Wednesday 28 June 2023

Reviews in 2023 - the key indicators

Consumer reviews is a fast-moving marketplace - in every sense. In this article we will take a very useful post  - by US company Reviewtrackers - and examine (and comment upon) every point.  If you only read one article about reviews this year we recommend it be this one.

HelpHound comment: Given that Yelp is mostly used to find eateries (and overwhelmingly in the US at that - having withdrawn from the UK and EU) and Tripadvisor those plus travel, accommodation and leisure activities, then it is Google's presence in the review space that we are concerned with on behalf of our own marketplace of the professions and service-oriented businesses. 

If that's taken as a given then we can safely assume that Google's dominance rises to at least 90%. It's also worth bearing in mind that Google's share of the search market now extends to 85% of searches worldwide and a full 96% in the UK. So it's not just where reviews are written that is of concern for businesses; it's where they are most likely to be read. The answer to both, thankfully, is Google.

HelpHound comment:
the same as for 'Google is the review site of choice' above. Businesses should clearly concentrate on Google reviews above all others (in fact, except in special circumstances: to the exclusion of all others) - simply because that's what their potential customers are doing - both reading and writing. On top of that, Google reviews are free and are far more credible than reviews from other sources.

HelpHound comment: it's early days but we think the answer is twofold: first, the dramatic rise in working from home. Consumers are using some of their reclaimed 'commuting time' to better research purchasing decisions. Secondly, the steep rise in inflation and mortgage interest rates has made consumers much more careful in their choices - especially where critical (health, legal, financial) and big-ticket (purchases in the £000s, such as property) items are concerned.

HelpHound comment: this is certainly the case where businesses either a) don't invite reviews at all or b) don't request reviews in the correct manner (by text is a prime example - text requests for reviews tend to elicit text-type reviews). If reviews are asked for in the correct manner they will actually be longer than average - and therefore much more helpful (and convincing) for potential customers and the business under review.

HelpHound comment: We always recommend that all reviews should be treated in the same way as any communication from a valued customer. What business would ignore such a  communication via email or a phone call for days? Or not respond at all? Aside from the etiquette aspect, the ability to respond to a review, on the business's own website or on Google, brings an excellent opportunity to highlight positives and explain negatives that should never be missed. 

There is one very important statistic here '94% of consumers say a bad review has convinced them to avoid a business.' Well-written negative reviews are very dangerous indeed, so dangerous that we christened them 'killer reviews' years ago. They can literally stop the phones ringing - here are two examples, one for a small business in Cornwall, a case that made the national media, where we were able to successfully appeal the review to Google and have it removed and another for a business - not a client of ours - that made the fundamental error of suing a reviewer in open court; the collateral damage caused by a single review (interestingly the court agreed and awarded damages to the business) was vastly outweighed by the attendant publicity generated by the media coverage of the case, which caused far more damage in the longer term.

HelpHound comment: it's self-evident - industry leaders look like industry leaders online. This rarely happens by accident, it involves developing a concerted and continuing strategy that runs from top to bottom through senior management to every single member of staff in any way involved with the business's CRM. What rarely occurs is a regulatory audit*: this involves ensuring that such a strategy does not contravene the CMA regulations - such contravention provides competitors with an easy answer to a business's glowing Google score. 

*HelpHound provides this service.

HelpHound comment: this is a very broad-range finding. Our experience - of managing reviews for the professional and service sector for over ten years - definitely shows that the closer a business can get to the 'Perfect 5.0' the more calls and clicks it will achieve through Google. We have never - ever - had a call from a client business suggesting that their review score has become so good that they are losing credibility in the marketplace. On the contrary, we take on many businesses that already score over 4 out of 5 but understand the need to minimise factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews in order to improve their scores.

HelpHound comment: as we only work on behalf of pure service or service-oriented businesses (such as the professions, medical, legal, financial services or estate agency, for instance) we have always known that reviewers focus heavily on the customer service aspect of any transaction.

HelpHound comment: show us a business with over 50 Google reviews* that scores 5.0 and we'll show you a business that's in breach of the CMA regulations. Put plainly: that business will be breaking the law. Our very best clients - and all of our clients are dedicated to the highest levels of customer service, that's why they employ Helphound - score 4.9. There's always going to be one!

*that is not a client of ours!

HelpHound comment: There's absolutely no doubt about this one: consumer scepticism about Google reviews evaporates at about the fifty mark. Comments such as 'I bet they just asked staff and friends to post reviews' fall away at that point. All our client businesses are able to assess the success of our involvement by tracking the number of calls and clicks they receive every month. 

It's very simple: get more reviews with a higher average score and your business will win more leads and customers. To do this a business needs to stop taking three paces forward - getting ten 5* reviews - and one step back - a factually inaccurate or plain 'unfair' 1* review. Only a moderated review system can achieve this with any degree of certainty - see point 2. below.

Three further key comments

Great - possibly - for online retail; disastrous for professions and service-oriented businesses

1.  Review sites other than Google should be avoided at all costs ('cost' being the operative word: not just the monthly cost of the review site in question - Google reviews are free - but the cost of the lost opportunity to shine in Google reviews). Below is a paragraph taken directly from a review site's annual report to its shareholders. Our loose translation is that they are saying that as they have lots of business customers in the UK already they are making hay by exploiting the natural instinct of businesses to emulate their competitors. Fair enough, but every business that follows on is missing one of the very best marketing opportunities there is: moderated Google reviews (again, see point 2.). 


This article deals expressly with the considerable - and invariable - damage done by directing reviews anywhere but to Google (unless the business concerned is only involved in online retail and any ones stars, on the website and associated marketing, will do, in which case carry on with [XYZ review site] and their blue/green/yellow/red stars).

2.  Reviewtrackers don't mention review moderation, simply because the only moderated review management system currently available is in the UK. And you’re on its blog currently!

Moderation protects businesses and consumers alike from factually inaccurate and potentially misleading reviews, not to mention just plain 'unfair' ones. The No.1 reason given by businesses that haven’t yet engaged with reviews is fear of such reviews. Moderation can’t provide a 100% guarantee against such reviews but to date we reckon our system resolves well over 95% of them before they’re published.

This article explains how moderation enables good businesses to shine - legitimately and in compliance with the law - in Google reviews.

Which of the businesses above benefits from moderation? Which leads consistently in Google local searches? Which receives more clicks and calls? Which saves most on Google Ads? Which is a HelpHound client?

3.  Proof. It's the first, last and - as the song goes - everything. But it is strangely lacking in most review sites' marketing to their business audience. Rareley, if ever, do they quote actual numbers for lead and business uplift.

A snapshot of a client's Google report - from the first full month after joining HelpHound. Yes - results can be that fast!

Not so here at HelpHound. Clicks up? We - and Google - will tell you by exactly how many. Calls through your Google listing - stats available month on month. Impact on the quality of your customers similarly improved? For this, and some independent numbers on the quality of business generated by Professional Review Management, read this article.

Friday 2 June 2023

Review moderation - the essential ingredient in professional review management

We refer to moderation in most articles, because it is central to what we do for our clients. In this article we will walk you through the process, to make completely clear the difference between using a moderated review management system and inviting customers to post unmoderated reviews direct to any review platform.

Before we go on to discuss moderation and its [positive] impact on our clients' online reputations let us first make one thing absolutely crystal clear: a single well-crafted review - fair or not - can literally stop the phones ringing. Saying 'We hardly ever get a negative review, so we might as well ask our clients/patients/customers to post direct to Google' may work out fine for months, even years, but the panic calls we receive from great businesses saying 'We have just had a single grossly unfair/inaccurate/misleading Google review and it's severely impacting the number of calls and clicks we achieve.' says precisely the reverse. And please bear in mind that HelpHound's monthly fee for what you hope you will agree after reading this article is an essential service (often described by clients as 'insurance for our hard-won reputation) is roughly the hourly rate charged by most businesses in our marketplace (actually, often considerably less).

If you have any doubts whatsoever please look at this....

We estimate that for every reader that clicks on the thumbs-up button at least another ten to fifteen have read the review and acted on it. That's 200-300 fewer enquiries and the number could be a quantum higher. No one will ever know, but we do know that this review will have had a negative impact on new business flows for the business concerned

...and read this shocking tale of how a single review impacted a law firm from the south of England so badly that they felt compelled to take the reviewer to court.

What is moderation?

The word itself has many meanings. Here's what the Oxford Dictionary says...

But, while the OED currently ignores the common web usage of the word, Wikipedia comes closer...

So, here's our definition...

  • Moderation is the act of reading a review before publication to ensure that it contains...
    • no factual inaccuracies - reviews containing errors of fact help no one
    • nothing that may potentially mislead a reader - for the same reason 
    • understandable written English

So what happens in practical terms?

If our moderator - a human, not a computer programme or an algorithm - identifies any of the above (which requires a measure of understanding of our client's business) the following happens...

  1. the review is sent to both the reviewer and the business under review, simultaneously, with an accompanying note from our moderator, highlighting the issue that has been identified
  2. the reviewer and the business are then invited to respond to our moderator
  3. Our moderator will then share those responses with both parties
  4. The reviewer is then given three options...
    1. To have their original review published
    2. To modify their review and then have it published
    3. To decide not to have a review published
  5. If either options 4.1 or 4.2 are chosen by the reviewer then they will automatically be asked to copy their review to the business's chosen review site (invariably Google)

N.B. Unlike one prominent review site, HelpHound does not publish reviews contingent upon proof of purchase by the reviewer. The CMA regulations clearly state that barriers such as this must not be placed in the way of a reviewer attempting to publish their genuinely held opinion. In practice - and we have well over ten years of experience to back this up - we find that well over ninety per cent of reviews subject to moderation are modified by the reviewer, in favour of the business. After all, in spite of what the most cynical may think, reviewers seldom want to have erroneous opinions published.

The process you see above is the only legally compliant way for a business to minimise harmful factually inaccurate or potentially misleading reviews.  
Here are examples of strategies currently used by UK businesses to minimise negative reviews, accurate or not - all of these are illegal:

    • hand-picking satisfied customers to invite to write reviews
    • pre-qualifying customer opinions to identify those satisfied customers - often by using customer surveys and questionnaires
    • having friends and families of staff write reviews
    • incentivising customers to write 5* reviews - we have seen examples of Amazon and M&S vouchers and plain old-fashioned cash used as incentives

We would go so far as to say that about 75% of businesses with over 100 reviews, on whatever platform, have employed one or more of the strategies outlined above.

The CMA regulations - see them, accompanied by our analysis here - apply to all UK businesses. They expressly forbid all the strategies above. So what makes HelpHound's moderators' interventions compliant with the CMA regulations? First: the express invitation at the end of the moderation process to have whatever review the reviewer wishes published. Second: the automated invitation to copy the review to Google. And third?

The red ellipse, above, highlights two buttons, each leading to a crucial aspect of the moderation process...

1. The '[505] reviews' button, which enables anyone to read all of the business's reviews (and choose to read them by latest, best, or worst) and then ...

2. The 'Write a review' button, which allows anyone to write a review of and to the business at a time of their own choosing...

Neither of these prevents the business from proactively inviting reviews (by email or at POS, for instance), from all its customers or, critically, from selected customers, because the business is in compliance with the law - the CMA regulations - by having this standing invitation on its website.

A Case History

We have one client who to date has had over 70 cases through Resolution (across multiple branches)Only four of these have resulted in a final published review, either on their website or on GoogleThey currently score between 4.and 4.9 on their own branch websites (with over 800 reviews there) and between 4.7 and 5.0 on Google (with over 600 reviews there).
 It goes without saying that this is a well-managed and thoroughly consumer-focused business - as HelpHound clients tend to be, by definition.

In Conclusion

Here's what that client looks like in Google search...

Important Note

What follows is the key to HelpHound's service, so we feel it bears repetition: while the CMA regulations make it abundantly clear that 'cherry-picking' customers (their words) - and/or gating (the practice of pre-qualifying customers before inviting them to write a review) is illegal, this does not mean that a business must reach out to every customer or stakeholder to proactively invite them to write a review - to their website, to Google or to any other location.

What the regulations do require is that any business that is going to selectively invite reviews has a mechanism to allow any customer to write a review at a time of their own choosing.

Here is that mechanism - and it appears in a very similar format on every HelpHound client's website

There you have it: everything you could want from reviews - your own, on your own website (that's where the 4.9 rating and the five gold stars from 505 reviews come from under their organic listing - they're from their own reviews hosted on their own website, not from their Google reviews), then copied to Google, all in compliance with UK (and EU) law, and without putting your hard-won reputation at risk by exposing your business to factually inaccurate, potentially misleading or just plain unfair reviews. 

If you have any more questions about moderation, and how it can benefit your business, please don't hesitate to contact us, if you would like to see examples of concrete results - increased calls and clicks - call us or read this article.