Thursday 24 November 2016

Review Management - it's no longer a Luxury

In its early days review management was often seen as something of an add-on by marketeers and management. Not any more.

Let us explain - and answer the obvious, and perhaps not-so-obvious - questions

The web evolves - and continues to evolve

The web - and how consumers use it - has come a long way since the early search engines provided lists driven by keywords. Not long ago it was viewed almost entirely on desktop - now most searches are made on mobile. Google has come to dominate everywhere except China. Search has become more and more local/map based and accurate and it is now moving into its intuitive phase - where the search engine knows more about what kind of business you are looking for than you do!

Why do some businesses still ignore mobile search?

Businesses have struggled to keep up. Witness the number that still don't have responsive websites - and, even more concerning, the number who have sites that have yet to be optimised for mobile search.

Consumer behaviour, on the other hand, soon adapts to changes in search. And consumers discriminate - often subconsciously - against businesses that don't keep up.

The parallel evolution of review management

By definition, review management responds to rather than predicts search behaviour. How quickly your business's review management responds becomes critical.


  • Google reviews dominating in search: began in 2013, but many businesses continue to remain committed to independent review sites with secondary visibility at best. It's time to make the move to Google  

At first sight you might assume that this business has not engaged with reviews - in fact it has over 4000 on an independent site - all but invisible in search 

  • Google credibility: everyone has heard of Google, most people know that you need a G+ identity to write a review, and perhaps most important of all, people know that only great businesses look great on Google
One reason Google reviews have credibility with consumers is that there is a range of scores from one business to another - unlike some independent sites where almost all - paying - businesses score as close to 5/5 or 10/10 as makes no difference
  • Google reviews growth: there was so much Google denial from businesses until this year. The numbers of Google reviews per business continues to grow exponentially. Soon there will be no business worth the name without Google reviews
 This business - with no review management - has seen huge growth in - mostly negative - reviews in the last 12 months. It's not a badly-managed business, it has simply not engaged with reviews 
  • Closed review sites - those that don't allow consumers to post a review unless invited - drive reviewers to 'open' platforms to comment
It is important that consumers can write a review - to the business's own site - whenever they want. If they cannot they will soon work out that your reviewers are hand-picked - cherry-picked - and that's not good for your credibility

  • Google is the dominant open platform - a business should not be driving dissatisfied consumers to comment there by denying them the right to write a review to their own website whenever they want
  •  Filtering - however well-meant - is unacceptable. Any review management mechanism that gives priority to businesses by allowing them to block negative comment will damage the business's image and brand. Here is what happened to John Lewis recently

 Consumers must be able to be heard - whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it

  • The Google filter - first introduced for some verticals in some areas in January of this year - enables consumers to narrow their searches down to businesses with Google scores of 4.0 plus and more than four Google reviews 

The first step is to ensure you pass the Google filter - by having more than four reviews with a score of four or more. Unfiltered - left; filtered for 4+ - right
  • Google Top Rated: introduced for some business searches in August 2016. Logic dictates that this should eventually apply to every search (who doesn't want to be shown the top business for any given search?) 

    'Top Rated' is the logical end product of Google reviews and scores. At the moment businesses appear in the 3-pack - or high up on map/mobile as a result of a combination of SEO and luck - at some date in the future Google are bound to turn on Top Rated for all searches
  • The end of testimonials - consumers now know there is a more credible alternative: verified reviews. And great businesses now host these on their own sites

'Don't take [the business's] word for it' - exactly! Increasingly consumers look for verified reviews - from the business on their own website and on Google 
  • The end of cherry-picking: consumers - and your competitors - are wise to this now. If you only invite 'happy' customers to post reviews - to your own site or to Google - your review management will be called into question. You must have a mechanism that allows anyone to write a review whenever they want

In this context cherry-picking means selecting happy customers to write reviews - usually to Google. It may fool some consumers, but It hands a business's competitors a very big stick to beat them with: "Ah, but they are selective about who they invite to write reviews, that's why they look so good."
  • Allow consumers to see your worst reviews at a click - Google do, so should you

 Consumers always want to read the worst news first - so you might as well make it easy for them

  • Understand which review sites besides Google are important: Facebook is, Yelp is not (they've left the UK anyway). TripAdvisor, and some of the aggregators still are if you are in hospitality. None of the small sites are worth committing effort or investment to in 2016

Every business's priority will be to look great in search - so Google first. But very few consumers are not on Facebook - multiple times a day - so looking great there should be a high priority as well

So - some questions. Does your business...
  1. Score more than 4.5 out of 5 on Google - for each and every location?
  2. Have more than 50 reviews - per location - on Google?
  3. Allow your customers to write a review to your website at a click - at any time?
  4. Have a mechanism for showing independently verified reviews on your own site?
  5. Publish a customer's review - even if you disagree with it?
  6. Have a mechanism for managing inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication? 
  7. Have a 'Reviews' tab on Facebook?
  8. Feed reviews to Twitter and Facebook?
  9. Know how to appeal an unfair/incorrect or misleading Google review?
  10. Respond to reviews - on Google, on Facebook and wherever else they appear?

If the answer to all ten of these is 'Yes' you are almost certainly a HelpHound client. If you have answered 'No' to even one, we suggest a quick call to Fiona Christie or Karen Hutchings here at HelpHound. 

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Hotels and Google search - our take on ReviewPro's latest

ReviewPro have just released their latest Guide to Optimising Visibility in Search. Here we will add our thoughts and make some comments.

N.B. We have condensed this article as much as we can - please do spend fifteen minutes reading it, the advice it contains may make a considerable difference for your hotel. If it prompts any questions at all please contact Karen Hutchings or one of her team.

It's pretty straightforward: Google are not just No.1, they are No.1 by a country mile.

It's pretty certain that the one site that your potential guest visits more than any other is your own

'Google reviews count and score ... are factored into local search ranking - more reviews and positive ratings will improve a business's local ranking.'

 'The higher a hotel appears in organic listings, the more traffic it will receive.'

Any hotel - with deep enough pockets - can appear in Google Ads. But a hotel that ticks all the Google boxes - and, as stated before, that includes Google reviews and scores - will stand a far better chance of appearing in the Google 3-pack and organic listings. We would add that the click-through at the bottom of the 3-pack - 'more hotels' takes the searcher straight through to map search.

'Inform' - and what 'information' do your potential guests want most? If you were to watch or see most OTA advertising you might be forgiven for thinking that their prime consideration is always price. We beg to differ. We are certain - from reading many thousands of reviews - that their prime consideration is the quality of their stay. The very thing that reviews deliver more information about than any other resource.

It is interesting that this screenshot does not include the full Google Knowledge Panel - see below. We also advise all our clients to include their town, suburb or other area signifier in their G+/Google My Business listing (in this example it would be 'Paris75001' or 'Paris 1er').

Above is the full Google Knowledge Panel - see just how much Google - and TrustYou - information it contains. Below: the potential guest is just two clicks away from this:

One click to Google reviews - another click to 'Lowest score' - the most popular default. The lesson here is to take managing reviews - especially Google reviews, which are seen by everyone - very seriously indeed.

No.2:  'Encourage guests to write Google reviews to benefit your local search ranking and presence on Google.' And we add: '...and to help your potential guest make the decision to book your hotel.'

Again: 'Google review count and score are factored into the local search rankings.' 'More reviews and positive ratings will improve a business's local ranking.' 'This will result in more traffic to your website and more direct bookings.'

The next sentence is interesting: 'You can also strengthen relationships with your guests by directly engaging with reviewers on Google.' More bluntly: 'Respond to Google reviews'!

The Google 'review collection widget' works in the same way as TripAdvisor's Review Express. As regular readers will know at HelpHound we have issues with blanket un-moderated invitations to guests to post a review direct to any public site (and this includes Google as well as TripAdvisor). This kind of mechanism will, by its very nature, attract more negative reviews. For more on this subject read this article.

 ...or you can use HelpHound's Dialogue™ to do it all for you - safely and securely (with Resolution enabling you to minimise unfair and misleading negative reviews) - and use ReviewPro to measure just how successful that strategy will be.

We hope this helps.

Review Management for Hotels - an update

It is not often we simply say 'More of the same' in an update like this, but this time we say it with pride - and an added kicker.

First the 'Pride':

If you want...
  • More positive reviews - anywhere - TripAdvisor, Google or on any of the open review sites
  • Less negative reviews - and by this we mean less one, two and three star reviews - on any of the sites above and and then the aggregators (Trivago etc.)
  • More direct bookings - driven by having independently verified reviews on your own website
  • More repeat bookings - by enabling you to resolve issues with unhappy guests
...then HelpHound will do all that - from the day you join. For any hotel - or restaurant, or spa, or conference venue - guaranteed (or your money back!).

The kicker?

You may already be investing significantly, both financially and in human resources, in-house, targeting these same objectives. We once lost a client (it's a rare occurrence!) - a significant London 4 star establishment - because management wanted to see if the hotel could go it alone. 

More positive reviews - less negative reviews - for any hotel

So they invested significantly in both guest relations (both staffing and training) and back-end reporting from one of the globally recognised platforms (you will know them, and there's a good chance your hotel is already using them or one of their competitors). 

What happened? Over the next few months their rankings and scores drifted - lower and lower - in spite of everything they were doing in-house (by more than 30% on TripAdvisor and to similar degrees with their other scores and rankings).

The punchline? They're back in the HelpHound fold. 

This table illustrates the effect of professional review management on scores and rankings across some of the major platforms

Re-balancing the image of your hotel for everyone's benefit

People write reviews for two main reasons: because the are happy and they want to share their great experience or because they are unhappy and they have not found another outlet for their unhappiness.

In an ideal world both kinds of reviews would be written in equal proportions, but in the real world unhappy guests are are up to fifteen times more likely to write a review. This skews reviews - and the resulting crucial scores and rankings - against the hotels being reviewed, always giving a worse impression than reality (TripAdvisor's own figures say that 12% of reviews are negative - what hotel wold remain in business if 12% of their guest were unhappy)?

Professional review management simply enables your hotel to redress that balance - and, in so doing, give a fair and accurate impression to future guests. 

The advantage for your hotel? It's clear from both the chart and the table: join now, your hotel - and your guests - have everything to gain and nothing to lose. 


Monday 21 November 2016

Think like a consumer - it's Google all the way

Not a day goes by when we are not asked about an independent review website. From the biggies like Yelp and TripAdvisor to the minnows that focus on every business niche.

Some review sites are great and some not so (TripAdvisor's forums are a huge resource for local travel advice, for instance). But that's to miss the bigger picture: and the bigger picture is Google.

It doesn't matter how comprehensive a review site is, it's always going to play second fiddle to Google reviews - for two reasons:

The first almost everyone gets: Google reviews always show first in search.

The second less so: consumers simply cannot - and don't have to - be bothered to use a different review site for each and every need as they journey through life. Think about it - with your consumer head on...

You need a plumber? CheckaTrade or Google?

You need a lawyer? LawyerReviews or Google?

You need a financial adviser? IFADirect or Google?

You need a doctor? NHSChoices or Google?

You need an estate agent? AllAgents or Google?

You need a restaurant? Hardens or Google?

You need a hotel? or Google?

You need a ... you get the point? 

We're guessing most of you are with us now. If the web was born today, no-one would be inventing an independent review website - because Google dominates that space. 

Now - there are two more points to make:

Get with Google

If your business does not have reviews on Google you need them - now. If your competitors don't have reviews on Google that's no reason not to - its an opportunity to get a head start.

Get with Review Management

One of the main reasons - perhaps the only reason - some businesses have not adopted a proactive review management strategy is fear. A completely understandable fear of 'unfair' negative reviews appearing prominently in every search. 

That's where review management comes in - a mechanism that will enable you to manage inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication will give you the confidence to address Google reviews head-on. And that's where HelpHound comes in. HelpHound invented professional review management.


 This is what a HelpHound client looks like in search - do you think the score (in the Google knowledge panel and in natural search), the number of reviews and the rich snippets drives business? And how do their competitors who have focussed on an independent site feel? 

 And the 200+ reviews on their website?

Professional review management will ensure your reviews appear where you need them most:
  • on Google
  • on your own website
  • on other platforms that matter* - Facebook and social media
 *if there are influential review sites - now, or in the future - where you need a presence, we will advise accordingly. Our hotel clients still need to look great on TripAdvisor - for the time-being - so we ensure they do.

 Other important articles:
  • Too posh to push - think your customers won't relish being invited to write a review? - think again.
  • The Google filter - if you fail the Google filter you risk disappearing from search altogether
  • The thundering herd are coming - you need to get great reviews to Google before your competitors do
  • Resolution - how HelpHound protects you - and your potential customers - from unfair, misleading or inaccurate reviews

Friday 18 November 2016

John Lewis in the news - and not a bulldog in sight

John Lewis were in the news this week - and not just for their Christmas advertisement. The Sunday Times tested their review management system and identified a flaw: John Lewis, or more probably the company providing their reviews service, was - according to the Sunday Times - effectively filtering reviews.

The detail almost does not matter - the Sunday Times posted reviews, both positive and negative - for products, but mentioned service (which, for some reason is contrary to JL's T&Cs) and the positive reviews were posted whist the negative reviews were rejected.

What does matter is that this highlights that the review management system a company chooses has the potential to backfire and harm their brand if it is in any way flawed.

So - a checklist:
  1. are reviews independently verified?
  2. are reviews independently moderated?
  3. can the customer write a review whenever they want?
  4. does the reviewer always retain the right to have their review published?
  5. is the business able to respond to the review in private pre-publication?
  6. is the business able to respond to the review post-publication?
If the system fails any one of these six 'tests' - the John Lewis system appears to fail No. 4 - then the business has chosen the wrong system.

Thursday 17 November 2016

A A Gill fillets another restaurant - what should they be doing?

This review appeared in this week's Sunday Times:

You don't need to be an expert to understand how the management and staff felt on Sunday morning; but some expert advice might be welcome once the tears have dried:

Review management and restaurants

High profile reviews by respected reviewers do still matter (and A A Gill was accompanied by the revered Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard, just to make matters worse), but a restaurant can be rescued by its customers.

First let's see how Fucina looks in search:

Answer: in summary: not great but not as bad as Mr Gill's 'No Stars/No Stars'.


Take review management seriously from the day you open; Fucina opened four weeks ago and already they rate less than the crucial 4 stars on TripAdvisor and SquareMeal - and perilously close to the Google filter at 4.1. It is absolutely no good pleading 'teething trouble' when you are trying to attract custom online - no one will hear you.

Invite all your customers to write a review: let's say Fucina has 50 covers (from the photos on their website they look to have nearer 100), lunch and dinner - that's 100 potential reviewers a day. On that basis Fucina has got less than 1% of its customers to write a review anywhere. Thirteen reviews to Google and eight to TripAdvisor with their attendant scores are simply not enough to counter the Sunday Times review; 130 and 80 would be (as long as the scores were good).

Use Dialogue: that way you get great reviews to your website and great feedback as well. You are able to manage negatives in private and then get reviews copied to platforms that matter.


Tuesday 15 November 2016

The thundering herd are coming to a town near you

One of the advantages of working here at HelpHound is that we see what's happening all over the country. Last week we were visiting estate agents in the Midlands and the North East.

And what did we learn?

First: here are the search results for two areas that are - with few exceptions - typical of 'beyond the M25', both decent size cities/towns:

 And here's a fairly typical example of a London 'three-pack':

It is worth spending a moment analysing those reviews. The bare figures are as follows:
  • Outside London: and average of 3 reviews per agency/branch
  • London: an average of 22 reviews per agency/branch
 When we mine down into the London reviews the results are even more interesting:

These businesses have seen an explosive growth in Google reviews in the last 12 months - with even Barnard Marcus achieving a Google score. The argument that 'no-one can be bothered to post a review to Google' - which may have been true even twelve months ago - has now been well and truly laid to rest.

The implications for all businesses - wherever they may be

If you read our recent article - Google reviews accelerate - you will have seen an example of what can happen when perfectly well-managed business fails to engage with reviews: the reviews will still be written, but, human nature being what it is, less than happy customers are far more likely to make the effort to write one.

Our predictions for the agencies in the two Google searches at the top of this page

By this time next year they will almost certainly all have Google scores (a minimum of 5 reviews). If they don't adopt a proactive review management strategy, they will almost certainly fail the Google filter by scoring less than 4.0 - see here for more on this - and their potential customers will by then have got used to using the filter; after all, who wants to use a business that scores less than 4.0 out of 5?

Our advice

Establish a review management strategy - now; before your business fails the filter. You can adopt the DIY route (getting customers to write reviews straight to Google), but why would any business do that when professional review management has so many benefits when set against the cost?

Impressed by businesses that have ten, or even twenty reviews? You should be - but how about this:

 The only thing standing between your business and an image like this - and this...

...where there are 465 reviews, is a telephone call to Fiona Christie at HelpHound!

  • credible reviews to display on your own site - to drive enquiries and new business
  • great reviews to Google
  • a tried-and-tested mechanism to allow you to manage inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication
  • no linking away to a review site that shows your competitors
  • a design that conforms with your own branding

HelpHound: professional review management for businesses