Litchfields – the North London estate agents – joined at the beginning of November 2015. What happened next is a shining example to anyone wondering if Dialogue™ will work for their agency.
First: they followed our advice to the letter, and began inviting reviews to their own website. Today, almost two months to the day since they received their first (glowing) review to their Crouch End branch, their website looks like this…
They now have nineteen – glowing – reviews.
Then, again following our guidance (which included following up our joint email – within minutes), they began asking those clients who had posted to their own website to copy their reviews to Google. The result?
Thirteen – yes, thirteen, or well over half – of those clients have copied their review, word-for-word, to Google. To show in every search, specifically for Litchfields and for estate agents in their local area.
The more eagle-eyed will recognise another HelpHound client at the top of this screenshot
They are looking great where it matters most – on their own website and on Google; and perhaps just as importantly, they will be right in the frame when Google introduce filtering for estate agency search. Well done Litchfields!
To everyone else:
Come on in, the water is lovely! All you need to know is here.
Over the last five years we have consistently advised our clients away from individual review websites towards Google and Google Reviews.
We’ve had all kinds of issues with the independent sites (verification, fake reviews, monetisation models and more) but overarching all these was the question of long-term visibility; put simply: where would our clients’ hard-won reviews be seen by the most potential customers? And the answer kept coming back, ever louder and clearer, ‘Google’.
So now the penny has finally dropped with investors. Here is a chart of Yelp’s share price * performance from its high of over $84 last September to today’s $33 (and underperforming the NY stockmarket indices by over 50%):
And the reason(s) for this sustained and dramatic fall? The dawning realisation amongst the investing community that Yelp is completely Google dependent. If Google alter their algorithm to the detriment of Yelp (as they have), Yelp visibility and revenues suffer. And the same applies, to a greater or lesser (mostly greater) extent for all other review sites.
We look at this even more simply: whose reviews does everyone see first? Answer: Google’s.
So that’s where we focus our efforts on behalf of our clients, and, until something happens to dictate a change in these fundamental circumstances, we will continue with our mantra:
“Get reviews to your own website and on to Google”
*and for those of you wondering about TripAdvisor? Off over 20% from it’s 2014 high as well. UPDATE 29.07.2014: Yelp share price off 30% at today’s opening: $24.
Far too many businesses are running a massive risk with their reputations by ignoring Google. Here we look into the issues raised by Google scores and our suggested solutions.
We should say straight away that we are fully aware why businesses are adopting this ‘denial’: it is because they are rightly fearful of unwittingly inviting harmful negative reviews. With Dialogue that ‘fear’ is taken away, so we can now relax and look at the implications of scoring less than 4.0 on Google.
But before we do that, look at your business’s G+ page and see how many people would have seen your reviews – assuming, of course, that you have any:
The number circled shows how many times the information contained in the business’s G+ (‘Google My Business’) listing has been seen in search. Look at yours and then ask yourself ‘Wouldn’t it have been great if all those people had seen great reviews of our business?’ and, if you already have a negative review, do you want that number of people seeing it?
Scoring 4 (strictly: Scoring 4.0 or higher)
For a multitude of reasons your business must score 4.0 or more on Google. Anything less means that your business will look unattractive to potential customers (would you do business with a business that was scored 3.9 out of 5 or less by its own customers?). Even a score averaging 4.0 will almost certainly contain some off-putting reviews (if you have 20 reviews averaging 4.0 it is unlikely that they all score 4, and before you say ‘the odd negative adds credibility’ – read this).
What happens if:
You do nothing
First and foremost: your business will look less and less engaged as your competitors garner more and more reviews. You run a significant risk of dropping out of Google’s local seven results. Look at the big screenshot below: what does the business without reviews look like to you? A business without customers?
You get a one star review
It will not make that much difference initially (bear in mind that Google only gives – and shows – a star rating and average score when five reviews have been written), but it will mean that your maximum score when you are eligible for a star rating will be 4.0 (one 1* and four 5*s). Anything less and you will immediately be looking at a score starting with a 3 (at best). On top of that a negative review validates other negative opinions: someone just thinking about writing a negative review can be given the confidence to do so by seeing another negative has already been posted.
You get more than one one/two star reviews
This means a real uphill struggle (best score with two 1*s is 3.4 – two 1*s and three 5*s). To put this in perspective, to climb back to just 4.0 from there will take three more 5 star reviews but no number of 4* reviews will ever get you there.
Let’s take a reasonable supposition: you embark on positive review management and twenty customers write reviews, two thirds 4* and a third 5* – what is you score now? Just 4.1.
In this example the business needs to take immediate and sustained remedial action. They have seven 1* and two 2* reviews. It will take nearly thirty 5* reviews to take their score over the critical 4.0.
Put simply: bad reviews hurt your score, and bad scores can really hurt your business (after all, the reason Google puts them there in the first place is to help its users choose the right business). And once you have a number of 1 and 2* reviews you don’t just have to stop getting those, you have to start getting 5* reviews in serious volume.
Here’s a good example of varying Google results (we have used the search [hotel] in [Penzance]):
From the top:
Hotel Penzance: thirty-seven reviews, mostly 5*, written at the rate of eight a year over the last four years. With twenty-four rooms we suspect this is simply a trickle of unprompted reviews. How much more secure would they be if they had a planned approach – just one review a fortnight and they would have been looking at over a hundred – and a pretty unassailable position at the top of the table in Penzance.
The Abbey Hotel: All but one of their eight reviews written in April 2013. We suspect that someone decided to have a blitz, but with no mechanism to regularise review management the Abbey’s guests have reverted to their previous online silence – fine while few other hotels in Penzance make the effort.
Lugger Inn Hotel: Two reviews: One 5* and one 3*, both written in the last twelve months. Why, when they saw their first great review did someone in management not realise the potential?
Beachfield Hotel: No reviews. With eighteen rooms, surely they could find at least one happy guest a week/a month/ever?
The Longboat Inn: Reviews written in the last two years, one very damaging. Needs to be countered with many more great reviews which will bring their current score of 3.8 up over the crucial 4.0.
Armeria House: One lovely 5* review. They just need four more to look great and with five rooms that’s upwards of a thousand people a year who might just write them with a little encouragement.
Blue Seas Hotel: A 4* hotel with three 5* reviews – so near and yet so far. But with those three reviews being a minimum of a year old, why has the Blue Seas done nothing to get a great star rating? Two more 5* reviews and they would be the best rated hotel in Penzance.
We suspect that part of the answer to this is that they have been blinded by TripAdvisor. But with Google reviews being shown first in every search, don’t they warrant that minimal effort?
We strongly advise all our clients to respond to every review, positive or negative – but use the mechanism Google provides – in a timely fashion – rather than giving their own business a 5* review to rebalance its score!
Use Dialogue to get great reviews to your own website
Then use Dialogue to get those reviews to Google
Get a great Google score that will be seen by everyone – every time they search for your business, for whatever reason
Maintain and improve that score over time with proper professional ongoing review management
One Google review (or none at all). What’s to be concerned about? Let us take you on a journey.
We start in a familiar place, every business has been there: no reviews on Google. It shows like this…
Note: To illustrate this article we have used actual screenshots of real estate agents’ Google listings, this means that each stage (1, 2, 3 reviews etc.) is shown using a different agent or branch.
Then the first review is written…
Does it matter? Not a lot – very few people bother to click through to read it. Most do not even notice the link (even though it appears three times in every search).
Perhaps they are both 5* reviews, perhaps not. Still they are not that obvious. Prospective clients still need to click to read them, and who is going to take any notice of just two opinions anyway?
Everyone loves us (or perhaps they hate us), but who is to know? Again, only the few who notice and bother.
Now it’s four…
Surely we ought to begin to pay attention. What happens when we get five?
Overnight, lit up in stars, demanding attention. And it is shown three times for every search.
The stars say: ‘Look at us, we represent a great business’ or they say ‘Maybe pass on by’.
First you have to accept that reviews matter. That your prospective clients will read them, and they will be influenced by them.
Once that bridge has been crossed you need to formulate a strategy that will be effective in the medium to long term. That strategy needs to focus on:
Why every client? That’s simple: each not-so-delighted client you don’t invite is a potential one star review direct to Google. And every single one star review has, on its own, the potential to significantly damage your business.
What mechanism? We would say Dialogue, wouldn’t we? Because Dialogue achieves all of the above, simply and efficiently, and shows the reviews on your own website as well (with complete credibility), which is why we don’t hesitate.
Google is now showing reviews to your potential customers every time they search; whether that search is specific [your business name] or generic [business type]+[location].
It doesn’t matter that they may not be consciously looking for reviews, they will be shown them anyway.
Let’s look at the background…
A big part of our role is to keep you abreast of changes elsewhere that impact your review management. At first glance Google My Business may not look like a big change, but it ties together a whole load of evolutionary changes that have been ongoing at Google. As Search Engine Land says “It’s a big, huge change.”
At the end of the last decade we were telling anyone who would listen that one of the most popular searches was [business name]+[reviews]. Of course Google knew this, so what did they do?
They introduced Google Places, and then went on to introduce Google for Businesses. It then tied those two into Google +.
Google wasn’t about to deny its users what they were searching for, and it wasn’t about to let any other search engine (yes, they do still exist) steal a march. It was going to do what any responsive business does: give its customers what they wanted.
So where are we today?
Google now delivers reviews (or highlights the lack of them) for every business on the planet; these are prominently displayed in natural search. It’s being called the ‘Three-pack’ and it looks like this (the search is for [starbucks] + [chicago] but it works the same worldwide:
You will see that the second of the three sections is devoted to business details: URL, address, phone and reviews. Once the business has attracted five reviews it is given a star rating and a score (out of five), every subsequent review will impact on that overall score.
It’s repeated in the business’s ‘InfoBox’ (the box of expanded information that appears to the right of the natural search results:
The two most eye-catching elements of the InfoBox are your reviews and the links to your competitors, does this make great reviews more important?
See just how eye-catching reviews are in mobile now (used by consumers for an average of just over 2 hours per day): everything else but the business address and its review rating requires a click
Yes – generic and UK too!
The impact of these changes?
The most fundamental has to be to drive a complete strategy re-think where reviews are concerned. We’re not suggesting any knee-jerk changes, but the days of the independent review site would appear to be numbered, and our clients should be planning for that.
Why? Because consumers (web users) will always go for the immediate solution; if Google reviews (which will always be served first) satisfy their need, they won’t mine down further.
The future for review sites
Is bleak. Unless they can add significant value (in terms of trust or financial incentive) then Google will replace them. Maybe not tomorrow, but ultimately. This applies to massive sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp as well as the smaller niche sites.
TripAdvisor’s credibility issues are likely to haunt them here, but they will continue to be the first port-of-call for many travellers as long as they are perceived to be the ‘go to’ site for travel. This may not last as long as they hope (web users are notoriously fickle). Yelp will need to address the issue of ‘filtering’ and convince consumers that the reviews posted by its army of Yelpers are more trustworthy than those posted to Google (it will also need to branch out from fast food).
Google has ultimately two major factors in its favour:
Google is the gate-keeper: everyone has to go there to find anything on the web
Consumers (web users) are impatient, if they are served sufficient reviews by Google they won’t ‘shop’ elsewhere for them (if you are looking for chicken and you are standing in the middle of Sainsbury’s, are you going to leave to find an independent butcher, even if you have doubts about quality)?
So our advice to you:
We are going to be definite about this: Google reviews must be taken seriously, even if that requires some effort on the business’s and its staff’s part.*
Populate your Google reviews. Do whatever it takes, even if that means diverting some (maybe not all) reviews away from conventional review sites (we’re thinking Tripadvisor here). Once you have reached critical mass (we are guestimating this at 30-50 reviews, perhaps more for hospitality), then reassess (we will help you).
Get reviews to your own website
Then get as many of those reviews as you can to Google
Don’t rely on review sites
Make all of this part of your core marketing strategy
If you are a client reading this, you already have a strategy in place. If you are yet to become a client, speak to us now.
*Dialogue will automate almost all of this for you.
For anyone looking for a great in-depth explanation of the most recent changes in Google search you could do worse than read this on Moz.com’s blog.
We call it ‘Google Denial’. It’s where we Google a business and find they have no (or very little) presence on, and control over, their Google Business page.
Now, we know that Google for Businesses can be a trial if you aren’t used to its idiosyncrasies, but this blog post is intended to show you just why it’s so important to actively engage with it.
When did you last Google your own business?
First and foremost: Your Google business page is being shown to everyone who searches for your business. Like this…
To the right is the Google carousel (first introduced in the summer); you will notice that (apart from the business details and directions) the only other thing Google is showing there are (a) any reviews – on Google or anywhere else Google can find and (b) a button inviting anyone to write a review.
Here’s a very interesting ‘heat map’ that shows just how dramatically user behaviour has changed since Google introduced their carousel:
The red hot spot shows how much Google users are already focusing on the carousel (for those of you who would like to see just how radical this behavioural change has been just search ‘Google heat map’ to see historic search patterns). This is a massive change – away from natural listings and ads.
Once you have 5 reviews Google introduces star ratings:
Which, if you haven’t enagaged with Google is more likely to look like this:
With reviews like this:
Some businesses have been very slow to appreciate the effect this will be having. Like it or not consumers want and read reviews (that’s why Google is showing them). They also believe them (rightly or wrongly) – detailed studies by both Harvard and Cornell universities have proved this beyond all doubt.
The Good News
Google wants to become the No1 ‘go to’ resource for consumer reviews. Why is this good for businesses? Because it enables you to simplify your strategy; if your potential customers don’t need to search for reviews on specialist sites, you can focus on Google.
We’re not saying that sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp (and small specialist sites like AllAgents and AllinLondon) will immediately wither and die, but they are bound to suffer by comparison with Google. After all, Google is the gatekeeper, your potential customers have to go there first.
Implement a strategy
Someone within your business, however large or small it is, should have responsibility for your Google Business page(s).
Everyone in your business should be focused on getting clients to write reviews to Google.
Help from HelpHound
We are here to help and advise. Dialogue can automatically invite your clients to post reviews to Google; we’ll then work together with you we will make sure you have a great rating (and a steady flow of great reviews as well).
An important added benefit
Once you have an established presence on Google, other ratings sites will become less and less important – your prospective customers won’t go to them if you have enough reviews on Google.
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