Monday 30 January 2017

HelpHound - taking the Fear out of reviews

 Not a HelpHound client!

Most businesses, if they are honest, approach the subject of reviews with some trepidation - if they approach it at all - and with good reason.

Let's look at some of the barriers to actively engaging with reviews online:
1. Freedom of speech 

The policy of most review sites, including Google, is predicated on the assumption that the 'reviewer is always right'. This means that anyone can voice their opinion, even if that 'opinion' contains factually incorrect or misleading statements. The fact that any negative opinion of a business in the UK is prima facie libel does not matter as the libel is imputed to the reviewer not the review site - and what business wants to find itself embroiled in a libel suit with one of its own customers?
2. The propensity for consumers to write negative reviews

Dissatisfaction with a business is so much more of a motivation to write a review. And negative reviews do harm businesses - just ask any hotelier. We often meet businesses that have customers running into multiple thousands who have nothing but a handful of negative reviews on Google
3. The harm a single negative review can do

We often hear those who have yet to engage with reviews say things like "Surely the odd negative just adds credibility?" Our response: "Ask any business that has been the subject of a well written negative review". Read the sorry tale of Nearwater in St Mawes - just one negative review on Google stopped their business in its tracks. The fact that it was written by someone who had never used the business - and HelpHound proved that to Google - saved the business. 
4. Fake reviews 

It is a source of ongoing frustration that most review sites continue to publish reviews from fake reviewers (as distinct from fraudulent - covered below). Google is tightening up its act - and gaining credibility by so doing, but the likes of TripAdvisor and Yelp continue to allow the 'MickieMouse123's of the virtual world to post reviews without providing any more than a Hotmail address when they register.
5. Fraudulent reviews

Thanks to the above it is still relatively easy for someone with an impure motive - a competitor, the business itself, or a disgruntled ex-employee - to write fake reviews, both positive and negative. 
6. Regulations - the Competition and Markets Authority

We constantly encounter businesses that selectively invite 'happy' customers to write reviews (this practice goes against both the spirit and the content of the CMA regulations) because they are afraid of allowing all of their customers to comment.

And now for the reasons to engage:

1. Having good reviews is proven to influence consumers  

 Looking like this is proven to give a business an edge - in the marketplace in general and specifically against local competitors with no, few or negative reviews

Countless surveys and reports, from the likes of Microsoft and Harvard Business School as well as Google itself put that contention beyond doubt.

2. Businesses with reviews look more established

Two all-but identical businesses in the same location - which one looks the more attractive?

You business may have been around for over a century, but if it has no reviews it is going to look like a start-up to those that don't already know it!

3. Businesses with more reviews look more engaged

  There's no longer any doubt that the business on the left will get more calls than the business on the right

We often encounter businesses that achieve a Google star rating (that's 5+ reviews) and then heave a sigh of relief. In the not-too-distant future there will be businesses of all kinds - not just hotels and restaurants - out there with thousands of reviews.

4. Businesses with reviews are more trusted by consumers

 Google reviews are now commonly attached to a G+ account: this gives them considerably more credibility than anonymous reviews 
And its not just the numbers and score - great as they are in this case - but the content of those reviews and the fact that the business has responded. All add up to a very impressive first impression.

5. Businesses that invite reviews to their own websites prosper

There is a massive difference between independently verified reviews and testimonials - and consumers are increasingly wise to that. The three lines above the reviews on this client's website are crucial in establishing that credibility - as is the 'promise to publish'. 

The most powerful incentive to use a business - fellow consumers' opinions? Then why not incorporate these into your website - the very vehicle where first impressions of your business are created. The 'promise to publish' and the 'Write your review' button make this mechanism CMA compliant.

6. There is no reason not to comply with the CMA rules

  All our clients' websites incorporate this mechanism. It actively enables them to invite anyone - and they need not necessarily be a customer of the business in the strictest sense - to write a review whenever they want. How impressive is that? 

Concerned that such a policy might do harm? This single branch of one of our clients has nearly 500 reviews on their own website and looks like this on Google:

To save you the trouble, their reviews break down as follows: 5 stars: 269, 4 stars: 8, 3 stars: 1,  2 stars: 1, 1 star: 2. Remember: every client can write a review, whenever they like, and when they do HelpHound always invites them to copy that final review to Google (for a full explanation of the process see the link to Resolution™ below). A bonus is the star rating under the business's main listing in organic search (top left) and the 'Reviews' link there that takes the potential customer straight to that branch's reviews on its own website, as well as the great rich snippets in the Google knowledge panel

A professional review management process will incorporate a mechanism that allows the business to engage with reviewers who may have written an inaccurate or misleading review before that review is published anywhere - on their own website, on Google or on any other site - ours is called Resolution™. This means that your business is able to adopt best practice without risking unfair harm. It is invariably welcomed by the consumer - after all, almost all consumers want a positive outcome when they engage with a business and inaccurate or misleading reviews benefit no-one, business or consumer.

Resolution has another major benefit: it weeds out fake reviews. How? If HelpHound - or our client business - think a review is suspect in any way we will always go back to the reviewer for 'further particulars' of the transaction under review - the address of the property for an estate agent, the number of the room and the date of stay for a hotel.
To summarise

Businesses want to engage with reviews, but are rightly concerned that doing so will expose them to unfair criticism. We hope that this explains how and why professional review management - and HelpHound - are able to allay that fear and allow businesses to make the most of this great opportunity


Saturday 28 January 2017

Important - the Google Filter rolls out

We have been writing about the Google Filter and 'Top Rated' for over a year now - Google have been intermittently testing on both sides of the Atlantic (as you can see in the article behind the link). In December Google rolled out the Filter across multiple business types and locations in the USA, this weekend they began expanding its use in the UK.

Here's the up-to-the-minute search for 'estate agent Kennington':

At top left just below the map you will see the word 'Rating' with a drop-down arrow. click on that and this happens:

Select '4 stars and up' (who would not? and why would anyone select 3 or 2?) and Google presents the Maps listing:

...and you will notice that Barnard Marcus, and any other business scoring less than 4.0 that would have previously been returned, has vanished.

It's the same for mobile and tablet:

...except Google are calling it 'Top Rated' there, which is not strictly true if you define top rated as 'the highest score'; Google are simply listing businesses that pass the Filter - for now.

Is this happening for all kinds of business, for all locations?

No, not yet. Here's a similar search for Blackheath:

...where the filter, as yet, only applies to opening hours.

Here's another - intentionally more obscure - search:

...but the filter has even been applied for 'patisserie'! And two out of three of these fail:

...with two of those - both Paul - that currently pass being within one or two negative reviews of failing too.

The logical extension - and the issues Google faces

Consumers want search to return the best businesses, but there are issues here for Google:
  • many businesses have no reviews at all - especially high value businesses such as financial and legal services. But Google reviews are accelerating fast (see this article)
  • human nature - the motivation to write a negative review is massively more than that to write a positive one - and that is one of the main reasons that low-footfall businesses like the ones mentioned above have steered clear of Google reviews: fear of unfair reputational damage
  • consumers need some kind of Google account before they can write a review: although the fact that this can be a G+ account, a Gmail or Googlemail account or an account with a Google subsidiary (YouTube, for example) means that approaching 20 million UK consumers can now write a Google review in an instant
  • Google need to define 'Top Rated'. Let us pose an obvious question: would a business with 300 reviews and a score of 4.9 rank above or below a business with 6 reviews and a score of 5.0?

Action needed:

For everyone who is not currently a client of ours: do not take action without reading what follows next very carefully.

It is tempting to simply get staff to ask happy customers to post a review direct to Google: don't. Why not? For the following reasons:
  1. The government body appointed to regulate reviews - the Competition and Markets Authority - insists that customers are not 'selected' to write reviews. It will want to see evidence that your business treats all its customers equally, and it has statutory powers to do so
  2. If you simply invite all your customers to post a review direct to Google human nature will dictate that those who have had a negative experience will be far more likely to (recent research shows that they are more likely to do so by a factor of 15 times). Just think of your own recent experiences and imagine how much more likely, if invited by the business, you would be to respond if your own experience had been negative; your own customers will be the same
  3. Customers often make inaccurate or misleading statements in reviews; you need an mechanism to ensure that the minimum of these appear on Google for all your potential customers to see (Google do allow the business to respond, but the damage will have been done - through the score allocated to your business if nowhere else)
  4. You will have missed a great opportunity to get great reviews for your own website. Almost everyone using a business checks the business's own website after finding them on Google, if they don't go straight there in the first place
Obeying these four points will mean that your review management will be beyond criticism, by your potential customers, the regulators and your competitors (if you select customers to post to Google direct your most aware competitors will soon notice - and the last thing you want is a review from a customer who was not invited).

Professional review management, of the kind we do for our clients here at HelpHound, is designed to positively add value, both in terms of credibility and in terms of your business's bottom line - that's why we don't lose clients.

And finally...

And what don't you see in any of these searches? The independent review sites. We won't stop banging that particular drum: focus on your own site and Google, then on Facebook. We have no intrinsic bias against the independent sites - it's just that they don't show in search and our loyalty is to our clients, not any individual solution.

Friday 20 January 2017

DIY - the biggest cause of personal injury in the home

...and - we are betting - one of the biggest cause of injury to business's reputations!

 This chap is not a HelpHound client - to find out why not read on

We're talking reviews of course.

Let's first look at the motivation for adopting various review management strategies and then at all the options:


Very few Luddites remain. Savvy marketers are all agreed - great reviews drive business, it's as simple as that.

So - every business wants great reviews where they will bee seen by the largest possible number of potential customers. And, in the main, that means:
  • on Google
  • on the business's own website

So what do those marketers do next? They look for a solution, and often, if they have not heard of HelpHound, their first - and perfectly understandable - reaction is 'Can we do it ourselves?'

So here we look at all the options and all their pros and cons.

1. Direct to Google (simple DIY)

Simply invite customers to post their reviews direct to your G+ page.

  • you will get a Google score - to show in the Google Knowledge Panel and on Google Maps
  • you will get great rich snippets - providing your reviews are positive
  • a link your reviews will be shown prominently in every search
  • you will stand out in the Google 3-pack*
*appearance in the Google 3-pack is currently SEO related - so it's something to speak to your web designers about. But when Google begin ranking businesses by their review scores you will need a) a great score and b) decent numbers of reviews to appear there
  • you won't have independently verified reviews on your own website - a proven new business driver...

  • you won't have star ratings in search...

  • you won't have 'Reviews from the web' in the Google knowledge panel...

  • if you comply with the Competitions and Markets Authority's (CMA) rules* and invite all your customers to write a review to Google without some form of moderation in place you will run the risk of inviting unfair, misleading or inaccurate comments (negative and positive) to Google - none of which will help your business or your potential customers


A score of 4.9 from 28 reviews with 5* across the board apart from two 4* reviews. This business has selectively invited customers to post reviews - which is made obvious by the infrequency of the posts, generally one or two a month at most. It runs three risks; the first is that their less-than-happy customers will see the universally positive reviews and react by posting their own - uncomplimentary - review, the second is that prospective customers will ask them why they have so few reviews, the third is that their competitors will quickly realise that their reviewers are being hand-picked and 'helpfully' point this out to potential customers.

* Important: The CMA is the government body that regulates reviews. It clearly states that all your customers should be able to write a review - whenever they choose. This rules out any mechanism which might allow you to hand-pick customers to write reviews to Google - or choose the timing of that invitation. For more information about the CMA read 'Reviews and the Law - an important update'.

2.  To an independent site and then to Google (DIY 'plus')

Invite your customers to post a review to any one of the number of independent review sites and then invite them to copy their review to Google.

  • you will get a Google score - once you have 5 reviews there, to show in the Google Knowledge Panel and on Google Maps
  • you will get great rich snippets - providing your reviews are positive
  • your reviews will be shown prominently in every search
  • you will stand in the Google 3-pack
  • you won't have your own independently verified reviews on your own website - you will have the independent site's reviews and then a feed or a link to display them
  • if you comply with the Competitions and Markets Authority's (CMA) rules* and invite all your customers to write a review to the independent site you will run the risk of inviting unfair or inaccurate comments - which won't help your business or your potential customers
  • You must then invite all the customers who posted to the independent site to copy their review to Google - again, to comply with the CMA rules


A score of 4.2 with eleven 1* reviews. This business has invited its customers to post to an independent site and then asked those who posted a 5* review there to copy it to Google. So why the 1* reviews? They have come from those customers the business has not invited to post a review anywhere, posted on their customers' own initiative (a phenomenon we call 'deflection').

A note on independent sites: they break down into two types; 'open' and 'closed'. 'Open' are sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor or allAgents where anyone can join and write a review of any relevant business whenever they want. 'Closed' are sites where reviews can only be written 'by invitation'. The latter business model is becoming increasingly rare as it so obviously favours the business and both consumers and the CMA regard them with a degree of scepticism.

3. HelpHound - full-time professional review management

  • you will get great independently verified reviews to your own website - to drive business
  • you will be able to manage any reviews that contain inaccurate or misleading comments pre-publication
  • you will get a Google score - to show in the Google Knowledge Panel and on Google Maps
  • you will get great rich snippets
  • your reviews will be shown prominently in every search
  • you will stand out in the Google 3-pack*
  • you will be fully-compliant with the CMA rules
  • your staff will need to understand how to build reviews into every customer touch-point
  • our monthly fee!


A score of 4.9 from 281 reviews, with two 1* reviews. A HelpHound client. Their customers are able to write a review to the business's website whenever they want, and all of those that have a review published there are asked to copy that review to Google. The volume and score together give their reviews massive credibility (and cannot be attacked by their competitors), backed up by nearly twice as many reviews - 467 to be precise - on their own website; and add that to their promise to every potential customer that they will be invited to write a review and you can imagine the impact on business.

In conclusion

You will, by now, have come to the conclusion that options 1 and 2 are no option at all - not if you want to be seen as operating within the CMA rules and presenting as an open and honest business. The next step? Speak to us - we will show you how we can help your business look like No. 3.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Estate Agents: Scores and volume are key - but quality is equally important

The first thing all our clients want is a great score...

 Good - once your business has over 50 reviews there's evidence to show that cynicism - "they just asked all their friends and colleagues to write a review" - falls away

 ...and they're not wrong. An excellent overall rating will grab the eye of every prospective customer.

Next comes volume...

Even better - when comparing tow businesses with the same score it's only human nature to choose the one with the most reviews

...because marketers appreciate that low absolute numbers of reviews can send out a negative message.

But what about quality?

We have just conducted a survey of some of our clients and this is what emerged
  • their reviews contained nearly double the word-count of the average Google review
  • they also contained more high-value words and phrases - such as 'professional' and 'value for money'
This is important - because your prospective customers read the content of the reviews (and your responses). It's the content that inspires them to take the next critical step.

If you read these reviews you will soon see just how often key words and phrases - marketers call them 'triggers' - appear: 'professional', 'helpful', 'definitely recommend', 'knowledgeable', 'achieved the price we wanted', 'impressed', 'patient', 'bent over backwards', 'cannot recommend highly enough', 'shone', 'useful insight', 'exceptional' - and that's just from the five for one client shown above. 

It's those words and phrases that consumers are looking for when they read reviews. Great scores will attract attention - great content elicits action.

Name checks - there is at least one in each of these reviews - also boost confidence.

Compare them with this - very common - type of review:


 And you will see what we mean. They also flow through into great rich snippets:


A great business + great review management = great reviews - on your own site and on Google = more business.