Wednesday 15 May 2024

From Zero to Hero - a guide to initial success with Google reviews

Is your business one of the overwhelming majority that still have zero, or very few Google reviews? If so, read on.

Why do most businesses have so few reviews?

It's simple really, and can be summed up in one word: 'fear'. The fear that someone will write an unfair or factually inaccurate negative review.

This makes businesses hesitate to ask all but their most 'definitely happy' customers to write a review. 

This fear is fully justified: the impact of a negative review can be massive - harming enquiry flows, sometimes the extent of causing the flow through Google search to slow dramatically or even stop entirely (we see examples of both on a weekly basis).

What have businesses that have many reviews done differently?

Flouted the CMA regulations. It's that simple. The CMA states, clearly, that...

  • if a business invites any customers at all to write a review it must enable all customers to do so
  • businesses must not 'gate'. Gating is the act of using some mechanism to identify customers most likely to post a positive review. The most common strategy is to send out a questionnaire asking 'How did we do?' and then only invite those who respond positively to go on and write a Google review.
But so many businesses do just this. They see it as low-risk (the CMA has yet to impose a penalty, as the law allows it to, on a business flouting these regulations) and see no other option if they are to compete with other businesses doing the same.

What should your business do?

It has two legally compliant options: the first is to embed one of the freely available review widgets into your business's website - it will invite visitors to your website to post a review direct to Google and then display those reviews. Here is a screenshot from the website of just one of the hundreds available:

We have included this screenshot because of the last phrase: 'using your products'. When it comes to Google reviews there is a crucial difference in the way consumers react to scores and the individual reviews of products as opposed to services. A score of 4 out of 5 (that will invariably contain multiple 1* reviews) is all a consumer wants to see when buying an item of clothing or a tool for the garden. But when it comes to services and the professions - legal, financial, medical and so on - big-ticket relationship-based purchases, consumers require the business to be as near perfect as possible.

So: if your business considers itself immune from the occasional factually incorrect or potentially misleading review, go right ahead, embed that widget.

But: if you understand (as any business with few reviews must, by definition) just how vulnerable your business is to a well-written but wrong-headed review, you should be giving a fully-moderated review management system serious consideration.

Moderated review management

This involves inviting the initial review to your own website. This will have all the benefits of the aforementioned widget, displaying reviews for your potential customers to see...

But - and here is the critical difference - before any of these reviews are posted they are read by an independent moderator. That moderator checks for...
  • factual accuracy
  • potentially misleading statements
  • confusing use of English 
  • use of obscenities
  • allegations of illegal conduct
  • potentially malicious, fake or fraudulent comments
If any of the above are detected the moderator reverts to the reviewer, explains their findings and gives the reviewer the opportunity to modify their review. It is important to note that moderation is not designed to modify any of the genuinely-held views of the reviewer and that the reviewer always retains the right to have whatever review they wish published. In this context, it is also important to note that the business has the right to respond once the final review is published.

In reality, almost all occasions where a moderator becomes involved relate to the first three categories. And in those cases over 97 percent result in the review being modified to a greater or lesser extent. It is also interesting to note that reviewers are overwhelmingly grateful for the moderator's intervention - they don't want inaccurate, misleading or confusing reviews published under their name any more than the business does.

After the publication of the review of the business's website, the reviewer receives an automated request to copy their review to Google. Not all do, but if the business is engaged in the process (by reinforcing the need for the Google review to their customer) success rates can be remarkably high - we suggest our clients aim for one in two. Here is the Google search result for the business above...

...showing that over 440 of the 660+ clients who have written a review to their website have copied it to Google. I'm sure they won't mind us telling you that the day they joined, some years ago now, they had 4 reviews! 

If you would like to check the quality of their client's reviews - because that has a profound influence on potential customers too - you can, of course, read them by searching for the business (we could have given you a direct link, but it really brings the impact home when you conduct the specific - 'Winkworth Kingsbury' or local - 'estate agent Kingsbury' - search for yourself.


By now you will have realised that the moderator concerned in these examples is HelpHound. There are many more advantages to membership, but moderation is at the core; it enables our clients to sleep easy, as so many have told us, relaxing in the knowledge that 'unfair' or 'misleading' review are very unlikely indeed to ever see the light of day. Other advantages, such as stars in local search...

...and the SEO kicker obtained by hosting their own reviews (saving them £000s in advertising) are a welcome bonus, but without moderation, they would all be as nothing.

And just one more point - how long will it take (to get from zero to hero)?

Obviously, this will vary from business to business and sector to sector, but a great rule of thumb it to take the number of individual customer contacts - completed sales/patient visits/client meetings - and divide them in two: that should give you a rough idea of how many reviews to your own website to expect in any given period, then divide that second number by two again to give a target for Google reviews.

Lets say 50 client contacts = 25 reviews (to your own site) = 12 Google reviews. So 500 client/patient/customer contacts should result in + 100 Google reviews (100 Google reviews is the point at which even the most sceptical potential customer begins to believe the impression a business is creating). On this basis a 'customer contact' a day will achieve that 100 Google reviews within six months - safely and compliantly. At which point you should be well on the way to seeing these kinds of results.

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