Monday 18 December 2017

Hotels - now you need HelpHound more than ever

By importing reviews from external sites, Google increases the chance that your hotel will be subject to inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews

You will almost certainly have seen the change Google have made recently - they are now importing external reviews into your Google listing.

What they are not doing, for better or worse, is importing (or aggregating) the scores from those reviews. So it's content only, for the time being.


Nominally in the name of 'enhanced content', but also in order to defend itself against accusations of unfairly abusing its virtual monopoly position (you only have to look at the share prices of the OTAs to see the negative impact Google reviews have made).

For consumers

All positive: a one-stop destination for reviews: Google

For hotels

Consumers - increasingly searching for 'best' on Google, will find reviews of your hotel more easily. But if your hotel attracts anything but glowing reviews, then those, no matter where they were posted originally, will be shown by Google.

For the reviews sites

Not good: why should hotels make all that effort to get reviews to TripAdvisor when their guests are increasingly using Google - and Google reviews - as their reference point?

From the HelpHound perspective

We have been strong advocates of Google reviews for some considerable time now - and this move just goes to reinforce that view - the reviews forums are full of posts like these...

...with reviewers moving across from other reviews sites to Google. The key is now to find the most effective way to ensure an accurate reflection of your property in reviews, no matter what the platform - and this is where HelpHound comes in.

The bald numbers - that HelpHound members will generally expect to receive around 25% more positive reviews and 75% less negative reviews - hide an important mechanism. HelpHound does not exist to prevent consumers posting negative reviews, its role is to ensure that reviews are, as far as practically possible, accurate

HelpHound's Resolution™ - more here - is designed to enable both consumer and business to correct errors of fact and potentially misleading reviews before they are published. Anyone who writes a review through HelpHound has the right to have that review published.
To summarise...

Helphound membership will ensure that your hotel looks as good as it should on whatever platform - from Google to TripAdvisor to and all the other OTAs and reviews sites. It's as simple as that.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Successful marketers devote more of their budgets to strategic experimentation

One of our most important resources is 'Think with Google' - required weekly reading for professional internet marketers.

In this this week's article the following caught our eye...

...because so many businesses are yet to 'test' review management.

Testing review management

Here are the considerations most businesses have when looking to test any new marketing tool...
  1. Results: should be measurable
  2. Cost: should be defined 
  3. Disruption: should be kept to a minimum
Let's examine each of these in detail - and in relation to testing HelpHound


These split into two categories: financial and visible

Up until this year financial results were only measurable anecdotally; that was fine, but it did rely on businesses having effective staff feedback mechanisms in place. This all changed when Google introduced their Google My Business monthly report - showing the impact of adopting review management in hard numbers: the rise in website visits and calls to the business.

  We would expect clients to be seeing results like these within months of joining

'Visible' results consist of 'before and after' like this ('before'):

To this (now)...

...and this...


Until recently adopting professional review management involved businesses in two types of expenditure:
  • HelpHound: our initial design and implementation fee and our ongoing monthly fee
  • The business's own website: implementation by the business's web designers
Now we have eliminated the second of these for the 'test' phase. For new clients we are able to host our review gathering software on our own servers, eliminating the second of these cost points until the process has been embedded and thoroughly tested and proven by our client business.


Similarly, any disruption in terms of both design and implementation onto the business's own website is deferred until the business is certain of the long-term benefits. 

In summary

Now you can see how easy it is to apply Google's exhortation to 'strategic experimentation' to your own marketing - welcome to HelpHound and professional review management for your business in 2018.

How about this for Christmas cheer?

For those that have yet to join - look like this by Easter... local search... 

in the Google maps 3-pack and leading the way in natural search organic search...

 Stars, rating and reviews - drawing the searcher's attention to your listing, increasing clicks through to your website your Google knowledge panel (showing in every search)... 'Reviews from the web' with a link direct to your website... the rich snippets Google shows in every search... the Google reviews themselves...

 ...on the home page of your own website...

...and a click away...

...start driving business through Google...

  Every business wants as much proof positive that their marketing is working as it can; with HelpHound you will get it - direct from Google 

...and your own website to reward yourselves with a great boost in 2018.

P.S. Now, for those yet to come board, there will only be one lingering doubt: that you may be at risk of inviting - and therefore displaying - inaccurate or misleading reviews. Fear not, read all about how HelpHound's Resolution™ process takes the 'fear' out of inviting reviews here.

For HelpHound members...

Spread the cheer - and benefit at the same time. Become a HelpHound Ambassador.

HelpHound Ambassadors

HelpHound Ambassadors introduce us to their business contacts - it's as simple as that...

 ...then they leave the rest to us.

Our Ambassadors are influential individuals or client companies, often both (some of you reading this will have been introduced by one). Both are rewarded in the same way - they earn a percentage of the first year's fees received by HelpHound. It does not cost the 'introduced' business a penny - and they often go on to become Ambassadors themselves.

What better way to say 'thank you' and 'Merry Christmas' to your business connections this year than introducing them to the benefits of professional review management?

Sunday 10 December 2017

Online reviews - a 'Five star world of fakery'

So ran the headline in Saturday's Times...

...and we agree.

What? HelpHound agrees? 'Tell me more', we hear you say. Alright, but first, for those of you who don't have a subscription to the Times (link for those who do in the opening line, above) we will precis Janice's article...

She starts with a fairly common-or-garden complaint about the number of invitations to review everything from her Uber driver to sheets from John Lewis and the local McDonalds. She then answers her own unspoken question (why do businesses ask for reviews?) by quoting the Competition and Markets Authority's statistic: that £23 billion of spending is influenced by reviews. She goes further, by saying how useful her husband's research into holiday restaurants is. Then follows the story of Oobah Butler's fake restaurant that made it to number one on TripAdvisor - now we're cooking (forgive the awful pun).

"Amazon and TripAdvisor say they can detect frauds." 


Anyone can set up an account with TripAdvisor - as Oobah Butler did - and write fake reviews, even multiple accounts and multiple fake reviews. We have met businesses who openly admit to commissioning staff or outside agencies to do so (did you know you can even bulk buy 'temporary' email addresses so your fake reviews cannot be tracked?). It is the same with every reviews site on the planet. We have highlighted many examples on these pages over the years. There are sites that are nearly fake-review-proof - but they have other downsides (more on that later - see * below).

If reviews - genuine reviews - were not so massively helpful, to both businesses and consumers, we would give up. But they are, so we won't.

Advice to Consumers

  This Google review of tea at the Ritz is almost certainly genuine: written by a Google Local Guide (identifiable by the star) who has written dozens of reviews of other businesses

Wherever possible, read Google reviews. These days they are almost all attached to a real person. Look for reviewers who have posted multiple reviews, or even better, trust Google Local Guides.

A plea to Google: your reviews would have even more credibility if...
  • you insisted they were all attached to a bona-fide Google Plus identity
  • you deleted all the old reviews listed anonymously under 'A Google user'
  • you suspended the rating function (effectively a review without text) it helps no-one and is frustrating for consumer and business alike

Advice to Businesses

Focus on Google reviews. They are so much more visible than any reviews from an independent site and are massively more trusted by consumers (with good reason - see above; and a recent survey by the property portal Rightmove found that consumers trusted Google reviews up to ten times more than those on independent reviews sites). 

The reward for looking great on Google - more business - is worth the effort. If you are concerned that your customers may harm your business by writing factually incorrect or potentially misleading reviews, and need a mechanism for minimising the chances of that happening, then HelpHound is here for you. 

* and Feefo are two interesting examples: a review can only be written on if the reviewer has booked their hotel room through the site - and that works fine, as long as the actual person making the booking agrees with any other guests (partner/tour party) on the gist of their review, because the other parties will not be able to write a review, at least not on Feefo is a variation on this theme, with one major difference: they rely on the business to provide the email addresses - we reckon this works brilliantly for online retail but has significant flaws for more complex transactions and service-related businesses: how many estate agents resist the temptation to leave that stroppy tenant's email address off the list? In the real world this kind of 'cherry-picking' has the effect of making the business look great on the - nigh invisible - reviews site and considerably less great on Google, where everyone sees the negative reviews posted by those who were never invited to write a review on the independent site (for more see here).

Pinnacles restaurant responds to reviews - and how!

Here's an example:

...and here is their listing on TripAdvisor. When you have finished laughing (or crying, depending on your take) there are serious lessons to be learned.


The first is that if a fish and chip shop can make the time and take the effort, so can any business. It is now accepted fact that consumers will choose a business that responds to review over one that does not.

The second is the quality of response. Compare this from the Ritz...

...we are not for one moment suggesting that the Ritz take a leaf out of Pinnacles' book as to tone, but content? Certainly - Pinnacles' responses address the issues raised by their reviewers, and this impresses readers. Mostly the Ritz, when addressing negative reviews, adopts the all-too-common approach of 'we have dealt with this privately' or 'please contact us/we will contact you' which leaves the reader of the review none-the-wiser.

The third? Pinnacles' is not perfect - In common with a huge swathe of the hospitality industry - from hotels to restaurants to B&Bs, Pinnacles' focus is on TripAdvisor. Google has been neglected...

...with a low score and reviews left unanswered. Hospitality would do well to remember that Google reviews are seen first, especially mobile, and give them just as much attention as those on TripAdvisor and the OTAs.

If you are in any doubt as to the mechanics of responding to reviews on Google, or any other platform - or if you feel a review is incorrect or unfair and would like advice on appealing it (as did Nearwater in St Mawes in this interesting case) just call us and we will advise you.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Google Local Guides - there are downsides

We introduced you to Google Local Guides here. It's a great system - especially for consumers, especially because they know for sure that they are reading a review by a 'real' person, but there are some downsides.

How so?

People, being people, have differing character traits, some are motivated by greed, some by altruism, and Google Local Guides are no exception. Google rewards guides for writing more reviews, correcting maps and much more...

...and, for the overwhelming majority, that's just what they do. But a minority can get carried away. Just like the boy collecting stamps, they can be in a hurry to 'fill that page'. In Google terms: 'in a hurry to reach the next level' (or even to get an invitation to the holy grail of Local Guides - the annual summit in San Francisco).

That, of itself, is not a problem - what could go wrong? Well, as Yelp - who invented the concept with their 'Yelp Elite' - know only too well, some people get carried away. We have just seen evidence of this, where a client of ours was reviewed by a Local Guide.

The review - a 1* negative - was posted last week. were thirty-eight further reviews; all one-liners (nothing wrong with that, no contravention of Google T&Cs)...

...taking the reviewer to level 5 from level 2...

Where do we take issue?

Google reviews are powerful - people do take notice of them, whether consciously or unconsciously, of that there is not a smidgin of lingering doubt. They create an instant first impression - through both the score and the content of the reviews.

We are suggesting that Google modify their T&Cs, which currently look like this:

There are two important issues here: the first is contained in the grey highlighted box: 'the review breaks the law'; in a nutshell this means it is libelous (accusing the business or a staff member of acting illegally) and the second is the four categories under 'Violation type' - which, significantly, excludes 'This post is untrue'. 

The reason for that exclusion is that Google do not want to get involved in arbitrating between two parties in a commercial disagreement, and that is fair enough, as far as it goes. But we would contend that Google reviews carry so much power and influence that there should be some burden on the reviewer to verify their comments if the business flags the review as 'untrue' (as it is in this case), especially in the case of high value businesses - it is time to stop treating pizza parlours and the professions the same way with reviews.

Google would respond by saying that the business has the right-of-reply (and our client has replied to the review above) but there is no right-of-reply to the damage the 1* score has done to the business's overall score (they are recent clients and are just starting out on their journey with reviews).


We would strongly suggest that aggregate scores should be irrelevant for certain types of service business - it's OK to choose a pizza because the parlour scores 4.4 out of 5, but a lawyer or a wealth manager? People should be reading the content of the reviews.

Two very similar businesses in the same location - very different profiles on Google. If they both received a 1* review tomorrow the one on the right's score would remain at 4.9 and the one on the left's would fall to 3.0 - failing the Google filter. Another? (it's not beyond the realms of possibility - their first review was written by a Local Guide, and we've already established how some of them behave): the score for our cleint remains the same, the other business falls to 2.3. 

But before that particular pig flies (it is a conundrum that Google - and other reviews solutions - will have to address eventually, but we don't advise holding your breath) - our advice to our clients is to build critical mass with their reviews. Your Google score is a pure mathematical average, so the impact of a single 1* review is far less if you have lots of four and five star reviews, but don't forget that those considering high-value businesses will read the actual content of your reviews - always the negatives first, so meanwhile do everything you can to minimise the chances of someone being given cause to write such a review.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Purplebricks and Trustpilot - and now Feefo

We wish someone from either Purplebricks or Trustpilot would tell the world what is going on. Why? Because we - and many others, if the flurry of comments on estate agency news sites and forums is anything to go by, are intrigued, to say the least.

At HelpHound we moderate thousands of reviews every month - and have done for longer than some of us care to remember, so we know what a genuine review looks like. 

Something like this (don't be thrown by the differing designs, most of our clients have bespoke reviews feeds)...

Or this...

Or this...

Or this...

Or this... 

...and what do they all have in common? They invariably refer to details of the transaction - sale or letting. In fact the word 'sale' appears in every one - and we haven't cherry-picked them, they all come from page one of each of the clients' reviews.

In contrast, here are some of the most recent reviews of Purplebricks (again, all from page one)...

What do they have in common? They don't include details of the transaction, and the word 'sale' or 'completion' is notable by its absence - the closest one gets is the last one that mentions the 'sales process'. 

Odd? Well it certainly goes against our experience - if anyone thinks they know the answer please don't hesitate to comment here.

...and now Feefo

This is their latest advertisement in the trade press:

  A score of 4.1 is just 0.2 away from failing the Google filter

Bear in mind that this screenshot of Romans Basingstoke's Google knowledge panel will have, we assume, been carefully hand-picked, what does it show? It shows, yet again, that if you employ an independent reviews site you will drive negative reviews to Google. There are eleven like this a click away...

...going to prove that you have to choose a reviews solution that focuses on Google.

Monday 4 December 2017

Reviews - credibility is all

The ongoing saga of Purplebricks and allAgents has brought the spotlight well and truly onto reviews. Purplebricks 'adding' Feefo on Friday has only amplified interest - a very good thing, in our opinion. Many of you will have read our take on this here, so we will confine ourselves to the central issue in this article...

Why would any business pay for an independent reviews solution when Google reviews are...
  • free
  • highly visible 
  • credible  
 Let's look at those three in detail...


Any business can invite its customers to write a review to Google, without paying Google a penny. 

'Highly visible' 

No independent site can come close to Google for visibility (see screenshots below). Score and link straight to reviews in the knowledge panel - the reviews tab front-and-central in mobile search - even without the schema in organic search and 'Reviews for the web' it trumps all the independent sites hands down.


One of the inherent failings of reviews sites is that they tend to actively drive dissatisfied consumers to write a review to Google - undoing all the hard work that has gone into getting reviews to the site
For us this is the clincher. Anyone can write a review to Google - and, yes, that can include fakes (competitors or disgruntled ex-employees) but that is a strength, not a weakness. These fakes are so easily spotted - and, after all is said and done, the business has an automatic right-of-reply to every review, so they are at liberty to 'out' them as well.

The positive, which far outweighs any negatives, is that Google reviews have, for some years now, had to be attached to a G+ account. Just look at this review - does it look 'fake' to you?

...and this one?

Written by someone who had simply been on a viewing, so strictly speaking not a 'customer', but would you want a system that excludes people like this?

The question businesses should be asking themselves is not 'which reviews solution should we adopt?' but 'why shouldn't we adopt Google as our reviews solution?' Our answer to that? 'No reason whatsoever'.

So where does HelpHound come in?

 Yes - that is the $64,000 question: how can we add value? Here are the answers...
  1. You need independently verified reviews on your own site - Google reviews are not seen by everyone - and HelpHound provides the mechanism for inviting and publishing these
  2. You need a safety mechanism that allows you an opportunity to correct inaccurate or potentially misleading (or even fake!) reviews pre-publication - that complies with the CMA regulations 
  3. You want a star rating and score in organic/local search? HelpHound will provide it (see the screenshot above)
  4. You want your reviews to show in 'Reviews from the web' in your Google knowledge panel? You've got them (see the screenshot above)
And on top of all that we are here to keep you up-to-date with developments in the reviews world - making sure you are making the very best of all the opportunities out there, all the time.  

Further reading: