Monday 20 October 2014

Reviews: an overview and update

Reviews: 2015 and beyond

Businesses that simply react to events tend to lag behind the curve, and this is no less the case where reviews are concerned. Our role is to make sure our clients are ahead of that curve.

Predicting the future

We don't envy those that make their living predicting what the global economy will do; they operate in a very uncertain environment. Our job is somewhat easier - predicting the future in the world of reviews - but it still requires full time dedicated attention.

It involves in-depth study into consumer behaviour, both on- and off-line, as well as constant monitoring of the major players (search engines and review sites in the main). From this we can predict the future with a fair degree of certainty; enough, at least, for our clients to be able to plan ahead.

Results so far

We publicise all our thoughts here on the blog. So anyone who needs to track their accuracy does not have very far to look! Here are some of the predictions that we have made over the years:
  1. That reviews will matter more and more. This is the 'big one', and as the years have progressed since HelpHound was founded in 2006, more in-depth studies have added to the welter of proof that consumers pay attention to reviews
  2. That Google will be the major player.  We predicted this way before Google even became involved with reviews. Then Google launched Google Places, then tied that to Google + and now we have Google My Business
  3. That other review sites will ultimately suffer as a direct consequence: Google wins by being the gatekeeper of the web for the majority of consumers, and it cannot be argued that it isn't a great brand (at least, compared with some of the less well-known review sites). Google reviews are now served first for each and every search
So, expanding on this 'big three', what about the detail?

Reviews Matter

Google invites anyone who cares to post a review of any business that they have used. Who cares most? People who have had a bad experience, that's who. We estimate that a dissatisfied customer is up to twenty times more likely to post a review.

Studies too numerous to mention, as well as massive amounts of anecdotal evidence, show the effect reviews have on consumer behaviour. Great reviews drive business, bad reviews drive business away.

Combine those two factors alone and it rapidly becomes apparent how important it is for all businesses to engage where reviews are concerned. 

Google - the major player

This has been (and continues) a major subject for debate. Google has not made life easy for any of us: constantly moving the goal posts. But what is now called Google My Business is well on its way to becoming the dominant force in reviews, for a host of reasons, here are just some which stand out...
  1. Verification: since Google introduced mandatory registration all Google reviews are attached to a verified account (YouTube, Google+, Gmail etc.). This gives them a distinct plus over sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp (where users can hide behind anonymity) in the eyes of consumers and business alike
  2. Coverage: Google provides a 'one stop shop' for reviews - of any business or service. Consumers will soon tire of looking up different specialist sites depending on what kind of reviews they need
  3. Ease: once registered, writing subsequent reviews is simple.
  4. Google is the gatekeeper: their reviews will always be shown before any others
  5. The new Google layout: providing much more information about each individual business, by default this drives other review sites down below the fold (or onto page two - the graveyard)

Other review sites will suffer

See how Google reviews dominate this business's listing. A year ago TripAdvisor's reviews would have been shown much more prominently, now they barely scrape in above the fold
Look at the Google search above. What do we see? We see lots of useful information: business description, contact details, locations and reviews with ratings and scores. Not as many reviews as TripAdvisor (yet), but just how many reviews are you going to need? 

And do we see Yelp or FourSquare or UrbanSpoon or Hardens? It's just the same whatever kind of search you conduct. 

Consumer behaviour and its impact on your business 

Human nature is the one thing that will not change. Happy customers will never write reviews in significant numbers unless you invite them; unhappy customers will continue to be much more likely to write a (damaging) review unless you find a way of intervening.

If you want to avoid the kind of negatively distorted image that so many businesses have on the web, you will have to engage in professional review management.

Engaging with Google reviews

You now have two options:
  1. Engage with Google reviews direct: but run the risk of inviting negative reviews that you can only manage or respond to after they have been publicly posted. Either that, or you will need to be selective in those you invite to post reviews, which, in turn, runs the risk that you will be accused of massaging your Google reviews (more on our Blog)
  2. Engage with Google reviews through Dialogue: Where you can confidently invite everyone to post a review; manage any issues in private and then invite everyone to post to Google. Then you can look all your customers in the eye and invite them to read your reviews (on Google and on your own website), confident that they present a full and fair picture of your business
And our predictions?

More of the same really...
  • Google will become ever more dominant
  • Businesses that engage with Google reviews will thrive
  • Businesses that don't engage with Google reviews will suffer
  • Other review sites, however dominant they currently appear, will suffer unless they manage to add significant value over and above simply hosting reviews
  • Google will eventually begin ranking businesses by their review scores (just as sites like TripAdvisor do now)

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