These days, anyone with a smartphone can be the ultimate critic. Gone are the times when reviews were limited to movies, restaurants, and music – now, anything and everything gets its review from those who consume it. This has led to a strange new phenomenon called review gating.
Today we will look into this practice and what Google thinks of it.
Why are online reviews so important to us?
It’s no secret that today, consumers are passionate about reviewing every product or service they come across – from hotels and gyms to doctors and lawyers. It has become so popular that many specific review sites cover just about any genre you can think of!
Such a surge in consumer reviews has significant implications for local businesses, particularly those who don’t take the time to listen to customer feedback.
It’s evident how imperative positive reviews are for local businesses. Studies have found that a high star rating and customer feedback describing good experiences are the primary factors people consider when reading reviews. It is easy to understand why many companies may be inclined to use tactics meant only to amplify their favorable ratings while repressing negative comments with lower stars.
Review gating: What is it?
Suppose you are a business. You encourage your customers to leave only positive reviews on the company website, product pages, or Google My Business listing.
There’s no constructive or otherwise criticism to be found on your business. This process is known as review gating.
How does review gating happen?
By seeking customer feedback in a private setting, businesses can get an accurate gauge of what their customers think without the whole world knowing. Those who have had positive experiences with the business can then be prompted to share these reviews publicly on review platforms – and this is gated reviewing.
In doing so, any negative backlash or criticism from non-satisfied consumers will remain under wraps.
To summarize, review gating is when businesses only solicit content customers for Google reviews or promote the positive ones on their owned websites (e.g., product pages or other website sections).
How Does Google Feel about Review Gating?
If you’re aiming to increase your Google reviews, it is essential that you ask for feedback from all of your customers rather than just those who you believe will provide the most positive responses.
Unfortunately, there have been cases where companies unknowingly violate review gating guidelines set forth by Google Business Profile and are subject to severe penalties as a result. To avoid this, abide by these regulations – even when they may not appear obvious at first glance.
Here’s an example:
SPA RECEPTIONIST: “We hope you had a pleasant stay with us this weekend. Did everything meet your expectations?”
CUSTOMER: “Yes, it was absolutely wonderful.”
SPA RECEPTIONIST: “In that case, we would be incredibly grateful if you took the time to provide us with feedback on Google; it helps our business grow!
Notice the use of “in that case” here. This kind of phrasing would get any business into trouble if Google got to know what they are doing with their customers. And why not?
This implication is given because the review request appears contingent on their earlier (and positive) response.
Although businesses are typically emphasizing email-driven review generation strategies, this clear case exposes the main issue with review gating that brings out its potential for mistakes.
Is Review Gating Against the Law?
Congress passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act to disallow businesses from soliciting positive consumer reviews. This law made it illegal for companies to threaten or sue customers who leave negative feedback and also prohibited firms from signing contracts preventing unfavorable customer testimony. Despite this act, review gating continued to remain in a murky legal area until recently.
Although obtaining only positive reviews by pre-screening customers or handpicking which evaluations to show on a business site was not illegal, it went against some platform standards and was considered unethical. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently revised its framework and clarified that it would take action against businesses that practice review gating.
Here is what FTC says about soliciting reviews:
Before you ask people for reviews, know the rules of the platforms and websites on which those reviews may appear.
Some platforms and websites prohibit reviews from people with personal or financial connections to the seller or who got an incentive for the reviews – even if the reviews disclose that connection or incentive.
Others may allow incentivized reviews with appropriate disclosure.
Even if a platform or website has none of these prohibitions or conditions, here are some rules of thumb:
Don’t ask for reviews from people who haven’t used or experienced the product or service.
Please don’t ask your staff to write reviews of your business, at least not without ensuring that they disclose in their review that you employ them and ask them to write it.
Don’t ask for reviews from customers you think will leave positive ones.
Don’t ask family and friends for reviews, at least not without ensuring that they disclose their connection in the reviews.
If you offer an incentive for a review, don’t condition it explicitly or implicitly on the positive review. Even without that condition, the review should disclose the incentive because its offer may introduce bias or change the weight and credibility that readers give the review.
To summarize, the Federal Trade Commission’s recently released guidance for digital marketers says that it is not only forbidden to solicit positive reviews from customers; businesses must also include negative feedback and give an equal representation of both good and bad ratings. Companies that fail to do so risk facing hefty penalties or legal action.
In January 2022, Fashion Nova had to reluctantly pay a whopping $4.2 million fine imposed by the FTC for cherry-picking only favorable reviews on its product pages to manipulate customers’ opinions and deceive them – an unlawful act, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Risks of review gating
Just like an array of unfavorable reviews can destroy a restaurant or service business, customers voicing their grievances about your enterprise on the many review sites could significantly damage your reputation.
For many companies, the comfort of not having a detrimental review spread throughout social media trumps any potential fines they may face for engaging in review gating.
Not only does responding to negative reviews online violate review site guidelines and the FTC framework, but it can also be beneficial.
Negative reviews provide you with priceless knowledge about how to better your products and services, but responding to them also shows that customer service is a priority for your business – and other reviewers will take notice.
You can show potential customers that their feedback matters, ensuring they know that the consumer’s voice will be heard.
Participating in review gating could trigger a hefty fine from the FTC and other repercussions, such as taking away reviews or highlighting suspicious behavior to viewers.
Is review gating allowed on Google?
Google strictly prohibits review gating. Infringing on this policy can result in drastic consequences, such as Google removing all of your business’s accumulated reviews – not only those that appear to have been gated.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Google Review Gating?
Google Review Gating is the practice of limiting the ability of customers to leave reviews on a business’s Google listing until after they have had a positive experience with the business. This is often done by requiring customers to provide positive feedback through a survey or by requiring them to complete a purchase before they are allowed to leave a review.
Why do businesses use Google Review Gating?
Businesses use Google Review Gating to control the quality and tone of the reviews left on their Google listing. By limiting the ability of customers to leave negative reviews, businesses hope to maintain a positive reputation and attract more customers.
What are the consequences of using Review Gating?
Using Google Review Gating can result in penalties from Google, including removing reviews and even suspending a business’s Google listing. This can negatively impact a business’s online reputation and make it harder for customers to find information about it.
What are alternative ways to manage online reviews?
There are several alternative ways for businesses to manage their online reviews, including responding to negative reviews professionally and helpfully, encouraging customers to leave reviews through follow-up emails or surveys, and offering incentives for customers to leave positive reviews.
Can Google detect review gating?
Yes, Google has advanced algorithms and systems to detect review gating and other forms of manipulation of reviews. Businesses need to follow Google’s policies and avoid any practices that are deemed to be against their guidelines.
To ensure you avoid review gating, try using some email templates that don’t mention reviews. Instead of asking for outright praise, you solicit “feedback,” – which is the surest way to get a genuine response. To get more trust-worthy ratings and reviews, you or your reputation management platform should follow up with everyone (yes, even those who may not have had an excellent experience). If this process is repeated consistently over time, it won’t be long before your business basks in its well-earned five-star rating.