Wednesday 13 September 2023

Moderated review management v. going it alone to Google - the crucial difference

Below are two businesses as currently shown in Google local search. Both were first visited by HelpHound some years ago when they had very few Google reviews - the first had 2 the second 7 - one took the plunge and joined, and one did not. What both did do was understand our core message: that Google reviews were paramount. Not Trustpilot. Not Feefo. Not any other review site.

No prizes for guessing which is the HelpHound member, but that's not what we are going to discuss here. What we want to know is what has caused the difference in outturn? 

Because we have met both businesses we know we can answer that question pretty accurately, certainly accurately enough to pass those answers on to you in this article. Here we go...

1.  The HelpHound member quickly gained confidence thanks to our moderation, they knew that they could invite reviews, in person, on their website and by email without that lingering fear that inaccurate or misleading - or just plain unfair - reviews would be written unchallenged. Looking back over the years when our moderators have intervened it has almost invariably been to the delight of the reviewer and our member business. If you are looking for the answer to the question 'Why has the first business got more reviews?' this is a big part of it

2.  The HelpHound member has no compliance issues or worries: they know they are compliant, and they know that they can ask exactly whom they want to write a review in the secure knowledge that having a 'Write a review' button on their website makes them instantly conform to the CMA regulations (the law). Many - most? - businesses with 100+ Google reviews are - wittingly or not - flouting one of the CMA's core rules: more often than not they are selecting which customers/clients/patients to ask to write a review. Many businesses react with disbelief when we come to this subject; all we would ask is that you read this article and read the relevant CMA rules referred to there

3.  They know that Google is seeing their own reviews on their own website and scoring them for local search (SEO) as a result - may be as much a 15% of the overall. What we do know is that at least eighty-five per cent of our clients feature in the top three of their most popular relevant local searches, even when there are as many as twenty or thirty competitors in their area...

How many similar businesses? We counted 15 in this very condensed area - more than 30 if we pan out


And top - of both map and organic (natural) search? We can't take 100% of the credit for that - the business has an award-winning website, but their rating of 4.9 with 266 votes alongside that search result, against their nearest competitor with 4.7 and 121, is surely winning clicks and calls


The conclusion we hope you have come to is first, the one mentioned in the first paragraph: that engaging with Google reviews is a must and second, that engaging by employing a moderated and compliant system is worth every penny (and more). The difference between adopting HelpHound and just going for Google reviews directly is amplified over time; all things being equal (quality of service/CRM, in the main) the HelpHound business will gradually pull away as it has done in the example above, thanks entirely to our moderated system. Less factually incorrect, misleading and downright unfair reviews will find their way to Google. Full Stop. The fact that there are other benefits - SEO, owning your own reviews, displaying those reviews on your own website to drive calls and clicks - pale besides moderation.

While we are on the subject of costs, we can be pretty confident that none of our clients see their HelpHound membership as an 'added cost'; it is expressly designed to drive an increase in calls and clicks and raise the quality of each piece of business transacted. For more specific examples of both those please read this article.


Friday 8 September 2023

HelpHound - the gateway to successful review management for your clients

Click here and you will be taken to the Full Monty: 'Review Management - a Guide for PR, Advertising and Marketing agencies- all of the detailed knowledge and experience of the last fourteen years of managing reviews for all kinds of businesses condensed into one article. 

What does it cover - in a nutshell? The key elements comprise the following three vital headings...

1.  What is HelpHound?

We are professional review managers. In the same way that you have built up experience and expertise in your own field, there is virtually nothing that we don't know about reviews - Google reviews, review sites like Trustpilot and Yelp and Feefo, the way consumers - and patients and clients - react when invited to write a review, the chances of a review harming your business, the likelihood of your business, or your clients' businesses, benefitting from review management in hard cash terms, we know just about all of it (and if we don't we surely know someone who does).

2.  Results

This client had two - 2 - Google reviews when they joined...

...and none at all of their own on their website

There is a yawning chasm between 'It's nice to have a great Google score backed up by hundreds of 5* reviews' and the hard numbers. We focus on those numbers: the uplift in calls and clicks through search combined with the reduction in factually inaccurate, potentially misleading and just plain unfair reviews posted - anywhere. And the increase in value per customer - all are covered in the main article.


These are not our numbers - they are taken directly from Google's monthly report to our client

To give you a taster: most clients new to proper professional review management see upifts in clicks and calls through search in the region of 15 to 30 percent, depending on the business's starting point.

3.  Compliance and moderation
Review compliance is currently where parking compliance was thirty years ago: there are rules but they're not being enforced. This has lead to businesses flouting the CMA's two core regulations: no cherry-picking and no gating (simply put: a business is not allowed - by law - to choose which of its customers to invite to write reviews or to pre-qualify those customers before inviting them to write reviews). The only way most businesses are confident in inviting reviews and complying with those regulations is if they find a moderated review management system - a way of ensuring that inaccurate, misleading or plain unfair reviews are highly unlikely to ever see the light of day.

That third point  - finding a moderated system - is a tricky one unless you happen to find HelpHound. We invented review moderation back in the noughties and we remain the only review manager to incorporate it into our system. It is absolutely integral to the success of our clients' engagement with reviews.

So back to the first line - either click here to read the main article or call us on 020 7100-2233 to arrange to meet.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Results, results, results!

In reporting Winkworth Plc's first half results, Dominic Agace, CEO said...

"Our business remains robust and our focus continues to be on providing a platform that can allow an independent business to compete as a top three contender in its local marketplace and, by doing so, ensuring a franchisee can generate a healthy return under differing market conditions.”

Now, far be it for HelpHound to take undue credit for its impact on the above, but perhaps a quick look at some of our members' positions in local search may show even the most cynical the impact professional review management can have on a business's online reputation (bear in mind there are commonly between 20-30 similar businesses in any given area covered by Google search in London)...

The key here? Moderation. Every single review posted to our members' websites is moderated - read by a professional moderator - before being published there with the reviewer then being automatically invited to copy the review to Google. This gives our members the confidence to invite reviews - compliantly - from all their stakeholders: current clients, past clients, potential clients and allow reviews from all those others who might otherwise be tempted to post direct to Google: property seekers, unsuccessful applicants and the like. In the secure knowledge that any reviews containing errors of fact or potentially misleading statements will be subject to moderation. 

From this small link all good things flow - a great score (on the business's own website and on Google - see above), backed up by great individual reviews and all in compliance with the CMA regulations (unlike so many of their competitors)

Every HelpHound member business is fully compliant with the law - the CMA regulations - which specifically state that a business must not hand-pick customers to invite to write reviews or control their timing. It must go a long way to explaining the longevity of our client relationships - read what some of them had to say back in 2017, words that hold good just as well today.

Review Management - a Guide for PR, Advertising and Marketing agencies

You know that an outstanding presence in Google reviews is a must-have for all of your clients; you also know that achieving that - a score of 4.8+ and 200+ reviews - is easier said than done, especially while maintaining compliance with the CMA regulations. What follows is a step-by-step guide to achieving this for them without running any risks - of attracting adverse reviews or of breaking the law.

This article is intended as a reference point for agencies to decide how best to advise all of their clients, whatever their current situation.

And if you haven't time to read the whole article, just scroll down to the final paragraph: 'So - after all of the above - are there any other benefits for our agency?' and you will see a precis. But we strongly recommend you follow the 'Bezos principle' (see video above) and read what follows - we promise it will reward the effort.

Note for readers

It is so easy to promote a 'one size fits all solution' to reviews, after all, that's what the review sites do. But businesses differ, not only in the way they market their products and services - see what we did? There are two distinct categories of business already! - but in the way they have historically approached (or avoided approaching) reviews.

In this article we are going to address review management from two distinct perspectives: the type of business and the current situation each business finds itself in. All of your clients - and, indeed, your own business - will be in one of the following 4 categories. For the purposes of this exercise we are going to ignore those in 1, 2b, 3 and 4 (you will understand why as you read on). For those in category 2a we will further break them down by their current status with regard to reviews and follow that with specific relevant advice.

Then it is over to you. Speak to us and we'll arrange a mutually beneficial approach to those of your clients you feel we can help. That will usually mean starting out with an individual review audit* and then progress to providing definitive tailored advice. And it will end with your client scoring 4.8+ with three figures of reviews, a great SEO kicker and in full compliance with UK law. 

As you read this article you will see continuous references to both compliance and moderation, each one hyperlinked to a full explanation. They are the two underlying planks of effective review management, so we make no apolgy for repetition.You can read them now or as you read on, the choice is yours. 

* A review audit - as the name implies, begins with examining every aspect of a business's experience with reviews to date and ending with a summary of advice and recommendations. Covering the likes of existing presence on review sites - Google/Trustpilot/Feefo/Yelp/ and so on - and compliance with the UK government (CMA) regulations, as well as providing a roadmap to effective and compliant review management for the future.

First: the 'type of business'...

Almost every one of the UK's 5.5 million businesses falls into one of four categories...

1.  Product-based - retail in the main. Broad-brush we know, but most people will buy a pair of shoes or a dishwasher irrespective of the service element involved in their purchase. Otherwise, such businesses are served by the commercial review sites (oddly, rarely by Google reviews) - just see any online retailer's website or advertising.

2a.  Service-based - the professions and high-value transactional businesses: medical, legal, financial, educational and the like (estate agency is a good example - a service business that is infrequently used but where the consumer is aware that the wrong choice may potentially cost them many thousands of pounds) as well as 2b. Trades - plumbers, electricians, and so on.

3.  A hybrid of the above two categories - car dealerships for example - they 'sell' cars and 'service' them (We know, but we want to make quite sure there are no misunderstandings given what is to come later). 

4.  'Impervious' businesses - utilities and transport companies are two obvious examples: where the consumer either has no choice at all (South West Water or a train from Paddington to Bristol anyone?) or the business is so massive that, often despite protestations to the contrary, it really doesn't care what people are saying online (it's easy to tell: they don't repond to customers' Google reviews, when it's free and easy to do so). 

Now something about HelpHound. In an ideal world, we would welcome clients from any of these four categories, but years of experience have taught us to concentrate all our efforts on Category 2a: the professions and service-based businesses. And there is absolutely no doubt that it is in that sector that HelpHound can add the most value - in pure £££s as well as in many other ways.

Why would HelpHound effectively ignore the other three categories?

We can add value for any business, whatever its nature, but...

Category 1: After all they love reviews, don't they? Yes, they do, and the review sites - Yelp, Trustpilot, Feefo,, etc. - have targeted them very effectively. They would do better with professional review management, but we can add more value for other kinds of business.

As long as they score 4.0 they're generally pretty happy.

Category 2b: Trades and  'man+van' businesses, which often don't have dedicated business premises - needed for a Google profile - are covered by the likes of Which? and lead-generator businesses such as Checkatrade and TrustedPeople.

Category 3: Businesses, where the major earner is sales, and service is sometimes even a loss-leader, tend to focus on in-house reporting rather than reviews. They shouldn't, but they do. We'll be here for them when they come around.

Category 4: 'Impervious'. Well, they must be - why otherwise do they make next to no attempt to address - or even respond to - reviews from their customers (we'll repeat it - it's free!)?

So, we are left, happily, with 2a. The professions - medical, legal, educational, and financial as well as the likes of recruitment, estate agency, and so on. Most of these businesses really care about their images online...

We make no apology for using a HelpHound client to illustrate this category. When this business adopted HelpHound they had just 2 Google reviews!

  • it knew that scoring 4.9 on Google would drive business through its doors
  • it knew that a Google score of less than 4.5 would hinder their new business efforts
  • it knew that everything else being equal, numbers of reviews matter
  • it knew that its work is complex and often misunderstood
  • it knew exactly how harmful a well-written but factually inaccurate review can be
  • it knew that hosting their own client/patient/customer reviews gives them valuable feedback and data
And - once they understand the CMA regulations...
  • it is very pleased that it is in full compliance with UK law

Now to the sub-categories of 2a

You may be surprised to read that there are very few businesses in 2a that have adopted the correct solution. Here we go (you should be able to allocate one of the following descriptions - A to G - to each of your clients)...

A - No reviews

Still regularly encountered. Reason: almost always fear, with a capital 'F'. And that fear is fully justified: if a business provides complex and difficult to comprehend services there will be a proportion of people who will grab the wrong end of the stick with both hands and then be tempted to beat the business with it. And these days that stick - which used to be a relatively harmless 'green ink' letter or an angry phone call - is invariably a 1* Google review. 

The fatal flaw in the 'Don't engage with reviews' strategy is that it put's the business's image way beyond the its control. We used to encounter hotels that had 'no review' contracts for airline staff staying - that didn't last when the same staff realised that all they had to do was create a new Google account and fire away! One day one such unhappy customer will find their way to writing a Google review.  Best have 100 5* reviews there when they do. Even better still, have their review directed to your business where it will benefit from HelpHound's moderation.

It's the very reason we invented moderation. Moderation gives businesses of all kinds the confidence they need to compliantly invite reviews from all their customers. The alternative - crossing fingers and toes in the hope that unhappy consumers don't write reviews - may have worked ten years ago, but it's far too high risk a strategy in 2023.

B - Few reviews - less than 50 - and a high score (4.6 and up)

Often the result of at first engaging and then stalling: the engagement is often prompted by receiving a one-star review - 'let's squash that one!' - or a member of staff driving engagement short-term (we know of one keen young person who stayed late at work once a week for a month and got their business 40 Google reviews, then he left and the business got three reviews for the rest of the year). 

The key here is to embed professional review management into the business in the same way as every other essential discipline. Many businesses do this and then fall at the compliance hurdle: they cherry-pick (invite selected customers to write reviews) or gate (use mechanisms like surveys to pre-qualify 5* reviewers), all understandable until you realise they are both against the law. Our question to prospective clients is 'Why break the law when a) it so quickly becomes obvious to your competitors and b) it is so easy not to?' Needless to say, no agency professional wants to find themselves in a position of advising a client to adopt a non-compliant solution.

C - Few reviews - and an average score (4.0 - 4.5)

Believe it: a score of under 4.6 will result in two things: the business comparing less favourably with its competitors as well as a handful of damaging 1* reviews underlying the score (a score of 4.0 from twenty reviews means at least four harmful 1* reviews). Neither need happen if the business adopts a moderated solution.

D - Few reviews - and a low score (lower than 4.0)

This is a tricky one: we need to establish why the business has attracted negative reviews: it's either a flaw in their CRM - put bluntly: they're not that great at what they do.  Our advice in these circumstances is simple: sort your CRM and we'll speak when you have done so.

Or they have left the field clear for a tiny minority of unhappy customers. More common than one might think: once a business has experienced the power of a negative review to harm enquiry rates - clicks and calls - it is not uncommon for business owners and managers to retreat into 'denial mode'. We hear comments such as 'reviews don't matter' (they do), 'our score doesn't influence the flow of enquiries' (it does) or 'people pay no attention to negative reviews' (they do, in spades). 

Once such businesses have been introduced to our moderation process they quickly shed such denial, which is exposed for what it is - an understandable but mistaken reaction to the fear of attracting more negative reviews.

E - Many reviews - over 50 in most cases - and a high score (4.6+)

Now we must tread carefully.  There are many businesses that have high Google scores by simply being great businesses, but once a business has more than 50 Google reviews and a high score the very numbers generally - not always, but generally - indicate a proactive stance towards reviews. Put plainly: the business is inviting reviews. 

Fine, as long as the business has some mechanism that allows all of its customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. The CMA's definition of 'all' and 'at a time of their own choosing' is, as one might expect from a government agency, very precise. We have businesses constantly trying to convince us that they comply by various means - 'we include a link in the signature block of every email' or 'we email customers inviting reviews on a regular basis' but the only sure-fire solution is to include the link you will see on every HelpHound client's website. Before you say 'But that is asking for trouble' (we would agree, if it weren't for what follows) bear in mind that the link will invite a review to your own website that will then be moderated. So a 'win/win': compliance and moderation (and credibility) all in one.

F - Many reviews - and an average score (4.0 - 4.5)

There are some businesses that continue to believe that scoring 4.4, or even 4.0, is fine. Good even. But if you are to win business against competitors that have adopted professional review management your business needs to be scoring 4.6+ (in some cases even that score will leave a business languishing by comparison with its competitors). If your business is scoring between 4.0 and 4.5 and is leading the field in search then our advice has to be: take that lead and extend it before one or more of your competitors does. Nothing gives us more satisfaction here at HelpHound than seeing a client's Google score overtake its competitors.

G - Many reviews - and a low score - (less than 4.0)

Very few businesses find themselves in the arguably luxurious position of being able to ignore reviews

Now we are in the territory of 'don't care', which is at the extreme end of the denial syndrome we discussed earlier, or what we term 'review immunity'. Some businesses, often those that have a very high public profile such as fast food multiples: when did you last see a McDonald's franchisee bother to respond to a review? an airline? or a utility (South West Water - see above)? But these businesses are in the minority; most businesses are vulnerable to Google reviews, be that their headline score or the negative reviews underlying it. 

Note on scores and numbers of reviews: these are, of necessity, subjective but they are based on over ten years of experience and are backed up by hard statistics. In some marketplaces - financial services is an obvious example - it is currently unusual to find a business with double figures of Google reviews, whereas in estate agency any business worth the name probably has north of a hundred Google reviews. Why? HelpHound has to take part of the blame here; when we took on our first high-profile Plc client in estate agency enough of their branch network - of over 100 - took the bull by the horns and trusted us that they wouldn't be swamped with unfair reviews (thanks to our moderation process) and went on to prove us right. That set a fire under the whole sector: if your competitor scores 4.9 with 200 reviews you had better do something to compare with them or you will be losing significant business.

This Harley Street medical clinic client also answers the question we are sometimes asked about confidentiality: 'Do we see resistance from those using sensitive services?' The Harper Clinic specialises in treating menopause symptoms, how much more sensitive could a business be?

The red arrow is pointing at the key to all of our clients' compliance with the CMA regulations, as well as the route to moderation. By clicking on 'Write a review' anyone can write a review whenever they wish, and that review will be moderated to ensure, as far as is compliantly possible, that it contains no errors of fact or statements likely to mislead a reader

This also, by coincidence, provided proof of another kind. When faced with a business that is concerned with allowing all of its stakeholders to post a review whenever they choose - in other words: in compliance with UK law - we don't hesitate to point out that estate agency is hardly the least criticised business sector of all time, so, if we can show it working, for the professional agencies at least, how great a risk would a medical practice or a firm of financial advisers be taking?

So - after all of the above - are there any other benefits for your agency?

There are two answers to this - both of which provide tangible benefits for your business:
  1. Your clients will be grateful that you introduced them to HelpHound. There is no downside for them. They will be compliant with the CMA regulations from the day they join and just one look at our 'Results' will show them the potential uplift in enquiries through both Google and their own websites. HelpHound membership will earn them extra revenue over and above our fees, from the outset*. It also has the potential to make them significant savings on the likes of Google Ads, as well as the boost to their SEO.
  2. By becoming a HelpHound introducer you will be adding a growing quarterly income stream for your own business
*If you have a client that already has a score of 4.9 and 200+ Google reviews they will be just as glad they joined: aside from a continued compliant flow of reviews to Google, they will be hosting their own reviews - valuable data - on their own website and benefitting from our moderation going forwards. No more cherry-picking or gating and a great SEO kicker too.