Monday 30 November 2015

Estate agents - reviews and the great fees debate

How can reviews help an agent when it comes to that point all of you dread, when the clients says "I reckon you've got the job, now let's discuss fees."

How about if you had a review like this that you could show them?

A genuine review posted for a client in the last month

Let's walk through the whole of this screenshot in exactly the same way you might walk your client through it:
  1. Everyone has scored us a full 5 out of 5, on every aspect of our service
  2. Bear in mind that every client is asked for a review - see the box next to HelpHound's logo
  3. HelpHound will not delete a negative review on our behalf
  4. You will be asked for a review when we've sold your home
 Now - on to the review itself:
  •  Please see what our client has to say about our fee

A final note: see how many people have voted that single review helpful in the week since it was posted.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Is there any logic to Google local search?

The answer to this question (of vital importance to all businesses) is 'some'. At the moment the 'three pack' highlights three relevant businesses, of these some will be closest to the theoretical geographical centre of the search, some will exhibit little obvious logic.

Let's look at 'Estate agent Hertford':

Shepherds is close to the centre of Hertford, but William H Brown are far from being the next most central (King & Co and Churchills are closer) and as for Big Black Hen: according to Google they are nearly 1/2 mile from anything that could be considered to be the centre of town.

But is all of this about to become redundant?

As we've said before: Google's long-term success continues to depend on delivering the very best search results for its core audience: consumers. It has to be asking itself the question "Is there a better way?" And the answer is, of course, a resounding "Yes!" 

"Yes" how?

Unless you need A&E you are invariably not searching for the 'nearest' - pub/financial adviser/dentist. And you're certainly not searching for the business with the best SEO. What you really want is the BEST pub/financial adviser/dentist; that would really add value to your search experience. So how are Google going to deliver that value?

By ranking businesses in order of popularity: the BEST pub/financial adviser/dentist. How are they going to assess popularity? By looking at reviews. Whose reviews? Their own. Google's. 

It's not rocket science, is it? The vehicle is already there - the 'three pack' you see above, introduced earlier this year, so its not going to take a quantum leap for Google to serve...

"The best three businesses in [Hertford] in the opinion of our Google reviewers"

Beat the mad rush - look like this NOW...

 This client had NO Google reviews at the beginning of last year

... and keep on looking better and better every day until you are the top billed business of your kind in your area (and we're sure you won't stop even then). It's sure not to hurt you before Google introduce ranking, it sure will make sure you succeed when they do.


Google accused of favouring its own Reviews

  The whole article is here for those of you who can negotiates the Times's paywall

TripAdvisor and Yelp are accusing Google of favouring its own reviews in search. The European Commission is carrying out its own investigation. Even Google said yesterday that TripAdvisor and Yelp had been affected by a quirk caused by an update to its ... algorithms.

But we would like to make a broader point...

Google is where your customers start every search - even when they know what they are looking for (and most certainly when they are not sure). And every time someone searches for your business Google are showing them reviews. Google reviews.

Part of professional review management is about not putting all your eggs in one basket. You may think that TripAdvisor will continue to be the be-all-and-end-all of search for your hotel or that Yelp is fundamental for your dental practice or that AllAgents will recover their pre-eminent position in search for estate agents, but we will make sure you have all the bases covered. You need to look great everywhere that matters to your potential customers - and that means looking great in whatever arena is delivered when someone searches for your business - and today that is on Google. 

This raises one simple question for any business paying an independent review site: why would you do that when your customers are looking on Google and at Google reviews?

We are not betting large sums on Google giving up its clout in this area any time soon, but if they do (or are forced to) we, and our clients, will be ready.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Dialogue™ - the review management solution for web designers

We work hand-in-glove with web designers. We are fully aware that Dialogue has an impact on their work, from both a visual and a technical point-of-view. Here we describe the relationship that evolves between us.

Understanding HelpHound's role

To appreciate what Dialogue is designed to achieve for your clients it is important to understand exactly what HelpHound itself sets out to do. It is one of the ironies of the modern web that, just as fast as Google seeks to dominate the reviews space, others attempt to compete. It is this conundrum that HelpHound addresses.

Many review sites - one search engine hosting reviews

HelpHound started life as a review site - so we understand the challenges facing independent review sites. It is also the reason that we moved away from that business model.

It became clear to us, way back around 2010, that Google were going to invest heavily in promoting reviews (remember Google Places?). 

At that point we stepped back and had a long look at our future strategy; we decided not to compete with Google, but to design a mechanism that was complimentary with whatever offering they made, whilst at the same time being as flexible and future-proof as possible (what would happen if TripAdvisor, or another big independent site, won the battle with Google, for instance?).

Dialogue™ was born 

 It is not just hotel guests who actively search out and rely on reviews - we all increasingly give credence to reviews in every sphere
After talking to a variety of businesses and their web designers their criteria became clear. Whatever solution we were to offer should:
  • enable them to host reviews on their own websites (and not involve potential customers being asked to click away to a separate site)
  • give them an opportunity to resolve misunderstandings and errors of fact pre-publication (factually incorrect reviews help no-one)
  • incorporate a pre-publication dispute resolution mechanism
  • allow reviews to be displayed in multiple locations on their websites
  • provide a highly visible feed of recent reviews
  • easily interact with social media (Facebook and Twitter)
  • incorporate a mechanism to encourage their reviews to be copied to any 'open' review site of their choice - Google being the obvious first choice for most, but applying equally to specialist sites like TripAdvisor or Allagents, should they be a priority for clients
From the web designers' point to view:

Dialogue should be as flexible as possible, design-wise. The basic concept should be adaptable from both design and delivery perspectives. Web designers should be able to 'own' the design of Dialogue on their clients' behalf. The design of every clients' Dialogue module should be able to evolve along with the design of the clients' website.

Dialogue™ today

Over the last four years all the above aims and objectives have been achieved. Perhaps most important of all, Dialogue has proved to be flexible and adaptable enough to cope with the numerous changes at Google (and the independent review sites). It really has become every web designer's reliable long-term answer to reviews.


Dialogue drives business (whatever your clients' business may be). Here are results for hotels, here is an example of a great success story for an estate agent - all without any downside for you or your client. Dialogue also aids customer retention (by providing a great feedback channel). The only downside of Dialogue is it does not work effectively for businesses with poor customer relations.

So: if you have a (great) client who you think should have an unrivalled solution to reviews, you can do no better than consider Dialogue™. And they will thank you for doing so every time their customers express their gratitude for everyone to see.

Monday 16 November 2015

Google says: they are looking for you on their phones!

As if you needed any more reasons to incorporate a review management strategy into your marketing:

So, unless your Google search (on mobile) looks like this:

And your website has been optimised (on mobile) to look like this: need to speak to Fiona Christie on 0207 100-2233 or send her an email at

If you would like to read the full text of this week's 'Think with Google' it's here - of course, if you are a client we're reading it for you!

Monday 9 November 2015

Come on businesses - help everyone out!

A staffer came into the office last week exclaiming - "Why won't these guys help me to help them?!!"

Is it conceivable that businesses will continue to ignore the power of consumer opinions like this for much longer?

What did she (our staffer) mean? She explained that she had been driving home from a meeting in the midlands and needed to shop for that evening's meal. Passing through Stratford-upon-Avon she thought to herself "I'm in the heart of England and a rural area renowned for the quality of its produce, I'll park up and spend 5 minutes on Google and find a great butcher and a great grocer."

Let's see what happened:

Search: [butcher] in [Stratford-upon-Avon]:

Six butchers, only two with reviews (and they only have two each). So four reviews in total between six businesses. Now Stratford is a pretty well-off part of the country, but she (and we) cannot believe that none of these butchers couldn't do with just a few more customers (after all there is plenty of competition in the shape of thriving supermarkets with meat counters).

On to the veg.

Search: [grocer] in [Stratford-upon-Avon]:

It's the same story, but this time the supermarkets (and a wholesaler) are showing. There are, according to Google, no independent grocers in Stratford. Actually, there is at least one (found on foot)! Independent grocers complain about being put out of business by the likes of Lidl, but they don't appear to be addressing their online presence (mind you, nor do Lidl).

So lets try some more traditionally entrepreneurial businesses: farm shops...

Search: [farm shop] in [Stratford-upon-Avon]:

Discounting The Hiller Garden & Plant Centre (eating potted plants might smack of desperation) there are five farm shops being shown in this mobile search - and just two reviews. The single review for Hillers Farm Shop did not help a lot (despite giving them five stars) as it praised their 'fantastic bird hut'. The one for Yew Tree is simply a rating - there is no review.

The point of all of this is that in no case were there enough reviews to even vaguely tempt our shopper to explore further (even visit their websites?), let alone visit any of these shops. She ended up doing it the old-fashioned way: stopping in Stratford town center and asking a likely passer-by for a recommendation.

Restaurateurs - don't be too quick to pat yourselves on the back - how many covers have you served since it became possible to leave a review on Google (and more importantly - since Google became the first reviews your potential customers see)?

So much for the web revolutionising the way we shop! Google (and reviews) have been around for long enough now that one might think that businesses had got the hang of it. We're not looking for thousands of reviews here, just enough for consumers to be able to form enough of an impression to at least visit the business's website. And don't think that Stratford is not typical, a cursory search of your home-town is likely to come up with similar results (and no different for other trades and professions).

The Opportunity

There is a yawning gap here, just waiting to be filled by any enterprising business that wants to grow trade. Businesses have been generally slow to see the opportunity Google reviews present: and the first to take it will look great by comparison, especially when Google begins to rank trades in their area (for more details read this).

The Solution

Get Dialogue working for you, it will drive lots of reviews to your website and a steady stream of those onwards to Google. Soon you will look great in both places.

Speak to Fiona Christie on 020 7100-2233 or email her at - she will answer all your questions. 

Thursday 5 November 2015

HelpHound member wins Gold!

Congratulations to Brock Taylor of Horsham on winning Best Small Agency (nationwide) in the recent Negotiator Awards. Brock Taylor joined HelpHound in October and we look forward to seeing their clients' opinions lighting up their website.

How could the business NOT benefit?

This is just a single example among thousands, but we think it bears posting, if only as a reminder:

On the business's own website:

 And on Google:

What impact do you think this has? If you are struggling to answer that question, just put yourself in the position of someone competing with this business. Clearer now? 


Tuesday 3 November 2015

What all businesses can learn from Uber and AirBnB

In our last article we referenced Bill Tancer's book 'Everyone's a Critic'. Here's another great article by Bill.

Its core message is that businesses such as Uber and AirBnB could not exist (and certainly would not have grown as they have) without reviews. 

So here's our question for those of you who are not yet clients: how on earth does any other business think it is going to succeed without them?

Reviews - our vision of the Future

What is the web for in the context of B2C? It's not a question we (as businesses) often ask ourselves, but maybe we should. See if you agree with our answer:

Taken from the cover of 'Everyone's a Critic' by Bill Tancer, published by Penguin

For consumers

It's there so they can find the right business, the best business; and the right, best business nearest (sometimes). The right, best business that can fulfill whatever current need they have.

For businesses

It's (nearly always) the way our potential customers first engage with us. It's our opportunity to create a great first impression. And it's the first step to turning that first impression into business.

What do consumers mean by 'right' and 'best'?

Right is pretty straightforward: if you want a plumber it's no use if the search returns gas-fitters. Or plumbers in New York instead of York.

Best is an altogether more complex matter: 'best' in whose eyes? We reckon the following are the three most meaningful criteria:
  1. A business the consumer has used before - and was satisfied
  2. A business a friend has used before - and was satisfied
  3. A business whose customers have recent experience of their products and/or services and are prepared to share that experience
 After that come:
  • An impressive website
  • Great advertising, marketing and PR

Let's look at 1, 2 and 3 in greater detail:

1. Prior use: this is always a winner (as long as the previous experience of the business was great). But to ignore the fact that this needs to be reinforced in many instances would be to miss a trick. In the case of a butcher or supermarket (a business that is used frequently) then prior use can stand alone. In the case of 'occasional use' businesses - services such as lawyers, financial advisers or estate agents, for instance - then help from 2 and 3 is most welcome.

2. Trusted friend: Unless we all choose our friends on the criteria of the reliability of their judgment when they come to choosing businesses (don't we all have some friends who drive the sort of car we wouldn't ever consider...?) then some corroborating evidence is always welcome.

3. Reviews: (independently verified reviews, as opposed to testimonials) are now universally welcomed by consumers as an aid to purchasing everything from a holiday to a dishwasher. Reviews of high-value services (finance, medical, house purchase) are especially valued.

So: we are all agreed that reviews help corroborate consumer decisions as to which service or product to buy.

So why do so few businesses - particularly in the area of services - help their potential customers by providing reliable reviews (on their own websites and on Google)? The answer is simple: fear.
  • Good businesses: no business is perfect - so they are afraid of inviting negatives (they know that a negative experience is a big motivation to write a review)
  • Bad businesses: the business in question knows it is no good and will only be inviting negative reviews

So what do all the players (the web - in the person of Google  - businesses and consumers) have to do to make this work in the future?

The Future - for Google

Make no mistake, Google is now the only external source of reviews that matters, in both the short and the long term (Google reviews are always the first reviews your potential clients see - anyone with doubts should look at what has happened to the shares of the world's biggest independent review sites. Independent sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp will limp on for the short term, but Google steals a bigger march on them every day. 

 Google need to weed out the 'Jake Walsh' reviewers - he (we suspect 'he' is a bot) has rated over 11,000 businesses

Google already give reviews massive prominence but they do need to refine and improve their offering - all G+ users must be properly authenticated so Google users can be as near 100% confident that the reviews they are reading are genuine. Google also need to make it possible for a registered G+ user to write a review on every platform (there are currently over fifteen million G+ users in the UK alone - so numbers are not an issue).

The future - for Consumers

Everyone needs to understand just how helpful a well-written review can be. Just as so many of us contribute to Children in Need and the Royal British Legion, we need to get into the habit of contributing reviews: so others can reward great businesses just as we do. If we understand that by changing our behaviour in this way we need never have a disappointing experience with a business again then our efforts will be rewarded many times over.

The future - for Businesses

Great reviews drive business - there's no longer any argument about that. And every business owes it to itself, its management and staff and, most important of all, its customers, to overcome 'the fear' and do everything they can to:
  • invite and display those reviews on their own website
  • get them across to Google
Reviews must no longer be seen as some sort of added luxury; something that is done if there is time to spare at the end of the month; getting reviews (to your own website and to Google) should become one of your business's top priorities. Here are our 'golden rules':
  1. Ask every customer for a review (we know you might not start off by doing so, but building your own confidence in Dialogue to the stage where you feel comfortable doing so will be one of our first objectives). Remember that Resolution works wonders with disgruntled customers, and most important of all, a negative review managed in Resolution is a customer retained, a negative review on Google is multiple potential customers lost.
  2. Don't invite reviews direct to Google: It will inevitably mean cherry-picking 'delighted' customers, and Google will see through that eventually. More importantly, it deprives your own website of one of the most powerful motivators for visitors there to use your business: verified customer opinions. It also negates one of the most positive aspects of inviting consumer reviews: the opportunity to right wrongs, in private.
  3. Build 'reviews' into your sales process: actively point your potential customers towards your reviews - on your website and in person.
  4. Use reviews in your marketing: potential clients respond well to them, especially when it's explained that they are not hand-picked.
  5. Thank your reviewers: it firms business/customer bond and is, after all, only good manners.

Google will introduce local ranking soon - and businesses that don't rank in the top three in search will suffer (for more about this see here).

The business on the left has adopted active review management, the business on the right has not (a client of ours and another similar business in the same locality). These screenshots admirably illustrate the crucial importance of proactively engaging with reviews. They also show how effectively review management enables consumers to differentiate between businesses at a glance.

And finally - look at reviews as a medium to long-term project. Never mind that your biggest competitor suddenly has dozens on Google; building firm foundations always pays dividends. Adopt independent professional review management. Set realistic targets and ensure staff achieve them. If you take short-cuts now they will surely come back to haunt you later.* 

*Some examples:
  • Getting staff to write reviews (more common than you might expect)
  • Getting relatives and friends of staff to write reviews (less common, but we have seen several examples)
  • Setting up bogus G+ accounts 
  • Setting up bogus accounts on other review sites
  • Buying reviews
  • Contravening Google's T&Cs (mostly offering incentives in return for reviews)
Last week you heard that the government would love to know your search history - those that think they can cheat Google will do well to bear in mind that Google has access to their search history whenever it wants!