Wednesday 22 February 2023

Don't be held hostage by a threatened negative review

This article appeared in yesterday's press. It describes a couple who managed to stay in a pretty upmarket hotel for over two years, for free. Only with a change in management is the hotel attempting to recoup over 200,000 from them.

But why would a hotel - or any other business, for that matter - allow a customer so much leeway? One answer we hear of quite frequently is the threat, real or implied, that the customer may write a less than complimentary review of the business. In its most basic form this used to be really quite common when Yelp strode the streets in the UK; Yelpers - as they called their reviewers - would often suggest that a restaurant booking from them would 'help' the business climb the Yelp rankings. The implication went further still, as far as 'not presenting a bill for the meal' would further enhance the business's chances of achieving the holy grail of multiple five-star reviews.

Individuals very often use reviews as a back-end negotiating chip when presented with all kinds of invoices. We even had to draft a statement for one hospitality client that was placed at their reception which ran along the lines of 'Please be sure to raise any issues during the course of your stay as we are unable to retrospectively adjust your invoice upon departure.'

Our advice to businesses? Never, ever, give in to such blackmail. By all means discount or refund if and when a customer has a valid complaint, but don't respond to 'I may have to write a negative review unless...' with anything other than 'That is your right, but please be aware that we respond to all our reviews, both positive and negative.'

What to do if such a review is posted?

Every site that hosts reviews has a procedure; Google's own starts here. Every one is different and some require considerable hoops to be jumped through. So our advice is to contact someone like HelpHound that has years of experience in guiding businesses - here's a case history from back in 2016 where the business made the national newspapers before we helped them get the offending and very damaging review taken down - their reservations had fallen to zero as a direct result. 

In the case of Google there is a detailed appeals procedure: miss one step and your chances of having the review taken down reduce from small to vanishing. We conduct an average of one such appeal every month.


Respond, respond, respond. We cannot say it often enough. Respond to every review your business ever receives, positive or negative, short or long, well-written or not. Not just because it's good manners but because it sends a very strong message to anyone tempted to be even slightly loose with the truth. They will see that their review won't go unchallenged.

But don't take the reviewer on. Remember the audience for your response is not the reviewer (they will seldom retract or change their review) but your future potential customers. So don't write a response that will show you in anything but the most positive light. Be understanding and polite (even if you don't feel that way).

The importance of Moderation

As the case history referred to above shows, one well-crafted but inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair review can stop the clicks/calls/tills dead in their tracks, no matter how many positive reviews the business may have. 

But it only applies to service businesses. Retail doesn't need 5 stars all the way. Service and the professions do. Consumers will buy a toaster that scores 4.0 out of 5.

But a medical professional - or a lawyer - or a financial adviser - or an estate agent? No way. Or at least not nearly as many as would if the score was 4.8 or better.  Click-through rates and Google My Business reports have been confirming this for years. The higher the score the more clicks and calls. End of.

So what exactly does moderation achieve? It ensures that the reviews of the business in question provide maximum value for the consumer, by being as accurate and least likely to mislead as possible. 

Note we don't say 'as positive' - because moderation rarely turns a negative review positive, even if the reviewer ends the process understanding why exactly their review was factually incorrect or potentially misleading (or, again, just plain unfair on the business). The best outcome, realistically, is that the reviewer decides not to post their review (although they retain the right to do so at any stage in the moderation process, which is handled by a 'real-life' HelpHound moderator, not some algorithm).

It is, in effect, insurance - for both the reviewer and the business - against misleading reviews of all kinds.

Wednesday 15 February 2023

HelpHound - the Bullets

There are way over a million words in this blog - and we don't regret publishing a single one of them; they're an outstanding record of some of our clients' most successful strategies and some of the older articles prove that we knew what we were talking about, even back in the day!

But we fully acknowledge that some people would rather have a simple list of the benefits of HelpHound membership, so here goes...

1.  Enquiries through the business's website up - evidence: anecdotal, from clients - ask any client whether or not they would lose business by taking their reviews off their website and the answer will be a universal cry of 'Dead right we would',  and evidenced by our extremely high client retention rate (currently virtually 100% for 2022/3).


 A screengrab of a client's Google My Business report (these are automatically sent monthly to every business with a Google listing, if you haven't seen yours contact us).


2.  Enquiries through Google up  - evidence: clients' Google my business reports. These vary, but commonly report between 15 - 25 percent uplifts from scratch, but we have seen uplift numbers in the hundreds. What we do know, for certain, is that looking great on Google - stand-alone and against competitors in search - dramatically increases inquiries through Google.

Estate agency: a high-value low volume service business. Achieving at least a review a week (they had two Google reviews in the two years before they joined).


3.  More reviews: to your own website - you and your staff will be far more likely to invite your customers to write a review in the knowledge that inaccurate, misleading or plain unfair reviews will almost certainly not see the light of day (see point 5).


Reviews: current and convincing. over 450 of them. Front-and-centre of their website for good reason.

4.  More reviews: to Google - we target our clients to get half of the reviews that appear on their website copied to Google. Some achieve a higher percentage, but fifty is a good starting point, and will ensure there are always fresh reviews appearing on Google (consumers like to see recent reviews). See example above.

5.  Fewer inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair reviews: anywhere - if your business and, more importantly, your customers are perfect, move on to point 6, otherwise you will learn to value our moderation almost more than any other point: the amount of factually inaccurate, potentially misleading or 'unfair' reviews that we manage before publication is small - usually less that 3 in every 100 - but goodness, the potential damage such reviews can cause, if published, is immense.  

6.  Rank in local search: boosted - 'hosting your own reviews on your own website' gives your business credit from Google where local search is concerned. It is no accident that over ninety percent of our clients appear in the top three of any given local search.


Top of local search - consistently (we can't take all of the credit: their website is very well optimised) but the stars in search are drawn directly from the reviews they host on their own website - the only business in that location that has them, in a very crowded market. See below how that is saving them on Google Ads...

...with a great quote pulled from one of their reviews.


7. Appear in the Google 3-pack - many web users believe Google hand picks businesses that appear in the 3-pack. It doesn't. It's based purely on Google's algorithm, and that algorithm gives credit for businesses that host their own reviews - some industry experts estmate up to 15% of a business's score for that alone.


A great score supported by over 250 reviews. Driving clicks? You bet.

8. Stars: in local search Just like the Google 3-pack - and indeed all of search - where many consumers are influenced to click on a business based purely on how high up the rankings it appears (when did you last go to page 2 of any Google search?), many consumers assume these stars are somehow 'awarded' by Google. They're not (they are derived, by Google, from the business's own reviews on their own website, not their Google reviews), but they surely drive clicks and enquiries. See screenshot under 6. above.

9. Staff morale: boosted - clients consistently report the positive impact a great review has on staff - and management - morale. And, interestingly, that doesn't wear off with time. Why? because staff, even back office staff, like seeing their work appreciated, especially when they know that their reviews lead to increases in business.

10. Great marketing ammunition - our best clients don't just stop when they look great on their own websites and on Google. They mobilise their reviews in all of the marketing - customer opinions make for great advertising and PR as well as lending themselves really well to socal media.

Last but not least

As you can imagine, the Plc referred to in this article has been approached by many rival solutions over the years - in fact, just about all of them - but every time we have been able to demonstrate HelpHound's value for high-value service businesses. As a service-driven business ourselves we completely understand the difference between inviting a review of an item of clothing or a dishwasher and doing so for such a potentially complex transaction as house sale/purchase/letting or the equivalent in the financial, legal or medical sphere.


Sometimes clients pick out one of these points and attribute value to them way over and above all the others - usually 2, 5, 6 and/or 8 lead the way - but it's the whole package that adds value, just different aspects at different times. For more on any of the subjects listed above just interrogate this blog or speak to one of us. Welcome to HelpHound. 

Saturday 11 February 2023

'Invitation only' review sites - seriously? still?

We first highlighted the fundamental flaws in this kind of site back in October of 2016 - nearly seven years ago. Flaws from the point of view of businesses and consumers. We also made the legal position clear.

With a heavy heart, we repeat - and update - those arguments again at the beginning of 2023.

First: what exactly is a closed review site? 

Closed, or 'invitation only' sites       

These sites only allow reviews to be written at the express invitation of the business that is under review.  At first sight this seems like a thorougly good idea - what's not to like about a site that only allows reviews to be written by customers that have been expressly invited to do so by the business?

Our regular readers will already have spotted the immediate advantage this gives the member businesses of these sites. But there are disadvantages too - and worse: regulatory issues. 

Now: what are these disadvantages and issues inherent in closed review sites? We'll deal with them one at a time.



Just read this review of a 'closed' review site (on an 'open' site)...

We understand why a business may be attracted to a solution that allows it to select which customers to invite to write reviews of its service, but, once potential consumers understand that is how their chosen system operates, what credibity does it have? And what credibilty will the business have?



Another issue with review sites - as opposed to Google - is that their reach is so much less than Google. Every time anyone searches for a business they see that business's Google reviews - even if they are not looking for them.  Review sites simply don't feature in search by comparison. So that means paying for Google ads - and that means charging monthly fees to their business members. Monthly fees that would be far better spent on a Google focussd moderated system (see 'Solution' below).



This time from 2018: 'What is deflection?' It is the unintended consequence of focussing a business's review efforts on a review site rather than Google. It results, almost universally, in the business looking good on their retained review site - which could be an open or a closed site - and less good, with considerably reduced numbers of reviews, on Google.

Why 'less good'? Because those not invited to write a review increasingly find their way to Google and will write a review there anyway, especially if they are motivated by dissatisfaction, percieved or otherwise. If your business offers an 'open' review system to customers - here's one:


...where anyone can click on 'Write a review' - then they will use it. Once the review is published on the business's own website every reviewer is then asked to copy their review to Google, where the business shown above looks like this:


 Legal and regulatory position

This is the clincher. We suppose we could/should have led with this paragraph, but we wanted you to understand the logic for not using a closed site before we slammed the door.

It is illegal - in the UK at least - to use a review mechanism that allows the business under review to select a) the customer who is to be invited to write the review - whilst denying such a right to another customer or stakeholder and b) the timing of that invitation. 

In plain English: your review system should allow anyone to write a review. There should be no barriers and no 'selection'. Please feel free to read the following extracts from the CMA's report on 'Online reviews and endorsements', but the conclusion remains the same: avoid using any closed review site.


The solution

There are two, practically speaking. The first is to simply invite your customers to write a Google review. This will be adequate for retailers and suchlike businesses that are straightforward and involve little or no complex service element. And, unlike the closed sites, it will be free. And as Google is 'open' for anyone to write a review you will be CMA compliant.

The second is to adopt a moderated review management system. What will this do? It will enable you to allow any customer or other stakeholder to post a review to your website at a time of their own choosing.   

How does moderation add value?

The first thing to say is that it won't prevent anyone from writing a negative review. But then neither will Google. What it will do is enable your reviewer to have a chance to correct their review - if it contains a factual inaccuracy or a statement likely to mislead a reader who may be likely to rely on that statement when making their choice of business based on the firm's reviews. 

Our moderation process makes clear to the reviewer that they have the right to post whatever final review they wish - that's what keeps it compliant. But long experince has taught us that in over 97 percent of cases over many years the original review is corrected pre-publication.

So, you only really have one question to answer: does your business provide a complex - legal, financial, medical, for example - service and therefore need a moderated review system? Or are people buying a simple - often visual - product from you, in which case inviting reviews direct to Google will suit you just fine.

Speak to us and we'll help you decide. And, hopefully, enable you to look like the business shown above.

Historical note

We are proud to say that we were the first to use the term 'moderation' as it is applied to reviews (it's an industry-wide standard now - even used by the CMA). It seemed logical at the time - moderators kept online forums free from spam, factual inaccuracies and abuse, so why wouldn't our moderators do the same for reviews?