Friday 9 February 2024

Why, oh why, not Google?

It's a question we ask all the time. Why would any business invite its customers to write a review to a review website rather than to Google?

There's currently a very high-profile example displaying on three e-billboards on the M4/A4 'Gateway to London'. Here is a similar, but far smaller one...

Now, given that this kind of advertising is designed expressly to drive people to their mobile/tablet/laptop to check out the brand and then switch suppliers, what do we see when we do just that?

We see this...

And this...

And then these, over 50 of them...

And on and on they go - 56 one-star reviews (and, unlike their 5* reviews, many of which are simple ratings, their unhappy customers tend to go into quite a lot of detail about their experience with Octopus - which does not use Google's free review response facility, but that's another story).

And that's about as far as most potential customers will get, they won't mine down into Google for more reviews, why should they? But we persevered on your behalf and found this...

So - again -  the question: 'Why do businesses like this use a review site in preference to Google reviews?' Why not simply ask customers to post to Google (which, apart from all the other advantages outlined below, is free)? 

We put these questions to Octopus Energy, and this is what they said...


Despite three telephone conversations with their PR department and two separate emails - both containing a draft of this article. So, like any responsible journalist facing a brick wall, we began to mine further down into Octopus Energy's use of reviews, and Trustpilot in particular. 

What did we find?

1.  That out of its 230,000 plus, mostly glowing, Trustpilot reviews, it has over 7,000 one-star reviews.

2.  That these one-star reviews are not just tales of minor dissatisfaction, they often contain a litany of non-communication by the company, much like our own experience. Call after email after call without response, mostly about money - serious amounts, often in the £hundreds and £thousands. You can read them here.

3.  Octopus tends to be quite slow in responding to these, sometimes quite urgent ('we've been cut off', 'I've gone overdrawn') reviews. As regular readers will know, our own benchmark Is 'same working day'.

4.  Its responses are mostly generic 'Thank you for your review, please email us...' and rarely address the issue raised.

Our conclusion

This is, admittedly, going to be very one-sided, due entirely to the Octopus Energy PR department's unwillingness to answer even the most basic of questions. Here goes...

We think Octopus, and companies like it, are choosing independent review sites over Google for one very simple reason...

...that no one will find, and therefore read, their negative reviews.

Their prospective customers might read the individual reviews - that is, if this, on Octopus's home page, were hyperlinked to their Trustpilot listing. But it's not - strange, no?

When we say 'no one' we exaggerate, of course. Those who go to Trustpilot to write negative reviews obviously do read the other reviews - because they often quote them in their own ('Just like John X, I had the same issue.'). But just how many people looking for an energy supplier and seeing Octopus's review-driven advertising (see top of the page and any local billboard or radio station) find their way to Trustpilot? Very few, is our educated guess.

One final point - Octopus are proactively inviting customers to write reviews; so far so fine, but one of the questions we were going to ask them was 'You send out a customer survey by text before you invite the customer to write a review to Trustpilot. Do all respondents to the survey get asked to write a Trustpilot review, or only those that rate their experience of the business highly?' If, as we have seen with many businesses over the years, the latter is the case, it is in breach of the CMA's core regulations.

And this is what we think about the independent review site v. Google argument...

  1. Google reviews carry far more credibility - due to being attached to a 'real' person's Google account (as opposed to 'MickeyMouse123' on a review site).
  2. Google reviews are far more visible. By a huge factor; your prospective client/patient searches and what do they see? Google reviews, every time.
  3. Google has far greater reach - many consumers head directly for Google reviews every time they are considering using a new business - especially if that business is in the professions or is a service industry. When was the last time you considered such a business and thought 'I must check how their customers view them on [Feefo/Yelp/Trustpilot...]'? Google dominate search in the UK to a vast extent  - at last count, 95.53% of internet searches in the UK were made on Google.
  4. Anyone can write a Google review. Until recently, it was a common misconception amongst many businesses that the reviewer 'needed a Gmail address'. They don't, they just need to have used one of Google's plethora of services over the last two decades, and few people have not.
  5. Google reviews are location-specific. If your business has multiple locations it will receive Google reviews for those specific locations (what consumer, considering using a business in Durham, wants to read reviews of HQ in Reading?).
  6. Google is free. Google doesn't charge for hosting and prominently displaying your business's reviews. Why should they? Considering that you are donating your customers' valuable data to Google, that's added value enough for them.

Our advice - to any professional or service business

  1. Invite your customers - clients/patients - to write reviews on Google
  2. Use a moderated system so those reviews can be checked for factual accuracy and/or misleading statements before they are published for all to read
  3. Publish those reviews on your own website - don't hide them
  4. Think long term (a) - in five years from now Octopus will look far, far worse on Google than it does now
  5. Think long term (b) - Google will still be around in five years' time. Review sites? Maybe not. Imagine your chosen review site folds and with it, all your hard-won reviews end up in the ether (remember Yelp quitting the UK and EU?)?
But if your business is selling shirts or headphones - stick with the review site; you only need the star rating, very few people read reviews of products (as opposed to services) as long as the headline score is 4.8+. And if the review site goes under? You are selling hundreds or even thousands of units a week, so you'll soon reach critical mass on your new review site, and all you will have to do is plaster their stars all over your marketing.

And finally, if anyone - anyone at all - at Octopus Energy reads this article and would like to comment: they know how to contact us.