Wednesday 1 December 2021

Avoiding cowboy builders - and other trades - the solution is hiding in plain sight

As reported in the Times and many other papers, Mark Gardiner MP introduced a private member’s bill  last week calling for the mandatory licensing of construction companies. Unfortunately government regulation - financial services, communications, transport and so on - has a far from satisfactory record when it comes to ensuring the public are properly served through regulation.

But, as our headline suggests, there is a simple solution that reputable businesses, whether they be builders, plumbers, electricians or lawyers, financial advisers or accountants, can adopt to reassure potential customers - and differentiate themselves from less than scrupulous businesses of whatever kind: reviews. Specifically their own reviews and Google reviews.

Now, we know what some of you will be thinking: Google reviews are not foolproof. But nor - as we have already mentioned - is government regulation. At least Google reviews already exist and are free. Government regulation will take years and comes at a very high price (UK financial services regulation, for example, costs £1.2 billion a year - money straight out of the pockets of savers).

Let's look at some examples so we can refine this advice for the benefit of both businesses and consumers:

How all businesses can safely adopt reviews for everyone's benefit

1.  Businesses with no Google reviews at all

According to Google - which now lists such facts in map search - this business has been in existence for 'more than 10 years'. Now, we fully accept that businesses are not forced to have Google reviews, but we would certainly advise anyone considering such a business with zero reviews to ask some very searching questions before using them.

What should this business - and businesses in a similar position - do? It's never too late. Begin inviting customers to write reviews - compliantly (here's a useful article that covers all the basic compliance). Aim to have at least 50 reviews by this time next year. Then keep on going past 100 and onwards. Note the impact this has on enquiries; we are sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

2.  Businesses with Google reviews, but fewer than 50 

Nine great reviews. The point, though, is that it is possible to acquire a handful of reviews by nefarious means. Even twenty or thirty, But upwards of fifty - or a hundred? That requires some serious mischief. We have been in this business for over ten years and have rarely come across a business with over 100 Google reviews that were not predominantly genuine (100+ reviews on a review website? That's another matter entirely).

The exception is where a business is cherry-picking (choosing only proven happy customers to invite to write a review) and/or gating. Gating is where a business uses a mechanism to establish which of its customers are most likely to write a five star review and then only invites those people to review it. This is almost always done in one of three ways:

  • by getting staff to identify 'happy' customers (known in the trade and by regulators as cherry-picking - illegal in the UK - see how Yell gamed their Trustpilot reviews here)
  • by misusing/manipulating customer surveys: email the customer asking if they are happy and then only invite happy customers who respond to post a review
  • by using a less visible review site (all review sites are less visible than Google): invite reviews to the site and then only invite those customers who post a five star review there to copy their review to Google
What should this business - and businesses in a similar position - do?  Keep inviting customers to write reviews - compliantly (here's a useful article that covers all the basic compliance). Aim to have at least 100 reviews by this time next year. Then keep on going. Note the impact this has on enquiries; again: we are sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

A note here on what stops so many business from actively engaging with reviews: fear of unfair criticism. There is only one way to compliantly ensure that the absolute minimum of unfair, misleading or factually inaccurate reviews see the light of day: moderation.

Moderation is the act of checking each and every review pre-publication. Self-evidently this can only be done by an independent agency - HelpHound is one such - but has the important added benefit of allowing the reviews to appear on the business's website before the reviewer is invited to post them to Google. This article explains the process in full. Ask any business about the value of moderation and they will generally put it in the top three benefits of professional review management. A factually inaccurate or misleading review on Google can literally stop the phones ringing (we call such reviews 'killer reviews' - here are some examples).

3.  Businesses with upwards of 100 Google reviews

Such is the paucity of building firms that have actively engaged with Google reviews we have yet to find one with more than 100 reviews! This is the nearest we could find. Do let us know if you know of one.

As previously stated: if the reviews themselves have a ring of truth - and we always recommend reading a good handful - and the dates are spread across the years, not just all at once (that can be indication of a concerted gating effort) and the business's response to the reviews looks genuine, then we would suggest the consumer is reasonably safe in assuming the business and its reviews are genuine. That does not mean they should instantly appoint the business regardless of any other factors, but they should be safe in proceeding to the next stage: speaking to or otherwise contacting the business.


Consumers trust Google reviews. Businesses that take reviews seriously and incorporate them into their marketing strategy thrive. Businesses that 'game' reviews run the long-term risk of CMA sanction but they also expose themselves to attack by their competitors in the short term (how many times have we heard 'I used to work at XYZ, they systematically cherry-picked'?). 

Professional review management is proven to measurably boost both clicks and calls. Channelling your business's reviews through your own website gives you massive advantages:

  • the opportunity to correct misleading or factually inaccurate reviews before they are published - on your own website or Google
  • owning your own reviews - data that is hugely valuable these days
  • having your own reviews to display on your own website - especially important for those who don't arrive at your website via search

All of the above adds up to a huge USP:

"We allow anyone at all to write a review direct to our website, and all of them are published there for everyone to reference - and then the reviewers are invited to copy them to Google" a massive win when competing for business.

Just look at what follows:

These reviews - and all the reviews the business collects - belong to the business, not HelpHound or any other entity (and certainly not a review site). Anyone visiting this business's website will see these reviews and will over a hundred more to read just by clicking on the number of reviews under the office name. 

Next to that is the crucial 'Write a review' button which allows anyone to click and submit a review. That review is then moderated by HelpHound to ensure, as far as is practicably possible, that it doesn't contain errors of fact or potential misleading comments before the review is posted to the business's website alongside the ones you see here. Then the reviewer - every reviewer - is sent a direct link to the business's Google listing and asked to copy their review there. Just about half do so.

Here's the same business in the vital local search. Top of the Google 3-pack. Top of organic search with their star rating - 5* - and number of reviews - 235 - generated directly from the reviews hosted on their own website. This leads to an uplift of between 20 and 30 percent in inbound enquiries and supports the sale  from beginning to end. Just read this case history on enquiries and the 'consumer's tale' midway down the same article on the vital support they provide in the sales process.

All of the above adds up to massive reassurance for consumers that the business they have found - whether by personal recommendation or by searching the web - is bona fide. It's all consumers need to take the next step: making contact with the business. Review management works, for everyone concerned.

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