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!