What is review gating and its impact on your brand reputation?

Edge Team
October 14, 2022
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Review gating, sometimes known as cherry-picking reviews, is the practice of encouraging customers to leave positive feedback and discouraging negative reviews on platforms like Google. Businesses with a 4 to 5-star rating earn an additional 28% in annual revenue, so it's not hard to understand the negative impact of bad reviews on overall sales.

But as we'll soon see, companies that go out of their way to prohibit negative reviews from airing not only break laws but also cripple their long-term business growth.

In this post, we'll break down review gating, diving into why it's unethical and the consequences. We'll also discuss effective ways to earn positive reviews that won't get your service-based business in trouble.

Review gating: The wrong answer to a right question

When was the last time you patronized a service with poor reviews? If you're like 93% of customers, your answer is probably close to never.

Online customer feedback like Google Reviews are now a critical part of our daily lives, and most people won't watch a movie or even visit a gym without first seeing what others think. Reviews help us make critical decisions, and the question for businesses is naturally, "how can we get great online reviews." For many companies, the answer, unfortunately, is review gating.

How review gating works is that businesses first reach out to their customers, asking about their experience. You have probably received prompts like these, whether in-app or via email.

Customers with a great experience – 4 and 5 stars – are given links to leave a review on sites like Google. Individuals with bad experiences don't get the same links. Instead, they are prompted to share their negative experience directly with the company so they can be resolved. In this way, the businesses set up a review gate, effectively prohibiting negative reviews from ever being published.

The result? Only positive online reviews end up on the company‘s profile.

Research has shown that the average rating of reviews for businesses who requested them was 4.34 out of 5, significantly higher than the average rating of unsolicited reviews, at 3.89 out of 5.

Sometimes, businesses don't just selectively solicit positive reviews. They also choose to display only favorable reviews on their websites and hide negative ratings. Even though this style of reviewing isn't strictly regulated by Google (since the Alphabet company does not host it), it's still frowned upon.

Before we dive into the consequences of review gating, let's look at why it's damaging to customer experiences and business.

Why review gating is bad

It is unethical

By consciously hiding negative reviews, businesses hide their service's true satisfaction level. Some consider review gating a (not so significant) step higher than fake reviews. They both involve some form of manipulation and they are both designed to mislead potential customers.

Imagine if you visited a restaurant with overwhelmingly positive reviews only to meet rude staff, bad food, and a dining area with substandard hygiene. Besides feeling betrayed, you would have lost money that could have otherwise gone to a business that truly deserved your patronage.

That experience will likely also motivate you to save others from the same fate, which brings us to the next point.

Review gating propagates more negative reviews

Customers value transparency, which means they tend to talk about it when they don't receive it. By blocking out negative reviews, review gating creates unrealistic expectations that erode customer trust when they aren't met. And nobody loves to leave a review more than an unsatisfied customer.

Good luck managing all those negative reviews without getting caught by Google.

Google Reviews policy on review gating

According to an official help article on Google reviews gating policy, you have to ask everyone for a review and not just cherry-pick which customers you believe will leave positive feedback. Reviews suspected of violating this policy can be removed from your Google My Business listing.

This may sound like an acceptable risk until you consider the impact on your business's credibility. One Google My Business profile lost up to 80% of its reviews due to gating. What's even more troubling is that many of the reviews were up to four years old, meaning they were retroactively removed before the Google review gating policy was updated.

Besides the number of positive ratings, customers also check the total number of reviews obtained by a business. With few reviews, you risk your business being perceived as new or untested, costing you even more customers in the long run.

Score great reviews the right way

There's really only one way to interpret these policies – you have to show both good and bad user reviews. However, your business can still build up excellent positive reviews on Google without violating any policies. Here are a couple of ideas.

Ask for reviews

Many customers will forget to leave you reviews (up to 95%, according to some studies) until you ask, so emailing them with a review link is a great first step. Some review sites prohibit businesses from directly asking for reviews.

Luckily, there is nothing in Google's policy that stops you from asking for a positive review or automating customer review requests once the customer completes a transaction. Which means you can ask as many customers as you get.

This is several steps removed from review gating because you're sending customers directly to Google, regardless of their review. If you do it right, you shouldn't even know what their review will say. But hopefully you should expect a positive rating thanks to your fantastic service.

Add QR codes to your receipts

If you're a brick-and-mortar business, consider including QR codes leading to review sites on your receipts and product packaging. These are highly effective because you have a zero chance of getting stuck in the promotional folder, and customers can leave a review immediately after they receive the package.

Since many people love supporting local businesses, they would have no problems sharing their positive experiences online.

Use a customer communication platform

Customer communication platforms can make collecting customer feedback much easier and even help you avoid negative reviews WITHOUT review gating. Edge, for example, can help your business collect more positive reviews by using our automated post-visit follow-ups.

These actively reach out to your customers after encountering your business and remind them to leave feedback. By using Edge, your customers can quickly leave you reviews without having to download any apps or forms. Review links are included in the first message to your customers, making it easier for them to leave a review and eliminating any possibility of review gating.

We also have a customer follow-up option that allows you to fix customer complaints and improve your service delivery. To do this, Edge helps you maintain active communication with customers via SMS chat so that you can receive feedback in real-time, address them, improve customer satisfaction, and gain more positive reviews.

This commitment to making customers happy will also lower the chances that they’ll leave you a negative review and eliminate the need for review gating.

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