What is Review Gating?
Review gating is the process of filtering candidates before asking them to leave you a review. Normally this is done by sending all customers an email template and first asking them if they had a positive or negative experience. If they had a positive experience, they are asked to leave a review on Google. But if they had a negative experience, they are prompted to leave private feedback and are never sent the option to leave a review publicly.
Business owners historically have loved this feature because they are terrified of negative reviews and would love the opportunity to only have 5-star reviews. For more on why this is a bad strategy, read this study.
What Does Google do if They Catch Review Gating?
I have been looking for examples on the Google My Business forum where users reported businesses who were review gating. We’ve now seen several over the last few months and I’m going to highlight two cases.
In the first case, the business was review gating on a widget on their website. The business had over 400 reviews, and when they were reported, over 80% of them were removed. Here is the kicker–the reviews that were removed dated back 2 years. The update to the guidelines was in April 2018, but Google removed reviews that were left way before then. In my opinion, this is good confirmation that Google has not been okay with review gating for quite some time and updated the guidelines just to be more clear about it. We saw something similar with virtual offices, which were against the GMB guidelines long before the guidelines actually mentioned the specific words “virtual offices”. In this case, the average rating of the business dropped by 0.2 which also helps illustrate how review gating can lead to biased reviews.
Before: 464 reviews, average rating of 4.1
After: 78 reviews, average rating of 3.9
In the second case, the business was caught review gating via a 3rd party tool. They had 30+ reviews on their listing. After being reported, Google removed them all.
As of April 12, 2018 Google has updated the review guidelines to clarify (help explain) that review gating is not allowed. They added the following to their guidelines:
“Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”
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, I use a company 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. GatherUp currently offers a few different ways to collect reviews. Although most of them were already in compliance with this rule, a couple were not. I was sitting next to Aaron Weiche from GatherUp on Thursday at LocalU when this change happened. He instantly made some calls and their tool is already updated so that it no longer offers this as an option. Just one of the reasons why I love working with them.
If you decide to review gate regardless of this guideline, you risk Google taking action and removing all your reviews. ALL your reviews. Not just from date of report or Google’s guideline clarification in April this year. All of them. So, just don’t do it.