Review-Gating is Against the Google My Business Guidelines - Sterling Sky Inc

Review-Gating is Against the Google My Business Guidelines

Updated: November 12, 2018 to reflect that review gating is not a new policy that Google initiated in April 2018 and added examples of cases where Google acted on businesses that were review gating.

When I saw the review guidelines change on April 12, 2018, I assumed that Google had updated their policies to indicate that review gating was now against the guidelines. I was wrong.  Review gating has been against the Google My Business guidelines for quite some time (if not always) and the update to the guidelines was simply a clarification, not a new policy.  I’ll explain how I concluded this based on the examples listed that got caught review gating (at the end of the article).

 

What Does Google do if They Catch You 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 2 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 (they were against the 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 and after being reported, Google removed them all.

What changed on April 12, 2018?

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 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 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 and 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.

What risks are you taking by review-gating?

If you decide to review-gate regardless of this guideline, you risk Google taking action and removing all your reviews. Don’t do it.   Since the rule was only clarified a few days ago, I’m assuming Google won’t penalize businesses for doing this prior to April 12th.  However, if a business continues to review-gate and someone reports them, Google will likely remove the reviews from that date on.  That is currently how they enforce the guideline that prohibits offering incentives for reviews.  If a business offers incentives and is reported, Google removes all the reviews that were left from the date when the business started the incentives.  My original assumptions here were wrong.  

 

 

 

35 replies on "Review-Gating is Against the Google My Business Guidelines"

  1. Thanks a lot for that update. Critical and valuable. Kudo’s to Get Five Stars for being able to turn off that option ASAP.

    1. Hey Nachum,

      No that wouldn’t be gating because it would no longer be filtering candidates (that’s the definition of gating).

  2. I run an agency and Reputation Management & Reviews Solicitation is a large part of my business. The company I use has this feature. I wonder how Google would know unless they target this major companies attribution? Also, what are some options?
    Thanks

    1. As far as how Google would know – my assumption is that they will have a hard time knowing unless someone reports it. Technically to report a business for doing this all you would need is a copy of the email they are sending to customers.

  3. The scores will be proof of review-gating. I’ve never understood why businesses who have been hurt by negative reviews, choose not to learn from the feedback and instead use review-gating to falsify their scores to the public. I founded a survey-based ratings and review business in medicine with a consumer site, realpatientratings.com. After publishing over 160,000 ratings for a myriad of providers, our data shows that 100% transparency is nothing to fear. Overall, they receive 94% of ratings in the Highly Satisfied and Satisfied categories with 6% distributed among the lower ratings, with less than 1% being Highly Dissatisfied. Why would anyone mess with Google over that small percent that consumers need to see to trust the higher scores. Look at Amazon’s ratings distributions, they have all scores represented. It’s key to making good buying decisions.

  4. BIg Brother AGAIN! 98% of negative reviews are salacious and have malicious intent. They also make the negative reviewer look bad. Negative breeds negative. Who is Google to determine if legitimate, caring , marketing companies looking to protect their clients can’t, because Google says so? Another over-reach and horrible decision by Google. Encroaching on our freedoms again. Sad day! This is a company that our Gov’t should take a serious look at. As much as we less Gov’t regulation they may need a spanking once in a while to play nice. Look at all the people suing them for so many egregious reasons. Full disclosure, I’m not one and they have not harmed me in any way YET.

  5. To Marie, Your industry is much different than most. There are lives at stake and there are bad people and business practices in every industry. I’ve seen that 6% have devastating effects on small businesses. It can cost them thousands and in rare instances their business. Have you heard of ‘Yelpers’? Yelp is a NASDAQ company owned by Google who highers people to create false negative reviews, then they literally threaten business if they do not pay a large monthly fee
    Yelp will be sure all of the negative reviews will always be on top. Sometimes they say they will get rid of the negative reviews for a fee and higher the same people to fix it.(One of my clients is paying $600 a month and they only have one or two negative reviews but are fearful of what Yelp might do. I’ll get them to stop paying “mob’ money soon. ) Google is a very unscrupulous company. We smart route (gating) the negative feed back to the client and educate them on how to handle it and some have even posted them with their feed back and it has positively and dramatically changed their business, with and mainly without posting the negative reviews. Did you know there is a company in Germany that will for a nominal fee take down / crash any server or create a big negative feed back campaign to hurt a competitors business? There is NOTHING wrong with ‘review-gating’, it’s a necessary tool to protect good, legitimate, businesses. Kudos for what you are doing!

  6. I think it would be more accurate to say Yelp owns page one of Google for many local business searches. Google does not own Yelp. But when searching for local businesses Yelp results in many cases owns page one of Google.

  7. Joy, thanks for sharing your wisdom. Do you know if review gating is against Tripadvisor’s policies as well? The policy on the tripadvisor site that I can see as a consumer says that it’s okay to ask for a review. But it doesn’t address review gating.

  8. I just found this page on Tripadvisor’s site: https://www.tripadvisorsupport.com/hc/en-us/articles/200615037-What-is-considered-fraud-%E2%80%9D%20target=

    Tripadvisor says here that it considers review fraud to include “attempts by an owner or agent of a property to boost the reputation of a business by selectively soliciting reviews (by email, surveys or any other means) only from guests who have had a positive experience.”

    It also says “owners can’t prohibit or discourage guests from posting negative or critical reviews of their experience.”

    I’m afraid that the “any other means” part could include review-gating tools and the part saying not to “discourage guests from posting negative reviews” sounds a lot like Google’s new policy.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing that Scott! I find it intriguing that they consider reviews from family members “fraud”. That’s definitely a much harsher word IMO than “spam” or “unhelpful” like some of the other sites call it.

  10. We have been working with a reputation management company who has now told us they can no longer to Internal Surveys to our customers but only send out emails requesting reviews to be left on google and facebook. Is this true? Is that part of review-gating?? (the internal review used to push people 3-5 stars to google/facebook we were looking to switch it to have 0-5 stars now all push to google/facebook- if they wanted to take that 2nd step past the internal survey)

    1. It’s fine to do an internal survey as long as all options (0-5) are prompted to leave a review on Google at the end.

  11. Great content Joy. We have shifted away from asking if people have had a great experience to just sending them to leave a review. We also implement our “In Person Strategy” and “Google Naked Link strategy” to get more reviews after we implement a “Review Culture Training” with staff to make sure they are all on board. 🙂

  12. Google has a long history of deleting reviews for no apparent reason don’t be surprised if they delete anything they feel like deleting

    1. Hey Bob,

      “Text reviews” is referring to reviews that consist of text (writing), not the platform they came from (SMS, email etc).

  13. I’m here to learn and this article gave me great information. Thanks to Joy and all commenters for the information.

  14. I find here in the UK, people are fed up of being asked to give a review. As a business owner I am uncomfortable asking people and leave it to them to decide. I personally would be much happier if asking for reviews was banned completely

  15. The things about reviews and review gating when there is no humans reading the reviews is funny to me. Many companies use 3rd party organizations that post phony reviews all day long. Most of the time they get away with it for long periods of time. Since no one is really behind the system to monitor and remove, google bots cant tell the difference.

  16. The crazy thing is if you asked (in person) a customer how their experience was and they said “great” you may ask them to leave you a review. If they said “horrible” you would say “why” and then listen to them as they explain why. You then have an opportunity to clear up a misunderstanding, offer a concession or do what you can to make it right. The customer may become a loyal customer and even continue to refer people to you. This is the same process of the “review gate” if someone is unhappy why not give them a chance to fully articulate the problem and get it resolved. That person is always free to leave an actual review nothing is stopping them.

  17. I think it’s important to note that it’s not Google that is setting these guidelines – it’s the FTC (Fair Trade Commission) and Google, like all other businesses, is regulated by the FTC.

  18. I see review sites that initially ask a customer if they’re happy and if they are they are taken to a page where they can write a Google review. If they are not happy the page changes to encourage customers to give feedback, but there is tiny text at the bottom of the page that still allows them to go to Google. IMHO I think this is a form of review-gating. My understanding from Google is that if you’re going to ask a customer if they’re happy with your service using stars, numbers, smiley faces etc. (which is OK) that you must send them to the exact same page regardless of their level of happiness. Doing anything other than this looks like a form of review gating. Thoughts?

    1. Hey Bob,

      I’ve brought this up with Google before and they were fine with a slightly different page that had the reviews a little lower. The main thing they seem concerned about was that the option to leave a review was still present.

  19. I am way late to this story, but…

    Wow, what a self-righteous article. Yelp hates that their real reviews stink. And like a crab at the bottom of a bucket wants to pull others down.

    https://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/yelp.com
    https://www.trustpilot.com/review/www.yelp.com

    My three points are simple… Just because a company gets a boat-load of 5-star reviews in a short period of time (indicating there was likely solicitation), it can not be assumed, even in the least, that it is an effort to cover up poor service. That would be a pure garbage assumption, and if Yelp ever does makes this assumption, they will be flooded with a whole lot more 1-star reviews, AND deserve them.

    Me second point is if Yelp is on such a mission, just wait. Companies CAN NOT hide bad experiences for long, especially if Yelp struck deals with companies like Sitegrabber and trustpilot to portray the real scoop. I worked for a company that “gated” their customers in a clever way, they asked them to review at the time of transaction for their review, not after the experience when they finally realized they had been duped. BUT the truth came out, and as a result, there were so may negative reviews, that the experience was clear online. In addition, the employees morale was low, and the company just stunk. It was impossible for them to hide. It isn’t hard to figure out, and Yelp could put a spotlight on this obvious truth for customers who don’t take the time to look at the obvious. And there are A LOT who don’t take the time. Just wait until it is obvious.

    My third, and most important point however is: a customer-centric company that wants to grow… WILL GATE!!! Think about it for just a minute. If you really care about the customer, what is the most natural conversation if you want to encourage word-of-mouth marketing? If they had a bad experience, then you will be itching to fix it, in order to turn them into a 5-star customer. How do you find out whether there was a bad experience unless you ask every customer about their experience? And just because you ask them to review the company after you fix the issue, that DOES NOT MEAN YOUR ARE A SCAM. It means the exact opposite. This point can not be lost anybody. Things go wrong, and as far as I am concerned the story is not over when they do, and it isn’t time yet to ask the customer for a review until you fix it. Sorry, but I agree with George in regard to the sentiment that Yelp better tread lightly on a policy that could easily overstep into false and poor assumptions,where it would be wrong to sacrifice even a small percentage of businesses, in order to nail a whole bunch of truly bad ones. And if a truly bad company gets away with it for a while, the truth will catch up. Let them have their moment of cheaters prosper, then bam, it’s over.

    Enough with the scare tactics, just come up with a better way to get to the truth. And stick with innocent until proven guilty. Any other approach and I would tell every person I know to give Yelp a 1-star review, and to boycott Yelp permanently. And I full-heartedly support Yelp asking people for reviews. If they really care about both growth, and in creating incredible customer experiences, then they are crazy not to do it.

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