Google Review Gating: Why It Matters for Your Business's Reputation
By Tina Kendall on March 12, 2019 in Digital Marketing
In April 2018, Google updated its policies on reviews for Google My Business (GMB) listings to more clearly state their stance on businesses soliciting positive reviews, as opposed to any and all reviews (negative and positive). This practice is more commonly known as “review gating”. While most people thought this was an update to their review policy, review gating has likely always been against Google’s review policy. The update in April made their policy especially clear:
“Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”
So now that we’re extra sure review gating is a no-no for Google, what does that mean for your business and how should you proceed? Before diving in, let’s start with the basics.
What is review gating?
Review gating is the process of screening or “gating” user reviews before they’re posted online. This process typically happens via a review funnel page. A customer is asked to review a business, usually by email or text, and the page they’re driven to is a review funnel page that allows the business to set rating criteria to identify positive “brand advocates” even before they’re prompted to review the business online. Any negative feedback can be filtered and directed to someone at the business for direct follow-up.
In short, review gating proactively pushes happy customers to leave reviews on third-party sites and filters out negative reviews for internal follow-up and action. This practice has been widely used in the past (Spinutech included!), and while it isn’t necessarily unethical, Google strives to keep reviews as unbiased as possible. As such, screening negative reviews — even with the intent to make it right before the negative experience turns into a review — adds a level of perceived bias.
An example to paint our review gating picture:
Debbie Marketer visits her favorite hair stylist to get the latest cut and color. After her visit, Debbie receives an email from her stylist asking her to leave a review. Debbie clicks the link on the email and lands on a page that asks about her experience:
If Debbie selects 4 or 5 stars, she will be prompted to leave a review on a third-party review site, like Google My Business. If Debbie selects 3 stars or less, the business may ask her to elaborate on her experience, trying to understand where they missed the mark. That feedback is funneled back internally to Debbie’s hair stylist and Debbie is not directed to leave a review on a third-party site.
Using this example, you can see that review gating is one way to proactively reach out to customers in an attempt to solicit feedback (positive or negative) — amplifying positive experiences or rectifying negative experiences before a customer can leave a review on a third-party site.
Why does Google view review gating as bad?
For a business, review gating sounds like a sound strategy for growing your online reputation. As smart marketers know, reviews don’t happen without methods in place to direct customers into leaving reviews as simply, easily, and timely as possible. Because reviews have a considerable impact on businesses, it is necessary to incorporate a review generation strategy in your digital marketing campaign. So what’s Google’s beef with review gating?
Google is a business, and like any business, they will continue to look out for themselves and their profitability. Google profits when users continue to use them as their “go-to” resource for search and in order to remain that resource, they need to always be delivering the most timely, relevant, and accurate search results. Review gating is seen as businesses influencing or eliminating user feedback that could potentially be valuable for future users. Just because the business doesn’t like the feedback doesn’t mean it should be suppressed from other users. Google isn’t the only site to feel this way about review gating; Yelp also has a very strict policy about it.
If reported or discovered, Google could wipe out your reviews — even ones generated organically, without being filtered — leaving you with very few reviews or none at all.
How do I move forward in a world without review gating?
Don’t panic, because for every challenge, there is a solution, and for review gating there are many. If you’re currently soliciting reviews and are utilizing a review funnel page to filter reviews, it’s best to stop this process today. You can still ask your customers to leave you a review, you’ll just now have to direct them right to the source (Google) to avoid penalty and change up how you solicit reviews.
Modify your ask.
An alternative approach to review gating is asking your customers directly if they had a bad experience and allowing them to contact you directly instead of making that decision for them. In this example, you’re still asking for a review but are not being selective with their responses.
Continue to consistently generate reviews.
Remember that before Google’s policy clarification, review gating didn’t prohibit users from leaving negative reviews. A user could always navigate to your listing organically and leave negative feedback. If you’ve built up a decent amount of reviews, then a couple negative reviews over time will not have a huge impact on your aggregate rating. If anything, it could help, as the more reviews the better. Even negative reviews make a business seem more legitimate.
Asking for reviews via email or text is great but it’s not the only way to solicit reviews. Motivate your teams to get more engaged with review prompting in person by asking customers that appear satisfied to leave you a review.
Respond to reviews.
We encourage our clients to remain active in responding to any and all reviews, and sometimes we even do this for them on their behalf. Why? Google has stated before that remaining active with a listing and its reviews is a positive factor for rankings. So negative reviews, unless in a majority, will not negatively impact rankings.
Remember that at its core, a sound reputation management program should be used as a chance to internally evaluate why negative reviews continue to be a problem. You will never be able to completely shut out review feedback, but review management tools can allow you to better address ongoing or potential problems.