Tuesday 18 December 2018

Independent estate agents - a great case-history

You've seen what HelpHound has done for the likes of Winkworth and Greene & Co, but how about a single branch independent? Well David Simpson, MD of Shepherds in Hertford, posted this on Linkedin yesterday...

...which just shows that you don't need massive muscle to make the most of reviews.

Over the time that Shepherds have been members they have seen many so-called reviews solutions come and go - from allAgents to Rateragent to Feefo to Trustpilot - the first plods on, the second evaporated some time ago, the third appears to have retreated back to online retail and the fourth has not been shown up in a great light by one of its most high-profile estate agency clients. Meanwhile HelpHound has helped Shepherds build up a virtually unrivalled position in its local search marketplace, by helping them focus on getting reviews to where they really matter: to their own website and to Google.

Here they are in the two most popular searches, first 'estate agent Hertford'...

...and next 'estate agents Hertford...

...in map search...

...passing the Google filter - you bet! And in their Google knowledge panel...

...helping to power some great SEO.

And on their website...

Oh! And not to forget, unlike many of their competitors (who are cherry-picking customers to write reviews) they are compliant with the CMA regulations - because anyone can write a review, at any time, just by clicking this button...

We cannot take all the credit - David and his team provide a first-class service (that is evident from reading their customers' reviews - a handful might be misleading, but 500+?) - but it does show just how important it is to choose the right reviews solution in the first place.

Monday 17 December 2018

'Yelp! is over' - really?

Well, it was on Jezebel yesterday. Not blowing our own trumpet, but lots of businesses rely on HelpHound to keep up-to-date with what's happening in the world of reviews, so here's what we said in 2016...

...and here's the full text of that article. To save you reading it, it made these important points...

  1. Independent reviews sites are over - Google has replaced them (with Facebook second).
  2. Compliance is key - no matter how great your review management strategy makes you look, if it does not comply with the CMA regulations your are putting your business at risk
  3. Moderation is essential - otherwise people will post factually inaccurate reviews that will mislead potential customers and harm your business

...and more to the point, those businesses that acted on it now look brilliant in search, where it matters most, and without breaking the law.

Saturday 15 December 2018

Incentivising for reviews - your questions answered

This topic is being brought up by clients with increasing frequency - mostly because there is just so much misunderstanding and uncertainty surrounding it. Lurking behind the question is the reality that, without the business in question taking some action or other, no one - no one at all, unless, of course, they have an agenda - will write a review. Why should they? Unless, that is, they are in some way connected to the business. 

Think we are exaggerating? According to Wikipedia, Aviva has 33 million customers. Looks like .0000004 per cent of them have written a review (actually, if you look at the reviews themselves - all of them ratings - we reckon most have been done by members of staff)!

So, the first point that we all need to agree on: your business needs to take action to get reviews written.

Next, for a sizeable minority of businesses, the obvious solution seems to be to select those customers most likely to write a glowing - and that means five star - review, and ask them. This is illegal. It is known as cherry-picking (even by the regulators) and if your business is considering doing it now is the time to look for - legal - alternatives.

A subset of that strategy is also illegal: paying customers to write reviews. Besides being illegal it contravenes Google's terms and conditions, so you risk Google taking down all your reviews.

So, before we go on to tell you what you can do, let's summarise the 'don'ts'...

  • Don't selectively invite customers to write reviews - it's illegal
  • Don't use a system that locks out categories of reviewers - it's illegal
  • Don't use a system that only allows customers to write a review when you invite them - it's illegal
  • Don't offer incentives - cash, Amazon vouchers, discounts, we've seen them all - to people to write reviews, to Google or anywhere else - it's illegal

The solution

That red 'write a review' button - the key to compliance

First and foremost: you must have a mechanism on your website that allows anyone to write a review - to you - at any time they choose. Some businesses initially object to both 'anyone' and 'any time' until it is pointed out to them that not allowing both of these is simply forcing the person set on writing the review to write it direct to Google. And those who are most motivated to write a review? Those with a negative opinion to express.

The next - and we strongly recommend this, especially for high value service businesses - independent moderation. Where complex transactions are involved (legal, accountancy, financial, medical, estate agency etc.) we estimate that at least fifty per cent of all negative reviews written contain factual inaccuracies or potentially misleading comments, and these benefit neither the potential customer or the business under review. 

Getting positive reviews

Now to the nub of this article: you have already enabled all your customers to write a review, so your business is compliant. Now you need to get the reviews rolling in. 

N.B. The following advice is not guesswork, it is the result of many years' tried-and-tested experience. 

First: what will not work...
  • emailing customers - response rates to stand-alone emails are very low
  • texting customers - the quality of 'reviews' is very low, often one word or an emoticon
  • sending cards/letters to customers - save the planet!
...unless your business will be happy with a response rate of plus/minus one per cent.

So: our standard advice to new clients...

...and see what happens. The above strategy will work for most businesses, providing it is scrupulously followed - and that means picking up the telephone.

So what about incentivising?

Clients have seen great results by adopting the following strategies, over and above those already discussed...
  • competitions amongst staff - often involving team rewards
  • individual rewards - financial or otherwise - per review written
There is nothing in the CMA regulations, or Google's T&Cs, that prohibits incentivising staff (did you realise that Richer Sounds, a business built firmly on its excellent CRM, pays showroom staff for every feedback form returned by customers?). 

Points to bear in mind: 
  • ensure the incentive is accurately targeted - to reward the specific member of staff that gets the review (we have seen instances when sales staff were rewarded but admin staff were responsible for getting the reviews!)
  • competitions can result in a run-away winner - and can therefore have a demoralising effect on 'losers', so be careful when designing yours
  • it is tempting to attempt to 'build Rome in a day' and then be disappointed when it's not - set yourself reasonable targets for both reviews to your own site and reviews to Google/Facebook etc. Remember that two reviews a month will results in twenty-four in a year and sixty in three years. We advise our clients to work hard to achieve the first hundred reviews on their own website and fifty to Google for the simple reason that their score will not then be adversely impacted by a single negative review

Like this (an example of a client that has adopted our 'standard advice' - i.e. not incentivised staff)...

...on their own site, and this, in search (drawn from the reviews on their site)...

...and this, on Google

...and this, in local search...

...and again, in mobile local search...

Here's a instance where we know staff have been rewarded...

...and on their own site?

Thursday 13 December 2018

Selecting customers to write reviews - the less obvious consequence

Clients and regular readers will be all too aware that the UK government has rules regarding customer reviews. Clients need not concern themselves because they are already compliant - by having HelpHound's 'write a review' button on your websites. But those yet to join?

If your business - or any of your employees - are selecting customers to write reviews, anywhere, but especially to Google, you are not in compliance with the CMA regulationsLet's be clear about these; they are not, as we sometimes hear, 'guidelines', they are regulations with the force of law.

But there are other, perhaps more immediate, implications that can have serious repercussions for your business. Take the following real-life example...

Non-compliance in a competitive marketplace

Business A hires a member of staff from business B (a competitor). You know the kind of thing, it happens all the time. But in this instance the new member of staff comes with a nugget of information in addition to all the usual baggage. The conversation goes something like this...

Director of business 'A': 'How does business 'B' have so many great reviews and so few negatives with such a great Google score?'

New staff member: 'We were told to select customers who were most likely to write a five star review and then do whatever was needed to get the review written to Google'.

Director: 'Were you aware that the regulators don't allow that?

New staff: 'Yes - but we were in such a competitive market the directors insisted.'

Now we move on to Business A's next Monday morning briefing meeting; the usual things are discussed, but just before the meeting breaks up the director says...

'I would like to tell you all the reason Business B's reviews and scores look so good: they are cherry-picking.'

Staff member: 'What do you think we should do about that?'

Director: 'If a potential clients references Business A in conversation, and especially their great reviews and scores, you should point out to them the reason they look so good.'

We will leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to the reaction of any potential customer of a business when informed that the business in question is breaking the law (and in such a way as to wilfully mislead customers).

Meanwhile, for those new to the CMA regulations - here is the full text of their letter to businesses along with our point-by-point analysis.

Businesses should also be aware of the following - from Google's own T&Cs:

'Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.'

Monday 10 December 2018

Review Rescue - a new service from HelpHound

You are reading this article because your business currently scores 4.4 or less on Google, like this...

or this...

or this...

or even this...

...and you know you need to take action. The only issue is 'what kind of action'? Please read on...

Here are two questions...

First: What is your reaction when you see businesses that score like these on Google?

Is it...

a)  'Avoid them like the plague', or...

b)  'Ignore them (the scores) and carry on', or...

c)  'Feel sorry that the image of the business may have been unfairly tarnished by a tiny minority of highly-motivated dissatisfied customers'?

Second: do you use the Google filter when searching for businesses?

a)  'Yes', or...

b)  'No', or... 

c)  'Never heard of it'*

*We use the word 'heard' here advisedly - you will have 'seen' the filter but may not have 'noticed' it or been conscious of it. Google introduced it into map search first and then, when it proved popular (Google never do anything by accident) they migrated it to mobile - where over 70% of searches now take place. This means that savvy searchers are now filtering any business that scores less then 4.5 out of their searches completely. There's more on the Google filter here.

Anyone who has answered 'b' to both these questions is probably so cynical they will be impossible to convince that reviews, Google or otherwise, matter at all. For the rest of us - and academic research suggests we are in the overwhelming majority - let's proceed to the next step. 

In the real world a business that scores under 4.5 out of 5 on Google will fall into one of two categories...

a)  Deserving of such a rating - couldn't-care-less, sloppy customer service, unreliable (in fact, all the things that are said about them in their negative reviews, or...

b)  Generally great at what they do, with effective customer relations strategies in place and staff committed to delivering a high standard of service but as yet to engage with Google reviews**

**Important note (1): there are currently many businesses that think they have a viable solution to Google reviews: they simply hand-pick customers they they have a very good reason to think will post a five star review. This is, for reasons which I am sure you will appreciate after some thought, against the law in the UK. It also runs the risk of the business being sanctioned by Google for what they call 'gating'. For more on the UK government regulations relating to this, please read this article.

At HelpHound we are - self-evidently - only interested in helping businesses that fall fairly-and-squarely into the second category. Why? Because our service only works for businesses in that category - we cannot (and would not) work to enable a shoddy business to look good.

The issue we are addressing is straightforward - by now almost every business on the planet is receiving Google reviews. But thanks to the element of human nature already alluded to often perfectly good businesses are finding their image is being unfairly tarnished. If your business is showing signs of any of the following...

  • An unfairly low Google score 
  • A low Google score by comparison with your competitors, which, again you feel to be undeserved
  • Feedback from customers*** referring to reviews that you consider to be unfair, inaccurate or misleading

***Important note (2):You won't necessarily know your business is being hurt - potential customers don't walk into your premises and say 'I'm not using you because I've read your reviews' but that is exactly what happens. You are much more likely to get the flip side of this when you have great scores and reviews: 'I chose your business first because you look great by comparison with your competitors in search.'

You will know when reviews are working for you though - business will pick up by a marked - and measurable - extent. Just look at these results...

...and read the full story here.

The solution

We call it 'HelpHound intensive'. For a period - usually not exceeding six months - we will place your business and its review management processes into an intensive care programme which, providing your business fulfils the criteria mentioned above, will achieve the following...
  1. A score in excess of 4.5 on your own website
  2. A score in excess of 4.5 on Google
  3. A minimum of fifty reviews on your own website
  4. A minimum of twenty-five reviews on Google
...but you won't need to wait six months to see the benefits - the Google My Business report for Curchods you see above was sent to them within weeks of joining (and they had started from scratch).

No smoke and mirrors

Everything we advise you to do will be in compliance with the CMA regulations. Everything we advise you to do will be 'best advice' for your business - no one-size-fits-all widgets, just pure professional advice. 

A note about reviews sites

These sites - certainly for high-value professional and transactional service businesses - have been dealt a death-blow by Google. Since Google reviews became the vehicle of choice for those wanting to 'get back' at businesses that they see - rightly or wrongly - have done them a disservice, we have noticed a very common, and harmful, syndrome that has now reached epidemic proportions: it's called 'deflection' and it means that happy customers are writing to the business's reviews site of choice and unhappy customers are writing to Google, meaning that the business looks much worse than it should on Google. If you suspect that your business has fallen - or may fall - victim to this, please read this article carefully.

And finally...

Like any other professional adviser, we stand or fall on the value of our ongoing service to you, our client - so we don't tie you into any kind of contract.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Recruitment and Google reviews

You are looking for a recruitment consultant. You may be a business looking to recruit staff or someone looking for a career move, so what process will you be going through? Personal recommendation? Industry specialists? The web? Almost certainly a combination of all three, but whatever route you adopt, one thing is for sure, at some stage in the process you will be conducting an online search.

Recruitment consultants and the web

The world of recruitment has come late to Google reviews. Here is a London-based search that is typical of any - UK-wide...

...and what do we see? We see a massive opportunity for any recruitment consultant that succeeds with Google reviews to stand out like a beacon. But before we go ahead and examine that opportunity in detail, let's first pause and consider why reviews matter for recruitment and then why recruitment has not - yet - engaged.

Why reviews matter

Reviews matter because people are influenced by them. How? Well, superficially we have all become conditioned to notice Google scores. We will prefer a business that scores 4.8 over one that scores 3.1 - but where important decisions are concerned, choosing a medical specialist, an estate agent or financial adviser or, I am sure we would all agree, a recruitment consultant, we will read the actual reviews themselves. Here are the first four reviews of one of the agencies listed above...

...so why, assuming they do a decent job for the majority of their clients and applicants, do they allow this impression to persist in search? The answer is almost certainly twofold. First: ignorance - you might be surprised just how many businesses we meet that are unaware of their image in search, they simply didn't know they looked so bad (and nor, in the majority of cases, did they know that they could respond to their reviews). The second, and this is more common than many people think, is fear. Fear of opening their business up to (even more) criticism.

It doesn't have to be this way

Here is a recruitment consultant we met this time last year...

...and here they are now...

...it's the same business. The only difference is that they have engaged with Google reviews.

Managing out the fear

As you can see, from the screenshots above and from any search for 'recruitment consultant' wherever you may be - recruitment consultants that have not engaged with Google now show poorly, often very poorly indeed. In some cases this may be deserved, but in over ten years' experience as review managers we usually find that unengaged businesses look far worse in search than in reality, simply because 'not engaging' as a strategy allows disgruntled reviewers a free run at the business in question's online reputation.

All that needs to happen in the overwhelming majority of cases is a determination to address the issue by the business concerned combined with the support of a professional review manager like HelpHound.

The business...

...determines to invite its stakeholders to post reviews. It's as simple as that.


...provides moderation. Not to deflect genuine negative reviews - that would be against the CMA regulations* - but to enable the business and the reviewer to engage in a dialogue before the review is published should the review in question contain factual inaccuracies or the potential to mislead readers. And to mitigate the 'fear'.

We also provide the software to enable the business to invite the reviews to the business's own website and then get them copied across to Google by the reviewer.

*N.B. Most business's reaction - right across the spectrum - when first engaging with reviews, is to ask their 'happy' clients to post to Google. This is known as 'cherry-picking' and is in contravention of the CMA regulations. These state that if a business invites any of its customers to post a review it must allow them all, and at a time of their own choosing. That is why HelpHound's moderation is so vital, and why you will see a button like this - 'Write a review' - on all our clients' websites:

Monday 26 November 2018

HelpHound - taking the 'fear' out of reviews for businesses

Almost every business we meet is afraid of engaging with reviews - at least they are 'afraid' of engaging with Google reviews. And this fear is well founded. In this article we will look at why businesses are right to be concerned just how they engage with Google reviews and what solutions they should be adopting.

The issues...

1.  Human nature 

If a business has 1000 customers, and let us, for this exercise's sake, assume 97 per cent of them are happy and the business then invites all* of them to write a review they should expect a satisfaction rating of 97 out of 100, right? Wrong. In a study, Harvard Business School worked out that an unhappy customer is about fifteen time more likely to write a review. The impact of that statistic on these numbers? They are skewed violently against the business. In terms of a Google score, where one could expect an overall response to an email inviting reviews of about one per cent, the figures would work out something like this...

...giving a Google score of 3.7 and failing the Google filter.

So: Fear No. 1 - the fear of having your business damaged by disproportionate negative reviews.

2.  Google's T&Cs

We are often asked 'Can we get this - unfair/inaccurate/misleading/fake/malicious - Google review taken down?' The answer is: rarely. We have numerous instances on file where the business owner has told us that such a review is severely damaging their new business, their relationship with their existing customers or their ability to recruit staff.

Fear No. 2 - the fear of unfair/inaccurate/misleading/fake/malicious reviews harming your business

3.  The CMA regulations

These state that a business that invites any of its customers to post a review must allow all of its customers to do so - and at a time of their own choosing. Think about this for a minute: if you needed to rely on reviews and chose a business based on their reviews and score, how pleased would you be if you subsequently found out that only their nailed-on happy customers were invited to write a review and others could not, however hard they tried? Or that they especially timed the invitation to coincide with when the reviewer was bound to respond positively?

Fear No. 3 - that by complying with the law you will be harming your business.

What, then, does your business need?

It needs a mechanism that...

  • complies with the CMA regulations
  • enables your business to manage unfair/inaccurate/misleading/fake/malicious before they are posted to Google (or anywhere else)
  • allows your business to counteract the inherently unbalancing effect of human nature
And the name of that mechanism? Review management.

Professional review management...
  • complies with the CMA regulations - by allowing all of your customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing
  • enables your business to manage unfair/inaccurate/misleading/fake/malicious before they are posted to Google - in fact, before they are posted to the business's own website
  • allows your business to counteract the inherently unbalancing effect of human nature - by encouraging and enabling more of its satisfied customers to post reviews, to its own website and to Google

The process...

It all begins with the button you see here - 'Write a review'...

...on your own website. The minute that appears your business complies with the CMA regulations (because you are allowing any customer to write a review at any time of their own choosing).

Next - when the reviewer submits their review - it is read by a moderator. If it contains anything that might reasonably be expected to mislead a reader - be that inaccurate, misleading, fake or malicious content - the moderator will then invite the reviewer and the business to resolve whatever issue has been raised*.

The review is then posted on the business's own site...

...and the reviewer is then asked to copy it to Google...

...which many will, especially if they are encouraged by their contact at the business.

Resulting in the business looking like this on their own website....

...and like this when they are looked up on Google...

...and, perhaps most important of all, like this when they are looked up in a competitive or local search...

And the results?

Look at what engaging with review management did for this business...

...for more on this read this article.

So: another business that was just as 'fearful' as yours when it first considered reviews and concerned about just how it could look as good as it deserved on Google without endangering its reputation has achieved all its objectives thanks to professional review management. 

*Please don't get the impression that review management will in any way allow your business to deflect genuinely held negative opinions: that's down to your own business practices. For more on how professional moderation benefits both business and consumer read this article.