Wednesday 28 June 2017

Google fined €2.4bn - so what?

 read the full Financial Times article here

Google has been fined by the EU for abusing its dominant position in search. In short: for promoting its own services above those of its advertisers.

The company has 90 days to make changes and must “refrain from any measure that has the same or an equivalent object or effect”, the commission said.

Does this have any implications from the point-of-view of reviews?

Well, maybe. 

 This Commission/FT infographic shows just how important position in search is

Even the most cursory glance at any search will show Google reviews, very prominently indeed. Yelp and TripAdvisor have been complaining about this for many years. The EU did not directly criticise this aspect of search (the focus was predominantly on Google's comparison shopping service), but logic says that they will be keeping a close eye on it. And so will we.

Google have 90 days to react to the Commission's finding (ignore the comments already appearing in forums saying things along the lines of 'Google's so big they can tell the EU to get lost' - they cannot and they will not) and make changes to ensure they are compliant with the ruling. When they do we will update you. If anything indicates a change of strategy we will advise you accordingly - that's why you engaged a review manager, not a single reviews solution that can be great one day and redundant the next.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Barclays in the frame - and not just their senior management

Most of you will have seen an article like this in the last day or so:

 But that's not the only way a business like Barclays is judged. What do their customers think? Let's look...



Our conclusion

It is not so much the reviews and scores that reflect badly on the business (although they do) but the fact that Barclays have obviously turned a blind eye to the negative impression they have allowed to be created on the web by a tiny minority of their customers (who may, or may not, be representative).

What have they not done?
  • they have not had the common courtesy to respond to their customers who have taken the time to write a review - positive or negative
  • they patently have no review management strategy in place - either corporately or at local branch level

What should they have done (and should now do)?
  • establish a proactive review management strategy - to engage all their customers -  at corporate level
  • implement that strategy across their branch network 
  • and reply to every review

It's not complicated, expensive or time-consuming. It is simply a question of asking itself: "Do we care about our customers and, just as importantly, do we want to be seen to care?"

We're here to help.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

TripAdvisor gets a negative review...

 We think this article in Barrons - and the research it reports, is missing the bigger picture

Credit Suisse have downgraded their target price for TripAdvisor stock to nearly 10% below its already depressed level. This judgement is based on what Credit Suisse see as a need for TripAdvisor to increase its advertising spend to remain competitive. 

TripAdvisor - a sorry story for investors; but also a strong message for the hospitality industry

But we think there is a bigger picture - and it's called Google... 

Google is becoming the dominant player in hospitality search 

Just search for a hotel or restaurant - what do you see? Let's do just that (we will take two landmark properties - but perform the search for you own, it will be the same)...

First on desktop:


What do we see here? We see one of the main reasons for the inexorable slide in TripAdvisor's share price: over 40% of this search given over to Google's own knowledge panel


In a different format, but what potential diner needs TripAdvisor's 4,600 reviews when they can access over 400 from Google at a click?

Then on mobile:


More and more purchasing decisions are being made by referencing the headline score and the the three rich snippets - those aspects that the hotel can most easily ensure provide an accurate reflection of their offering


This is the most modern format: with the reviews tab prominently displayed. We expect most Google search formats to conform to this format over time

Our advice

There's no need to radically alter strategies, but be aware that Google - and Google's own reviews - are an increasing influence on consumers' booking habits. You should be aiming for a score of 4.5 plus (the point at which consumers cease to hesitate) and it is a rare property that will be able to consistently achieve this without professional review management.

If in any doubt at all, consult us.

Monday 19 June 2017

Two of the South-east's premier estate agents go live with HelpHound

Curchods and their sister business Burns & Webber have chosen HelpHound as their review managers.

Both businesses are very well-regarded by both their peers and their clients, now that regard will be transmitted to all across both their websites and in search.

Here's a Curchods branch...

...and already on its way with Google...

And here is one of Burns & Webber's...

Both have adopted our new API - enabling their marketing departments and web designers to tailor the display to their specific requirements.

Over the next weeks and months expect all their twenty-one branches to begin to make a significant impact, both in terms of reviews on their own sites and Google reviews, following in the footsteps of another API adopter: Winkworth...

...on their own site....

...and on Google...

 When this business joined they had two reviews on Google - one 1* and one 3* - that in no way reflected the professionalism of their management or their staff. See the difference professional review management - in tandem with a positive attitude from the business - has made: they now have 41 Google reviews (and a score of 4.8) as well as over 120 reviews on their own website.

Watch this space!

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Google ramps up review visibility - again!

Just when we thought Google could not make reviews more visible - they do it again! Both kinds too - yours and theirs.

Let's take the mobile journey (estimates vary, but most agree that about 70% of all search is on mobile or tablet now):

Initial search: [business name + location]:

This gives the potential customer many options: map, address, opening hours etc. but we will stay with reviews for now. First there is the rating (numerical - 4.8 in this example) and stars (five) as well as the number of reviews - a click there takes the user straight to the business's Google reviews (see the third of the four screengrabs). 

Underneath that is 'Reviews from the web' - again showing a score and number of reviews, but this time taken from the business's own reviews hosted on their own site. 

In addition you can see two links to the business's website - centre right of the Google knowledge panel and right at the bottom - top of natural listings (as you might expect). Clicking on both of these will lead to reviews prominently displayed on the business's mobile site.

But perhaps most important of all - the change that Google has made - the 'Reviews' tab at the top - taking your potential customers direct to your reviews - again, both your own and Google's - without having to hit the arrow in the blue circle at the bottom of the knowledge panel:

There are three important routes to reviews here:

1. The three rich snippets - the first opinions a potential customer will see. They - as long as they are positive - should whet the customer's appetite for more. They then have a choice... 

2. Read some of the 129 reviews - highlighted under 'Reviews from the web' - a click on which takes them straight to your website and the reviews you host there...

Three things here: a scrolling feed of verified reviews, a link to enable anyone to read all the business's reviews and a link to an explanation of HelpHound's role in the process.

3. Read your Google reviews by simply scrolling down:

And guess which tab in the drop-down menu most consumers choose? That is why it is so important to have a mechanism like Resolution™ that enables you to address inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication.

Don't miss the overall message!

Google has not made this change on a whim: by devoting more and more of the search experience to reviews Google is telling businesses that your potential customers want to read reviews. 


It is slightly off-topic for this article, but we know many of you will be asking 'how does the business look in a generic search [business type + location]?'...

Answer? Top of the Google three-pack and top of organic search.


Tuesday 6 June 2017

Mobile search - the review sites are all but invisible

It was tempting to apologise for yet another article highlighting why we don't recommend independent review sites - but when we think of the time, effort and pure cash that so many businesses are wasting because they have adopted a solution that is, at best, second best and, at worst, simply does not deliver the results they have been led to expect, we decided to go ahead anyway - if we save just one of you from harm, then this post will have been justified.

Over 60% of searches on the web are now conducted on mobiles. That is a global figure. In markets such as the UK, where over 8 out of 10 devices are smartphones and a very high percentage of those are on contract rather than PAYG - meaning that there is no incentive for users to defer mobile searches to desktop - it is more than likely that the figure will be in excess of 70%.

So we - and you - should be looking at how users search on mobile and adapting our review management accordingly.

There are two main searches we should all be concerned with. let's follow those journeys (we'll use an estate agent as an example)...

A general search: 'business type [location]' - estate agent [Kennington]...

The search throws up:


N.B. See the 'Top rated' button alongside 'MORE FILTERS' at the top - any business that scores less than 4.0 out of 5 will increasingly find itself filtered out of search entirely. For more on the Google filter read this.

  • advertisements - which any business can buy, limited only by the depth of its pockets
  • the Google 'three-pack' which is currently a SEO-based selection of three local businesses - led, currently, by Winkworth Kennington
  • natural listings - our client can also be seen, along with their HelpHound review score - 'Rating' 4.7 (128) - at the head of these

A specific search: 'business name [location]'  - Winkworth [Kennington]...

The search shows:

  • the business's Google review score and number of reviews and two tabs - 'Overview' and 'Reviews'

  • the business's Google knowledge panel - with its own reviews and score under 'Reviews from the web' (4.7 out of 5 and 128 reviews in this example) its Google review score (4.8), and the number of reviews (40), prominently displayed along with three rich snippets (all positive in this case).

We are now going to make an assumption: that any consumer who would like to read reviews will click on either the Google reviews or the 'Reviews from the web'; after all, if you are looking for a large and credible brand to give you comfort then we reckon Google - which everyone relies on for search results day-in day-out - is just about as large and credible as they come.

Then your potential customer sees this (for Google):

 N.B. Most people will immediately select 'Lowest score' - that is why it is so important that business's understand that they cannot simply sit back an be passive where reviews are concerned - they have to engage, otherwise unhappy customers will post reviews - and those reviews will be read

And this (for the business's own reviews):

Winkworth use our API to custom-display their customers' reviews and feed their score and link to Google to display under 'Reviews from the web'.

We hope this shows you just how relatively important your own reviews and Google reviews are compared to those from other sources - especially on mobile. Even for the rarely used search term 'Winkworth Kennington reviews' a mobile search now shows this:

 'Reviews from the web' - again, the business's own reviews gathered using HelpHound software

As opposed to this on desktop:

One independent site - allAgents - gets shown in this search, albeit with Google reviews - in the Knowledge Panel - and the business's own reviews, star rating, score and number of reviews (right under their organic listing) taking precedence.

Your reasurrance

As review managers HelpHound's duty is to you - our clients - first, last and always. There were times in the past when we recommended independent review sites and there may well be again at some future date; if and when that is the case you can be sure to read about it here.


Friday 2 June 2017

Negative reviews - is there any remedy?

This is a question that comes up daily, in fact about half of our inbound calls are prompted by it. Negative reviews of businesses hurt - some more than others. Let us explain...

Businesses on the web break down into three main categories:
  1. Businesses with established reviews presences - hundreds of reviews on Google and other sites - Yelp, TripAdvisor, Trustpilot etc.
  2. Businesses with few reviews on the web - anywhere
  3. Businesses with no reviews at all
Let's look at examples of all three...

1. The 'established' business

2. The business with 'few reviews'

3. The business with 'no reviews' 

Yes - we know that Noble Caledonia have 26 reviews - now. But six months ago they had none. Bear with us (see below).

The point is that all businesses are vulnerable to negative reviews - let's see just how vulnerable:

The Ritz

Just a few months ago the Ritz had a hard-won score of 4.6 on Google - showing in every search. Then they threatened to sue the Ritz Ballroom in Brighouse and some of the Yorkshire locals took to Google to express their discontent - by writing one-star reviews.

The Ritz is possibly one of the very few hotels in London that has built a reputation strong enough to cope with a drop in their score to 4.2; most other hotels, finding themselves in anything like that position would have been forced to cut rate to maintain occupancy. That's how sensitive to review scores the market is.


Last year the Nearwater bed and breakfast in St Mawes received a single one-star review - driving its Google score down from a near-perfect 4.9 to a marginally less impressive 4.7. But worse was to come - because they had few reviews in total that one star stood out like a sore thumb, and bookings dried right up.

A demonstrably malicious review - but it remained on Google until HelpHound intervened (it is actually a review of a TV programme, the reviewer has no personal knowledge of the business whatsoever)

The review had been written by someone who had never stayed, but had seen the Nearwater featured on Channel 4s 'Four in a Bed'. The owner tried everything - contacting Google in the UK and in India - before HelpHound saw the article in the newspapers and volunteered our services. The full story - and its happy ending - is here.

Noble Caledonia

No reviews at all a year ago, a single negative complaining about a wrong phone number eight months ago  - and then one of their cruise ships hits a reef in Indonesia. Result? Twenty four one star reviews. - and a very off-putting score on Google. An example of a business that had not engaged with reviews and will now be rapidly evaluating what is the best proactive policy to pursue.

  The business on the left is one disgruntled customer away from a score of 1.0 like the business on the right

  • all businesses need a proactive review management policy
  • those with many reviews are still vulnerable
  • those with few reviews are far more vulnerable
  • those with no reviews are the most vulnerable of all

The point?

All three of these businesses are - in a sense - lucky, they have so obviously been the victim of a category of review that Google generally find it pretty easy to delete. If they are approached in the correct manner (more on that later).

But there are more categories of reviews - equally harmful - that are not nearly so clear-cut, at least not from Google's point-of-view...
  • the [clever*] disgruntled ex-member of staff
  • the [clever*] competitor
  • the non-customer with an axe to grind
  • the 'friend/relation' of a dissatisfied customer
  • the misleading review
  • the factually inaccurate review
 *'clever' means someone who covers up their real relationship with the business, usually masquerading - and writing their review -  as a bona-fide customer

The legal position

Any criticism of a business is, under UK law, prima facie, libellous. That means that any business could, in theory, challenge any negative review, its author (the reviewer) and its publisher (the website).

But would it? 'Business bullies customer' is never a great headline, so any business is going to think long and hard before resorting to legal action, and will rightly examine all the alternatives. And sites like Google are going to stand foursquare behind negative reviews - and their reviewers - that they believe to be written with sincere motives.

But there are avenues to follow

Google don't make it easy (you would not expect them to). But if the review that is harming your business has been written with impure motives or with pure motive but in ignorance of pertinent facts - or, importantly, is in contravention of Google's review policies - a properly constructed appeal to Google does have a good chance of success.

HelpHound and appeals

We have been constructing appeals for our clients for nearly four years now. From today we will be offering this appeals service to every business, whether it be a HelpHound client on not. 

 A draft appeal - accuracy and know-how are essential if any degree of success is to be achieved

We will not advise you to tilt at windmills; we will assess every case on its own merits and advise you before any agreement is made. After that we will draft your appeal and forward it to you will detailed step-by-step instructions on how to submit it.


Our standard fee for clients is £150 per appeal. For non-clients our standard Terms of Engagement will apply.