Sometimes it’s tempting to make decisions that will result in quick wins. Review gating does just that—it gives you some quick wins. It’s a common practice among businesses trying to improve their online presence, build trust, and increase sales quickly. But slow and steady (and honest) wins the race, and review gating will cause your business more harm than good in the long run.
In this article, we’ll explain Google’s review gating policy and provide some tips that will help you gather reviews in an ethical, responsible way.
Google’s New Review Gating Policy Explained
Google made an important step in protecting the trust we have in online reviews in 2018. Moving forward, to remain in compliance with Google’s policy, companies were instructed not to “discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.” This practice is commonly known as review gating.
In 2022, Google quietly changed its review policies again by removing the above text from the original page and including it in the “fake engagement” section of its prohibited content guidelines instead.
Now, the guidelines include the following under fake engagement/deceptive content: “Discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews, or selectively soliciting positive reviews from customers.”
This is, in essence, review gating.
What is Review Gating?
Review gating refers to the process where companies send a message to customers asking if their experience was positive or negative. Those who indicate they have had a positive experience are directed to leave an online review. Those who have a negative experience are typically sent a form in which they can leave comments that will never be made public. The end result is a collection of online reviews that are artificially positive and not representative of the actual customer experience.
Review Gating Examples
So, what does review gating look like in the real world? Review gating might look like:
- Sending customers an email to ask if they had a positive or negative experience before requesting a review.
- Texting customers and asking them to rate their experience with you, then only requesting reviews from people who rated you highly.
- Incentivizing customers to leave positive reviews. (Think: We’ll take $5 off your next service if you leave us a 5-star review.)
What is the Trust Economy?
Online reviews are only as valuable as they are trusted. While other companies scramble to adjust their products to comply with Google’s new policy, Podium customers can trust that their reviews have always been earned and are reflective of their customer’s experience without relying on practices like gating or filtering.
We applaud Google for making trust in reviews a priority and protecting the review ecosystem. When it works correctly, reviews benefit everyone from the business to the consumer. Businesses gain invaluable feedback through the experiences customers share in their reviews and enjoy the credit for the hard work they do on behalf of their customers. Consumers have a powerful tool they can trust to make better buying decisions. Everyone wins.
Trust is one of the most important elements of business transactions. We remain committed to protecting that trust and we are proud to be working with companies like Google who share that vision.
Is Review Gating Legal?
Review gating is unethical and it’s a practice businesses should make a conscious effort to avoid. Instead, companies should favor transparency by:
- Encouraging all reviews (even the negative ones).
- Not trying to hide negative reviews.
- Being transparent about their review collection process.
- Making an effort to identify and report fake or suspicious reviews.
Review Gating Risks
First, let’s address the elephant in the room—review gating may be tempting because it can result in some short-term benefits. By filtering out negative reviews, you can control the narrative and shape your brand’s image in a positive light. This can increase trust and ultimately sales in the short term. Plus, it can generate a seemingly positive brand reputation, which is great for boosting visibility and getting new customers through the door.
But let’s not forget about the dark side of review gating. Practicing review gating could result in serious consequences like a fine from the FTC, or getting permanently banned from Google. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons review gating should be avoided at all costs.
1. It’s Not Honest
If you’re only showing positive reviews, you’re not giving potential customers the full picture. It’s important to be transparent and real about your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, buying reviews is also not recommended.
2. It Violates FTC Guidelines
According to the Federal Trade Commission, it’s illegal to selectively solicit positive reviews or incentivize reviewers in exchange for positive feedback. Review gating can easily fall into these categories.
3. It Breaks Customer Trust in the Long-Term
If customers catch wind that you’re filtering out negative reviews, they may begin to question the validity of all your positive reviews. This could erode trust and ultimately lead to lost business. People want an honest idea of what they’re in for if they choose to do business with you—that’s the whole point of reading reviews.
4. It Disincentivizes Engagement
If you’re only allowing positive reviews to be shown, customers may feel like their honest feedback isn’t valued. This can lead to decreased engagement and ultimately hurt your brand in the long run. It may seem counterintuitive, but even the unhappiest of customers can turn into loyal, happy customers if they feel heard and respected by a business.
5. It Decreases Sales in the Long-Term
You’ve got to think about the bigger picture. While review gating may boost sales in the short term, it could ultimately hurt your bottom line. If customers feel like they can’t trust your brand, they’re likely to take their business elsewhere. In fact, studies show that when trust is broken, 55% of consumers say they will never give the brand their business again.
6. It Damages SEO
Search engines and review sites like Google want to provide the most accurate and unbiased information to users. By selectively choosing only positive reviews to display, businesses may establish a misleading representation of their products or services and create a lack of trust with potential customers. As a result, search engines may penalize the website’s search rankings. It is recommended that businesses allow all customers, regardless of their experience, to leave reviews to maintain transparency and credibility.
In summary, while review gating may seem like a quick fix to boost your business, it’s important to consider the long-term risks. Instead of filtering out negative reviews, focus on actively addressing customer concerns and turning negative feedback into positive change. This will build trust and engagement, and ultimately lead to sustainable growth.
How Should Local Businesses Request Reviews? 5 Tips
So, how should you request reviews? Here are a few tips:
1. Find the Right Timing
Sending a review request at the right time significantly increases the likelihood that a person will follow through and leave a review. After a purchase is a great time to invite a customer to leave a review because their experience with you is still fresh in their minds.
2. Don’t Force It
Nobody likes to be told what to do—especially customers. Remember: You’re asking people to leave reviews, not telling them to leave one.
3. Take Advantage of Text
Texts have a 98% open rate, so sending the review invite via text almost guarantees that the recipient will see it. Plus, texting a link to your Google Business Profile and inviting a customer to review your business is quick and easy for both you and your customers. Convenience is key.
4. Personalize the Request
The modern customer loves personalization—they don’t want to feel like a checkmark on your to-do list. They prefer personal, friendly interactions. Address them by name and be sure to keep the request casual.
5. Give Context
If you really want to increase your odds of getting reviews, explain why reviews are important for your business. Your customers will be more likely to leave a review if they understand why they’re doing it.
Podium Helps You Do It Right
As a company, Podium has been at the forefront against review gating. We’ve designed all our products to remove bias and give both business owners and consumers the most accurate representation of experience possible.
Ready to take your online presence to the next level? Podium helps small businesses like yours with their online reputation management. We make it easy for small businesses to collect and manage reviews, keep customers happy, and more.
Want to give it a try? Start a free trial today.
Review Gating FAQs
Is it legal to offer incentives for reviews?
The answer is a bit complicated, but incentivizing customers to leave positive reviews is generally frowned upon by review platforms and can even result in penalties. Instead, businesses should focus on providing excellent products and services to encourage organic, positive reviews.
How to deal with negative reviews?
Bad reviews happen to even the best businesses sometimes. Dealing with them can be tricky, but it’s essential to handle them with grace and professionalism. Responding promptly and offering solutions can help turn negative reviews into positive experiences for both the reviewer and potential future customers.
Is review gating worth it?
Review gating may seem like a tempting option, but it’s not worth the risks. You could lose the trust of current and potential customers, and it can also result in penalties from review platforms. Instead, focus on asking all customers for feedback and using that feedback to improve your business.