist on our users identifying themselves (in private) before we forward their complaint to the agent. You would be surprised (maybe not!) by how many times the complaint is easily resolved because it initially arose because of a misunderstanding (an obvious example is the tenant blaming the agent when it's the landlord who is at fault - we see those daily, misreading invoices is another). Posted publicly that affects the agent's ranking or score, whether posted to Google or an agent-specific site.

One thing to bear in mind: once a client has posted a negative review that's publicly visible, however unfair or misconceived, it's very rare that the relationship will be repaired to the extent that they will remain as a client or do business again; it's simple human nature: they're embarrassed (often even more so if they were in the wrong). If it's all done privately the relationship remains intact in the overwhelming majority of cases (we see comments like "I'm so glad I complained so you could put me straight" all the time).

One last point: this system allows agents to invite ALL their clients to review: that way you identify the most important category of client of all: the one who was just about to slip away. How much is a review (in private) that says "I am considering removing my X rental properties from you because...." worth?"

RB (for the last time!)

"@ All: I apologise if the above post is a little indigestible; but we are concerned that what is currently seen by many agents as a 'nice add-on' at best and an irritant at worst has the potential to do real harm if agents don't find the right solution.

We constantly meet agents who have been hurt by just one single Google review; partly because they have neglected to invite positives for all the right reasons (they were nervous of attracting negatives), but mostly they were unaware of just how many of their potential clients were seeing that Google review, until one mentioned it.

Think of it: if you are searching for a business to use, do you read a review that puts you off a business and then contact them to explain why you're not going to use them? Of course you don't.

Every potential client sees your Google reviews (they are served first - always, and always will be). And Google give them prominence because they know that their customers want them.
An agent said to us the other day: "I'm looking three to five years ahead; Google will only dominate the space more and more, so that's where I want my reviews." We couldn't agree more, so we'll focus on getting them reviews from all their clients, allowing any negatives to be managed in private, posting the positives to their website (client response to them there is great) and then do what it takes to get them re-posted to Google."

If you have got this far: thank you for persevering, we hope it was worth it. 

In summary 

There is a solution to reviews…

  • They are a massive force for good, for the agent and the potential client
  • Your clients will write them
  • They will drive business
  • They will enable you to retain clients
  • They do make you look professional
  • They are welcomed by your potential clients 

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