The first is that if a fish and chip shop can make the time and take the effort, so can any business. It is now accepted fact that consumers will choose a business that responds to review over one that does not.
The second is the quality of response. Compare this from the Ritz…
…we are not for one moment suggesting that the Ritz take a leaf out of Pinnacles’ book as to tone, but content? Certainly – Pinnacles’ responses address the issues raised by their reviewers, and this impresses readers. Mostly the Ritz, when addressing negative reviews, adopts the all-too-common approach of ‘we have dealt with this privately’ or ‘please contact us/we will contact you’ which leaves the reader of the review none-the-wiser.
The third? Pinnacles’ is not perfect – In common with a huge swathe of the hospitality industry – from hotels to restaurants to B&Bs, Pinnacles’ focus is on TripAdvisor. Google has been neglected…
…with a low score and reviews left unanswered. Hospitality would do well to remember that Google reviews are seen first, especially mobile, and give them just as much attention as those on TripAdvisor and the OTAs.
If you are in any doubt as to the mechanics of responding to reviews on Google, or any other platform – or if you feel a review is incorrect or unfair and would like advice on appealing it (as did Nearwater in St Mawes in this interesting case) just call us and we will advise you.
We read ‘Think with Google‘ so our clients don’t have to (not about reviews, at least) – here is the full text of this week’s article
…and the implications are far-reaching.
Let’s look at this in more detail:
consumers – self-evidently – want the ‘best’ in any search – the ‘best’ restaurant or the ‘best’ lawyer, in fact ‘the ‘best’ of everything
Google is actually pretty bad at delivering ‘best’ – so that uplift in the use of ‘best’ as a search term is not really delivering. Look at these examples…
Top result? A hotel rated 3.8 – it just so happens to have the word ‘best’ in its name, but the Seraphine at 3.9?
‘Best’ estate agent…
Well, you cannot argue that they are not all ‘Best’, but possibly not in the way searchers want or need
One at 2.8?
And our favourite… ‘best’ financial advisors…
…currently serving a 150 year sentence in a Federal jail!
What this illustrates is the conflict of interest that is at the core of Google’s business model – and they have the key to solving that conflict, the only question is: when will they decide to use that key.
Reviews, of course.
One day soon, hopefully for those using ‘best’ as a search term, Google will base the answer on review scores. It already has them – and if it does not it is up to the business concerned to remedy that situation – and it is certainly possible to deliver, from a technical point-of-view, by implementing a simple algorithm. After all, Google is already doing something very similar with its filter and ‘Top rated’ (more on that here).
What does your business need to do?
At the core of Google’s research is the – unsurprising – finding that their users want to find great businesses, not just businesses with massive advertising budgets, but businesses who deliver great products and services – so just take some of your PPC budget and apply it to getting great reviews.
Businesses like this – this business had two Google reviews when it became a HelpHound client – already look great in search, and they can relax in the knowledge that they will rank at or near the top when Google gets round to delivering the ‘best’ in search
Strive to ‘be the best’ reviewed business in your marketplace, so when Google get around to ranking businesses yours appears at – or at least somewhere near – the top of the list.
One of the prime concerns we hear from every single potential client is “What can we do about negative reviews?”
And often we sense that the immediate response they would most welcome would be something along the lines of “we have a mechanism that will prevent them being published, either on your own website or anywhere else.”
But that’s not our response. Our response is guided by two things:
sensible business practice
the CMA regulations governing reviews
Let’s look at both of these:
Sensible business practice
Just let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, we did have a system that magically filtered out negative reviews; what would the real-world impact of such a system be?
We don’t have to look far for our answer, as there are plenty of independent review sites that operate systems that favour the business, either by denying the reviewer the right to post a review unless specifically invited or by having a mechanism that allows the business to impose conditions on the publication of negative reviews.
Both these systems have the same medium to long-term effect. They drive dissatisfied customers to post to Google – the one site a business needs to look at its very best on. We see examples all the time. Here is just one…
The same business – on an independent review site (L) and on Google (R). An increasingly common disconnect, almost always caused by the business inviting ‘happy’ customers to post to the reviews site, leaving ‘unhappy’ customers no option but to post to an open site – Google being the obvious choice
Sensible business practice dictates that whatever system a business adopts it must positively welcome all kinds of reviews from everyone and anyone. After all, Google does.
What happens next is important. At HelpHound we value our own reputation as a force for good in the somewhat murky world of reviews, and to maintain that reputation means treating both sides of the review equation equally – we have to be seen to be fair and credible to both business and consumer, and we need to be seen to be adding value in both directions. That means that the business should be fairly and accurately represented through its reviews and that the consumer should be able to rely on those reviews as an aid to their purchasing decision.
Inaccurate reviews – in this case pricing – help neither business nor consumer
Fake reviews, of any kind, help no-one. Inaccurate or misleading reviews ditto.
HelpHound’s Resolution™ to the rescue – for both parties
The full process is detailed in this article. To summarise, Resolution™ is designed to minimise the chances of fake, inaccurate or misleading reviews being published, as none of these benefits anyone.
Here’s an example. This review was posted recently:
Under the terms of Resolution™ – understood by both business and their customer – the review is first submitted to the business for comment. In this case there had been misunderstandings between the two parties concerned, as well as miscommunication (there were language issues). Resolution™ allowed for private communication between both parties and, again, as of right, the customer is invited to post a review after that communication (which can be their original review, but seldom is). This is what they did post:
Some might say that it would be helpful for both reviews to be published (and there is nothing to stop the reviewer doing so) but that would be to assume we inhabit a perfect world in which everyone communicates in both directions every time. Far too often a consumer will post an inaccurate or misleading review – often straight to Google – leaving the business nothing to do but post its own response. But that harms the business’s reputation unfairly, especially through Google’s scoring system – an unfair or misleading 1* review, even responded to by the business, remains to impact the business’s score – a shorthand guideline increasingly used by consumers to winnow out a shortlist (and by Google itself through its filter).
The CMA regulations
A full analysis can be found here. Two of the core principles of the CMA regulations (which have the force of law in the UK) are:
that the reviewer should be able to write a review at any time of their own choosing
that the business must do nothing to prevent that review being published
At HelpHound our clients incorporate a button like this on their websites so absolutely anyone* may write a review at any time…
And we promise to publish any genuine review. And this means that the reviewer can have an inaccurate or misleading review published. The fact that they seldom do is down to Resolution™.
And one final point: always remember that, whatever review system you employ, your competitors will often attempt to undermine it. If it favours the business at the expense of the consumer, or if it is seen to be non-compliant, that hands a significant weapon to them.
*This surprises some businesses t first, until it is pointed out to them that they often have many more stakeholders than they have customer email addresses: husband/wife/partner/neighbour/employee/potential customer/’friend’ of customer/professional advisor of customer and so on…any of whom can write a review of the business to Google at the click of a mouse, and often do – unless they are given a more attractive alternative.
This is a very simple – but extremely common – example of Resolution™ in action. A regular guest says nothing, either in hotel or at checkout. But this review is received:
The scores say it all – we don’t need to show you the accompanying review!
HelpHound moderators place it in Resolution™ – simultaneously emailing the reviewer and the hotel, inviting the hotel to respond, privately, to the reviewer, which they do. This paragraph from the hotel’s much longer response is key:
And that’s exactly what this guest did. Leaving this review of their most recent stay today:
Four words that say it all. A happy guest and a regular customer retained.
This is an example of Resolution™ working for everyone concerned. not all guests want to raise their concerns face-to-face, for a multitude of reasons. For those guests this aspect of HelpHound’s service enables them to resolve whatever issue might otherwise occasion them to look elsewhere for accommodation next time and the hotel retains the guest’s loyalty and custom.
We think this article in Barrons – and the research it reports, is missing the bigger picture
Credit Suisse have downgraded their target price for TripAdvisor stock to nearly 10% below its already depressed level. This judgement is based on what Credit Suisse see as a need for TripAdvisor to increase its advertising spend to remain competitive.
TripAdvisor – a sorry story for investors; but also a strong message for the hospitality industry
But we think there is a bigger picture – and it’s called Google...
Google is becoming the dominant player in hospitality search
Just search for a hotel or restaurant – what do you see? Let’s do just that (we will take two landmark properties – but perform the search for you own, it will be the same)…
First on desktop:
What do we see here? We see one of the main reasons for the inexorable slide in TripAdvisor’s share price: over 40% of this search given over to Google’s own knowledge panel
In a different format, but what potential diner needs TripAdvisor’s 4,600 reviews when they can access over 400 from Google at a click?
Then on mobile:
More and more purchasing decisions are being made by referencing the headline score and the the three rich snippets – those aspects that the hotel can most easily ensure provide an accurate reflection of their offering
This is the most modern format: with the reviews tab prominently displayed. We expect most Google search formats to conform to this format over time
There’s no need to radically alter strategies, but be aware that Google – and Google’s own reviews – are an increasing influence on consumers’ booking habits. You should be aiming for a score of 4.5 plus (the point at which consumers cease to hesitate) and it is a rare property that will be able to consistently achieve this without professional review management.
It was tempting to apologise for yet another article highlighting why we don’t recommend independent review sites – but when we think of the time, effort and pure cash that so many businesses are wasting because they have adopted a solution that is, at best, second best and, at worst, simply does not deliver the results they have been led to expect, we decided to go ahead anyway – if we save just one of you from harm, then this post will have been justified.
Over 60% of searches on the web are now conducted on mobiles. That is a global figure. In markets such as the UK, where over 8 out of 10 devices are smartphones and a very high percentage of those are on contract rather than PAYG – meaning that there is no incentive for users to defer mobile searches to desktop – it is more than likely that the figure will be in excess of 70%.
So we – and you – should be looking at how users search on mobile and adapting our review management accordingly.
There are two main searches we should all be concerned with. let’s follow those journeys (we’ll use an estate agent as an example)…
A general search: ‘business type [location]’ – estate agent [Kennington]…
The search throws up:
See the ‘Top rated’ button alongside ‘MORE FILTERS’ at the top – any
business that scores less than 4.0 out of 5 will increasingly find
itself filtered out of search entirely. For more on the Google filter read this.
advertisements – which any business can buy, limited only by the depth of its pockets
the Google ‘three-pack’ which is currently a SEO-based selection of three local businesses – led, currently, by Winkworth Kennington
natural listings – our client can also be seen, along with their HelpHound review score – ‘Rating’ 4.7 (128) – at the head of these
A specific search: ‘business name [location]’ – Winkworth [Kennington]…
The search shows:
the business’s Google review score and number of reviews and two tabs – ‘Overview’ and ‘Reviews’
the business’s Google knowledge panel – with its own reviews and score under ‘Reviews from the web’ (4.7 out of 5 and 128 reviews in this example) its Google review score (4.8), and the number of reviews (40), prominently displayed along with three rich snippets (all positive in this case).
We are now going to make an assumption: that any consumer who would like to read reviews will click on either the Google reviews or the ‘Reviews from the web’; after all, if you are looking for a large and credible brand to give you comfort then we reckon Google – which everyone relies on for search results day-in day-out – is just about as large and credible as they come.
Then your potential customer sees this (for Google):
N.B. Most people will immediately select ‘Lowest score’ – that is why it is so important that business’s understand that they cannot simply sit back an be passive where reviews are concerned – they have to engage, otherwise unhappy customers will post reviews – and those reviews will be read
And this (for the business’s own reviews):
Winkworth use our API to custom-display their customers’ reviews and feed their score and link to Google to display under ‘Reviews from the web’.
We hope this shows you just how relatively important your own reviews and Google reviews are compared to those from other sources – especially on mobile. Even for the rarely used search term ‘Winkworth Kennington reviews’ a mobile search now shows this:
‘Reviews from the web’ – again, the business’s own reviews gathered using HelpHound software
As opposed to this on desktop:
One independent site – allAgents – gets shown in this search, albeit with Google reviews – in the Knowledge Panel – and the business’s own reviews, star rating, score and number of reviews (right under their organic listing) taking precedence.
As review managers HelpHound’s duty is to you – our clients – first, last and always. There were times in the past when we recommended independent review sites and there may well be again at some future date; if and when that is the case you can be sure to read about it here.
You cannot go anywhere these days without encountering businesses that have signed up to independent review sites. The positive is that businesses are finally waking up to the power of reviews – the negative is that some businesses are being ‘sold’ review solutions that benefit the review site more than their client.
At HelpHound we have consistently said that ‘there is a better way’ and those of you who are clients or are regular readers of this blog will know that; but we make no apology for restating the case – and seriously questioning whether any business should commit to an independent review site.
Why? Read on…
1. You need to own your own reviews – and get them to Google
They are written by your customers about your products and services – so why would you want to give them to someone else? We have seen so many examples of businesses adopting one reviews solution, committing – wasting – time and effort, and then realising that there is a better alternative out there.
This is a good example of professional review management – with HelpHound and the business working effectively together. the business has over 100 reviews on its own site which are linked to by Google in the knowledge panel (“Reviews from the web”) and displayed under its listing in natural search (top left). On top of that over 40 of those reviews have been got to Google, giving the business a great score there too, as well as three great rich snippets (at the bottom of the knowledge panel).
You need your reviews on your own website – and then – almost always, to get them to Google*
*and then Facebook, and just one or two specialists sites (like TripAdvisor if you are in the hospitality business).
2. You need to obey the law – be compliant
So many review sites are not compliant with UK law; either they don’t allow anyone to post a review or they only allow someone to post a review at a given time (usually immediately post-purchase). This is against the law – and the onus is on the business to comply. For more detail read this article.
3. Perhaps most important of all – you don’t want to be forcing your unhappy customers to post to Google
Look at this example of a business that decided to commit to an independent review site a year ago:
The independent site in question scores the business 4.5 out of 5, so far so good…
And now look at it on Google:
A dreadful score – when combined with the negative text of the six one star reviews – gives a terrible first impression of the business (Google reviews are always seen first). We would love to show you the individual reviews, but that would be unfair on the business in question; you will just have to trust us that they wouldn’t encourage anyone to use it!
So what has happened?
Something we see more and more; the business invites its happy customers to post a review to the independent site – leading to a great score (it’s not a ‘perfect five’ simply because the business cannot possibly identify ‘happy’ customers 100% of the time).
The business’s unhappy customers have either not been invited to write a review or they have decided to write it to Google instead – not all of them, but enough to create this negative score and impression.
What should the business have done?
It should have focussed on on its own site and on Google. Here is an example from our latest presentation:
this article, by the very nature of its subject, makes frequent
reference to the law and rules governing reviews in the UK – the
Competition and Markets Authority regulations. If you would like to
spend five minutes bringing yourself up-to-date with these there is a
Regular readers will know that we have issues with many of the reviews solutions currently being promoted to businesses. They usually come under one or more of the following headings:
They favour the business over the consumer
They favour the consumer over the business
They don’t moderate their reviews
They allow businesses to filter reviews
The enable businesses to look better than they are in reality
They make businesses look worse than they are in reality
None of the
above are helpful – in either the short or long run, for the business or
the consumer. Importantly – all but two are downright illegal (although
frequently seen). Let’s look at each ‘category’ in more detail.
Favouring the business
businesses first approach the subject of reviews they ask one question
more than any other: ‘Can we control the reviews that are shown?’ and
for very good reasons. The larger review sites – and for this purpose we
include Google and TripAdvisor as well as pure review sites like Yelp –
are notorious, rightly or wrongly, for allowing negative (and even
fake) reviews to go unchallenged. And most businesses now understand
that even a single well-crafted negative can do untold harm. But sites
that allow businesses to challenge any negative review are
breaking the rules. Only by adopting really effective review management
can a business protect its reputation and comply with the CMA rules.
Favouring the consumer
sites favour the consumer by adopting a policy of ‘the reviewer is
always right unless the business can provide incontrovertible proof that
what they have said is factually incorrect/libelous and or written with
impure motives (they are a competitor or a disgruntled ex-member of
staff, for instance). This policy at the main sites – Google and Yelp –
has driven many businesses into the arms of sites that are more
‘generous’ to the business – they will allow the business to appeal a
wide range of reviews. At first sight this looks attractive for
businesses, that is: until they understand that almost all of these
so-called solutions break the rules and therefore the law.
will almost certainly be aware of the recent controversy around Google
and YouTube and Facebook allowing un-moderated content – ISIS
propaganda and so on – onto their sites. The same applies to
reviews. Moderation – for the uninitiated – is the act of checking a
review for its source and content. It is an inexact science – if someone
wants to fake a review badly enough they will find a way on most sites
(not with a negative through HelpHound though – and we have a two
strikes rule if a client is caught writing a positive) they mostly will
be able to. We see examples of this daily.If your reviews system gains a reputation for hosting irrelevant reviews of any kind – and Yelp and TripAdvsor have both admitted to doing so – that will impact on the credibility of your reviews.
a day passes when we don’t see another example of a review site and a
business doing this. The business has subscribed to the review site and
the review site then allows the business to selectively display reviews
on their site (as you can imagine, these reviews invariably score the
business 5 out of 5). They are both breaking the law. Another version is the business that selectively copies reviews from another site – we have seen examples of this with Google and many others – onto their own site; again: the business is breaking the law. Another variant is the business that takes the score from a well-known site and displays it, but attributes a higher score – believe it or not, it does happen, and we have an archive of screenshots to prove it!
Making businesses look better than they are
already seen examples of this under ‘Allowing filtering’ above. Any
mechanism that allows the business to prevent unhappy customers from
writing a review is breaking the rules. We hear businesses every day
saying ‘But I know Mrs B will give us one out of five.’ The only answer to that which will wash with the CMA is one that allows all of your customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Mrs B has to be able to write a review, whenever she wants.
Making businesses look worse
all review sites – Google included – by definition make businesses look
worse than they are in reality. That is because unhappy customers are statistically far
more likely to write a review online.
Studies by both Cornell University and Harvard Business School have
confirmed that – and the figures they have produced indicate that this
impact is around a factor of fifteen times. To put this in plain English
– if you see a business with 100 reviews and ten are negative less than
one per cent of that business’s customers are, in reality,
dissatisfied. It is just that the unhappy ones have taken the trouble
to write a review. Just look up any hotel you know and love and you will
see this theory in practice.
So – a quick checklist for any system you are considering:
Does it in any way favour the business?
Does it allow you – the business – to choose which reviews are displayed?
Does it give an unfairly favourable impression of your business?
Does it allow you – the business – to select who you invite to write a review?
Does the reviewer have to wait to be invited to write a review?
Is the reviewer prevented from writing a review except by invitation from the business?
the answer is ‘Yes’ to even a single one of these questions the system
is in contravention of the CMA rules – and the onus for compliance is on you – the business – not on the provider of the reviews system.
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