Wednesday 30 May 2018

HelpHound and a business - a conversation

This is a summary of the kind of conversation we have with every business we meet for the first time. Not every point is covered in every conversation - some are mutually exclusive, after all - but we hope this will form a useful basis for any business considering the benefits of professional review management for the first time.

We have written this as a Q & A, because that's how these conversations tend to evolve - in both directions.

Q 1: - from HelpHound: 'What steps has your business already taken to engage with reviews?'

A 1a: - from the business 'None - we don't understand the benefits'

A 1b: - 'None - we have considered it, but the idea that we will attract negative reviews has meant that we have done nothing.'

A 1c: - 'We invite our customers to write reviews direct to Google'

A 1d: - 'We invite our customers to write reviews to a reviews site'

We then mine down into those four answers...

A 1a: - 'None'

We ensure that the business understands...

  • that having reviews on their own website will drive enquiries
  • that having reviews on Google will drive enquiries direct and visits to their website

A 1b: - 'None - because we are afraid of negative reviews'

First, we agree. That's the best reason for avoiding reviews altogether. Customers are far more - about 15x more - likely to write a review if they have a complaint, valid or imagined.

Then we say 'If there were a way in which your business could engage with reviews without the risk of attracting inaccurate, misleading or unfair reviews and at the same time mobilising the silent majority of your happy customers to write a review, would you be interested?'

A 1c: - 'We invite our customers to write direct to Google'

Again: great. As long as you invite all of them (selecting 'happy' customers being against the law). But you will be missing out on...
  • independently verified reviews on your own website
  • an opportunity to correct inaccurate, misleading or unfair reviews pre-publication
  • stars, scores and ratings in organic search
  • stars, scores and ratings in the Google knowledge panel

A 1d: - 'We invite our customers to write reviews to a reviews site'

This is the most difficult - or easy - point to answer now, in 2018
  • 'do you realise the harm such a strategy may cause your business?' Reviews sites predate Google reviews, and have, for service businesses at the very least, been superseded by those very Google reviews. Much more detail on this here and here.

Q 2: - from the business: 'Can you guarantee results?'

A 2: - Yes! We cannot guarantee precise numbers or amounts of cash, but we can guarantee the following...
  • having independently verified reviews on your website will drive customers to contact you
  • having a great Google score will drive customers to contact you
  • having stars, scores and ratings in organic search will drive customers to contact you
  • having stars, scores and ratings in local search will drive customers to contact you
  • having HelpHound's Resolution™ moderation will minimise the risk of inaccurate, misleading or unfair reviews appearing - on your own website or on Google
  • you will be able to measure these results every month when you receive your Google My Business report

  You won't need to take our word that we are performing for your business - the evidence will be there in black-and-white, every month, in the form of the Google My Business report every business listed on Google receives. 

Q 3: - from the business: 'Will you support us to ensure HelpHound's review management works for us?'

A 3: - Yes: we are not simply selling software; we are aware that HelpHound is judged by the results our clients achieve, so we support them every inch of the way until those results are achieved, month in, month out, and all the while your remain a client.

Q 4: - from HelpHound: 'So what's stopping you?'

By now the only answer to that question should be 'money/cost'! So let's look at that: HelpHound charges most types of business less than the cost of a (modern!) mobile phone contract a month (and the price of a visit from a half-decent plumber to get your business up-and-running), so just how many more enquiries or calls a month will we need to generate for you - you tell us. That's your answer to this question.

...and there might just be one more - from you:

Q 5: 'How long a contract are we committing to?'

A 5: None - zero - no contract.

Awards - don't be tempted down a blind alley

When we blogged about a client winning at this year's ESTAS - awards for the estate agency industry - we should have predicted the reaction from clients from other walks of life: a resounding 'What?' as in 'What are the ESTAS?' and 'What is their relevance to ordinary members of the public?'

It prompted us to mine a bit deeper. We looked at two things - did the public know about the ESTAS? Was there any 'brand recognition'? And how were agents using their ESTAS 'wins' in their marketing?

Why is this important? It's important because going all out to win an award based on reviews can deflect (that word again!) a business from the main task in hand: looking great where it matters - on the business's own website and on Google.

Here is just one example (and we did not have to look far to find it):

   Consumers are being presented with three choices here: Google reviews, reviews from a reviews website and an industry award. Which holds the trump card?

This needs looking at in some detail. What can we see in this Google knowledge panel? From the top...

The business's Google score - 2.6 - linking direct to their Google reviews...

First impression? Exactly. And, as we all know, it's first impressions that count - above all on the web. 

So what has happened? A shift of focus is what has happened. Away from Google towards the independent reviews site (Feefo) and the ESTAS. The business has sacrificed its image on Google for an award that most (all?) consumers don't recognise. 

  Try wearing this for a day (we are sure you get the point).

Don't recognise? Seriously - ask your customers: 'Have you heard of the ESTAS?' or 'What are the ESTAS?'. We have, and the answer is that no-one, literally no-one, outside estate agency, has heard of the ESTAS or knows what they are. As we know from the recent Rightmove survey, Feefo has only 2% brand recognition, so any guesses for percentage penetration for the ESTAS?

  The reviews on the independent site linking directly from the Google knowledge panel - with very nearly twenty per cent of customers registering dissatisfaction - probably raises more doubts in the mind of the average potential csutomer

All this would be just fine if the businesses in question had not taken their eyes off Google in order to target the award. But the screenshot you see above shows they have done just that - and six out of seven of their recent Google reviews rate them just one or two stars. The impact on their Google score - the benchmark by which they are judged by any dispassionate potential customer - has been nothing short of disastrous. 

What should this business - and businesses like it - be doing?

Focussing on Google and their own websites. If you look at any HelpHound client you will see reviews where they have the greatest impact...

...on Google...

  the star rating at top left, score (4.9) and number of reviews (99) relate to the reviews on the business's own website

...and on their own website...

...and note that adopting professional review management has not meant 'no awards' - far from it - but it has meant the business has not had to sacrifice its image where it matters most to win those awards.

Further reading...

  • Deflection - how channelling reviews to a reviews site invariably harms businesses on Google

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Google reviews - and their staggering reach!

Google reviews - in Google's own words - are 'making a difference'...

Anyone who writes a review to Google - and millions do every day - used to wonder if anyone ever read them. And so did the businesses that were subject to those reviews!

Well, now that Google reports like this...

...those days of 'living in ignorance' are well and truly behind us. Here's another element of the report...

...and for anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that negative reviews don't get seen that much....

...or that photos don't really matter...

...or that reviews only matter for hotels and restaurants...


Just to really drum it in, that's...
  • over 500 people saw a single review of a golf club - since February - so, in just three months
  • 2,000 people - yes, two thousand, have seen a negative review of a hire car company - in only four months
  • 20,000 people have seen a photograph of a relatively minor tourist attraction - in the last six months

So: a checklist for your business...
  1. How many reviews have you got? Aim to double that figure in the coming six months
  2. How many photographs have you got? Same - double up
  3. How many negative reviews have you got? If that number exceeds two percent of your overall reviews total, then speak to us
  4. Oh - we nearly forgot - if you are asking your customers to review you anywhere but Google: speak to us! 

 ...and - back to 'making a difference'. How's this for making a difference? 


Review Management - a beginner's Guide

With over seven hundred articles on this blog we periodically publish this Guide, so anyone new to HelpHound and review management can bring themselves rapidly up to speed.

HelpHound: review managers

 Our clients look great all through the customer journey - in Google search and on their own websites

We are professional advisers. In just the same way as your accountants or lawyers, HelpHound gives both proactive and reactive advice to make sure your business looks as good as it possibly can:
  • On your own website
  • On Google 
  • On any other sites that matter 

  Great review management leads directly to results like these

This article - 'The 20/30 effect' (relating to the uplift in calls and visits two clients have had since joining) - shows example of results for an estate agency and a heating engineer, but it applies across the full spectrum of businesses. Adding Value shows the difference between a HelpHound client and those yet to engage.

Our clients invariably look great in local search too

Trust: for reviews to be effective they must be 100% trustworthy

Trust is everything examines why so many of the independent review sites fail this crucial test. It's one of the many reasons that Google - which is increasingly trusted by consumers - plays such a big part in our strategy on behalf of our clients.

There are so many aspects of this clients' display that we have included specifically to reinforce the trustworthiness of their reviews:
  • the wording next to our logo - the promise that 'these reviews are genuine' is supported by the word 'unfiltered'. The 'promise to publish' is critical
  • it is also supported by the 'write your review' button - showing anyone reading the reviews that anyone can write a review at any time
  • and the 'Worst' category in 'Order by' - the first thing most people do is look at the least favourable reviews
  • last, but by no means least, the words 'Our partner HelpHound is an unbiased independent reviews service' without which these reviews would revert to the much weaker status of testimonials

As Google reviews accelerate it's tempting to go it alone

Businesses that had no reviews - or few - just a year ago often first attempt to address the situation themselves. This article - Why DIY leaves half the job undone - explains how businesses lose out by going down the do-it-yourself route.

Compliance with UK government regulations

It should also be noted that it is virtually impossible to comply with the CMA regulations if you invite customers to post direct to Google - one of the first questions we ask prospective clients that have reviews on Google is 'Have you had a difficult customer lately?' and when the answer comes, as it inevitably does: 'Yes' - we ask 'And have they been invited to write a review to Google? Non-compliant (a polite expression meaning 'breaking the law') every time.

The Google filter

 Why would anyone choose any but the 4+ rating filter?

When businesses first realise that they are subject to the Google filter - because they score less than 4.0 out of 5 - it can cause understandable consternation. Read The Google Filter - Don't Panic! and relax.

Engage with reviews

Reviews can be a daunting subject. For many businesses it will be the first time they have ever asked customers to comment on the service they provide, and certainly the first time they have asked them to do it publicly (and it doesn't come much more public than on Google). Too posh to push is an article with a tongue-in-cheek title but a very important message - if you don't engage with reviews you will be missing out on a wonderful way to drive new business, besides which you will leave your business exposed when your competitors do engage.

Negative reviews - they will happen

No business is perfect. We know because we see thousands of reviews of great businesses every month! And one of the main reasons businesses don't engage with reviews is the understandable fear of inviting publicly visible negative reviews. That's one of the main reasons that we advise clients to invite reviews to their own websites before they invite their customer to copy their review to Google: so our client business can engage with inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews pre-publication - a process we call Resolution™ - and it works brilliantly for both customer and business. We will guide you through each and every case to ensure the best possible outcome for both parties. 

The benefits of professional review management

If you have followed half the links we've embedded in this article you will already know the answer, but we'll summarise anyway:
  1. Great reviews - on your own website and on Google - drive business
  2. Independent review sites are - with few exceptions - yesterday's solution
  3. Review management is about much more than simply getting great reviews - it's about managing the process professionally - and that's what HelpHound does for our clients
We will leave the final word to one of those clients:

Wednesday 16 May 2018

The 20/30 effect

When we are asked what HelpHound is all about there is, as is often the case with B2B services, a complex answer that includes all the bells and whistles (compliance, SEO etc.) and then a really simple one. 

Here's HelpHound's 'simple answer':

"It's the 20/30 effect"

Let us explain - simply...

Adopting HelpHound will mean that you see results like these...

...within weeks.

See the 20/30 effect? Actually, in this case, it's 18/27 (18% uplift in calls/27% uplift in visits). 

It can be even better...

...but we cannot, for obvious reasons, guarantee that (+169%/+950%!). What we can guarantee is that your business will see an uplift.

So: that's our core pitch to you - HelpHound will drive more business through the web to your door, safely and compliantly*.

*For more on 'safely' read 'Taking the 'Fear' out of inviting reviews' below. For a full explanation of the compliance issues surrounding reviews read 'Compliance' below.

Further reading:

There's more, much more, but we are not going to confuse the issue by going into any more detail here. If you would like to read more about what we do there are more than 700 articles on this blog. Here are just a few important ones...
  • Curchods - a case history. What happened when  one of the South East's most respected estate agent joined HelpHound
  • LDC Heating - another case history - and some truly astonishing results!
  • Compliance - an analysis of the CMA regulations surrounding reviews (and why so many businesses are in breach of them)
  • Deflection - what happens when a business uses a reviews site (as opposed to Google)
  • Scoring 4.0 is not enough - why you need to score north of 4.7 on Google to succeed
  • Taking the 'Fear' out of inviting reviews - no-one, least of all the consumer, is helped by factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews

...but the simple answer is to speak to one of us so we can relate what we do for our other clients to your business.

Tuesday 15 May 2018

Deflection - it's becoming an epidemic

Let us define 'Deflection': it is what happens when a business invites its customers to post their opinions on a review site instead of Google, it is as simple as that.

What happens next is human nature at work: happy customers do as they are asked - and post their review to whatever reviews site the business has chosen. Less happy customers 'rebel' and post to Google.

Added to that: businesses that ignore the CMA regulations (that state that if a business invites reviews from any of its customers you must enable all its customers to write a review) by not inviting customers they know to be unhappy with the service they have received are leaving those customers with only one option - to express their dissatisfaction by posting a one star review to Google.

It is probably best illustrated with real-life examples (we are using estate agency here, because the 'deflection' is so marked with them, but the principle applies across the board, whatever the business)...

Here is one that is rapidly attaining mythical status:

If you look closely (and how many searchers do that these days?) you will see that this business is rated 4.7 (or 4.8) out of 5 on an - unspecified - reviews site (it is actually BUT 1.0 on Google - which is not only displaying that score in the business's header, but prominently displaying it again when the potential customer scrolls down and reinforcing that negative impression with both rich snippets and the reviews themselves.

What we have here is an example of three of the business's dissatisfied customers completely dominating the impression of that business in search.

Why has this happened? What follows is an educated guess - but a highly educated guess nonetheless. Bradleys joined way back at the end of 2012 - long before Google reviews were a viable solution for businesses. They put a massive effort into becoming the dominant business in their local area on that site - and have succeeded in spades. 

Then Google came along. What should have happened then? Well, at some stage Bradleys should have realised that they needed to reassess their reviews strategy.

The same search, but this time on desktop (less than 30% of search these days): the reviews site is showing, but Google is a) so much more prominent and b) has name/brand awareness out of all proportion to the reviews site (note: both scores under 'Reviews from the web' in the Google knowledge panel are derived from the reviews site; the disparity is caused by a time-lag in Google retrieving the score from the business's own website).

Why didn't they/haven't they? We don't know, but we guess (again) that there is a marked reluctance among management and staff to abandon a solution that they have put so much effort into, combined with loyalty to a business relationship that has lasted over five years. One thing is absolutely certain: our advice would be to refocus all their efforts on Google.

Another business and another reviews site...

...and on Google?

...and, just for good measure (and to show that we are not picking on any one site)...

...on Google...

So why do businesses continue to use reviews sites?

The reasons are many and various, but none of them are valid in 2018...
  • the aforementioned loyalty; and we often hear 'but we've put in so much effort'
  • 'advantages' promoted by the sites - notably 'stars in search' and moderation of negative reviews (not always complaint with CMA regulations)
  • awards - estate agents are particularly partial to awards, and both allAgents (with their own) and Feefo (with their tie-up with the ESTAS) play that card
  • contracts - a business should never sign up to a reviews solution that ties them in to any contract period, for whatever reason
And the final clincher? Reviews sites have sales forces and Google doesn't (not for reviews anyway)!

An important note on compliance...

Before you rush headlong into getting your 'happy' clients to post a review to Google please bear in mind the compliance issues of adopting such a strategy. It is in direct contravention of the CMA's core regulations - and those have the force of law. We meet with businesses every day that say 'it can't do any harm' or 'we had to protect our reputation' and even 'we won't leave a paper trail' (as if the regulators are that naive - they rely most heavily of all, we are reliably informed, on whistle-blowers - disgruntled ex-staff and competitors in the main).

Further reading...

Monday 14 May 2018

Reviews - the four questions any business should be asking

This is a simple guide designed to help businesses choose the right reviews solution. Why do we need to publish it? That should become clear as you read on...

First - the questions (for the reviews solution)...

1.  Can anyone write a review on your platform?

2.  Can they write a review at a time of their own choosing?

3.  How do you prevent misleading or inaccurate reviews from being published?

4.  What results have your clients achieved?

Now, let us analyse these in detail...

1.  Can anyone write a review?

You may (or may not) be surprised to know that there are reviews solutions on the market that prevent consumers from writing reviews unless they have been invited by the business. The logic is that this ensures that the reviewer is a bona-fide customer of the business under review.

Our comment...
  • This practise, whilst undoubtedly well-intentioned, contravenes the UK CMA regulations, which clearly state that a business must, if it invites any of its customers to write a review, enable all its customer to do so. You can probably see the CMA's logic here: they want to prevent business's inviting only happy customers to write a review - a practice known as 'cherry-picking' and therefore running the risk of skewing the impression for potential customers
  • It also has the effect of driving those unable to write a review to resort to Google. We often see businesses that employ this kind of site looking great on their own websites and much less good on Google - it is so common we have come up for a term for it: 'Deflection' (because businesses are unwittingly causing their unhappy customers to 'deflect' away from the reviews site to Google)

Can they write a review at a time of their own choosing?

Our comment...
  • If the answer is 'No' - the mechanism is also in contravention of the CMA regulations. Why? Because consumers need to know more about products and services than what the customer thought at point-of-purchase. Think for a minute - do you want to know how fast the shoes wore out? Do you need to know if the long-term impact of that financial or legal advice was positive?
  • The 'Deflection' point applies here too - the customer cannot write a review to the business's review site of choice - they will resort to the biggest 'reviews site' of them all: Google

How do you prevent misleading or inaccurate reviews from being published?

Our comment...
  • If the answer to this key question is anything but 'We don't!' alarm bells should be ringing loudly in your ears. Why? Because the CMA rules - again, rightly - prohibit any mechanism that enables the business to in any way deflect negative reviews. We know of (and have documentary evidence of) reviews sites that incorporate mechanisms that have this very effect - they may be given grand-sounding names like 'quarantine' for what appear - superficially at least - to be the best of intentions, but the outcome, in the hands of some businesses, is straightforward: the negative review does not appear

What results have your clients achieved?

Our comment...
  • and by results, we don't mean 'numbers of reviews' (we see businesses every day that have hundreds of reviews in the wrong place, making no impact on their bottom lines whatsoever) - we mean a quantifiable financial impact. An uplift in visits to their client's website, an uplift in calls (both of which most marketing directors can put a £p value on). Insist on seeing case histories and actual results. 

Now: HelpHound's answers to those four key questions...

1.  Can anyone write a review on your platform?

Yes - all our clients have a button on their website, accessible to all, 24/7, without invitation

2.  Can they write a review at a time of their own choosing?

Yes - whenever they choose, seven days a week, morning, noon or night

3.  How do you prevent misleading or inaccurate reviews from being published?

We cannot. But we do have a mechanism that allows the business and the customer to interact, pre-publication, and it is welcomed by both as a way of ensuring that reviews posted HelpHound are factually accurate and less likely to mislead the consumer than those on any other platform we know of - more here

4.  What results have your clients achieved?


...and these, taking a business from this... this...

...and lots more, that we will be happy to show you.

Welcome to professional review management. Welcome to HelpHound.

Thursday 10 May 2018

Responding to reviews - what can you hard-nosed business people learn from a ballerina?

She left her home in Argentina at the age of fifteen, to train at Royal Ballet School. She is universally acknowledged at one of the greatest ballerinas of our time. But we can be pretty sure she has not had much training in marketing or social media - so what can Marianela Nunez teach us business folk?

Let us begin by telling you a story: last night a HelpHound staffer attended a performance of Marguerite and Armand by the Royal Ballet. Being a keen fan of ballet in general and Ms Nunez in particular our staffer follows her on Instagram. Let's be clear about this - she did not invite this person to follow her, they just 'did', as you do on Instagram. But they posted their congratulations on her performance, not at the end of the evening, but during the interval. What do you suppose happened next? 

This happened next...

...and for those of you who don't use Instagram, the 'heart' is a user's way of thanking someone for their comment. Much more importantly: the thanks were posted within ten minutes of the original comment being uploaded.

Compare that with businesses and their reviews. We would rather not, but since it is an important part of our job, we will.

We reckon the average business does not respond to reviews - ever - at all. Bearing in mind that these reviews are posted by happy customers who have gone to some lengths to express that happiness - and that responding is FREE for the business - we are dumbfounded.

How about "Thanks for your kind comment and helpful suggestions"? That took all of ten seconds to type. Even better: how about addressing the criticisms? But three weeks later and...nothing. It gets worse. 

The next reviewer is doing their best to say "Don't use this company". So what does the business, with all its marketing nous and resources, say?

Nothing. No apology, no explanation. How could this be? Seriously: HOW - COULD - THIS - BE?

Let's apply all of our experience and give you some options - and our answer to those options...

  • Option 1: the business is unaware that they have the review. We see this all the time with big corporates (seldom with SMEs - a review like this rightly keeps them awake at night). So many businesses think they have reviews covered - when we meet them they say things like "Our PR people handle that side of things" - our answer? Make sure an individual within the branch is nominated an understands their responsibility. And then make sure head office has KPIs to keep the branches on their toes.
  • Option 2: the business doesn't know how to respond. They may have lost their G+ log in details (often the person that set up their G+ account has left). Solution: ask us for our simple step-by-step memo and our help to recover the lost log-in.
  • Option 3: a negative attitude to reviews. All people who write reviews are either 'idiots with too much time on their hands' (positives) or 'keyboard warriors with impure motives' (negatives). This reason for ignoring reviews - and not responding - is more common than some might imagine - but it flatly goes against all the evidence that consumers now rely more heavily on reviews than ever before. Solution: a fundamental shift in the business's attitude and approach to reviews needs to happen.
  • Option 4: Failing to understand that the simple act of responding to reviews makes it less likely that someone will post a negative review in future. Action: try it - prove it for yourself, it's true.

...and, most important of all...

  • Option 5: Failing to understand that a good showing in reviews, which consists not only of getting great reviews but in responding to those reviews in a timely manner, drives business through the door.
And, by 'timely' what exactly do we mean? How about 'within an hour of receiving the email from Google alerting you to the review's appearance?