Wednesday 13 March 2024

Moderation - every professional business's key to reviews

With apologies to regular readers, but this subject is so vital - it is at the core of everything we do for our client businesses and their customers. We're going to keep this article brief - but we will include links to more detailed information and analysis for those who want to mine further down into this vital aspect of managing a business's online reputation.

Here goes...

1.  What is moderation?

This is one of the most important questions we are ever asked - and one of the most important services we ever provide, to both our business clients and their customers. So let's look at a real example; here is a review, posted through the business's website and picked up - pre-publication - by our moderator...

We have purposely chosen this review as it is an excellent example of the kind of review that, if posted straight to Google, would remain on the business's Google page for the foreseeable future; there is nothing in the review that would give us cause to think there was any chance of an appeal to Google succeeding as it does not remotely infringe any of Google's terms and conditions.
Indeed, on the face of it, the review is an entirely genuine opinion and record of a consumer's - in this case a patient's - interaction with the business - in this case a medical practice. Also, on reading, it is a pretty convincing argument not to use the business. And therefore potentially hugely damaging.

So: what happened during the moderation process? 

Our moderator acknowledged the review by messaging the reviewer to tell them that we would be consulting the business before publishing the review. Simultaneously the review was sent to the business for comment. We make it completely clear to businesses that their response must be with our moderator by close of business the same day (if a business wants to be sure of provoking a review direct to Google, then any delay at this point is a good way of ensuring that happens). 

In this instance the clinic reverted to our moderator the same morning, addressing each point in the review in turn.  This response was forwarded, immediately, to the reviewer who was then invited to do one of three things:

    • Amend their original review
    • Have their original review posted
    • Message the business via our moderator and leave the review unposted
In this case, as happens in so many*, the latter course was chosen by the reviewer...

Not only the right outcome but the fair outcome. The clinic's reputation was protected and the relationship with their patient was restored. Both parties benefitted.

*The overwhelming majority of consumers - especially where there is a professional ongoing relationship or service at stake - are entirely receptive to a full and truthful explanation of the facts of the matter under review. Indeed, they are often grateful in the extreme for our moderator's intercession.

Moderation is the act of 'having a review read and analysed for factual accuracy and/or misleading statements' by a person independent of the business under review. It is the only legal way for businesses in the UK (and the EU) to ensure that, as far as possible, their reviews are an accurate reflection of their business and its services.

2.  If our moderator finds either of those - factual inaccuracies and/or statements with the potential to mislead someone who may rely on the review (a potential client/patient, for instance) what exactly do they do?

They message the reviewer - in private (example above) - and suggest modifications to the review before it is published. They will also correct obvious mistakes in spelling and grammar.

3.  Will our moderator ever involve the business?

Sometimes. Our moderators are experienced and understand our clients' businesses, but if there is something in the review that needs clarification - the 'he said/she said' kind of thing - they will refer to our point-of-contact at the business as well as back to the reviewer (again, see the example above).

4.  Do reviewers ever object to our moderation process?

Very rarely. We always make it clear that the reviewer always has the right - excluding profanities or allegations of illegal behaviour - to have whatever review they wish published (this keeps every party in compliance with the CMA regulations, which specifically prohibit businesses from using any mechanism that prevents the consumer having their say).  On the contrary, we often receive messages from reviewers thanking us for our intervention. Vanishingly few consumers want to have inaccurate reviews published for the world to see (the actual figure, from our own data, is far less than 1% of the 3% of reviews that enter the moderation process).

5.  What should we expect our business to score with moderation?

This is the question we get most of all: before we answer it - and we will give you actual numbers at the end of this section - we should explain that there are two elements in the customer relationship chain that we, at HelpHound, cannot (and should not) control: the first is the behaviour of your staff, which is entirely your responsibility and the second is the behaviour of your customers. We often meet 'perfect' businesses with far-from-perfect Google scores; what we know for sure is that our moderation process will address a great proportion of those mistaken negative reviews. So...

A (near) perfect business with (near) perfect clients? Or a business that has felt the need to selectively invite 'happy' clients to post reviews to Google? Bearing in mind that 186 reviews divided by the six years since their first Google review = 31 reviews a year = just over one fortnight, the available evidence points to the latter. 

If your business currently scores between 4.8 and 5.0 - it will have the very best chance of maintaining that score with HelpHound's moderation (and it will be fully compliant with the CMA regulations - as will all the solutions below)

This business has worked hard to get 300 Google reviews, possibly in order to dilute the 26 one-star and 3 two-star reviews it has received, almost of which would have been effectively managed by our moderation process (a quick scan of their negative reviews shows a mix of misunderstandings - language issues in the main and plain wrong-headed comments). Going forwards they should be looking to raise their percentage of 5* reviews from its current level of 91% to far closer to 99%. This will see their score rise to 4.8/4.9 alongside their most successful competitors.

  • If your business currently scores between 4.5 and 4.7 - it will have a great chance of achieving a score of at least 4.8 with HelpHound's moderation

This firm had a clean sheet - scoring the full 5.0 - until a matter of weeks ago. Its experience illustrates just how vital a moderated review management system is for professional businesses. We cannot guarantee that the 3 one-star reviews posted recently would not have been posted, but the firm would have had vastly more than 14 five-star reviews to counterbalance them. This should be its aim going forward: to invite clients to post to Google as a standard practice.

  • If your business currently scores between 4.0 and 4.4 - it will have a great chance of achieving a score of at least 4.8 with HelpHound's moderation

We're going to take an educated guess here: someone within the firm began asking their satisfied clients to post reviews four years ago, then a colleague pointed out the CMA anti-cherry-picking regulations and they stopped doing so. Then some unhappy people - not necessarily clients - posted a handful of critical reviews. So their Google score has gradually declined from 4.9 to its current 3.9. Being the lowest-ranked solicitor in its area will not be helping to drive new clients through the door. But all is not lost: a low score from a few reviews is easily rectified, whilst a low score form hundreds - or thousands - takes time (but will still be achieved)

  • If your business currently scores less than 4.0 - the only way, as they say, is up! That is, unless our initial audit pinpoints a flaw in your CRM, in which case we will advise accordingly and delay implementation until the flaw is rectified

To reinforce these four assertions we recommend you read these two articles:

1.  Results: two case histories that demonstrate the uplift in Google score, the subsequent increase in new business enquiries and the resultant critical quantum shift in the quality of customers acquired through Google search.

2. Our guarantee of success: see exactly what we absolutely guarantee will happen when you join HelpHound.

Does all of the above mean that HelpHound can make any business look great in search?

We understand, at first glance, this might appear to be the case, but it ignores two significant factors in HelpHound's own business model...

  1. We only work with the professions and service businesses, and most, if not all, service businesses can improve their CRM to the stage where HelpHound's review management will work effectively for them. This is not the case with product-based businesses: a substandard product will always be a substandard product, and we leave those businesses to the review sites.
  2. We recognise that the reviewer always retains the option to write their review directly to Google or one of the review sites, so we always advise our clients to facilitate the maximum number of reviews through their own CRM and website. If a business ignores that advice they run the very real risk of negative reviews, often factually incorrect or just plain unfair, being written to Google.       

A vital - and hugely valuable - unintended consequence of moderation

Very soon after we introduced moderation we began being asked, by virtually every business we spoke to (especially those that had taken the trouble to understand the CMA regulations - the law)...

'Do we have to ask all our customers to post a review?'

Our initial response was...

'No, you don't, you are compliant with the CMA regulations by dint of the fact that you offer all visitors to your website the ability to post a review.'

Sighs of relief all round! But then we took a long hard look at the individual negative reviews being posted. And we had an epiphany: we realised that clients of relationship-based businesses didn't often 'warn' those businesses that they were dissatisfied with whatever long-term service they were being provided with - they just resigned/left. And, as any such business will tell you, once a client or patient is gone they're almost always 'gone gone'. The chances of clawing them back are as close to nil as makes no difference. 

But our moderators also noticed a distinct pattern emerging: businesses that had invited all - or just about all - their stakeholders to write a review were receiving warnings of the 'about to go' kind. The review of the clinic at the top of this article is a good example. And, as all businesses know, a customer saved is worth a great deal of marketing £s. 

So we revised our advice: proactively invite as many people as possible to write a review; the 5* reviews are gold-dust, but the 1* or 2* review that is resolved in moderation is platinum.


If you interrogate this blog and its 900+ articles you will find plenty that reference moderation.  The first was written on 26 April 2013, eleven years ago now, but here are two more recent ones that will explain everything that this article has left out in the interests of brevity.

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