Monday, 26 September 2022

Partner with HelpHound

Here are the reasons we think you should partner with us. And when we say 'partner' we mean a partnership of equals - we share all our revenues 50/50 with our partners. Unlike the dictionary definition above, where only the profits are shared!

1.  Free Membership for your business - then a significant income stream

By introducing just two businesses you effectively gain free membership for your own business.

And that's just the beginning - by introducing more than two businesses HelpHound Partners begin to earn a significant income stream. Extra revenue for your business for no input bar the introduction - you help the business concerned and earn an income for your business at the same time - and we all help each other in these troubled times.

2.   Thanks from the businesses you introduce

Referrals or introductions, call them what you will, almost always involve some element of risk for the referring business. Not so in the case of HelpHound: our members never fail to see their online image improve. 

Any business you introduce will...


    • look more impressive on their own website

    • look more impressive in Google searches - how much do you think a competitor would value being in the position Winkworth in Blackheath find themselves in here?
    • increase its Google score by between 0.2 and 0.5 on Google 
    • be compliant with CMA regulations - most businesses are currently in breach - knowingly or unwittingly - where reviews are concerned
    • support its SEO - it's no accident that Winkworth Blackheath lead local search in the example above
    • show stars in local search; the five gold stars next to the rating of 4.9 and the '247 votes' above are not Google stars, they're taken directly from the business's own reviews on its own website (as you can see if you compare both screenshots or perform these searches for yourself)
    • drive revenue up - measurably, as a direct result of their HelpHound membership

3.  No downside

None whatsoever. Except our membership fee, of course. But then they can negate that by becoming a partner in their turn.

What kind of business is best suited to becoming a HelpHound Partner?

The simple answer is 'any business at all'. We will never turn away a prospective client or partner, but those businesses best suited to generating significant revenue through a HelpHound Partnership are those that already have an advisory relationship with their clients, those in...
  • advertising
  • any sales or marketing driven enterprise - estate agency being an obvious example
  • public relations
  • web services
  • legal services
  • financial services - accountancy being the most obvious
  • insurance
...we're sure you get the drift. The sort of business where the client will not be at all surprised when they are asked 'Would you like an introduction to a business that will help you look even better than you currently do in Google searches?'

Of course, the best possible introduction is 'Would you like to know how our business got to look so great (whilst complying with the law)?' So, if you are reading this and are not already a member then that's the first step. But the day after you join there's nothing to stop you from introducing your first partner business.

Welcome to HelpHound Partnership - where everyone benefits.

And finally... the mechanics

Simply send an email to your business contact along these lines, copying in

'We use HelpHound to maximise our review management without losing sleep, it's the only safe - and legal - way of having all our hard work and great customer service reflected in our Google score as well as the underlying reviews. I'm dropping you this line to introduce them to you.'

And we'll take over from there. The next thing you will see is a credit from HelpHound against your own membership fee.

Monday, 5 September 2022

Looking the best your business possibly can

We've already established in the previous article that scoring 4.0 on Google will leave a business languishing at the bottom of the Google rankings in most business sectors, certainly in the sectors that are key for professional businesses: financial, medical, legal, estate agency, recruitment etc. To even begin to make the top 5 in local search a business needs to score 4.7 or more.

Now let's look at the solutions many businesses in these sectors are currently adopting in order to achieve such scores.

1.  Cherry-picking

Everyone's favourite: simply hand-pick happy customers and then invite them, and only them, to write a review. How do we know? Easy. It took us less than a minute to find this example and then about the same amount of time to establish that this law firm is cherry-picking by analysing the pattern of its reviews: out of a total of 46 reviews five are older than 3 years and two - both rating it 1* - were posted after 2019. It almost certainly cherry-picked its happy clients in 2018, achieved a perfect 5.0 with 44 reviews and hasn't asked anyone for a review since then.

And - be sure - if we can tell so can the CMA. Cherry-picking is illegal.

2.  Gating

Really just a sophisticated version of cherry-picking: send a questionnaire out to every customer asking them to rate the business and then only invite those who respond with 10 out of 10 or 5 stars to write a Google review.

There's a variant that involves using one of the diminishing band of review sites - get the customer to write a review there and then only invite those who have posted a 5* review to the review site to copy that review to Google.

Again: illegal.

3.  A moderated system

Moderation: 'the act of having an independent agency read and check every review before publication' is the only sure-fire - and legally compliant - way of ensuring a business looks as good as it deserves. 

Why? Because moderation focuses on identifying reviews that contain errors of fact and statements likely to mislead the reader. 

And, by their very nature, those kinds of reviews also tend to be ones that carry the 1* ratings. If they can be corrected before publication, then the business's score will rise.

There's a reason we are able to drop the anonymity of the business above: that's because they are fully compliant with the law - the CMA regulations. They don't cherry-pick and they don't gate. They are able to sleep at night for two crucial reasons: they don't fear the CMA will come knocking and they know that unfair, inaccurate or misleading reviews will benefit from moderation.

We often meet people who say 'but we can respond to our Google reviews and correct errors of fact and any misconceptions then'. So you can, but by then most of the damage is done: the score is set in stone (as well as the impact it has on the business's overall score), irrespective of your response (Google* won't change it, even if you have cast iron proof that the review is in error); as well as that the harmfully and unfairly negative review will stand and will be read by your prospective customers. 

Why not just invest in moderation and that concern - and the potential harm caused by a factually incorrect or potentially misleading review - goes away?

*Appealing against a Google review. In short: unless the review has contravened one of the following... will struggle. That doesn't mean you shouldn't appeal, we conduct Google appeals on behalf of clients on an almost daily basis and are sometimes surprised when one that does not fit neatly into one of the categories in the above checklist succeeds, but you will note that the following are not prima facie grounds...

      • errors of fact
      • misleading statements

...and that's exactly why moderation is so valuable.


We estimate that our clients score between 0.2 and 0.5 more on Google than if they had simply gone it alone - compliantly. That may not seem like a lot, but in the context of a competitive marketplace where over 90 percent of potential customers are influenced by Google scores and reviews and almost all businesses score above 4.0 it is almost always the difference between being at or very near the top of a ranked Google search and at or near the bottom.


If your business falls into either of categories 1 or 2 above - don't panic, you're not alone! - but you need to seriously consider 'going straight' by adopting a moderated system - as soon as possible. If your business has yet to engage with Google reviews for fear of the damage factually inaccurate or misleading reviews might do to your Google score then solution 3 is for you.

It's not only the CMA you need to be concerned about, your competitors will soon cotton on - if we can easily identify businesses that are cherry-picking so can they, and they won't hesitate to use that information in competitive pitches in order to devalue your Google score.

Spin that around and be able to say 'We invite all of our customers and stakeholders to write reviews, so the score you see and the reviews you read are a genuine portrayal of our business.' And you will find out just what a business winner moderation can be.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Is 4 out of 5 a good score?

The simple answer? Yes, if you are selling clothing or white goods. Consumers will buy a shirt or a toaster that scores 4 out of 5.

But for services? Medical, financial,  legal and so on? No way. Let us explain. First some numbers: let's assume the business has 100 reviews - and that the reviewers have scored the business either 5* (happy) or 1* (unhappy) - a score of 5.0 self-evidently means 100 x 5* reviews. A score of 4.0 means 75 x 5* reviews and 25 x 1* reviews (75 x 5 = 375 + 25 x 1 = 25 = 400/100 = 4.0). A business with fully a quarter of its reviewers rating it 1* (given that a reviewer cannot rate a business 0 stars) will not look good by comparison with most of its competitors.

Take the firm of solicitors above. Scoring 4.0 means that no less than six of their 25 reviewers rate them at 1 star. The comments made in those 1* reviews will deflect business - they will prevent people from picking up the phone and/or clicking any further. And so will the score. Far from saying to themselves '4 out of 5, that's not bad', prospective clients or such a business will be faced with ninety-two out of a hundred such firms scoring 4.5 or better, the same goes for the  medical sector...

The odd one out, somewhat surprisingly, is the financial sector. We continue to see scores such as these...

What is the legal profession doing that the financial advisers are not?

Simply? Asking for reviews. If you don't ask for reviews you don't get them (that is, you don't get the ones you deserve - you will get the odd review from the most motivated of all reviewers: seriously unhappy customers).

Our advice

1.  Ask for reviews. But remember, by law you must enable all your customers to write a review. No cherry-picking (just about any business scan score 4.7 by only inviting happy customers to post reviews - but it's illegal). 

2.  Adopt a moderated system such as HelpHound. This will enable you to sleep at night without the fear of unfair or inaccurate reviews causing harm - and harming your score.

3.  Aim for as close as possible for a perfect 5.0 score. Few businesses achieve it over any length of time, but 4.7 - 4.9 is our benchmark for clients. Any lower and we take a long hard look together. 



Monday, 1 August 2022

The fake review saga rumbles on

Which? on 28 July...

Whose responsibility is this? Let's look at the stakeholders one by one...

  • the consumer
All these sites' terms and conditions contain wording to the effect that 'the review should be a record of the reviewer's personal experience of the business under review'. And the overwhelming majority of reviews contain just that. The problem is that the tiny minority of inaccurate or misleading or just plain fake reviews will do harm - to the business and to potential users of the business alike. Few review mechanisms have addressed this effectively.

Consumers need review mechanisms they can trust; it is up to the platforms and their business clients, as well as the regulators, to ensure such mechanisms are, as far as possible, delivered.
  • the business
Businesses - again, the overwhelming majority - fall into two camps: those that have realised the potential that reviews have to drive business in their direction and those that are scared stiff of them. Many of the latter have only joined the former by gaming the system - by hand-picking those that they are as sure as they possibly can be will be complimentary and write a 5* review. This - and this still comes as a surprise for many - is illegal in the UK.

Businesses need to find ways of delivering reliable reviews to consumers. And they need to stop gaming the various review platforms.
  • the regulator

The CMA addressed the issue of review manipulation back in August of 2016 - six years ago now. Unfortunately, as in many other areas of marketing, until the CMA uses its powers to enforce its regulations and makes an example of a business that is flouting them, businesses will continue to break the law. We have an ever-expanding file of law-breakers and so we must assume do other businesses where they have found their competitors to be gaining an unfair advantage. We know our clients are often asked 'What's the difference between you and XYZ (when you both have such similar Google scores)?' and the answer invariably impresses: 'If you look at our website there's a 'Write a review' button on there which anyone can use to write a review whenever they choose.'

The regulator needs to sanction a business - any business - that is flouting the law.

  • Facebook, Google and Trustpilot - and the many other sites that host reviews
Our opinion on this is a matter of record, and it's shared by Which?: that platforms that host reviews have a duty of care to stakeholders - the reviewer, the business under review and the reader of the review - to do all they can to ensure that the reviews they host are written by genuine customers and contain as little content that is fake, factually incorrect or potentially misleading as possible. Those that dismiss this as extreme should pause to think of reviews of essential services - medical, legal and financial, for instance - where health and wealth are at stake before saying 'does it really matter if the odd review is inaccurate, misleading, fake or written by a competitor?'. Unfortunately, all of the platforms quote the 'freedom of speech' mantra and do little to prevent such reviews appearing under their banners. This, as matters stand in 2022, is where HelpHound comes in.

Businesses need to realise that these sites are not going to move any time soon and adopt a moderated solution - now!

One click - on that 'Write a review' button - is all it takes: full compliance and moderation both flow from there.

What about HelpHound?

First the process: with HelpHound there are two main avenues that someone must follow to write a review - they will either be invited, by email, by the business, or they will see the 'Write a review' button on the business's website (above). In both cases, once written the review will be read by a HelpHound moderator before it is published. All reviews are published unless they contain content that is factually incorrect or has the potential to mislead a reader. If this is the case our moderator refers back to the reviewer and, if appropriate, to the business under review (it should be noted that the reviewer retains the right to have whatever review they wish published - this maintains the system's credibility and complies with UK law).  After moderation the review is published on the business's website and we then automatically invite the reviewer to copy their review to Google. In every case.

Now: let us examine the potential for fraudulent misuse of our system. 

  • Who can write a review? Anyone with an email address. So there's no way to ensure the reviewer is genuine? No. None at all - except the content of the review (we do confirm email addresses, but that means nothing, anyone can acquire a new Gmail address in a matter of seconds). And that is one of the main reasons we moderate all reviews. It is unfair to both the business and the future consumer that may rely on the review when deciding whether or not to use the business to publish reviews without moderation.

Perhaps an example may help here: the reviewer writes a review saying the business overcharged them. If we published that review without asking for the business's version of events the business may well end up being unfairly criticised and anyone reading the review would be - again, unfairly - put off using the business. Some will say that the business has a 'right of reply', and so it does. But this will not alter the impact of the unfair rating on the business's all-important overall Google score. Consumers - like it or not - select businesses first based on their Google score: a business coring 4.8 will receive more enquiries than one scoring 4.6, all other factors being equal.

  • So the business could write its own reviews? In theory - yes. But HelpHound has a 'two strikes' rule (you can see it referred to here, as far back as 2016) whereby we promise to 'sack' any business caught doing this after a single warning. We have had to warn a handful of client businesses over the years - almost always because one of our moderators has spotted a review written by an over-enthusiastic member of staff who thought that  their wonderful experience of working for ABC Plc was worthy of a review. HelpHound's reputation rests on the quality of our moderation - in the reverse of the way in which sites like those in the Which? headline are harmed by their lack of such oversight.
  • So a competitor (or a disgruntled ex-member of staff) could write a review? Yes. And they do - occasionally. But they never make it through moderation. We will - and do - email anyone where we have cause to suspect their review is in any way flawed and, unsurprisingly, few in the above categories respond! In the rare cases where they do we will ask questions that they will find impossible to answer convincingly - the name they used when transacting business, for instance. 
  • How can a HelpHound moderator spot a fake review? It's remarkably easy - and over 99 percent effective. The way the review is written will almost always give it away. Add in the fact that our moderators can communicate with both the reviewer and business under review during the process and the success rate rises as near as makes no difference to 100%. 
  • Is there an inherent incentive for HelpHound to filter out negative reviews of its clients? No, simply because almost all genuine reviewers, if denied the right to have their review published through HelpHound, will simply resort to writing their review elsewhere - mostly to Google. And remember that all reviewers, whatever their opinion or star rating, are automatically invited to copy their review to Google. It's built into our software. On top of this, we really don't want the negative publicity of the kind that the review hosting sites receive when the press and the likes of Which? decide to test the system.


Google, Facebook and the review sites - despite their protestations of action - don't look like they are about to make any fundamental improvements any time soon. So, for both your business's and your customers sake it makes sense to employ a moderator such as HelpHound. 

The immediate impact of doing so? You won't have to worry about fake, inaccurate or malicious reviews any more and you won't have to worry about flouting UK law. Most of all: you will be delivering reliable opinions of the service your business offers to your prospective customers/clients/patients. 

We estimate that the hard number attached to our service results in our clients scoring on average 0.2 - 0.4 more than they would otherwise - both legally and legitimately.

And finally...

We appreciate that all of this, although essential, is fairly dry. If you would like to read a consumer's take on just how influential reviews can be and a dispassionate industry influencer's - estate agency in this instance - take on just how successful one of our clients is, relative to one of their closest competitors, please read on.


Friday, 22 July 2022

Online reviews - the BASIC basics

The most recent article on here is entitled 'Online reviews - the basics'.  We commend it to you if you have fifteen minutes to spare, and it will surely repay you a hundredfold, even if you were previously unaware of just one of the 12 points we made there.

But some people - completely understandably - want something brief. Punchy even! So here goes...

Q1.  What reviews do we need?

A: Google reviews. Not Trustpilot. Not Feefo. Not Yelp. Not Why? Because Google reviews always appear every time someone searches on your business - or your type of business.

Note: if you have any doubt about this just look at the share price history of the two biggest quoted review sites. Yelp peaked at $97 in 2014 and trades at $31 today. Trustpilot peaked at £4.81 in September last year and trades at 71p today. Ouch! 

Q2. Where do we need them?

A: On Google and on your own website. Customers increasingly rely on reviews - so why not give them reviews where they can easily see - and read - them?

Note: Just search and see. Try the local search 'estate agent Blackheath' and then the specific search 'Winkworth Blackheath'. Then check out the business's website and see how impressive their reviews look there.

Q3. Can we get them for free in both locations?

A: Yes. Invite customers to write reviews to Google and display them on your website using any one of the free widgets out there (an online search for Google review widget/plugin will throw them up - but don't respond to any of the ads - best of all consult your web designer).

Note: As with anything that's free in life, be wary. Read all about moderation in Qs 4 & 5.

Q4. Why might we need HelpHound's moderation?

A: If you are happy with a Google score of 4.3 you don't. If, in addition, you are prepared to break the law and only invite 'happy' customers to post reviews to Google you may even score 4.8. If you are prepared to go further down the illegal road and 'gate' (prequalify) you will score 4.9 or even 5.0. 

Note: if you break the law you won't only be running the risk of being noticed by the regulators (the CMA), you will undoubtedly be spotted by your sharpest competitors. Don't hand them a win.

Q5. Right, so what kind of business needs moderation?

Professional businesses and businesses that deal with complex issues. Financial, medical, legal and the like.  Any business that calls its customers 'clients' or 'patients' is useful shorthand. Why? Because customers of these kinds of businesses can easily misunderstand matters and write factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews.

Note: We keep a record of the numbers of reviews moderated on behalf of our clients; our moderation enables a potentially harmful inaccurate or misleading review to be corrected before it goes live at least once every six months for a typical client.


Need more? Call us.

Further reading...

Here are some useful articles that will take you deeper into the science of review management...

  1. Results. Review management pays for itself. Here's how.
  2. Moderation: the keystone of review management.
  3. Compliance. Why not be compliant with UK law?
  4. 'Killer' reviews - examples of single reviews that stop the phone ringing.
  5. A shocking case history - where the business took on the review site and the reviewer

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Online reviews - the basics

A new client reminded us that some people are still on first base regarding reviews and that we haven't written a 'beginners guide' for quite some time. Here we address all the questions someone coming new to the subject of online reviews might have - if you have any that aren't answered here please let us know and we'll add them in.

1.  Who reads reviews?


The simple answer? Everyone. Why? Because they are placed front-and-centre of every Google search. And that in itself tells you a lot: if Google are putting such value on reviews we know that it knows consumers are a) reading them and b) acting on what they read.

2.  Who writes reviews?



You might be surprised. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that those who write reviews are lonely people with far too much time on their hands; review writers come from across the spectrum.  But, in a way, it doesn't matter who thy are, because, taken together, they have immense power - to drive business towards or away from any given business. As the graphic above says: ask and you will receive.


We include this review to show you that businesses that provide great service - even in such a sensitive area as this, will attract reviews, providing the invitation is worded sensitively. And how valuable must such a review be to people in a similar situation?


3.  Do reviews have credibility?



Again, this can be argued until the cows come home. The fact is that the more urgent the need and the more complex the issue, the more people rely on reviews. Shirts and socks? Not so much. Health, finance and legal? Far more so.


4.  What impact will 'opting in' with reviews have on our business?

It will light up your online shop window. No matter how much marketing and PR a business does, at the end of the day it's going to be searched for online - even if that's simply to find an address or phone number. At that point the potential customer is going to see reviews - Google reviews - and they will read them, it's only human nature.

From a statistical point of view we tend to advise businesses to expect an uplift in enquiries - through both their website and Google search - of between 8 and 15 percent. Some experience far more than that, but none experience a fall. Adopting moderated review management is a win/win all the way.


5.  How can we measure this?


Every month Google sends your business a report. In that report are the hard numbers for the calls and clicks you've received in the previous month. These will reflect any uplift as a result of your online efforts, including reviews. The image above is a screenshot of a client's first Google My Business report post-adoption. It shows a remarkable uplift in calls and clicks through to their website - +18% and +27% respectively; you can see the results in your own GMB report, every month.


6.  What about all the review sites?



Google reviews only came to prominence after the review sites had been founded - the likes of Yelp, Trustpilot, and Feefo all preceded Google reviews. Now the review sites offer no added value for a business: they are less visible and less credible. Ultimately all business needs to do is ask itself 'Would we rather have 100/1000 Google reviews or the same number on [Trustpilot/Feefo...]? 


7.  What can we do if we get an unfair or inaccurate negative review?

Google has very tight guidelines for appeals against reviews. That is why moderation - see 8. below, is so important. We conduct Google appeals on behalf of clients all the time and some do succeed, but it is important that businesses employ some kind of moderation in order that factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews are spotted before they reach Google.


8.  How does moderation work?

The review is written to the business's website. HelpHound reads the review before it is published and reverts to both business and reviewer if there is any contentious content. In order to be compliant with the CMA regulations the reviewer retains the right to have whatever review they want published, at any time during or after this process. Here's an example of moderation in action...

At any time during this process, or at any time subsequently, the reviewer could publish their review - or an amended version of it. The fact that few choose to do so is a reflection of the efficacy of moderation in resolving misunderstandings.


9.  What impact will hosting reviews on our website have?


Consumers want reviews; of that there is no longer any shadow of a doubt. So modern businesses show reviews, prominently. And enquiries flow as a result.


10.  How will we get stars in Google search?


Here's a typical local search on Google; the stars next to Winkworth Blackheath relate the score and reviews hosted on its website, not its Google reviews and score.

This is where your web designer comes in. We provide them the API and they implement it in such a way as the Google schema pulls the ranking we show on your site through to search.


11.  Why not go direct to Google?

Indeed. If you are happy to score 4.3 and have 5-15 percent of your reviews rating your business at one star then by all means focus on Google without moderation. But if your competitors are scoring 4.8 - by fair means or foul* - you will need a moderated system.

If you work in sensitive professions - medical, legal, financial and so on, where multiple reviews are read by consumers before making their initial enquiry it is vital to minimise the number of factually inaccurate or misleading reviews. And not just for your business's sake but for the sake of your future customers/clients/patients who may otherwise be put off taking the next step towards using your services.


12.  *Fair or foul?

It is illegal - in the UK anyway - to...

    • selectively invite customers to write reviews
    • control the timing of such an invitation
    • perform any action to establish whether or not a customer is likely to write a 5* review before inviting those who do so to write one (known as 'gating')

But that doesn't mean that many businesses don't do exactly this: in our experience the overwhelming majority of businesses do, wittingly or unwittingly. Moderation gives such businesses the comfort that they won't be breaking the law in future.

Thats all. As we said at the start, please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions - through this blog or direct at or by phoning 020 7100-2233. 

Monday, 11 July 2022


That's how we were described by a client's head office - writing to one of their branch offices - just last week.

It's an interesting adjective. Here's the dictionary definition of its meaning...

So: how does something that many consider just a 'useful addition' become 'indispensable'?

Here's precisely how...

1.  Google reviews are everyone's holy grail these days, and rightly so, but inviting customers to post a review direct to Google involves a distinct element of risk. That risk is that a customer may post an inaccurate or otherwise misleading review. All businesses understand that negative reviews have the potential to cause significant harm - just read this horror story if you have any lingering doubts - and no compliant system can (or should) stop a purely negative review, but moderation is extremely effective at ensuring that reviews accurately reflect the customers' experience of any given business or transaction. 

2.  Moderation - the act of engaging with the customer after the review has been written but before it is posted publicly anywhere - is the only compliant way of ensuring that unfairly damaging reviews are posted, on a business's website or on Google. For moderation to work effectively - and have credibility - the business must employ a third-party. 

3.  An important side effect of moderation is that it enables the business to be compliant with the CMA rules - the law. CMA rules clearly state that a business, if it is to invite reviews at all, must...

    • allow every single customer to write a review...
    • a time of their choosing 

Now, a business can be fully compliant with the CMA rules by importing Google reviews into its website and inviting them to be written from there. The issue then arises when the latest Google review is factually inaccurate or misleading - in other words: capable of unfairly influencing consumers against the business. Then the business realises it needed a moderated system.

It works!

HelpHound cannot provide an absolute guarantee against factually inaccurate or misleading reviews (aside from anything else that would flout the CMA regulations), but many years of results for our clients show that our moderation is over 97 percent effective in managing such reviews. Here are the statistics for just one multi-location client... 

Just to be crystal clear: over the period under consideration, many thousands of reviews went through the moderation process (every review submitted is moderated - read for factual errors or potentially misleading statements). Of those thousands, 173 were identified as containing wording that might be contentious in any of the following ways:

  • Personally abusive. Abuse helps no one, not the reader of the review, not the business under review, and almost certainly not the reviewer (who will often be writing the review in order to have their grievance addressed). In these cases, HelpHound will simply message the reviewer and ask them to rewrite their review.
  • Legally contentious. A review is not the arena to make threats of legal action. That should be done through the proper legal channels.
  • Factually incorrect. This covers the overwhelming majority of moderated reviews: the review simply contained a factually incorrect statement. In these instances HelpHound will refer the review to the business for comment and then relay that comment to the reviewer, in private. As you can see from the 'Not published as a result of moderation' and 'Modified...' numbers above this action works for the overwhelming majority of such reviews. What is interesting is just how grateful the great majority of reviewers are when they realise that their review had 'got the wrong end of what is often quite a complex stick'. As many readers will know, HelpHound's clients are, in the majority of cases, professional businesses dealing with complicated matters - often legal, financial and/or medical - and it is understandable that some reviews will initially reflect misunderstandings of such transactions.
  • Potentially misleading. In the most basic of senses: not all our client business's customers speak - or write - English as a first language. A review that simply doesn't make sense will be spotted by our moderators and they will engage with the reviewer in order to correct the use of language so everyone - again: the reader of the review and the business under review - benefits. Other examples include...
    • misunderstanding of contract terms/terms of business
    • misunderstanding of billing
    • misunderstanding of legal responsibilities
    • misunderstanding of tax implications
  • False or plain fake reviews*: these don't happen that often, but when they do it is essential that they are identified pre-publication; they may be written by competitors or ex-exployees or just by someone who has nothing better to do (here's an example of a viewer adversely reviewing accommodation that he had seen on TV; joking aside, the hotel's booking slumped as a direct consequence of that one review - until an appeal managed by HelpHound got it taken down).
*On that last subject - malicious (fake) reviews: while HelpHound will almost certainly identify and therefore challenge any such review written to the business's own website we cannot, for obvious reasons, do anything about such a review being written direct to Google. What we can do, as we did in the case of the hotel cited above, is draft an appeal to Google in a way that is most likely to have a chance of success.

The impact - in numbers

The difference between a business - that complies with the law - and a business employing professional review management:

Typical well-run business inviting reviews direct to Google...

Typical HelpHound client...

Important note: there are plenty of businesses out there that score well on Google, but when we meet them we inevitably discover that they are - inadvertently, in the main - flouting one or more of the CMA's core rules: they either cherry-pick happy customers to invite to write Google reviews or they 'gate' (gating being the act of pre-qualifying customers to identify those most likely to write a positive review). Not only are both these 'strategies' illegal, they will be obvious to competing businesses and therefore used against the non-compliant business in pitches.

To summarise...

  • All other factors being equal a business that employs independent review management will have a higher Google score than the equivalent - CMA compliant - business that does not
  • The business will be in full compliance with the CMA regulations - the law
  • Its potential customers will have accurate reviews - on the business's own website and on Google - to rely on
  • Enquiries, through both Google search and through its own website, will increase by a measurable amount (see the link directly below)

Further reading...

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Google under fire for search

Google came in for criticism in the Sunday Times this week - rightly or wrongly - that it is returning irrelevant sites for given searches as well as too many ads. 

Our feeling is - having seen some of the examples given in the article - that some critics are expecting Google's algorithm to perform some impossible mind-reading. How's this search string - 'poop coming from shower drain bad what to do' - from The Atlantic contributor Charlie Warzel of Galaxy Brain. Not quite in the same league, English-wise, of past Atlantic contributors Ernest Hemingway and Sylvia Plath? When we performed this search we got no ads and these organic results...

Not bad, considering. And we looked through the sites and blogs returned and, to be honest, we found the quality - in terms of helpfulness - to be pretty good.

Others are criticising Google for too many ads. Here's Diasuke Wakbayashi, who covers Google for the New York Times, searching for a hearing aids for his father: 'I was stunned by the number of ads'.  Here we go again...3 ads at the top, 3 at the foot of page one, bracketing the usual - and expected - 10 organic/natural searches, map search and dictionary definition. The same as for any other 'commercial' search.

There is an issue here, for businesses - and we're mildly surprised it wasn't addressed by the Sunday Times (although they did report Google's ad revenue fro 2020 at £147 billion) and that is 'how to appear in search without spending money on Google ads?'

And this is where HelpHound comes in. Our core role is to enable businesses to safely invite, moderate and display reviews on their own websites and then get as many of those reviews as possible copied across to Google by the reviewer. But what does that have to do with visibility in search? Our answer is twofold.

First - the simple part. Google displays reviews in search in two ways. The first we all know about - Google reviews...


The second all HelpHound clients know about: their own review scores appearing, along with their own reviews' star rating, in searches.

Including in the vital local search...

There is one key aspect of this where Google could be vulnerable to criticism: the fact that local (or generic) search results are ranked by SEO - in plain English: how well the business's website is designed and constructed, not on how good the business is at what it does. 

While we are astonished at just how many times we still encounter businesses that complain that 'we are the best in the area but so-and-so [competitor] always ranks higher in organic search' (and when we look at the business's website? It's not optimised for search) we are also mildly surprised that the business doesn't realise that Google gives it credit for hosting its own reviews. Here's a simple Google search...

The web is awash with articles on the subject...

...but your business can simplify Google's job no end - and increase your ranking in local search - by making sure your website is fully up-to-date and optimised and hosting and displaying reviews.

Just look at the example we've used above: Winkworth in Blackheath. They have accumulated nearly 250 reviews on their own site and have got nearly 150 of them across to Google. Guess where they appear in local search?

  • TOP - of the Google Maps search (what we used to call the 3-pack)
  • TOP - of Google's organic search - with 5 glowing gold stars
And do they need to pay for Google ads?

  • No they don't!
And finally - Google's share of the UK search market?

So: get Google right and you've got search cracked.