Thursday 30 January 2020

Taking the trust out of Trustpilot?

No wonder review management is such big business

As all our clients know, HelpHound acts as a kind of 'broker' where reviews and review management are concerned. Our concern is to find the correct solution for their long-term review needs. In this context, we are sometimes asked 'why not Trustpilot?'

But before we answer, we ask 'what are your objectives with reviews?' The answer invariably, and quite correctly, is 'to use the power of our customers' opinions to drive more business'. HelpHound's primary role is to advise on the solution most likely to drive more business.

In this context, there are secondary but still very important considerations:

  1. is the solution proposed the very best for our client's business?
  2. Is the solution proposed trusted by consumers?
  3. Is the solution proposed compliant with UK law (and Google's terms of service)?
  4. Is the solution proposed liable to attack by our client's competitors?
  5. Is the solution proposed able to be manipulated by the business (this, of course, goes to points one and two as well)?
One by one...

1.  The very best for our client's business?

There are two places all your potential customers look: Google and - providing you look impressive there - your website. So you need Google reviews and reviews on your website. Google reviews are free and they provide a free widget to embed those on your website, so, before you start paying anyone else you are going to need some powerful reasons not to use Google.

The main disadvantage of this 'free' solution is its inherent lack of moderation - you won't be able to stop inaccurate and potentially misleading, never mind downright unfair - or even, dare we say it, fake - reviews appearing. Bad enough on Google, worse when you're importing them onto your own website as well (fear not, there is a solution for this - read on).

2.  Trusted by consumers?

There's no arguing that Google is known by just about every consumer in the free world, and that gives it a head start in the 'trust' stakes. There are the occasional rumbles in the press about people gaming Google reviews and posting fake positive reviews of their own businesses and fake negative reviews of their competitors' but these, in our extensive experience, are rare. So Google gets an A-minus for trust.

The other review sites? They start at a distinct disadvantage, simply because they are reliant on the businesses to pay them - and that makes consumers sceptical, to say the least.

A good first step is to look at their Google reviews:

Just 9 out of 79 are positive and many appear to written by unhappy business customers, and as far as we can tell four of those are from reviewers who have mistakenly rated a Trustpilot client. And then there's this 5* one:

3.  Compliant with UK law?

UK law - the CMA regulations - say that if a business invites reviews - any reviews at all, as opposed to just being passive (a business cannot stop reviews being posted to Google, for instance) - it must allow all of its customers to post a review. It also states that the customer must be allowed to write their review at a time of their own choosing

Trustpilot appears to comply with these until you mine down into the relationship it has with its paying businesses. One of the 'benefits' Trustpilot allows client businesses is the facility to challenge any review - they call it 'quarantine'. A challenged review shows up like this...

...and if the reviewer cannot - or is unwilling to - or just plain cannot be bothered to - provide 'proof of purchase', the review disappears. This places the onus fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the consumer (who has to respond if their review is to remain) - against both the letter and spirit of the CMA regulations.

With Google, the onus is on the business to prove the reviewer categorically wrong as well as in breach of Google's terms of service, otherwise the review stands.

4.  Liable to attack by the business's competitors

What is the point of adopting a review management system that hands your competitors a stick to beat you with? You must be able to stand behind whatever system you adopt and to do this you must be able to say...

  • 'anyone can write a review to our website at any time'
  • 'all who do so are invited to copy their review to Google'
If your competitors can show that your review management solution is demonstrably skewed towards showing your business in a good light you have wasted time, effort and resources. Worse still, you have damaged your business's reputation in the marketplace.

5.  Able to be manipulated (against the consumers' best interests)?

For any review system to work compliantly two things need to be in place:
  • a trustworthy external review management platform
  • a business committed to dealing with that platform in a trustworthy manner
It is simply not good enough for the review platform - in this case, Trustpilot - to rent out their software to any business on the planet without having some form of audit and sanction mechanism to ensure that the business does not manipulate the results in its favour. 

There is a massive difference - in the impact on a prospective customer's thinking - between a negative review of an online retailer like this...

And a review of a service business like this...

Trustpilot's system probably works for online retail, where the volume is extremely high - sometimes thousands of transactions a day, but when it is applied to high-value low-transaction service businesses such as the professions (medical, legal, financial, property) where a single negative review can literally stop the phones ringing (see 'Jenny's' review of Intercounty, above), it is demonstrably found wanting.

It is just too easy for the business to flout the CMA regulations. By only inviting customers it knows are likely to write positive reviews and to use gating mechanisms (customer surveys etc.).

On the review sites themselves?

You have already seen what reviewers on Google think of Trustpilot,. Here's what 1,223 reviewers on think of them...

And, to be fair, here's what 189 reviewers on Trustpilot think of Trustpilots's main UK competitor, Feefo...

And even Trustpilot reviewers on Trustpilot...

...where twenty percent - over 15,000 reviews - rate Trustpilot 'Poor' or 'Bad'.

We suppose, to be fair, we should include Trustpilot's reviews of

We heartily recommend you read the actual reviews, some of which are patently mistaken or misguided but many of which are obviously written by business owners that have first-hand experience of the service they have been paying for.

Our advice

Take no short cuts - and plan for the long term. If your business provides a service, as opposed to selling products - then ignore Trustpilot, Feefo, Yelp and the rest - commit to Google. 

If your reputation matters, and this covers...
  • your Google score
  • your individual Google reviews
 - and that almost certainly applies to any professional business - then adopt a professional review manager. They will provide...
  • software - in the form of an API preferably - to enable you to invite and display reviews on your own site and automatically invite those reviewers to copy their reviews to Google
  • moderation - the facility whereby inaccurate and potentially misleading reviews and/or content can be corrected by the reviewer pre-publication
  • compliance advice - the best reviews in the world are of no use if your procedures are not compliant
Proper professional review management - paying for itself over and over again.

Further reading...

This writer of this article has studied 9 million reviews left for over 198,000 businesses. He also uncovered this interesting memo...

Monday 27 January 2020

How to book your holiday - 2020s style

It's that time of year again. We may not be in time to save you making a mistake with your skiing holiday but we guarantee you'll have a better experience this summer if you spend 5 minutes reading what follows.

But first, some statistics: sucked in $14.5 billion - yes that's $14,500,000,000 - in 2019. That's your money. Paid out in commissions by the hotels you are booking. The commission rates? generally between 15 and 28 percent.

Value for money?

Now, all of this would be fine if you - and the hotels - and all the other travel businesses - were getting value for money. But are you? Let's look at some of the practices of these online travel agencies (OTAs) and their clients (and when we say we mean all the OTAs, from to Expedia to Trivago and TripAdvisor)..

1.  Can you book direct with the hotel and receive a discount that acknowledges that you are saving them a shed-load of commission?

No: most of the OTAS have a clause in the small print that prohibits the hotel from undercutting the rate published on their site (and this is backed up by teams of mystery shoppers phoning the hotels and checking that they are not discounting to direct bookers).

2.  But surely I will be saving money by booking with them?

No: have another look at their advertising, which admittedly at first glance cleverly infers that will be the case, but it categorically is not; a good example is a well-known advertisement where two women are checking out of the hotel - and being charged wildly different rates. The inference is that the one using the booking site has cleverly got a bigger discount. Not true - see point 4 below.

3.  But they have other benefits - no cancellation fees, for example?

No: Very few - if any - hotels will deny a direct booker any of the so-called advantages offered by the booking site.

4.  So why am I being given the impression that I will get a) a better rate and b) extra benefits by using the booking site?

Because most hotels, in Europe at least, have good and not so good (often downright bad) rooms. The room may be the same grade or standard and even size, with the same facilities but it will suffer from one or more of the following...

  • view - none or impaired
  • location - far from amenities - sea, pool, dining area etc. - or, worse: the reverse!
  • proximity to antisocial areas - kitchen, smoking area, staff parking, refuse collection, nightclub, busy road, noisy lift
And guess what? Those are the rooms that the hotel sells through the travel website.

What should I do?

Just one of a slew of articles about questionable practices at OTAs.

By all means use the OTAs to conduct your research - and read the reviews they invariably host. But book direct. Always. Here's a checklist...
  • Call or email the hotel direct
  • Tell them your preferred dates and ask for rates (often a hotel will reward you for choosing a marginally different date)
  • Ask what other incentives they have for direct booking (hotels are increasingly good at negotiating their way around the OTAs restrictive practices): free upgrade, free meals and/or excursions, other added extras (e.g. free sports, free childcare)
  • Ask for them to send you a photo of a) your exact room and b) the view from the window
  • Pay your deposit by credit card - so you are covered in the event of no-performance by the hotel
  • Get that all confirmed in writing

A bonus will be the fact that you will be on the hotel's unofficial list of guests saving them that stonking great commission - and how do you think that might alter their attitude towards you on your stay?

And finally: if you do manage to bundle up all the so-called advantages of booking your trip through an OTA and gain a marginal financial saving (do tell us if you do!) what will that be set against the goodwill of the hotel when you book direct? Do you want a happy holiday or a cheaper holiday? By following the six steps set out above you should achieve both - every time.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Purplebricks Canada - what on earth were they thinking?

'A former employee told Forbes:  “When I received the email I was disgusted that Purplebricks thought it necessary to cheat to get reviews. They asked us to get friends and family, who had never used the service, to post 5-star reviews online, focusing on Google and Facebook, and I was even more disgusted to find that so many of my colleagues went along with it. It’s deceiving to the public.” '

It is also illegal. The full Forbes story is here

On one level this was patently a considered attempt to mislead the Canadian public into using Purplebricks - we have to assume by someone at a pretty senior level (the Puplebricks statement makes no mention of dismissal, which would have inevitably been the sanction if it had been perpetrated by a junior member of staff). But the story should not be seen in isolation, Purplebricks have other questions to answer...

How about 'Why are you using reviews generated and written by your UK customers to support your Canadian marketing?':

And 'Are you gating* to ensure you look good on Google?':

Given that this is what your UK operation looks like:

*Gating: using one or more filters to pre-qualify customers to ensure only those customers most likely to write 5* reviews are invited to do so. Illegal in the UK under CMA regulations and in breach of Google's terms of service...

We have two more questions for Purplebricks relating to the use of reviews in the UK:

  1. Why do you invite customers to post reviews to Trustpilot and Feefo and not Google?
  2. Why are you using both of those platforms?

If we get an answer to any of the questions posed in this article, from any reliable source, we will post them here. Meanwhile, if you want your business's reputation to remain intact...
  • comply with the CMA regulations - to the letter - and Google's too
  • use Google, not a review site 
And, if you want to sleep at night, employ a professional review manager, preferably one with a moderated system.

Monday 20 January 2020

If you want to do long-term harm to your business's reputation, send this...

This is a bomb waiting to go off, in fact it has gone off, all over the business's online reputation (see the screenshots below). Why? For two simple reasons...

Human nature

We have all always known that a customer that feels they have not received the service they deserve is far more likely to write a review than one that is satisfied. Sending an email like this just facilitates those unhappy customers writing a review, allowing them to disproportionately impact your Google score and the impression created.


The numbers - when you spend the time to really understand them - are positively terrifying. Harvard Business School has calculated that an unhappy customer is up to fifteen times more likely to post a review - so let's see the potential impact that may have in the real world.

Suppose a business invites 1000 customers to write a review. Just five percent, one in twenty, of those customers are - rightly or wrongly - unhappy with the service they have received. Let's assume a response rate of two percent to an email inviting a review, that would normally result in 20 reviews. Now we overlay the 30 percent (2% x Harvard's 15) of the 50 unhappy customers who will accept the invitation - resulting in 15 one-star reviews. The outcome? A terrible Google score and some seriously discouraging reviews. 

Here's what has happened to this business, on Google:

With over a hundred reviews like this...

And on Facebook:

And this:


How do most businesses adopting this route reverse these two definitive trends? They break the law - pure and simple. They gate and they cherry-pick. Both of which are illegal in the UK, with gating being also against Google's terms of service. Google will delete all reviews for a business found gating - and most of those sanctions are prompted by a complaint to google from a competitor, often in turn prompted by a new employee that once worked for the guilty party.

So what should a business in this position be doing? First of all, they should be addressing any internal CRM issues so as to minimise customer dissatisfaction, but that has little to do with reviews, directly. For reviews? They should be implementing a moderated review management system to ensure that two things happen...
  1. Their happy customers begin to post reviews - in significant volumes
  2. Customers who would otherwise post inaccurate or misleading negative reviews straight to Google and Facebook will be massively more likely to post their review through that system and therefore benefit from moderation pre-publication
In practice, this results in a fall in published negative reviews of anywhere between seventy-five and ninety percent, especially where high-value or complex transactions are involved. Not because the system is in any way filtering those negative reviews, but because the business has been able to explain what happened and correct misapprehensions to their customer's satisfaction. 

To summarise

  • Don't send an email inviting your customers to write a review direct to Google - or anywhere else
  • Don't break the law - the CMA is paying a great deal of attention to reviews at the moment (and rightly so) and when they discipline a business that sanction will be high-profile (it will be reported in the national and regional press, who relish consumer stories)
  • Don't adopt a 'what are the chances of it being us?' attitude - your competitors will spot cherry-picking and gating a mile off and will use the fact that you are doing it against you, even if they don't go as far as reporting you to the CMA
  • Adopt a moderated review management system - it's not expensive when you consider your business's reputation is at stake

Friday 17 January 2020

No, you're still breaking the law relating to reviews!

Regular readers will know that we never cease to bang the compliance drum - and clients know the benefits (commonly called 'being able to sleep at night'). The reason for this article is that many - some might say most - businesses that have woken up to the power of reviews, especially Google reviews, are still breaking the law

Breaking the law?

The CMA is a government body and its rules have the force of law.

What are those rules?

There's a full analysis here, but in a nutshell, they say two things...

1.  If you invite any of your customers to write a review - anywhere - you must enable them all to do so

2.  Your customer - not the business - must control the timing of the review

The rationale behind these rules is clear: the reviews of the business should be able to provide an accurate and unvarnished guide for prospective customers - otherwise why have reviews in the first place?

What provoked this article?

Two meetings and one chance encounter.

In both meetings, the potential clients both claimed to be compliant but were not. In the 'chance encounter' we met two full-time employees of a well-known London multi-branch estate agency who were spending the morning 'door-dropping'. 

When challenged on the subject of compliance all three said the same things (in different ways):
  • anyone can write a Google review, so it must be OK for us to selectively invite clients that we know will write a positive [Google] review to do so
  • we have a link inviting reviews on our signature block, surely that makes us compliant?
  • our head office controls the timing of the review invitation 
  • you - and by implication, the CMA - cannot possibly expect us to invite [insert name of unhappy customer] to write a review?
The answer to all of these points? Each is either an illustration of non-compliant - illegal - behaviour or illustrates insufficient compliance (the email signature block).

The point is - and this was highlighted by the two staff we met in the street - is that compliance is not expensive (and has massive attendant benefits*), certainly far less expensive than sending staff out to door-drop (and we're not suggesting the business concerned stops doing that).

Not expensive?

It can be free - simply install a Google reviews widget on your website. That, for a complex transactional or professional business - legal, financial, estate agency, medical for example - might be high risk (customers might accidentally - or even wilfully - write inaccurate reviews).

The other option is to employ a moderated review management system - like HelpHound - that costs less than three figures a month (and certainly a lot less than sending two members of staff door-dropping for a morning!) and rest assured that a) inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews are very unlikely to see the light of day and b) be compliant from day one.

*How can compliance either save or earn a business money? 

It's simple when you think about it: non-compliance, where reviews are concerned, is so obvious - if a business has more than ten Google reviews it is definitely proactively inviting them, and if it has no mechanism visible on its website that allows customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing it is almost certainly in breach of one or both of the CMA regulations mentioned above.

That information is dynamite in the hands of a competitor: all they have to say is 'Did you know that [Brown & Co] only invite their happy customers to write reviews' and all those months and years of work building up a glowing reputation go straight down the drain (we have even seen reviews of businesses that say 'don't use this business, I was unhappy and they didn't invite me to write a review' - the CMA would love those.

On the plus side, having great reviews - on your own website and on Google - has been proven to earn money. See how many more calls an clicks to expect here.

The key to compliance - and an awful lot more besides...

This image is taken from a HelpHound client's website; that 'Write a review' button at top right makes our client compliant because anyone can click on it and submit a review. The review will be moderated by HelpHound - read for obvious factual inaccuracies or comments likely to mislead a potential customer (as well as establishing, as far as possible, the bona fides of the reviewer - no one benefits from fake or malicious reviews)

The customer retains the right to have their review published at a time of their own choosing and will be invited - automatically - to copy their review to Google. That results in this...

Looking great - on the business's own website, on Google - compliantly, and for less than £100 a month.

Thursday 16 January 2020

Winkworth rank second in London - has HelpHound make a difference?

There are many thousands of estate agencies in London, and one might reasonably expect the 'big two' (Savills and Knight Frank) to dominate most of the league tables. So who held second place in the critical SSTC (sales subject to contract) rankings for 2019?

Now, at HelpHound we are as aware as anyone that there are multiple factors that will have led to these results in what every commentator agrees has been a torrid time for estate agency. But we reiterate the question posed at the top of this article: 'did HelpHound make a difference?'

Before we attempt to provide even the vaguest answer to this question please take a look at any of our Winkworth members. Here's just one...

In specific Google search ('Winkworth Blackheath')...

That star rating at top left is derived directly from the reviews on Winkworth's own website, not Google as so many assume (as is the score and number of reviews). It's the same for 'Reviews from the web'.

In Google local search ('estate agent Blackheath')...

We'll never know how much Google's algorithm likes business's that host their own reviews on their website, but Winkworth appears to be doing something - actually an awful lot - right: leading the 3-pack and leading natural search (with the score and reviews and stars showing as above).

On their own website (crucial for those that don't arrive there via Google - through Rightmove, for example)...

Is this impressive? A hundred and forty people prepared to say 'use Winkworth Blackheath'?

When combined with the actual reviews...

...well, at least three people thought so - see the 'helpful' votes below the review - all garnered within a week of publication.

In summary

If your attitude is...
  • our customers all ignore Google reviews
  • our customers all ignore Google scores
  • our customers all ignore our competitors' Google reviews, scores and rankings
  • we don't care where we feature in organic search
  • we don't care where we feature in local search
  • we don't care what our Google rich snippets look like 
  • we cannot be bothered to host reviews on our website*
...then you probably won't have read this far! So pick up the phone now and you will be well on the way to looking like Winkworth.

*occasionally we meet a potential client that assumes that we are offering some way of filtering negatives otherwise 'how can our clients look so good?'. They could not be more wrong. The CMA regulations expressly forbid 'cherry-picking' (selecting customers to write reviews) and filtering of any kind. Despite this, almost every business we meet is doing exactly that. For a simple guide to the regulations - and how to comply with them, read this.

Oh! - and while we're on the subject of the impact of 'looking so good' see these results, Google's numbers never lie.

Monday 6 January 2020

Reviews - resolutions for success in 2020

It's 2020 and it's high time businesses were on top of the subject of reviews, after all they've now been around for nearly all of the - not so - new millenium. But many still lag behind. In this first article of the new decade we will outline what a) some of our clients still need to do and b) what other businesses should do.

Our clients

1.  Aim to have at least 100 reviews on your own website.

Front and centre, where potential customers cannot miss them...

With the number of reviews displayed alongside the 'write a review' button and a link to the verification agency (in this case: HelpHound), then all the reviews themselves a click away...

Note: the number of readers who found this review 'helpful'.

These 'stars in search' and the accompanying scores in the business's Google search are from those reviews, the company's own, not Google's...

As are these, in the most important search of all: local...

2.  Aim for at least 50 reviews - per location - on Google.

They show in every conceivable search. In the business's Google knowledge panel...

And in the rich snippets Google shows underneath...

3.  Then double both those numbers, as soon as you can.

4. Respond to all your reviews - on your own site and on Google. 

It is now a proven point that customers respond more positively to businesses that engage with reviewers...

A note on SEO: we will never be able to prove a connection between hosting your own reviews - not a review site's - on your website and a boost in SEO, but we can apply basic logic combined with a pretty thorough understanding of Google's published SEO criteria. Google likes changing content and it likes content that helps differentiate businesses for consumers, and what does both better than reviews? All we can say is that the overwhelming majority of our clients - irrespective of size and spend - do rank very well indeed in local search.

Other businesses

1.  Stop breaking the law. Seriously. We're betting most people reading this think it's still legal to selectively invite customers to write reviews. It is not. Read this.

2.  Stop breaking the law(2). It's not legal to use some kind of filtering system to try and ensure only happy customers write reviews. To be absolutely clear: you cannot send out a survey or email to find out which of your customers are happy and then only invite that subset to write a review; nor can you use a review site like Trustpilot to find those happy customers and then invite them, and only them, to post a review on Google. It's called gating and it is a) illegal in UK law and b) against Google's T&Cs. The CMA will fine you and Google will delete all your reviews. Read this.

4.  Focus on Google. Forget review sites like Trustpilot, Yelp and Feefo (most sophisticated consumers have) and get your own reviews to your own website and then to Google. More here.

3.  Embrace professional review management. It's inexpensive (less than three figures a month per location) and it pays back immediately. Read this.

Have a happy and successful 2020.