Google has cracked down on “review gating,” the process of segregating customers’ positive reviews from negative ones. You need to know what this means and how to avoid getting in trouble.
In theory, it was a great idea. Unfortunately, Google—the dominating leader in online search—didn’t agree. So “review gating” is now officially in online marketing jail.
Essentially, review gating was the process of separating positive reviews from negative ones via email software.
If a customer indicated they wanted to leave a positive review, the software would direct them to a platform (such as Google) to post it. However, if the customer indicated dissatisfaction, the software would effectively “detour” that person to a place where they could leave private feedback.
This ensured that mostly positive reviews would appear on the platform, whereas most criticisms would be kept behind closed doors.
You can understand why any business would want to take advantage of this functionality. Unfortunately, Google recently decided this was a form of cheating the review system, which has some truth to it.
Every business owner would love to have a system where raves immediately went public, but gripes were kept private. But ultimately, that’s not a fair assessment of everyone’s customer experience.
Google has some strong penalties for any business it believes is still in the practice of review gating, such as wiping out all reviews posted since April 12 (the date the prohibition went into effect). So you really don’t want to take any chances.
One could argue Google actually did these businesses a favor. The truth is this: You don’t want your business to have no negative (or at least no slightly critical) reviews, because consumers will think they’re being deceived!
Have you ever come across some cheesy self-published book on Amazon that has 50 reviews, every single one of them five stars? You know they’re fake, because you’ll never find 50 people to agree on anything, much less a book.
Recent studies have found that consumers trust a business more if it has at least a few four-star or three-star reviews sprinkled into the mix—especially if it’s been reviewed a lot.
However, the change in Google’s policy doesn’t mean you need to avoid email review solicitation tools themselves. Many have already tweaked their processes to avoid getting in trouble with Google.
The key is to ensure that your process clearly allows the customer to choose whether to post a review (either positive or negative) or to communicate with you directly. You can provide both options. Just don’t specifically take criticisms and “head them off the pass,” the way review gating did.
It remains incredibly important to ensure your business has a strong online reputation, and the biggest factor is generating lots of positive reviews. You can still do that, and mail software can be a big help. Simply be sure to use it within Google’s guidelines.
(Note: Monitoring your business’s online reputation is a requirement for success in the digital age. Try our free Review Scan now for an instant reputation report on your business.)