Thursday 26 August 2021

Review aggregators - they seem like a great idea until this happens...

There are many solutions out there that offer this facility: a feed of reviews from selected sources to display on a business's website  - often called 'review aggregating'. Let's have a look at just one example to see the fatal flaw. This one happens to be a Trustist client, but it could just as well be a client or one from any other aggregator.

The flaw is further highlighted in a comparison with Trustpilot on Trustist's own website:

'Auto Post to Google Posts' - which means exactly that: every single review received will be automatically posted to Google. Not only that, every review on Google will be displayed on the business's website, as they have been in the example at the top of this article.

So an innocent bystander might not be surprised that they offer this 'benefit' to businesses...

...except that allowing a business to cherry-pick - 'pick positive reviews' (our italics) to 'showcase on your website' - is not only positively misleading for potential customers, it is illegal in the UK. It goes against one of the two core tenets of the CMA regulations which are designed specifically to prevent businesses conniving to use reviews to mislead potential customers.

Who benefits?

We are not surprised that Trustist makes much of one of its clients: Timpson, the high street shoe repair/key cutting business. Let's see where the added value is for Timpson, in Timpson's online marketing director's own words:

In other words: the value is overwhelmingly for Timpson Plc. And we get that. Head office gets a dashboard that they can consult at a glance to get consumer feedback on any one of their 1300 stores and 100+ franchises. But the individual stores? That's a very different story. We took our local Timpson and looked it up on Trustist. This is what we found on the website that is linked direct to Timpson's Kensington High Street listing on Google ...

So we did what any potential customer might do, and clicked to read the reviews. This is what we got...

Aggregated reviews? Sure. All the reviews for all the 1400+ locations aggregated. Helpful? For Timpsons? - maybe. For consumers, who want to know what kind of service they are going to receive from their local Timpsons? Not so much. So they are going to resort to our old friend Google...

Oh dear!

The solution

Businesses have two options. 

1. If the local reputation of the individual business or branch is immaterial, as it may well be with a business like Timpsons (where else are most of us going to get a heel replaced or a key cut?) then use a widget to embed Google's own reviews (just search 'embed Google reviews' and you'll find free solutions aplenty). 

2. If each location's individual image is vital - as it is with the professions: law, financial, medical and services such as estate agency and recruitment, to mention but a few - then a properly moderated review management system is not just necessary, it's absolutely vital.

The key message here - as so often in business - is to spend time in research and/or taking professional advice (we'll set you on the right course in a matter of minutes).

Further reading...

Review denial - why?

We first wrote about this syndrome back in 2014 - who would have thought that there are still some corners of the marketing world where it persists in 2021?

This kind of Google entry is increasingly rare, simply because businesses cannot actively prevent anyone from leaving a Google review; more common are completely unmanaged listings such as the one below (this example is of a substantial London law firm, but it is reprsentative of many others)...

Now, we could fill this post with many more examples of businesses and professions that have yet to engage with Google reviews, but, since this article is aimed fairly and squarely at them it would probably be counter-productive. After all, they almost certainly know who they are.

So, let's first mine our decade-plus of experience and see if we can work out just what is holding them back.

Reasons we are given for not engaging with Google reviews

1.  We don't need any more business

2.  Our clients/patients will not want to be asked to write a publicly visible review

3.  The nature of our business - confidentialitysensitivity - precludes us from inviting our clients/patients for a review

4.  We are concerned that some reviewers - given the highly technical nature of our business - will write factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews

5.  None of our competitors have engaged with reviews

6.  We don't have the resources - human 

7.  We don't have the resources - financial

8.  We will go it alone 

9.  We have engaged - with a reviews site

10. We're not sure just how much value a professional review management strategy will add

Let's deal with these in order (you can skip to your favourite if you like):

1. 'Don't need any [more] business...'

Rare, admittedly, but we have encountered it. The kind of business that doesn't even have a website; after all, if a business is prepared to invest in having a website and the associated hosting fees, surely they must have done so with the intention of generating more business? And then - as reviews are proven beyond all doubt to produce more business - we have to conclude that any business with a website needs review management.

2.  'Client/patient will not want to write a review...'

Completely understandable. Until you look at similar businesses in 'sensitive' areas that have succeeded in engaging their clients or patients - how much more sensitive and confidential than womens' health can a service be? Yes, they will write reviews such as this one...


Remember that you will not be forcing or in any way coercing anyone into writing a review; in this context, the wording of the invitation email is essential (and we have years of experience in advising on this and seeing the positive real-world results).

3.  'Confidentiality precludes...'

This applies to so many essential services: legal, financial and medical are just the tip of a very large iceberg. Again, no one, least of all the business asking for the review, will be asking anyone to divulge any confidential information* - even their real name (avatars are acceptable - only Google/HelpHound will hold their email address); and you won't be pathfinding on behalf of your profession, the concept of reviews has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, in every sphere of business.

*every single review written through HelpHound is moderated for factual inaccuracy, potentially misleading statements and disclosure of potentially confidential information before it is published on the business's website, let alone to Google.

4.  'Factually inaccurate or potentially misleading...'

This is the one single factor that most often prevents professional businesses from enaging with reviews. Either that or they take the chance that the CMA won't descend on them for cherry-picking happy customers to write reviews (see 'CMA core regulations' link under 8. below). 

These kinds of review benefit no one - the business under review, the potential client relying on the review or the reviewer themselves, and that's one of the main reasons why businesses engage HelpHound: every review HelpHound publishes on a business's website is moderated beforehand: checked for factual inaccuracies and potentially misleading statements. Only then is the reviewer invited to copy their review to Google.

5.  'None of our competitors...'

Highly unlikely, but in the event that you operate in such a rarified environment wouldn't it be a great idea to be the first?

6/7.  'We don't have the human/financial resources...'

To increase incoming enquiries by 20-30 percent? We positively guarantee that professional review management will more than pay for whatever resources you devote to it. And adding HelpHound to oversee your engagement with Google reviews will cost little more than a decent mobile phone contract per location.

8.  'We will go it alone...'

Fine. Better than doing nothing - perhaps. But, as with any professional adviser, HelpHound expects the rewards for its clients to far and away exceed the cost, always. Just read 'Results with a capital R' and we're sure you will see what we mean.

Oh! and by the way, most businesses that have developed an independent strategy with Google reviews are in breach of one or more of the CMA's core regulations - almost always unwittingly (not that that will influence the CMA's enforcement teams!).

On top of this, the benefits of hosting your own reviews on your own website are now proven beyond all doubt: the obvious being that consumers can read reviews there without resorting to Google where they will be shown reviews of your competiors; the less obvious, but no less important benfit being that hosting your own reviews gives you SEO credit with Google and enables them to be moderated, thereby reducing the chances that an inaccurate or misleading review sees the light of day - on your site or on Google.

9.  'We have engaged a review site...'

This is a tricky one; review sites did have a role to play before Google became so overwhelmingly dominant in the review space, now, with very few exceptions, businesses are better advised to go down the Google route. First, just google your own business and then, for good measure, google a competitor: what do you see? Yes, Google reviews. Then, as if that were not convincing enough, ask yourself, would my business rather have 100 Google reviews or 100 on [ABC review site]? For an even more detailed answer to that question read this article.

10. 'Value added...'

Read this comment made by a client of one of our clients. 

As the lawyers in the example at the top of this article might say: 'We rest our case'.

Monday 16 August 2021

Why are some law firms using Trustpilot over Google for reviews?


This article highlights a major issue for law firms when it comes to reviews; if they use Trustpilot they will simply be joining a 'club' of similar firms whose scores are as close to the 'perfect 5' as makes no difference. There is also the question of businesses using Trustpilot - or a similar solution - to illegally gate reviews to Google (the practice of inviting every client to write a review on the former and then only those that rate the business 5* there to copy it to the latter - it's also against Google's terms of service to do so and runs the risk of having every one of the business's Google reviews deleted, without recourse to appeal).

Here is just one example of a legal firm that has gone down the Trustpilot route:

And here are their locations in Google search:

Why, we ask ourselves, did Setfords - and many firms besides (and not only law firms) - choose Trustpilot over Google? Google reviews are visible to everyone searching on the web, whether on their business name or for a local solicitor. Trustpilot reviews? The potential client has to specifically search for them.

By choosing Trustpilot, Setfords have, as well as making themselves look relatively insignificant from the point-of-view of anyone looking for or at their Google reviews (worse, in one or two locations), put themselves in a position where they are forced to invest heavily in Google PPC to ensure the visibility of their Trustpilot reviews. It is only by buying the advertisement you see below that their Trustpilot reviews are exposed to view in search:

How much better off, from every point-of-view, would Setfords have been today, and for the foreseeable future, if they had chosen to invest their energies into inviting their clients to post - free - Google reviews rather than Trustpilot?

With nearly 2,000 Google reviews and a great Google score, visible whenever anyone searched for them, at no cost whatsoever.

Maybe there is a reason?

When we spoke to Setfords they listed, quite reasonably, the 'opportunity to challenge a review they suspected of being written by someone who had no direct experience of their services' as one of the factors they found attractive about Trustpilot's offering.

What sensible business would not want such a mechanism? 

To mine down further into this, let's see exactly how many times Setfords have used this facility - called 'quarantine' by Trustpilot - and examine just how it operates.

If you look at this screenshot you will see that Setfords have had occasion to challenge just 5 reviews - out of a total of just over 4,500. 0.1 percent. Negligible, with two of the five challenged reviews remaining on the site (as the reviewers provided proof of their dealings with the firm to Trustpilot). But that does not mean that one of the other three might not have done significant damage if it had remained on the site; a quick look at what happened to another firm - Summerfield Browne - will dispel any illusions on that account.

It also makes clear the nature of Trustpilot's offering. They allow businesses to flag any reviews at all (Setfords have been sparing in their use of this facility - challenging the validity of less than two percent of their negative reviews). Trustpilot then contacts the reviewer and asks for 'proof of purchase' which, as you can see, has not been forthcoming from two of the cases.

We have concerns about the legality of such a mechanism under UK law, which explicitly states that reviewers have the right to have their opinions published, no matter what. It probably works pretty well where the subject of the review is a product, but to insist that 'proof of purchase' of a service is provided would deny many classes of reviewer - the person on the other side of a legal issue, for just one instance - their right to have a review published. It also goes to the issue of confidentiality; someone who wishes to warn others - rightly or wrongly (remember the business has right of reply) may, in some instances, reasonably be excused from revealing their identity to the business under review.

One of the authors of a deleted review has seen fit to post this - unchallenged - review:

Which makes the point about Trustpilot's requirement that personal details - how much more 'personal' do details get than a name? - not being disclosed in reviews an interesting one-way street. To listen to all their marketing one would think that reviewers would be encouraged to be specific about issues raised with individual members of staff - the injunction to 'not mention personal details' would seem to go against this.

What do we think is happening here?

First: Trustpilot has a very proactive and motivated salesforce; after all, with all that lovely money raised by their previous VC rounds and now their IPO they can afford it! One of our Plc clients has been approached by them countless times over the last four years, the last time this spring with an offer to undercut our rates by over 50% - and at a huge discount to Trustpilot's advertised fee scale.

So why has this business remained with HelpHound?

Not out of any misplaced sense of loyalty, we can assure you. Here are the hard and fast reasons.

1.  Our primary focus for them is, and always has been since they joined five years ago, Google.

Google reviews are far more visible than Trustpilot reviews (Trustpilot clients are lucky if their reviews show on page one of specific or local search). Google reviews show prominently in every search, and always will. This often involves Trustpilot clients in expensive ongoing commitments to PPC in order to have their Trustpilot reviews show in search.

Google reviews also have far more credibility, partly as a result of exposure, partly because the Google brand is so well known and also, increasingly, partly because    consumers are coming to realise that Google reviewers leave a paper trail that Google can follow if needs be: in other words, Google reviews are more trusted by consumers.

2.  Of their 100 plus locations, almost all feature in the top three in competitive local search; most at No. 1

Local search is a service business's lifeblood these days, even if the search is initiated by another factor (personal recommendation or the business's PR/marketing, for instance). Service businesses and the professions recognise that consumers are far more likely to click through to their website - or call - if a business appears high up in search.

When someone is searching for medical, financial or legal advice there will almost always be a dozen businesses thrown up by such a search (often more, especially for professions such as estate agency, where a search in a metropolitan area such as London or Manchester will throw up twenty-five to fifty alternatives).

We don't take all the credit for this: the business in qustion has an excellent website that is properly optimised, but when you consider Google score businesses 15% for SEO based on whether or not they host independently verified reviews, then what other major differentiator can there be? Especially when you consider many of the business in question's competitors have similarly excellent websites, but no reviews hosted there.

3.  HelpHound moderates every single review

Inaccurate, potentially misleading or even downright fake or malicious reviews can do serious harm to a business and they can equally mislead a potential customer - often away from the business. Our moderators make as sure as is compliantly possible that no such reviews see the light of day, at least not before the reviewer and the business have had the opportunity to correct them. This is an aspect of our srvice that businesses find it hard to put a monetary value on; that is: until they have such a review moderated successfully.

For an example of the kind of harm a single review can do to a service - as opposed to online retail - business, please read this sorry, and ongoing, saga.

4.  HelpHound acts as an honest broker

Our interest is our clients best interest; our advice is always 'best advice'. If Trustpilot - or Feefo or Yelp or any other solution - were in a client's best interest we would have no hesitation in recommending them. As a matter of fact we have just finished an exercise in rebalancing the impression created on Trustpilot for the above-mentioned client. 


Law firms - as well as many other professional services - have struggled to find a solution to online reviews; they are quite understandably wary of embarking on any strategy that has the potential to do long-term harm to their reputations, in most cases unfairly.

This has led to some looking at the most high-profile solutions and picking the one of them. Unfortunately that, for the overwhelming majority, is not a reviews site; it's Google, but Google plus independent moderation.

Monday 2 August 2021

Why pay when the best review solution is free?

This article was prompted by a puff piece in today's Times for a new app aimed at garden enthusiasts called PictureThis. Essentially a solution for a problem already solved by Google Lens.

Here's the PictureThis plant identifier app (a snip at £25 p.a.)...

And here's Google Lens - in action...

Plant identified - for free.

What relevance has this to reviews, you will be asking? Well, almost exactly the same situation pervades the reviews sphere: businesses are paying for a service that Google already provides - for free. And those paid-for alternatives are by far and away less effective.

Look at this simple matrix...

And just pause a minute to think about how you, the person reading this article, and your customers, find, see, read and react to reviews. 

  • Everyone sees Google reviews - every time they perform a search, even if they are not consciously looking for them
        Search for a specific business and what does the consumer see?

Trustpilot? AllAgents? Yelp? Feefo? Any other review site's reviews? No. Google reviews (Oh!, and in this instance, the business's own reviews hosted on its own website and pulled through to Google under its organic listing, but we'll come to that later)

        Search for a category of business and what does the consumer see?

The same: Google reviews. Or rather the business's score and the number of Google
reviews it has accumulated. The reviews themselves are just a click away...

  • As a result, Google reviews have massive influence, way ahead and above any individual review site, no matter how ubiquitous; many studies have repeatedly confirmed that consumers increasingly don't bother to seek out individual sites now that Google provides reviews in all searches, all the time. You only have to look at the share prices of the two largest quoted review sites to see what investors think...

  • This leaves the businesses that employ those review sites in the position of having to jump through multiple hoops - often at significant expense (Google Ads/SEO etc.) - in order that their reviews be seen. Even then their reviews are often - almost always, in fact -subordinated to Google reviews.

Ask yourself the $64,000 question: if a fairy godmother came along and offered you the choice of 100 5* Google reviews or the same for a reviews site, which would you choose?

HelpHound - where do we come in?

If you look back at the two Google searches above you will see one aspect of our service: providing the mechanism for the business to show reviews on its own website...

Right in the potential clients' eyeline on their home page, with over two hundred more just a click away...

...that Google pulls through into every search result...

But perhaps our most important functions take place behind the scenes:
  1. Collection and moderation: our software not only enables the business to display its own reviews (that it owns - rather than giving away that valuable content and data to a reviews site); before each one of those reviews is published it is thoroughly checked by one of our moderators for factual inaccuracies and potentially misleading statements
  2. Only then, after being published on the business's own site, is the reviewer - every reviewer - asked to copy their review across to Google. That's why our clients invariably have more reviews on their website than they do on Google - but our keyword is 'quality': any business can accumulate hundreds of reviews, but it takes the kind of care and expertise we deploy at HelpHound to ensure, as far as is practicably possible, that those reviews add value for all concerned, consumer and business alike.
  3. Compliance: most businesses are currently reaking UK law when looking to boost their Google reviews. The law specifically states that in a business invites a single customer to write a review it must allow all to do so - and at a time of the customer's own choosing. And it's no defence to say 'Well, they can write a review on Google whenever they like'. HelpHound clinets comply with the CMA regulations.

Many kinds of business don't necessarily need a service such as this (online retail, for instance, where consumers are buying a physical product), but service businesses and the professions - medical, financial, legal and estate agency, for example - do themselves and their potential clients and patients a disservice if they don't.

Key takeaways

  • if your business has yet to decide on a reviews strategy/solution: make sure it is focused on Google reviews
  • if you are concerned by the harm an inaccurate or misleading review (or reviews) can do (to your business): you would do well to give HelpHound's service serious consideration
  • if you are already involved with a reviews site you should be reviewing that involvement in light of the points made in this article

Further reading

  • Reviews and the law: almost all businesses that we meet are breaking the law in some way or another; how do our clients comply?
  • Results: how professional review management is positively guaranteed to generate more clicks and calls for your business
  • Trustpilot: why it struggles so badly when compared with a Google-focussed review policy

Results with a capital 'R'

Google introduced Google My Business performance statistics back in 2017. Sent to each business in an email from Google that lands in your inbox every month* they look like this...

This report is for the first month after full implementation of HelpHound's service by the business in question: Calls up 18% and website visits up a massive 27% - and the only difference? HelpHound (and for a month - August - when they would normally expect falls)

*should you be unable to find your monthly GMB report (a not uncommon occurrence) please call us and we will help you track it down

There is a strong message from Google here - and that is that looking great in reviews is vitally important if you are to maximise returns from search.

Look like this when someone conducts a specific search on your business...

 ...with your own reviews, gathered with HelpHound, showing the star rating, review score and number (top left) and your Google reviews (heading the Google knowledge panel on the right) as well as 
and rich snippets (below, under 'Reviews' at the base of the Knowledge Panel), all working in concert to produce the kind of uplift in calls and visits reported by Google in the top screenshot. In this case the overwhelming majority of Google reviews were copied, by the reviewer, from an original posted on the business's own website after being automatically invited to do so by HelpHound.

The Google knowledge panel (above) and local search (below) are so important for businesses now - the days of tagging your website with relevant keywords and hoping for the best are well behind us, and with the day when Google serves the 'best' businesses in local search fast approaching (they effectively do this with the reviews filter in map search already) any business that does not take its review management seriously is bound to suffer - after all, there can only ever be one number one in organic search and only one page 1. With professional review management you massively increase your chances of achieving both

Here's an example: in the Google 3-pack (the 3 businesses at the top of every local search), with so many reviews as to dispel any doubts as to their authenticity, and the business is leading in organic search with the score, stars and number of reviews hosted on their own site pulling through to further impress searchers. Bear in mind there are more than sixty - 60 - businesses competing in this local search. Just how much do you think a business ranking lower than the ones shown above - not on page one of local search and not in the 3-pack - would give to be where Winkworth is, and has been since very soon asfter they joined HelpHound?  

We think the message is now even clearer - that professional review management pays dividends - we know, like Winkworth, your business will see the benefits too. One thing is for sure: you will know within weeks of joining because Google will tell you!

And please note: While the business in this example is an estate agency the same principle will apply to any business from accountancy to, well, zoos!

Further reading:

  •  A comprehensive guide to everything we do here at HelpHound

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