Tuesday 28 November 2023

Reviews 101 - or 'The beginner's Guide to Reviews'

Notice we say 'The...guide' not 'A...guide'. HelpHound has been advising businesses about reviews since the middle of first decade of this century. There are more than a million words on this blog alone - Tolstoy's 'War & Peace' contains a mere 587,000! 

So: follow the advice contained in this article and the links embedded in it and your business will thrive - at least as far as reviews and their potential to drive new customers are concerned. On the other hand, continue to ignore the power of reviews or listen to a salesperson from a review site and opportunities of all kinds will be missed and your competitors will gain a head start that may become insurmountable.

Note: HelpHound is all about Review Management, a term we coined back in 2009, just eighteen months after Google first introduced their review function. Back then we ran a review site - similar to Trustpilot, Feefo, Yelp and the others, but we soon realised that professional and service businesses were always going to be served best by Google reviews, because consumers were being given a one-stop review service with visibility and credibility that could never be matched by a review site. 

We might have simply folded the business right then but for the fact that we realised that Google had no intention of moderating - another HelpHound word meaning 'ensuring the factual accuracy and veracity of' - their reviews and that if they were to be of significant value to the business under review and the readers of those reviews then moderation would be essential. Moderation remains the core of the value we add for all our stakeholders - clients, their customers, reviewers and consumers, not to mention Google, relying on reviews to be accurate - right up until today.

Lastly: you only need to click on the hyperlinks if you wish to mine down into the subject under discussion. We recommend you read all of this article before you do so. And then speak to one of us.

In the beginning

It became rapidly apparent that professional and service business reviews were of immense value to consumers: far more so than product reviews (helpful as those might be). A consumer requiring a medical, financial, legal or educational professional to look after their health, investments, legal issues or children's education was going to pay far more attention to, and have a far greater requirement for, reliable reviews. 

Put simply: a product with a headline review score of 4 out of 5 will sell and the underlying reviews are highly unlikely to be read, a service needs to score 4.8+ and the reviews themselves will be read.

Your business's starting point

Will be one of the following...

  1. It has no reviews, or very few
  2. It has many Google reviews - because it has realised the value of reviews and, as a result, has been inviting selected customers* to write reviews to Google
  3. It has focussed on a review site - the likes of Trustpilot or Feefo or Reviews.io

*those reading this article are likely to describe their customers as 'clients' or 'patients', in the main. For simplicity's sake we will refer to them as either 'customers' or 'consumers' depending on the context.

From the very beginning, it became clear that businesses in category 2 gained far more business than the equivalent businesses in categories 1 and 3. 

Category 1 businesses were either very small, very new or very nervous. The first of those three are self-explanatory, the third - 'very nervous' requires further explanation: they were - are - nervous of having inaccurate or misleading (and therefore damaging, from the business's point-of-view) reviews written to Google. And they are right to be: we would never advocate that a business in a complex area, easily misunderstood by the layman, invite customers to write a Google review about its service without some form of safety net. Hence moderation (see more on this below).

Category 1 businesses were missing out of the power of Google reviews to bring new customers to their door via search and Category 3 businesses were expending energy acquiring reviews that were going to be seen by far fewer potential customers - at least until they reached the business's website - than if those reviews were posted to Google. Of course, a 4.7 rating of a shirt will support sales on your website, but we're not talking about online retailers here - we're talking about professional services, and those need the superior visibility and influence of Google. 


It comes under the heading of 'boring, but absolutely essential', like making sure there's engine oil and anti-freeze in your car. It means: getting the review written in private first and then vetted for accuracy by an independent intermediary - in this case, HelpHound - before it is subsequently published on the business's own website and on Google.

The business's website?

The reviews hosted on this Harley Street clinic's website are read by prospective patients (29 readers have voted the 'Life Changing' review at bottom right 'helpful') - do we think that they are convincing? you read them and be the judge

Once you accept that reviews drive business - enquiries, calls and clicks - then it becomes self-evident that having those reviews prominently displayed on the business's website is a good thing. The fact that this allows the business to capture valuable data on its customer's opinions and make sure those opinions are not damagingly misleading is a double benefit.

Obeying/breaking the law

here we are talking about Category 2 businesses. Many currently break the law, which states that businesses must not...

  • 'Cherry-pick' customers to write reviews. You are not allowed to invite happy customers to write reviews - - anywhere - to the exclusion of other customers or stakeholders
  • 'Gate' - gating means employing any mechanism that filters customers to establish which are most likely to write a 5* review of the business. A common way of gating includes sending out a customer survey and then only inviting those who indicate 100% satisfaction to write a review 
We understand why they break the law, some without even realising they are doing so: they know they need to look great on Google but they are - again, rightly - terrified of attracting factually incorrect or just plain unfair reviews if they follow the CMA regulations. Boy, are Category 2 businesses pleased to encounter HelpHound!


Category 3 - review sites

Why would a business such as this ask its customers to review it on a review site with far, far less visibility than Google (on the right)? Furthermore, why would a business pay a review site - Google reviews are free - when it includes the following in the business's listing...

Businesses that are paying for review sites fall into two distinct categories...

1.  Those in retail - online or otherwise - need a review score to support sales. There's no doubt that a Trustpilot 'badge' next to a product reassures purchasers of products (as opposed to services).

A professional/service company that has suffered by choosing a review site over Google reviews. The results on the left are only available for potential clients who bother to visit the review site, those on the right are seen by all. Just look at the search result below...

...the business's Google score and reviews are displayed in the knowledge panel on the right for all to see, read and access - ouch! Their Trustpilot reviews? Nowhere in the top 50 organic results of the same search. Would your business 
pay for this?

2.  Those in the services and professions - that have either been 'sold to' by the review sites (they all spend impressive amounts on sales and marketing) or have simply failed to find a better solution. The latter - the professions and allied service businesses - should focus on getting reviews to Google and their own websites. This advice is unequivocal: Google's reviews have an unrivalled profile in search, and this, coupled with their credibility (the fact that the business is not paying them to host reviews is part of that) makes it a hands-down winner where impact and effectiveness are concerned.

What should your business do?

No matter what category your business currently finds itself in, it should look to adopt professional review management going forwards. Then it will...

  • get significant numbers of reviews on its own website
  • get significant numbers of them copied to Google
  • be fully compliant with UK and EU law - from day one
  • enhance its SEO
  • stand out in every search
  • receive measurably more clicks and calls
  • have wonderful ammunition for sales and marketing
  • make your management and staff proud
And, before you know it, your business will look like this...

...on its own website - with the 'Write a review' button (arrow/swoosh) ensuring compliance by enabling anyone to write a review (don't worry! Remember they will all be moderated), and like this...

ultimately having the best chance to lead local search, with stars (5) and a rating (4.9) pulled from its own reviews (573), unlike its competitors

...in local search, whenever a potential customer is looking for a business in your sector, and like this...

Scoring at least 4.8 from hundreds of Google reviews. Even the most cynical or sceptical consumer is forced to admit that over three hundred reviewers can't be that far wrong - especially when they read the content of the reviews for themselves (you can do just that by googling 'Winkworth Kingsbury' to see exactly what a prospective fee payer sees)

... whenever a potential client searches for your business specifically (those looking for contact details having been recommended by a friend, for instance).

Taken from a new client's first meaningful Google My Business report. What would you give to have your business's calls and other inbounds rise by a similar amount?

Can you imagine the impact on your potential customers? If you have any trouble doing so please read this article which focuses entirely on the uplift in enquiries through Google search and your own website and the equally impressive rise in the quality of the resultant business transacted.


Professional review management combined with moderation will achieve the following:
  • a steady flow of reviews to your website and your Google listing
  • an increasing flow of enquiries through both
Secure in the knowledge that your business will be protected from factually inaccurate, potentially misleading or even downright malicious reviews.

Welcome to professional review management and welcome to HelpHound. 

Further reading...

Friday 24 November 2023

Review sites - could this be why they are so attractive to some businesses?

Why would any business choose any of these...

Over these?

It has long been a puzzle - and not just to us here at HelpHound, just look at one of them on another review site...

...and, to be scrupulously fair, reviews of that site on Trustpilot...

...and Trustpilot (UK) on Google...

And their Copenhagen HQ?

Here's our question for any service or professional business using Trustpilot or Feefo (or Yelp - although they pulled their sales operation out of the UK and EU a while ago) in preference to Google reviews (we acknowledge that online retailers simply use it to reinforce sales of individual products - although, even in that context, we constantly find reviews of product A being used to promote product B). Why would you pay a review site when Google reviews that are...

...and - wait for it - free?

We wrote about the obvious answer years ago - and there's a clue in many of the negative reviews - the fact that the review sites offer what we consider to be marginally compliant benefits to businesses that have the ultimate effect of reducing the number of negative - 1* - reviews that are published. 

A review site may be just what a business in retail - online especially - needs when it is looking for support for its advertising and marketing. This business, for instance, has more than 4,000 one-star reviews, but few prospective customers will look past their five-star rating to the actual reviews themselves

In the case of Trustpilot, that consists of what we call 'quarantine' where a business can challenge any review - weirdly they don't seem to challenge 5* reviews! - and the reviewer is then required to provide proof that they have used the business - invoices/emails or the like. We can hear some readers saying 'That's a great idea!' but it has at least one disastrous unforeseen consequence which we christened 'deflection' many years ago - the savvy rejected/unpublished reviewers and their one-star reviews simply migrate to Google, damaging the business in question's image there, for all to see. 

But it has now dawned on us that there is another reason...lack of visibility in search. How would not appearing in search be seen as a benefit? Simple really, when you think about it: it gives the business far more control over who exactly sees their review score or the reviews themselves. Use Google reviews and the world, including every one of your prospective customers, will see your reviews. Use a review site and they will only see them when and where the business wants them to (few customers bother to visit the review sites) - in its marketing and advertising and exactly how and where it wants them displayed on its website.


If we were consumers - and of course we are, after hours! - we would be asking any business that has adopted a review site 'Just why?' 'Why not Google?' With a moderated system such as HelpHound protecting a business from inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair reviews and ensuring that their positive reviews make sense too, and getting them to both the business's website and to Google, there's no reason to give up the vastly superior credibility, visibility and longevity (they'll definitely still be around in ten years' time) of Google reviews.

If you sell products - stick with your review site - if you provide a professional service we heartily recommend you invest the money saved in HelpHound membership and start looking amazing in Google searches - compliantly.

Monday 13 November 2023

Why did they join? - and why do they remain members?

Those of you who read 'How to Succeed with Reviews' last week will know that we have been speaking to some of our most successful members recently - more than we usually do! - so we could pass on the secrets of their success to new members. It won't come as a great surprise, we are sure, to find that once we had finished mining for those nuggets we went on to ask them what attracted them to HelpHound in the first place and - just as importantly, if not more so - what, once they understood HelpHound and how their managers, staff, clients and customers reacted to their relationship with us, they valued us as the relationship matured?

We weren't surprised to find that some of the less obvious benefits at inception became more valued as time passed  - we hope you find these illuminating.

A note

We have used estate agency clients to illustrate this article  - as we often do - everyone understands the stresses and strains involved in buying or selling, letting or renting a property, and we can all imagine just how often estate agency clients and other stakeholders misunderstand aspects of what can be a complex and stressful transaction, with the potential for factually inaccurate or potentially misleading - and ultimately very damaging for the businesses concerned - reviews. In the following article you will find multiple references to moderation - the process whereby we ensure that the vast majority of our clients' reviews are accurate and fair - and we make no apology for those; if there is one thing that sets HelpHound apart from every other review solution on the planet it is our moderation service, which we would suggest is essential - vital - if any professional or service business is to engage with, and benefit from, effective review management. 

Before reading on, we would ask you to read this review, of a service even more complex and easily misunderstood (and, dare we say, vital) than estate agency: medicine. Then ask yourself if you think such a business would be likely to engage with Google reviews without the safety net provided by HelpHound's moderation...

 ...and also ask yourself how much more likely you would be to make the first vital contact with such a business having read such a review.

Before joining, they valued...

  • More clicks through Google search
  • More contacts through their website
  • More calls through Google search and their website
  • Far fewer inaccurate reviews
  • Far fewer misleading reviews

On joining...

  • How much staff - and management - relaxed when asking for a review
  • The pride staff took in the addition of independently verified reviews to their website
  • How much the stars generated by their HelpHound reviews made them stand out in search
  • How quickly - virtually overnight - reviews became an integral part of the sale - 'Look at our reviews'
  • For those who had previously been cherry-picking (or gating) - the relief that those days were now over and they were now fully CMA-compliant

After a period of membership...

  • The value of moderation
  • The proportion of customers prepared to write a review
  • The proportion of customers prepared to post both reviews - one to the business's own website and copied to Google
  • Compliance with the CMA regulations
  • SEO - local search
  • Savings - in Google Ad spend and other marketing
  • Support - for both sales and marketing
And in many instances...
  • Staff staff training and ongoing support from HelpHound
  • Help and support with drafting appeals against fake, malicious or fraudulent Google reviews 

A detailed analysis - point by point

Before joining

  • More clicks through Google search and more contacts through their website

From here...


To here... 

These two screenshots, the first taken on joining, the second today, illustrate the prime initial motivation for most clients: more - positive - reviews, safely, leading to a great competitive position in all Google searches and the consistent uptick in calls and clicks that flow from such a dominant position. The stars right underneath the business's organic search results are drawn directly from the reviews hosted on the business's own website, not their Google reviews



This is a Google My Business monthly report illustrating the precise numbers of calls and the rise (in green) for a business in the first full month after implementation


These are easily measured by reference to Google Analytics and the business's own website stats. Suffice to say that our clients commonly experience uplifts in the region of 15 - 25 per cent, especially if they have not previously proactively engaged with Google reviews
  • More calls through Google search and their website
As for 'clicks' and 'contacts' above. Great reviews are an acknowledged trigger for engagement and reinforce personal recommendation and other marketing efforts
  • Far fewer inaccurate reviews
Our moderation enables the reviewer and the business to resolve factual inaccuracies before a review is published, whether to the business's own website or to Google. Inaccurate reviews benefit no one, not the business, not the consumer relying on the review and certainly not the reviewer (they are invariably happy when errors of fact are brought to their attention)
  • Far fewer misleading reviews

English is a wonderfully complex language, and this can lead to misleading reviews; again, moderation will result in correction or modification so that the review accurately reflects the reviewer's experience of - and with - the business under review

On joining

  • How much staff - and management - relaxed when asking for a review
Asking for a review can lead to raised blood pressure all around; is the reviewer as happy with the service provided as the business thinks they are? Does the reviewer understand and appreciate the hard work the business has put in? Moderation has been described to us as 'a safety valve', 'a safety net' and 'vital for giving staff the confidence to invite the review in the first place'.
  • The pride staff took in the addition of independently verified reviews to their website

Consumers actively seek out independently verified reviews on business websites these days.  

In the 2020s staff generally have the same attitude to testimonials as consumers do: they're 'a bit 20th century'. They want to be able to say 'Look at our own reviews and our Google reviews.' Management and staff take pride in independently verified reviews far more than they ever did with testimonials.
  • How much the stars in search generated by their HelpHound reviews made them stand out in search

Those stars right under the business's organic listing search are hugely valued by members. We know because when a couple of years ago there was a software glitch which resulted in them going missing for a couple of hours we had over a dozen calls from clients asking for them to be reinstated!
It's a fact of life that at least half of all consumers still think that these stars are awarded by Google. It's definitely a fact of life that they impress consumers when they see them up against similar businesses with either no stars at all or a lower rating.
  • How quickly - virtually overnight - reviews became an integral part of the sale - 'Look at our reviews'

This client's 600+ followers on Instagram can't help but be impressed by reviews like this 

Research shows that consumers under 45 now trust reviews even more than personal recommendations. What is absolutely not in doubt is that our clients are proud to display their reviews prominently - on their websites, in marketing and advertising, and in all their PR and social media engagement. They know that great scores and great reviews drive business
  • For those who had previously been cherry-picking (or gating) - the relief that those days were now over
Almost every business we meet with over twenty Google reviews admits to one or other of these tactics: they hand pick 'happy' customers to write reviews and/or they use some mechanism or other to find out which of their customers is most likely to write a positive review (this is called 'gating'). Why? Not, surprising as it may seem, because they think they have a cohort of unhappy customers, but because they have know way of knowing just which of their customers are likely to write a factually inaccurate or potentially misleading review. By using a moderated system that fear evaporates - compliance with the law (the CMA regulations) can be a pretty powerful plus for a business that finds itself up against a non-complaint competitor

After a period of membership

  • The value of moderation
One a business has seen its first potentially damaging review resolved in moderation they heave a huge corporate sigh of relief and realise moderation's value. And then it's full steam ahead. Moderation gives them the confidence to be proactive - knowing that they are far less likely to get a factually inaccurate or misleading review
  • The proportion of customers prepared to write a review*
We first suggested our '50%' rule nearly ten years ago now: aim to get half your customers to leave a review on your website and then half of them to copy it to Google. Our most committed clients always achieve at least those numbers - if they have 200 customers in any given period they will get more than 100 reviews to their website and at least 50 of them copied to Google

*many years of anecdotal evidence have shown us that someone invited to write a review is far less likely to write a negative review of their experience of a business: they will simply communicate direct with the business instead 

  • Compliance with the CMA regulations
Most businesses we meet deny any knowledge of the CMA regulations. They are surprised when we tell them that they are not allowed - by law - to cherry-pick or gate. They are hugely relieved when we tell them that, as long as they allow customers to post reviews to their website (moderated, of course) they can invite exactly who they like to write a review. 
  • SEO - local search

There are +- 25 businesses that would pay good money to top Google organic search. They're the same businesses that are paying £thousands a month for Google Ads
It's universally acknowledged that hosting reviews on your own website makes up around 15% of a business's score as far as SEO is concerned. All we know is that our clients feature very highly, if not top, in all major searches
  • Savings - in Google Ad spend and other marketing
If your business comes top in natural/organic search why pay to appear top? Simple really
  • Support - for both sales and marketing
Sales people need sales aids, they have done so since time began. We have no doubt that Barney Rubble got Fred Flintstone to write - chisel? - him a testimonial to support the sales of his stone wheels. And that applied right up until the days of the web - your prospective customers always want to know what your existing customers think of you. And ideally they want those opinions to be independently verified and displayed. The combination of HelpHound and Google gives them just what they crave, and what your salespeople need to reinforce the sale

And in many instances
  • Staff staff training and ongoing support from HelpHound
We are not just a great piece of software accompanied by moderators. We support our clients all the way along the journey. You need...
    • on-site training
    • training aids
    • advice about damaging Google reviews
    • Help and support with drafting appeals against fake, malicious or fraudulent Google reviews 
    • updates on changes in legislation
    • updates on Google's review processes

...and we will provide them all. Just ask*.

*and subscribe to this blog!

Friday 27 October 2023

How to succeed with reviews - the secrets of our clients' success

It's a question we find ourselves being asked all the time: 'How has ABC Plc done so well?' And we have generally answered it with a combination of the memo below and 'showing and telling'. This time we thought we would reach out to some of those successful businesses and actually ask them and then report back here. Some of their answers will be common sense, some will be pretty obvious, but many will not be either (otherwise, why would so many businesses either fail to look as good as they deserve or feel they need to flout the law to do so?).

So: what questions did we ask?

It would have been easy to ask 'What process(es) do you adopt?', but it soon became evident that this question bypassed a great deal of thinking and planning. We needed to go further back and ask 'What were your objectives?' and 'Why did you adopt HelpHound?'

So let's address these two first:

'What were your objectives?'

The simple answer was 'To look great on Google [scoring 4.8+ with three figures of reviews] and great on our own website' along with 'To drive more enquiries through search and though our website'.

Supplementing those were 'We want to be legally compliant' and 'We want to support our SEO/ranking in [local] search', as well as 'We want to save money on Google Ads and other marketing'

'Why did you adopt HelpHound?'

Because you told us we would achieve all of the above! 

Now, some of our readers will be thinking 'That's it then; join and all our wishes will be granted/all our problems will be solved.' but that's akin to someone walking into a car dealership and buying new car. Without first learning how to drive! The next section is all-important. Here is the guide we give to new members...

... and all of our most successful clients follow it to the letter: crucially they prime their customers by warning them that writing a review is an integral part of the relationship and they follow up every email with a call.

But there's more, for those star performers: invariably they do one or more - or all - of the following...

  • they set targets for staff to achieve a certain volume of reviews - as a percentage of business transacted or on a periodic basis
  • they reward* staff for excelling at obtaining reviews
  • they operate as a team, with back office supporting front office in their efforts to obtain reviews
  • they have a dedicated member of management responsible for coordinating and reporting on review management
  • they respond - to all their reviews; there's some interesting psychology at work here - it has become obvious that businesses that always respond to reviews send a clear message to those tempted to play fast and/or loose when writing a review. That message? We're going to be reading your review and we're definitely going to be addressing any exaggerations or misapprehensions.
  • they give their customers the option to post their reviews to either the business's own website or directly to Google - with direct links to both in the email. This has the practical effect of achieving more Google reviews from those who find writing more than one review a chore**

** 'A chore': this is why the telephone call is so important. The call has an overall objective: to get review(s) written - to the business's own website and to Google if at all possible. But within that call there are steps that deal with potential objections...

    1. 'I don't have a Google account' - 'Don't worry, I'm sure you will be able to write a review, almost everybody can because they have used one or more of Google's services in the past; if you like I'll stay on the line while you follow the link I sent you.'
    2. 'I've only got time to write one review' - 'That's great, we will send you a copy of the review you write on our website and you will only have to copy & paste that to Google, you won't have to begin all over again.' or 'Great, just write the one review and copy it to both links.'

We then asked them what aspect of HelpHound they valued most: invariably, to a man or woman, they answered: moderation.

Here is the line that sums it all up, the clincher if you will...

"We joined HelpHound when we realised that we would then be legally compliant whilst still maintaining the ability to choose precisely whom we actively invite to write a review.'

As regular readers know, we don't hold back when stressing the value of moderation but the crucial thing that kept being mentioned by businesses was the fact that it was moderation that gave them the confidence to engage with reviews in the first place. Without moderation, they would simply not be willing to run the risk of attracting inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews. They would either have to rely on customers posting reviews unprompted or do as many businesses still do: flout the law and select which customers to invite to write reviews.

The screenshot above is of the Google rating and number of reviews for a client that had only two Google reviews when they joined. The one below is of the reviews hosted on their website (as you can see it contains the crucial 'Write a review' link that keeps all our clients compliant with UK law and CMA regulations)...

They are really, really good at what they do. We know, not only because we have met them (all of them, from the owners of the business to the managers to the salespeople to the back office staff) but because we have seen and read every single review ever written about them, on their website and on Google, and - crucially - the ones where our moderators intervened in order to ensure, as far as legally possible under the CMA regulations, that the review accurately reflected the experience of the reviewer. 

That's why moderation has to be done by a human being - our moderator will come to know the business whose reviews they are moderating as well as their customers; this enables them to spot outliers, right down to individual members of staff mentioned by name in reviews. They will know that it is highly unlikely that staff member A of business B has left multiple emails unanswered and a metaphorical alarm bell will ring that initiates contact with business B. Suppose, in this instance, the customer of business B had their email address hacked and therefore blacklisted, leading to non-delivery of emails? Would it be fair to simply publish a 1* review saying that business B didn't care about their customers? Of course not. Moderation in action - benefitting both business and consumer.

In Conclusion

Success? It's a combination of adopting the correct mechanism in the first instance - any amount of good practice and procedure cannot make the wrong approach right - and then following the 'rules' as laid out above. Do that and we absolutely guarantee that your business will shine in search and produce results such as these.

The 'Multi' review invitation - and why it has so many hidden benefits

The original purpose of the 'Multi' - inviting reviews to the business's website and to Google simultaneously with both links in the same email - was to enable established clients to simplify review gathering. A 'one email covers all' solution.

Why only 'established' clients? The rationale was simple: inviting both reviews simultaneously ran the risk that a customer might submit a review containing errors of fact or misleading statements directly to Google, thereby bypassing HelpHound's moderators. 

Ten years of experience shows us that...

As you might expect, we spend quite a while analysing numbers and other data here at HelpHound. And we have a lot of numbers to crunch. Amongst the most important of all of those is the difference in outcome for businesses inviting their customers to write a review directly to Google as compared with those that use the two HelpHound routes...

Route 1 is as follows: send an email to the customer asking them to write a review to the business's own website (including the direct link supplied by HelpHound), call the customer to ensure a high conversion rate, then HelpHound sends an automated email to the customer once their review has been moderated and posted to the business's website asking them to copy and paste their review to Google*

*Back in the day only about 50% of people could write a Google review, they needed a Gmail address or some other Google account. Over the years almost everyone has had reason to log into Google or one of its multitude of services. You will find that these days almost everyone can write a Google review. 


Route 2 consists of: sending a single email with two links (see screenshot above) - one to the business's own website and one to their Google page. The follow-up call is made in exactly the same way except the caller's objective is to get the customer to write a review to either or both of those locations.

This latter email is known to us internally and to many HelpHound clients simply as the 'Multi', short for 'multiple invitation' (it can include other sites as well - we had a client who needed to boost their presence on Trustpilot recently, so we simply included a link to their listing for a few weeks). Now back to the numbers (which will explain why we don't advise new clients to use the Multi straight away). 

A business has three options...

We've all seen and read them. But you owe it to your business and to readers who will rely on the review in question to have chance to interact with the reviewer before a potentially factually inaccurate or misleading review is posted for all to see

Option 1:The business invites its customers to write their reviews directly to Google. It will receive, on average, a one-star review every 15-20 reviews. Those one-star reviews may or may not be factually accurate or potentially misleading. What is sure is that the reviews will stand (the likelihood of a successful Google appeal against a factually inaccurate or potentially misleading review is vanishingly small). Those one-star reviews will be served in every Google search, and be especially damaging when the searcher uses Google's 'Lowest' default.

Option 2: The business only invites its customers to write a review to its own website, using the HelpHound module. That way it will receive a one-star review every 30-40 reviews. Why the disparity in numbers? From our extensive experience of studying how our users - both business and consumer - behave the conclusion that we have come to is that reviewers are far more careful with the wording of their review when they know, for certain, that the business, and the person they have interact with at the business, will read what they have written. Put simply: people are far less likely to write ill-considered negative reviews when they know they will be read by someone with whom they have interacted. HelpHound then automatically invites the reviewer, once their review is published on the business's website, to copy their review over to Google. Most of our clients achive at least a 50% success rate when following this up with a phone call. 

Option 3: The 'Multi'. Inviting both reviews in the same email. This results in even fewer one-star reviews, sometimes as few as one or two per hundred reviews. Why? Because of a combination of the factors already alluded to above. Customers with negative issues to air are far more likely to choose the 'Write a review direct to the business' option. Mostly because there is an implication in the invitation that it will be read, and therefore acted upon. Happy customers, on the other hand, are far more likely to choose to write their review to Google, in the knowledge that it will be seen by prospective customers of the business and therefore help the business that has helped them.

Hence our invariable advice: to discount Option 1, the 'Direct to Google' option altogether: it is far too high risk for professional and service businesses - and we have seen too many businesses over the years harmed - and by 'harmed' we mean 'literally stopped the phones ringing' in extreme cases -by factually inaccurate or misleading reviews that would have been corrected in moderation, to use Option 2 until they have at least double figures of Google reviews scoring 4.8+, and then to use Option 3, the 'Multi', thereafter.  


There are only three ways for a great business to look as great as it can be where reviews are concerned:

  1. Be perfect - and have perfect customers. There are such businesses, but they are few and far between. No matter how hard most businesses try to please all of their customers all of the time there will be those who misunderstand or simply get the wrong end of the stick 
  2. Adopt a moderated review system - and use it all of the time. Invite every customer to write a review and have all their subsequent responses independently moderated (a business cannot legitimately moderate its own reviews - the conflict of interest inherent in this is obvious)
  3. Adopt a moderated review system but allow customers to choose where to post their review - via the moderated system to the business's website or directly to Google
Bear in mind that everyone who writes a review to the business's own website and has it moderated - they all are - and ultimately published there, will, in the case of HelpHound, receive an automatic request to copy their review to Google. 

Now you know exactly how all our - great - clients have their hard work and expertise reflected in their reviews. And why those reviews tend to be more helpful to prospective customers of those businesses than the average review on Google (or Trustpilot or any other site hosting reviews, for that matter). Our results, we feel, speak for themselves.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Review sites to address fake and fraudulent reviews? Forgive us for being sceptical


A link for those of you with access to the Times Online

Estimates vary, but there appears to be pretty universal acknowledgement that around 15% of all online reviews are fraudulent - 'fake' in short - bought and paid for by unscrupulous businesses. The UK's CMA estimates that consumers were defrauded to the extent of £312 million as a direct result of fake reviews in the last year under review. And that does not begin to address the losses - both financial and emotional - resulting from consumers being misled into using professional service businesses - financial, legal, medical and the like - that are in breach of the CMA regulations.

Here's a link to the full announcement on Amazon's website - Trustpilot's website, as of today's date, remains silent on the issue, so do the others. The 'Coalition for Trusted Reviews' does not, as yet, appear to have a website of its own (please don't hesitate to alert us if you find one). There are also some names absent: Google, the overwhelmingly dominant player in online reviews, Yelp (and, as you might expect, HelpHound).

We have read everything there is about this move, as well as other announcements made in the past by these businesses designed to convince their stakeholders that their reviews are trustworthy and that they are doing their very best to ensure that trustworthiness. It is interesting that none of the statements released by the members of the Coalition for Trusted Reviews so far mention potential solutions or courses of action.

Our reaction so far? Hollow words. 

The problem

This broadly divides into two distinct issues...

  1. Sellers of products paying for fake 5* reviews - Amazon alone estimates that there are at least 10,000 Facebook groups dedicated to generating fake reviews on behalf of businesses. Such reviews are for sale across social media. This is obviously not a 'good thing' but getting misled into buying a second-rate product by a business faking reviews is one thing. £Tens, maybe £hundreds, wasted.
  2. Sellers of services flouting the law - at least in the UK and EU - as well as Google T&Cs that specifically forbid cherry-picking or gating: identifying and then inviting happy customers to write reviews as well as offering rewards for positive reviews. There's nothing wrong with their reviews - they are written by genuine customers - it's the method of invitation and collection that is being abused. Being misled into using a service business by fraudulent manipulation of the review process is of a whole different order of magnitude from point 1 above. Imagine you are looking for a reliable financial adviser, a lawyer, or an oncologist? Even a good estate agent (read on, see the screenshots and then carry out your own Google searches).
And then we have the advent of AI. In the past fake reviews were often pretty easy to spot, often as a result of some pretty awful use of English. AI has changed all that. Here's an example, produced by ChatGPT in less than a second...

The only solution

There is only one solution to this issue. How do we know? Because we went through the very same thought process over ten years ago. We invested heavily in software designed to weed out fraudulent and suspect reviews - we even named the software 'Buster' because it was designed to 'Bust' fake and fraudulent reviews. But it didn't work. By comparison with human oversight and intervention, it was ineffective. 

Only a trained human being can spot, with any degree of reliability, a fake or fraudulent review, or, for that matter, a review containing factual inaccuracies or misleading statements that a consumer might then go on to rely on when making purchasing decisions.

Every single review written through HelpHound is moderated by such a human being. We estimate our moderators' accuracy in identifying the contentious areas outlined above is over 97% accurate. Combine that with the fact that the business under review and anyone reading the published review also has the right to challenge its content and the figure climbs further towards the unattainable 100%.

One last question for businesses

Which do you think is more visible, viewed as more credible and more trusted by consumers? For an in-depth answer read this. For those of you in a hurry - the answer is 'Google', by a country mile, especially where service businesses and professions are concerned

If you are paying Trustpilot or any other review site - why? When you can have eminently more visible, credible and influential Google reviews. 

You can then use the money saved to host moderated reviews on your own site - reviews that you own - and get a significant proportion of these across to Google.

Look like this...

See those 567 'votes' next to the ***** 4.9 rating? They're the business's own reviews gathered using HelpHound

And this...

When anyone clicks on that 'Write a review' button (top left) their review goes straight to HelpHound moderation - it is that moderation that gives businesses like this the confidence to be proactive in inviting reviews, to their own website and then to Google

And ultimately lead in search like this...

Further reading
  • Don't make the mistake of going straight down the Google route - it invariably leads to a game of 'Splat the Rat'
  • Results - hard proof that effective review management drives business - both quantity and quality