Tuesday 29 January 2019

Reviews - and how they boost your SEO

We are going to begin this article by making a prediction: one day Google will return the best business (in the opinion of that business's customers) at the top of organic search. And the only way it will be able to do that? Based on the business's Google reviews of course.

Meanwhile Google inches closer to doing so with every change it makes; in the beginning it incorporated reviews, then it introduced its reviews filter (enabling its users to modify their searches to exclude all but 'top rated' businesses, or those that score 4.5 or more), but all the while Google continued to recognise good SEO.

SEO and reviews

SEO - how ever much a business spends, is not gong to achieve either of the following...

  • a great Google score
  • a great reviews score on the business's own website
...that's down to you and HelpHound, but what it can do is flag up both - especially the reviews on the business's site - to Google.

It's what takes this...

113 Reviews on the business's website - properly displayed and schema tagged, so Google can find them

...and turns it into this...

Leading the Google 3-pack and heading organic search

HelpHound's role...

We are your review managers, and we will provide you with the best platform on the planet to get the raw ingredients - the reviews themselves. It is then up to your web designers and/or your SEO agency to implement our tech (our drop-in or, even better, our API) so Google can pull through the kind of information it wants - and display it for its users to see.

Adding value

In our journey with clients we have learned an important lesson: that some web designers struggle with this aspect of their role. Not to worry - we have met some really top-notch developers who can implement the code - and the tags for the schema (which produces the stars in organic search you can see next to Winkworth's listing). We will happily introduce you - or your web designers - to them, all you have to do is ask. 

Further reading...

This is what the mighty Forbes has to say...

But for those of you that haven't the time to read all of it, here are three vital extracts...


...and the financial impact?...

So, the inescapable conclusion is that reviews - your own and Google's, when combined with good SEO, are vital for any business that wants to compete in the modern marketplace.

And an important word of warning...

Please resist the temptation to short-cut the process; inviting selected customers to post reviews - anywhere - is against the law. Using mechanisms that favour the business over the consumer is equally illegal (there's much more on this here). But given that the cost of proper professional review management is about the same as that for the phone in your pocket (or as one client said 'the round of coffees I buy the office every Friday') there's every incentive to 'do it right'.

Monday 21 January 2019

CMA compliance - just when we thought we had seen it all!

HelpHound has been at the forefront of review management for so long now, we thought we had seen every way in which a business might seek to 'game' the system (for 'game the system' read 'break the law', for that is exactly what they are doing).

Just to put everyone in the picture, and before we go on to describe this new shocker, let's catch up with the common compliance breaches every regular reader will be familiar with...


By far the most common transgression, almost every business we meet with is - or has been - guilty of this to some extent or another (that doesn't make it any more legitimate - or legal): it involves asking selected customers to post a review - and it's in contravention of the CMA core rules - if a business asks one customer to write a review, anywhere, it must enable all its customers to do so.


Gating takes many forms, but all have the same effect: they give consumers a skewed picture of the business. How? The business in question invites all its customers to write a review (so far so compliant) - which could be to their website or to a little-known (and little seen) reviews site - and then asks only those who write five star reviews to post them to a site that really matters - commonly Google. We probably don't need to tell you that this is contrary to CMA regulations - but we have several examples on file here at HelpHound.

The new kid on the block

This latest example has taken both the above and added a whole new layer of non-compliance. We have not given it a name because it so shockingly contravenes all regulations, Google T&Cs, the CMA rules and the common law that we don't want to trivialise it by doing so.

It involves doing all of the above and then posting the review to Google 'on behalf of the consumer' - by opening a new Google account in the customer's name and then posting the review that has been sent in by email or posted elsewhere. 

Further reading...

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Sorry TripAdvisor (and all the other reviews sites) - it's just not going to happen

Today a member of staff received this in an email from TripAdvisor...

...just one (more) review. 

But it will never happen. Why not?

Because we - and just about everyone else on the planet - now only write reviews in one place, and it's not TripAdvisor, nor is it Yelp, or Trustpilot, or any of the other reviews sites. And why is that?

Because, like everything else on the web, it's about speed and simplicity now - remember 'app poker' when everyone was competing to see how many apps they could amass on their phones? Well, now we are proud of just how few apps we have. 

Of course there will be the die-hards; they will still write reviews all over the web, and we will all use TripAdvisor now and again - when we cannot find what we need on...

But, for the most part, if we want a restaurant, we will do this...

And this for a hotel...

And this for a lawyer...

And this for an estate agent...

And this for a plumber (how great is that 'top rated' button - unless, of course, your business has devoted all its efforts to getting reviews to an independent reviews site instead of Google?)...

And the future for the reviews sites? Well, we will let the share prices of the only two currently quoted on a stock market answer that question...

TripAdvisor down from a high of $105 in 2014 and Yelp down from $97 over virtually the same time scale (when the underlying stock-market rose by 50%).

Further reading...

Before you - and your business - plunge headlong into getting Google reviews, just pause for ten minutes and read these two articles; doing so may save you a lot of effort (and even pain) in the long run...

  • Remember that you cannot 'choose' which of your customers write a review - if you invite one you must allow them all to do so. Why? Because it would be misleading to do otherwise and it's the law. Read about the CMA regulations here.
  • To give you the confidence to allow all your customers to write reviews you will need a moderated review management system. This will allow you to do your very best to ensure that factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews don't see the light of day (and it's just as popular with reviewers and consumers as it is with businesses). Read all about HelpHound's moderation system here (it has the added benefit of displaying reviews on your own site).

Monday 14 January 2019

Service businesses and the professions - don't your customers deserve more?

At the moment many high-value 'service' businesses (and this includes the professions) - businesses where the transaction value is in the thousands (legal, medical) or hundreds of thousands (financial services, estate agency) rather than tens or hundreds (online retail) - are adopting a one-size-fits all approach to reviews, and using the same mechanism - reviews sites.

In this article we will set out the case for such businesses to use professional review management instead. We will set out the advantages and try to winkle out any disadvantages.

Reviews sites

Reviews sites give the business a widget to place on their site, enabling them to invite and display reviews there. 

Here's a familiar example...

And the reviews - and their associated score - may, or may not, show for any given Google search.

Great for: products, from shirts to vacuum cleaners; they give potential customers an 'at a glance' guide, especially when used in comparisons. Most of us have used John Lewis at some time - here are some of the toasters they're selling...

...and I'm sure most of us would agree that the reviews and ratings are useful. After all, who cares if the odd inaccurate or misleading review or rating is published - we're only talking toasters.

But services?

You are selling your home - or you have a complex legal matter that needs urgent attention  - you have £250,000 to invest - or you need the best possible heart surgeon?

Are you beginning to understand where we are coming from?

In the four examples we have used here we are betting you - as the consumer - want to know...

  • that you can be as sure as possible that the person writing the review has first-hand experience of the service concerned - not a member of staff (present or past), not someone with an axe to grind or a point to prove
  • that the business under review is showing you all the reviews written by its customers/clients/patients
  • that all of its customers/clients/patients are able to write a review
  • that all of its customers/clients/patients can write a review whenever they want
  • that the absolute minimum of those reviews contain inaccurate or misleading information or statements

And, now with your 'business' hat on you want to be sure...
  • that only genuine customers of your business or practice will be writing reviews
  • that you will have the opportunity to correct errors of fact or misleading statements before the review is published*
  • that your reviews will show up whenever a potential customer searches for your business, or a business like yours

Like this...

...the business's own reviews under its organic listing (top left) and its Google reviews in the Google knowledge panel (right)...

...and like this in a geographic (local) search...

Now, we expect, you are beginning to see where professional review management comes in. It will tick all the 'boxes' referred to above - and give your customer/client/patient the confidence to make contact with you - the rest is up to you.

Disadvantages? We promised these earlier on but, in all seriousness, there are none - unless your business is sloppy and unprofessional (in which case no reviews solution will work). 

As we said in the title of this article 'don't your customers deserve more?' And, as a business person your next question will undoubtedly be 'and just how much more is this 'more' going to cost me?' Our answer? Not a penny more. Talk to us, and once we understand your business we will tell you exactly how much - but we're betting it's less than you're currently paying for a single click on Google.

A very important note...

* 'that you will have the opportunity to correct errors of fact or misleading statements before the review is published'

This has to be the reason that so many service businesses and professionals have so far avoided reviews altogether: they are simply not confident that their business's reputation will not be unfairly harmed.

And where reviews sites are concerned they are absolutely right. Why? Because reviews sites are unmoderated, so anyone can write anything about the business. But businesses are now strongly advised to engage, for two reasons...

  1. Anyone can write a review to Google, at any time. So businesses cannot 'opt-out' of being reviewed. The result is that businesses that don't find a way to engage with Google reviews will get reviews anyway - and, human nature being what it is, those reviews will be from their least happy customers (simply because they are the most motivated).
  2. Because consumers increasingly expect businesses to help them by engaging with reviews. They actively want to see what other customers think - they really want to see reviews of the lawyer/doctor/financial adviser/estate agent they are considering using (wouldn't you?). They want to see this...

Rather than this...

"One of the UK's leading wealth managers" (source: their own website) - with one review, the content of which is of dubious value - and one rating: of no help to prospective clients whatsoever.

...or this...

One of the largest law firms in the world: no reviews and these six virtually valueless ratings.

...or this...

A review of services rendered twenty-two years ago and a change of address!

...and, trust us, these examples were very easy to find. 

The solution...

...is very simple, and it's called moderation. Every single review that passes through HelpHound is checked before it is published on our client business's website - for errors of fact and/or potentially misleading content.

There's more on moderation here but the nub of the matter is that it gives businesses - good businesses - the confidence to engage with reviews. To show their prospective clients just how great they are at what they do, and in turn give them the confidence to make that vital first contact - the rest is up to the business.

And a last word for the cynical (and what business person doesn't address a subject like reviews with a healthy dose of cynicism?): if it can work for a great estate agent (and Nigel Field and his team at Winkworth in Kennington provide a great service - if in doubt read their reviews - and while you are doing so remember that they started off exactly where you are today and in exactly the same frame of mind) - then surely it can work for your business?

Then you will reap the rewards...

...documented by Google and sent to your inbox every month.

Sunday 13 January 2019

Purplebricks adopts a second reviews solution - why?

Purplebricks' latest TV advertisement - it references their Feefo score at the end...

The ongoing saga of Purplebricks and reviews continues. Regular readers will be familiar with the 'story so far' (those of you new to our blog can catch up here); in short: Purplebricks used Trustpilot and then announced - back in December 2017, that they were changing to Feefo. Now we understand that they will be continuing with Trustpilot and also using Feefo. To reiterate the question in the title of this article: 'why?'

To attempt to answer this question (feel free to comment, anyone from Purplebricks, Trustpilot or Feefo, or indeed anyone else who thinks they may be able to shed light on this intriguing situation) we will examine the available facts and attempt to draw some conclusions that will be relevant for businesses struggling to decide on the right reviews solution.

Purplebricks and Trustpilot

The facts:

  • Purplebricks have over 57,000 reviews on Trustpilot, and they break down as follows...

  • Trustpilot is an 'open' review site, that means that anyone can write a review at any time
  • Purplebricks are - as at today's date - still 'collecting' (see top right of the first screenshot), in other words 'inviting', customers to write reviews to Trustpilot. Indeed, twenty-eight reviews have been posted there in the last twenty-four hours alone

Purplebricks and Feefo

The facts:

  • Feefo is a 'closed' site, meaning that a customer needs to be invited to post a review 
  • There have been two reviews written to Feefo in the past twenty-four hours
So much for the facts. Now to the questions...
  1. Why use two reviews sites?
  2. Why so many more reviews to Trustpilot than to Feefo?
  3. Why not use Google?
Which we will attempt to answer...

1.  Why use two reviews sites?

We can only assume that 'testing' continues. Maybe one day Purplebricks will decide on one or the other, we will monitor the situation. 

Our comment: As regular readers will know, at HelpHound we believe that systems designed for online retail, where transactions tend to be in the tens or hundreds of pounds at most, are not sophisticated enough for services where hundreds of thousands of pounds are at stake in every transaction. We firmly believe that high-value businesses such as estate agency (and financial services, wealth management, legal and medical services, and so on) owe it to all their stakeholders - especially their customers - to invest in proper professional review management (which, ironically, need not necessarily cost a penny more).

2.  Why so many more reviews to Trustpilot?

Purplebricks told Property Industry Eye that they have been 'live' with Feefo for some months. According to their listing on Feefo the first review was posted there seven months ago. One might expect some time would be taken to integrate a new system across the business, but the flow has been fairly even since day one.

Our comment: it would appear that Purplebricks staff may currently choose which solution to use to invite their customers to post a review. What we do know is that they are still overwhelmingly choosing Trustpilot for this purpose but are referencing Feefo in their marketing. If you were working at Purplebricks, which route would you choose for your 'happiest' customers?

The most significant side-effect...

What we can say, beyond a shadow of doubt, is that using a reviews site is harming their image where everyone is looking, on Google...

No amount of positive reviews on any reviews site will counteract an image like this on Google. Why? Because anyone seeing a business that looks like this on Google - and reading the content of the overwhelmingly negative reviews - is going to bother taking the next step (reading the reviews on the reviews site).

It's called 'deflection' -  and there's a whole article devoted to it here. But, in essence, it's very simple - your happy customers write reviews to the place you ask them to, your unhappy customers write to Google. And unless your marketing and review management strategy takes that vital point on board then your business will suffer.

3.  CMA compliance issues

The CMA regulations exist to ensure that consumers are not misled by businesses manipulating reviews. The full regulations - and our analysis of them - are linked to under 'Further reading' below, but suffice to say that there is a really easy litmus test: ask yourself 'does the reviews solution we have adopted/have under consideration give us any advantages over the consumer - can we challenge, control, delay or otherwise influence the publication of our customer's review?' And that includes having an 'invitation only' system. If the answer is yes - your business is non-compliant.

Oh! And before any of you get the idea that selectively inviting customers to post to Google is a good idea ('cherry-picking' the regulators call it) please read the last paragraph of that 'deflection' article very carefully...

Further reading...

Tuesday 8 January 2019

2019 - the year reviews finally matured?

It will be interesting to see. One thing is for certain - businesses that adopt a defined reviews strategy in 2019 will prosper. It will take anyone between twenty and thirty minutes to read this article and the four in the links at the bottom - and we promise you that will be a half hour well spent.

First: let's take a look at why reviews exist and then look at the current situation.

Why reviews matter

Reviews exist for two reasons...

  • to enable consumers to make the right choice of product or service
  • to enable businesses to demonstrate that their product or service is the one for the consumer to choose

The current situation...

Consumers are faced with an array of reviews whenever they search the web, and businesses are faced with multiple so-called solutions...

  • the reviews sites - Yelp, Trustpilot, Feefo - and the list goes on
  • the sites that incorporate reviews as major part of their offering - for example TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Trivago and all the other travel sites
  • Google

And what businesses are doing to address it...

Aside from those that are ignoring reviews altogether (a sizeable minority) businesses are adopting one of the following three strategies...
  1. They are inviting customers to post reviews to Google
  2. They are inviting customers to post reviews to one of the many independent reviews sites, some of which we have mentioned above
  3. They are doing a combination of the above
...and there are serious issues with each of these.

1.  Posting reviews direct to Google

Issue: if a business invites a single customer to post a review to Google it must, by law, enable all its customers to do so. We meet or speak to dozens of businesses each week, and almost all are ignorant of this aspect of the law or, if they are aware of it, are consciously flouting it. There's more on the law here.

2.  Using a reviews site

Issue: most businesses join a reviews site for one of to reasons: they are sold it (most reviews sites have abundant venture capital, much of which is expended on their sales-forces as well as 'free trials') or they see their competitors using it. Reviews sites invariably have an unintended consequence that harms their businesses - they drive the business's unhappy customers to post to Google instead . This inevitably results in the business looking great - or at least OK - on the reviews site (that is then seen by few of its potential customers) and bad on Google (which is seen by all of them). We call this 'deflection' and there's an article showing its impact - with examples - here.

Note: here we stress that at HelpHound are concerned with service reviews only. Many of the reviews sites focus on products, from clothes to cameras, and they may have a role (the businesses certainly seem to like them) but the more we see of them the more we are inclined to rely on professional reviews - the likes of Which? and the multitude of qualified bloggers a simple web-search away if you want a properly qualified opinion on a toaster or a bicycles (seriously - would you take your in-law's advice on which laptop to buy, because that's what your are effectively doing by trusting product reviews: relying on thousands of other people's in-law's to be qualified to judge, and that's when they are reviewing the actual product not the delivery!).

3.  Combining the two

Issue: We occasionally come across 'clever' businesses that invite reviews to a reviews site first and then invite [happy] customers to post to Google afterwards. This would be fine if all their customers were invited to post in both places, but we have yet to see a business where this is the case. Google hate business manipulating their reviews - more on that here - and the CMA will take an equally dim view.

Where all businesses need to be by the end of 2019

There is only one solution - we are assuming that your business a) wishes to comply with the law* and b) protect its reputation against unfair or inaccurate reviews - by engaging in proper professional review management. This involves...
  • inviting, moderating and displaying reviews on your own website
  • inviting customers that have posted there to copy their review to Google
For some businesses, this will involve exposing themselves to fair criticism, so they won't be able to do it - until they have addressed whatever internal issues are causing their CRM to break. They will doubtless remain in denial about reviews (leaving the field clear for their unhappy customers to post damaging reviews to Google) or with the reviews site, flouting the CMA regulations and 'hoping they get away with it'.

On the other hand, if you provide a great service for you customers you need to get on board the review management train. Your business can only benefit.

*A business can comply with the law - for free - by embedding a Google widget on its website. This appears an elegant solution at first, until the business is subject to its first factually inaccurate or misleading review. Moderation is a core function of professional review management - and benefits both the business (by protecting it, as far as is possible, from such reviews) and the business's potential customers, who may otherwise have been misled.

The downside to adopting professional review management

There's only one: cost. Proper professional review management doesn't come free, or with a 'free trial', or for next to nothing - and that's because it is - and does - what it says on the tin, it's full-time and proactive, it will involve interaction between your business and the review manager, in the same way that you interact with your other professional advisers, and it will expect to be judged on results, just as they all do.

But those fees can be as low as £30 a month - depending on your business model and the amount of input needed at our end. One thing is for sure: it will pay for itself. You can see that by looking at case histories, like this one...

see how Curchods saw clicks and calls jump as soon as they joined

..or by speaking to any of our clients. Proper professional review management will drive business your way.

Oh - and by the way - again, just like your other professional advisers, we won't be asking you to sign a contract, so, if by some freak of circumstance HelpHound doesn't work for you, you can walk away at any time.

Further reading...

Your business and reviews - your New years' resolutions for 2019

Here are our suggested resolutions for 2019 - and we make a firm guarantee for businesses that adopt them: you will do more business in the year ahead.

Resolution 1

Get a hundred reviews to your website. You will then stand a chance of looking like this in search...

...and the way consumers react will change; the cynicism will fall away, no longer will you hear comments such as 'I bet they're all written by friends and family' - your reviews will be believed. 

Resolution 2

Get fifty reviews to Google - and, just the same as with your own reviews, improve your chances of looking like this...

...some will look at this Google 3-pack and say 'but the others look OK' and so they do, at first glance, but they need to ask a supplementary question: 'are they complying with the CMA regulations? Do they invite all their clients to post reviews, or are they cherry-picking?'

...top of search, top of the three-pack, most reviewed amongst your competitors. Then check your Google My Business monthly report to see just how many more clicks and calls you are getting. With a fair wind it will look like this...

Resolution 3

Respond to your reviews - wherever they may be...

...for two reasons: first, you will look as if you care, and this impresses prospective customers; second, you will be sending out a signal to anyone out there that might be tempted to post any unfairly critical comments. That message? 'We will respond'. Oh - and just like the example above, use your name and position when you post your response - it looks so much better than customerservices@abc.com.

Resolution 4

If you are currently using a reviews site - change up to professional review management. Reviews sites now have so many disadvantages compared to Google reviews we're not going to bother listing them here - for those of you that missed the articles here's the latest - but we would just ask you to compare any HelpHound client with a business employing one of the reviews sites. Look at this search...

...see a reviews site*? Reviews in the organic search? The business's own, moderated by HelpHound. Reviews for the Web? Same again. But 171 reviews on their own site and 115 on Google, scoring 4.7 and 4.8 respectively? Put yourself in the potential customer's shoes - you're going to consider them, aren't you? Another angle - put yourself in their competitors' shoes - uncomfortable now isn't it?

So - adopt these four New Year's Resolutions and see your business thrive in 2019. A Happy New Year to one and all.

*Interestingly Rightmove conducted a survey of its users a while ago, asking them if they recognised two reviews sites: Trustpilot and Feefo. The results? Just over one in ten recognised Trustpilot, one in fifty recognised Feefo.