Review gating is the act of soliciting feedback from a customer, and then deciding whether to ask them for a Google (Yelp, Or other Review Site) review based on their response. Simply means filtering which reviews are published onto a GMB, Yelp or other Review site business listing. Companies do this by sending customers a survey about their recent experience. Customers who respond positively are prompted to leave a Google (or other review site) review, while those who respond negatively are instead asked to provide private feedback. In this way businesses are able to stream positive reviews straight to the public while handling unhappy customers behind the scenes, resulting in an inflated GMB, Yelp or other listing’s rating. This is strictly against Google My Business’ review guidelines and comes with heavy penalties. The end result is a deceivingly positive rating for the business that may not be representative of actual customer opinion.
It’s as simple as that. If you want to get reviews on Google, you have to ask everyone for a review, rather than cherry-picking the customers you think might give you the best reviews. By manipulating the review process, they actually undermine the very value reviews hold: trust.
In April 2018, Google updated its review guidelines for businesses that collect reviews from their customers. Among the new changes was the banning of a practice known as “review gating”. Both Google and Summit Marketing (and its affiliates) are against review gating.
As Google states alongside its Prohibited Content policy: Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.
There are multiple ways businesses can ‘gate’ reviews. Here are a few examples:
- Using software to preface each review request with a sentiment question. Were you satisfied with your experience? Yes/No”, then only sending those who say “Yes” to review sites to share feedback.
- Selectively routing survey respondents to review sites based on their responses. Most survey companies allow businesses to set up “skip and display” logic, sending unhappy customers to different questions than happy customers. Using this, businesses can get away with only asking happy customers for reviews.
- Asking only those customers to leave a review who you think will leave positive feedback face-to-face, and refraining from asking unsatisfied customers for feedback.
- Offering incentives for positive reviews. This results in biased positive feedback that does not actually reflect real customer experiences.
Why is Google against gating reviews?
Google’s mission is to provide users with relevant, trustworthy information. Customer’s Google reviews are at the core of the trust Google strives to foster. These reviews describe authentic experiences from unbiased sources. Reviews help consumers find the best local businesses; reviews and ratings impact how local businesses rank in Google search results. By not allowing review gating, Google intends to keep the integrity and power of reviews intact.
If you are a business, why is review gating a bad idea?
Here are three reasons why you should avoid review gating.
You will lose the trust of your customers and prospective customers.
Your customers will only trust your reviews if it’s clear they are authentic and represent an unbiased view of your business. Gating reviews defeats that purpose by leading to disproportionately positive reviews that customers view as less credible, especially when their experience doesn’t match what they read about.
Companies like Google are unlikely to publish your reviews if you use gating.
If you gate your reviews, Google can likely detect this. They may remove your reviews, and/or penalize your business in search rankings. Although this sounds hard to enforce, you’d be surprised at how effective Google has been in finding and punishing this kind of suspicious activity on Google My Business accounts.
Contrary to popular belief, review gating does not really help you get ahead.
We observed that businesses not using review gating actually increased their review count, without any meaningful impact to their ratings. More data backing this up later in this article.
Your best course of action is to build trust with your customers by collecting reviews for all customer interactions. Understanding all points of view about your business can help you improve aspects of your operations that you maybe hadn’t even thought of before. Besides, negative reviews aren’t a bad thing . They actually help prove to prospective customers that your reviews represent real experiences, making them trust the positive ones even more. Most successful businesses use a tools like myLocalReputationMarketing.com that automates their end-to-end review process while following industry best practices.
What Are the Risks of Review Gating?
Before we get into the risks, though, here’s the opportunity: if you only ask for reviews from happy customers, how can you showcase your exceptional customer service by responding to negative reviews online?
Think about this: only 11% of consumers (According to a survey done by BrightLocal) don’t read responses left by the business when checking out a business online. That’s a heck of a lot of opportunities to show the world what you’re really like on your Google My Business profile, which, lets face it, can otherwise be fairly generic and brand-agnostic. This is just one of the potential positives of negative reviews.
And now, the risks: here’s what Google can to do your business (or any business you’re managing) if it discovers you’re review gating.
It can remove all reviews left on your Google My Business profile.
No, not just the ones left since you were discovered actively review gating or using a platform that allowed it…
It can remove all of your Google reviews, going back to the beginning of time.
Review gating to get only positive reviews doesn’t seem so appealing now, does it?!
Today’s consumers love to review everything
We now live in a world where everything gets a review. What used to be the domain of movies, restaurants, music, and art, and flowed from the pens of critics, is now firmly in the grip of the smartphone-wielding consumer.
And today’s consumers love to review everything, from hotels and gyms to doctors and lawyers. So much so that there’s a review site for pretty much every industry out there! With the prevalence of consumer reviews and review sites today, it’s little wonder then that they can have such a profound effect on local businesses.
Studies show, for example, that more than half of consumers will only use a business if it has an average star rating of ⅘ or more (study by Brightlocal). Combine that with increasing competition in the online review space, and you’ve got a situation in which every business is clamoring for more and better reviews.
This rush for more reviews puts the owners of these review sites in a tricky position. More reviews means more trustworthy results, right? Well, wrong.
That’s because in response to the surge in review spam, the larger review sites that bear the brunt of the problem (like Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor) have published and enforce strict review site guidelines declaring what tactics businesses are restricted from using on their sites.
What should business owners do?
If you are using a review-soliciting platform that does this, you need to turn the gating function off ASAP. Luckily, we use a company (Summit Marketing Subsidiary) that is super-connected with Google My Business and had already been working on removing this as a feature because they had a feeling it was something Google didn’t like. myLocalReputationMarketing.com currently offers a few different ways to collect reviews and although most of them were already in compliance with this rule, a couple were not. Their tool is already updated so that it no longer offers this as an option.
So, What’s the Right Way for Local Businesses to Request a Review on Google?
It’s really quite simple: ask every customer for their feedback, then ask every customer who provides it for a review.
If you do this, be it in person, via email, SMS or even using business cards and in-store signage you can be sure you’re not violating Google’s terms and conditions for Google My Business.
Send a review request email or SMS to all your customers.
Right after a customer visits a local business or has been provided a service, they receive a review request email or text. The customer has the option to write a review on a third-party site (with links provided by the business). All these options are provided to all customers, regardless of their sentiment (positive or negative).
Data shows removing “review gating” does not hurt your scores and will grow your overall volume
Data by GatherUp shows that review gating yields almost no benefits to the business and getting rid of it can significantly boost review counts. After an internal study of roughly 10,000 locations found that “gating” had very little impact on the average star-rating but that NOT gating saw a significant increase in review volumes. Nearly a 70% volume increase.
More reviews are better.
A 2019 study from Womply found that review volume was strongly correlated with small business revenue. Another recent study from Uberall found that conversions actually suffered for businesses with 5-star ratings compared with those that had lower but still positive review scores. This is because “perfect scores” are viewed with more skepticism by consumers and suggestive of fraud.
Face negative reviews head on.
Don’t let a negative review bring you down. 78% of consumers feel if a business responds to a review, it shows they care. Respond to negative reviews and offer a solution. Don’t have a solution for the problem yet? Let your customers know you hear them and you’re working on a way to solve their problem. When you respond to a review, 33% of customers will update the review to something positive (according to Chatmeter) and 34% (according to Chatmeter) will delete their negative review.
Negative reviews can be a good thing.
Stop worrying about getting a few negative reviews. If reviews look “too good to be true”… they probably are. A study by Spiegel Research Center found that purchase likelihood is greater in the 4.0 – 4.7 rating range and decreases as the ratings get closer to 5.0. Even if you get away with it, review gating can still cause damage to your bottom line.
We hope that answers the question ‘what is review gating and should a business do it? ’ for you and goes some way to encouraging you to get started with your own review generation campaigns, free from worry. If you would like us to help you put a review generation and marketing campaign in place contact us and we would be glad to help!