Reviews have become a valuable form of currency on the internet, with business owners implementing strategies to get more positive reviews. It’s clear that having an abundance of glowing and recent reviews can translate into many material benefits for businesses. However, if you’re brainstorming ways to boost your reviews, it’s important to be aware of which practices can get you in hot water, such as review gating.
Review gating on Google and other platforms can seem appealing, but there are some pretty serious consequences that can arise if you do it.
What is review gating, and why does it matter?
Review gating is a process by which a business cherry-picks which customers it chooses to solicit reviews from. It can also refer to the practice of hiding negative reviews on a website so that only the positive reviews are displayed, while the negative ones are only addressed internally.
Businesses can engage in the practice in seemingly innocuous ways that don’t necessarily seem fraudulent at first glance.
The most common technique is a two-email sequence. In first step a business sends an email, requesting feedback from their recent customer.
- If the customer expresses positive feedback, second email follows and requests a public review that is then displayed on the business’s website, Google Business Profile, Facebook page, or any other public review platform.
- If the customer expresses negative feedback, second email does not include a link to leave a public review. Instead, it may offer a private resolution or some attempt to improve the customer’s experience.
Since the business is cherry-picking which customers to solicit a public review from, they are gating access to reviews.
Review gating can also refer to the practice of hiding negative reviews after the fact. In other words, the business might invite all customers to leave a review, but only display 4- or 5-star reviews on their website.
Google review gating policy
Google’s policy disallows “fake engagement,” which includes “discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews, or selectively soliciting positive reviews from customers.” The same Google policy also bans misrepresentation, which they define as “distorting or omitting information that could have an undue impact on user decision-making.”
From these statements, it’s clear that Google doesn’t allow review gating on Google My Business , more recently known as the Google Business Profile. This is the profile of a business that shows up in the top right of a search engine results page, which includes reviews, business info, business posts, photos, and more.
While there may be some wiggle room for interpretation of the Google review gating policy, the overall message is clear. They don’t go on to define precisely what their interpretation of “selectively solicit” is, but it’s clear enough that engaging in a practice like the one in the example sequence of emails above would constitute review gating on Google.
If a business is found to be in violation of the Google’s policy, the company states that it may not publish the violating content. In other words, Google might unpublish a business’s positive reviews if they are the product of dishonest techniques. In the worst-case scenario, Google has the power to de-list and de-index violating websites, so they don’t appear in search at all.
Gating reviews on other platforms
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has a policy designed to ensure “that reviews are based on real purchasing experiences, and to keep irrelevant, fraudulent, and offensive feedback off [the platform].”
Facebook’s community feedback terms state that businesses shouldn’t engage in manipulation or incentivization of reviews. They state that “feedback must not be used to misrepresent [or] deceive… for a financial or personal benefit.” They go on to state that reviews shouldn’t be “directly or indirectly incentivized.”.
While they don’t explicitly condemn the selective soliciting, or cherry-picking, of customer reviews, practices that gate reviews could be considered a form of manipulation that would be in violation of their rules.
Amazon’s customer reviews policy states that the ecommerce giant has a “zero tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers.” While they don’t explicitly mention the practice of gating reviews, that zero tolerance messaging should dissuade any business from risking using gating tactics on the platform. Soliciting only positive reviews could certainly be deemed misleading or manipulative, which puts you at risk of getting removed from the platform.
Tripadvisor’s review posting guidelines explicitly call out review gating. The platform prohibits “the practice of selectively soliciting positive content and/or rejecting moderate or negative content.” They even go so far as to explain that directing guests with negative experiences to a customer support channel instead of a review page constitutes the gating of reviews. There is no grey area with Tripadvisor: avoid gating reviews on this platform.
Yelp’s policies outline that businesses shouldn’t solicit reviews on their platform at all, let alone selectively. Per Yelp, “Your best bet to get positive, unbiased reviews about your business is by providing a high-quality, memorable customer experience—without any expectation or encouragement of a review in return.”
Is it illegal to gate reviews?
If you don’t want to get slapped with a hefty fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that’s another good reason to stay away from gating reviews. Consumer protection laws are rapidly changing to meet a changing, increasingly digitally mediated consumer landscape.
The FTC’s business guidance resources state that businesses should not ask for reviews only from people they believe will leave positive ones (in other words, review gating). They also advise businesses not to prevent or discourage customers from submitting negative reviews.
Failing to follow these guidelines can be detrimental.
Weighing the risks and benefits
So far about the Google review gating policy, the policies of other major platforms, and what the FTC have to say about the practice. However, there is clearly some serious benefit to be gained from gating reviews. Otherwise, major businesses wouldn’t engage in the practice. In the interest of being totally transparent, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this practice, so that you can judge for yourself whether it’s ever worth it.
- Control the narrative. Review gating is appealing because it seems to give businesses a way to control the narrative around their product or service. Negative reviews can sometimes be unfair or misrepresentative. By focusing solely on positive reviews, businesses can maintain a positive, flattering perception of their brand.
- Increase sales. There’s no denying that positive reviews play a role in boosting conversions. It’s easy to understand why businesses are incentivized to show positive reviews since those reviews can lead to more sales.
- Avoid negative SEO. While this belief is misguided, many businesses perceive that having more positive reviews will improve their SEO performance. This can be the case if the reviews are authentic. If unethical tactics are used, it can backfire.
- Improve brand reputation. Online reputation management is a focus for businesses today, since how they are perceived online has material implications for how well their business performs. Reviews are the cornerstone of any great reputation management strategy, so the incentive to showcase positive reviews is strong.
- Avoid libelous reviews. By review gating on Google and other platforms, businesses can avoid getting negative reviews that tread into libelous or otherwise illegal territory. While these can generally be removed, businesses may believe it’s easier to never receive them in the first place.
- It’s dishonest. Honesty and transparency are valued by today’s consumers. Gating reviews is evidently a dishonest practice. Businesses may think that customers can’t tell, but consumers actually perceive exclusively positive reviews as seeming inauthentic. Having some negative reviews in the mix is more authentic and honest.
- It violates policies and laws.
- It breaks trust. Trust takes a lot of time and resources to build and can be broken in a flash. You may have a fantastic product, excellent customer service, and an engaging social media presence, but if you develop a reputation for suppressing negative reviews, it calls that good reputation into question.
- It can decrease sales. If customers don’t trust that the reviews for a product or service are reputable, they’ll move on to an alternative that feels more authentic. The result can be damaging on bottom line, and coming back from the damage can take a long time.
- Damages SEO. There is overlap between local reputation management and SEO, particularly when it comes to local SEO performance. If you violate the Google review gating policy, don’t be surprised if your SEO rankings plummet as a result.
- It disincentivizes engagement. If customers believe that the reviews for a business are inauthentic, they will be less incentivized to participate, even if they would have left a positive review. Having a variety of honest reviews conveys the message that all feedback is welcome and encouraged.
- Less constructive feedback. Constructive criticism can be much more valuable than positive reviews, as nice as they are to receive. By discouraging critical reviews, businesses forfeit the opportunity to learn about how they can improve their product or service. In the long run, this only hurts their business. They also miss out on the chance to respond to negative reviews publicly, which can build trust and credibility.
Gating reviews isn’t worth it
The temptation to practice review gating is understandable: Negative reviews can send a negative reputational message, and no business owner or marketing manager likes to see them.
However, gating reviews or failing to display critical reviews is never a good idea. The risks, from getting booted off major platforms and facing fines to breaking the trust of customers and losing sales, are too great.
The best way to get more positive reviews and bury the negative ones is to offer a good product or service and to ensure that customer expectations accurately align with reality. Having a review management program in place to regularly solicit reviews of all kinds will result in plenty of positive ones, even if a few negatives slip in.
We offer solutions like Customer Voice and make it easy to do this at scale, without breaking any policies or laws.