Friday 21 April 2023

Google reviews - back to basics

We have not published a 'back to basics' article for quite a while, but judging by our day-to-day experience, plenty of businesses will still welcome it. Please persevere, even if you think the first one or two topics are pretty basic - getting the basics right, as we all know, is just as important as understanding the finer points. So here goes.

What are Google reviews - and why are they so important?

At a glance - a great score from a credible number of reviews and excellent Google rich snippets

1.  Google reviews are the first opinions a potential customer will see of your business. Always. They will appear in every single web search on your business name - even if the customer is simply looking for your telephone number or address. It is a mistake to think that reviews are only read by those actively looking for them. 

2.  Like it or not, they are read by anyone and everyone who interacts with your business. Ask any customer/patient/client (we'll simply call them 'customers' from here on in) and they will confirm this, from the patient in the dentist's chair to the divorcee in the lawyer's office. And they are read more the more high-value the service you provide. Selling toasters? A high review score will shift products but the individual reviews themselves will convince someone to at least make first contact with a doctor, financial adviser, solicitor or estate agency.

3.  They are believed. Not all of them, but consumers nowadays have learned to take a business's headline score as a shorthand way of whittling down their options. Your competitors score 4.8 and your business scores 4.6? Your competitor will get more enquiries than you do. Verifiable fact (verifiable by reference to your monthly Google My Business statistics).  The difference between having a great Google score with great reviews - not always one and the same thing - will make the difference in getting serious volumes of customer enquiries through Google to very few, or even none at all.

What are the most common mistakes that businesses make with Google reviews?

1.  They don't take them seriously. We call this 'review denial'. Expressions such as 'What kind of [blank] writes a Google review?' or 'Who would believe a Google review?' and 'Who chooses a business on the basis of their reviews?' are still heard around boardroom tables in 2023.

2.  They don't take the quality of their reviews seriously. They are happy with one-liners or simple ratings (reviews with scores but no content). Consumers search out and value detailed well-written reviews. 

3.  Businesses don't respond to their Google reviews and if they do they often only respond to critical reviews. Besides being plain good manners, responding to every one of a business's reviews is proven to reduce the incidence of negative reviews.

What alarms businesses about engaging with Google reviews?

1.  The very points made above: that Google reviews are highly visible and credible and, as a result, they can dramatically impact lead flow through search - add to this the fact that it is extremely difficult to get a Google review removed (unless it is demonstrably and provably factually incorrect - and even then it's a struggle) then we begin to understand why some businesses will either game the system - often going so far as to break the law - or retreat into the above mentioned denial and not engage with Google reviews at all.

2.  Conforming with the law. In the UK the law states that a business that invites any customers at all to write a review must allow all of its customers to do so. It also states that the business cannot control the timing of the review. It takes a brave business to allow all of its customers to write a review.

How does HelpHound enable businesses to reconcile all of these factors - both positive and negative?

In a word? Moderation. Given that a business cannot opt out of Google reviews it has to find the best practicable solution that takes all of the above into account...

  • one that allows all of a business's customers to write a review
  • at a time of their own choosing
That's step one. After all, adopting a system outside the law...
  • by cherry-picking (selecting known happy customers to write a review)
  • and/or by gating (sending out a customer survey to establish which customers are happy before only inviting those to write a review)
...not only invites legal sanction by the CMA but plays right into the hands of competitors (after all, there's probably no more powerful disincentive to doing business than the knowledge that the business in question has illegally massaged its image).

So: back to moderation. What - exactly - is it? It is the act of reading a review pre-publication to ensure, as far as is legally possible, that the review contains no errors of fact or wording that may be likely to mislead a reader. Here's the process...

From the 'Write a review' button on the right all the benefits of professional - moderated - review management flow

1.  The business emails their customer inviting them to write a review to be published on their website - or the customer sees the invitation to write a review on the business's website (see example above - even look up Shepherds' website - and see what they look like in search).

2.  The customer writes their review and submits it.

3.  The review is read by a moderator. By definition that moderator must be independent of the business (yes, this is where HelpHound comes in).

4.  If the review contains no factual inaccuracies or misleading statements it is published to the business's own website and an automated email is sent to the reviewer inviting them to copy the review to Google. This applies to over 95% of all reviews.

5. If there are issues with the content of the review the moderator will inform the reviewer and the business, simultaneously. This happens in the case of less than 5% of all reviews and in 97% of those cases the review is either withdrawn by the reviewer or revised and then published. In less than 3% of cases is no resolution arrived at and in those cases the original review is published (with the business having a right-of-reply).

This is the aspect of our service that provides all the reassurance businesses need to fully engage with reviews. From the numbers above you can see that the chances of an 'unfair' review being published about a business are vanishingly small compared with inviting reviews in a legally compliant manner to Google direct - 3 percent of 5 percent: roughly 1.5 in a thousand.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
For more about HelpHound and our services to professional high-value service businesses please don't hesitate to call us on 020 700 2233.

Further reading...