Tuesday 3 May 2022

Trustpilot - again?

Here's the full article in the Investor's Chronicle. Madeleine Taylor at the IC has hit the nail on the head, but there's more to Trustpilot's woes than just consumer trust in the platform.

Forgive us! But as a review platform that prides itself on the integrity of the reviews it hosts for our clients, believing that the veracity of a business's reviews is a direct reflection of the business's own ethics, it is essential that we return - again - to the subject of Trustpilot and the inherent weaknesses in its business model.

Too far, too fast

Wouldn't it be great if someone could design some software and an algorithm that would invite, host and display reviews of any given business without human involvement?

That's effectively what Trustpilot has attempted to do. And here are some of the reasons why it has failed...

  • fake reviews: these are the headline-grabbers. A quick web search will throw up a multitude of individuals and businesses - mostly offshore - that will write 'reviews' for a fee. Until recently you could even buy reviews on eBay. Only a trained moderator stands a chance of spotting a fake review.
  • fraudulent reviews: many businesses, realising the harm a single negative review can do, will panic and write their own reviews. We have on file an example of a London estate agent where its branch managers all agreed to write reviews of their neighbouring branches. Again, only a skilled moderator will spot this kind of activity.
  • irrelevant reviews: when you are looking for reviews of a product then the odd review mentioning the efficiency of the delivery company may be helpful, but dozens?
  • factually inaccurate reviews: consumers rely on reviews (recent surveys estimate over 90% of purchases are made after reading them). Before any reader thinks 'but we all take them with a pinch of salt' imagine relying on an inaccurate or fraudulent review when choosing a financial adviser or an oncologist.
  • potentially misleading reviews: reviewers get the wrong end of the stick, all businesses know that, but if there is a method of ensuring that the absolute minimum of misleading reviews see the light of day then surely everyone benefits? It's called moderation and it works.
  • language: no computer can come close to understanding colloquial written English (or any other language). No-one but a human moderator will be able to ensure that reviews are accurate and helpful for those reading them. Even then the moderator may need to contact the reviewer to establish exactly what they meant. 
  • sales-driven: when you have institutional and private equity shareholders breathing down your neck and needing profits for their investors - now! - it is almost understandable that you are going to design a 'product' that is as easy as possible to sell. And as 'user-friendly' to the businesses you are going to be selling to as possible. While there is no argument that a business that is proactive with regard to reviews will attract more positive reviews (and therefore a higher score) it is important that the business is advised to do so in the arena that will benefit the business most. That arena is Google, not Trustpilot.
  • trumped by Google: Google does everything Trustpilot does, and more - and for free! Product reviews? Yes. Business reviews? Yes. Service reviews? Yes. Some might argue that Trustpilot's reporting/dashboard is superior, but at what cost in terms of £$ and in lost profile (see below)?
  • lack of visibility: Trustpilot reviews are only returned low down in organic search, while Google reviews are returned at the head of every search, every time. No contest.

A note on moderation...

Moderation - the act of a human being reading a review, pre-publication, to ensure, as far as is reasonably possible, that the contents of the review are factually accurate and not likely to mislead a consumer, is expensive. It cannot be done by a computer, however sophisticated, and therefore salaries have to be paid. 

Luckily Google reviews are free, leaving businesses with only one expense providing they don't engage another review provider: moderation. When moderation is combined with software that enables the business to invite reviews to its own website (and display them there) then on to Google, as it is in the case of HelpHound, then the business has the best of both worlds:
  • moderated reviews showing on Google


  • those same reviews* showing on their own website...

as well as...
  • leading local search...

The reviews and star rating in the Google Maps 3-pack are the business's Google reviews, the reviews and star rating in organic search are taken, by Google, direct from the reviews on the business's own website.

*some of you will have spotted that the business in question has more reviews on its own website (241) than it does on Google (152). That is because every person who writes a review to the business's website (allowing us to moderate it) then receives an automated invitation to copy their review to Google. For all kinds of reasons - missed the email, couldn't be bothered, concern about privacy - not everyone will do so. But, as you can see in this example, quite enough have.

It's not just us!

If all you did was read the HelpHound blog you might get the impression that we have a bit of a one-man crusade against Trustpilot. One glance at the chart that follows will show that we are not alone...

And finally: our advice...

If your business sells products: get the Google widget, embed it in your website and invite customers to review you there. You will get the odd 'random' review but not so many that you need moderation. It won't cost you a penny.

If your business sells a service/services, be that financial, medical, legal or any other (such as the estate agents above): adopt a moderated solution to ensure that reviews don't do it unfair harm. It will almost certainly cost you less than a Trustpilot subscription but your reviews will be credible and visible in the right places: on your website and on Google/in Google searches.

Further reading...

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