Google’s New Review Policy – Review Gating

review gatingOn April 12 2018, Google updated its review guidelines for Google My Business users who collect reviews from customers with a single line of text.

“Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”

This applies to the user-generated content that shows star ratings and customer reviews on Google platforms such as search results and map results. This recent update included guidelines on “review gating”, which is filtering customers between satisfied and unsatisfied customers, before asking them to write a review.

Is review gating part of your review acquisition process?

If your business actively contacts customers by phone, email, or text to encourage satisfied customers to leave Google reviews while encouraging customers who didn’t have a positive experience to do something else like contact customer service or management directly, then you are review gating and you could be violating Google’s new review guidelines.

Businesses who use Glowing Rep to manage, monitor & market their various online reviews don’t have to worry as Glowing Rep features an option that is compliant with Google’s New Guidelines.

How Does Google’s New Review Guidelines Affect Small Business Owners?

In the past, the penalty for violating Google’s review guidelines is the removal of reviews collected whilst in violation. E.g if Google found out that a company was paying for reviews, they would remove those reviews the business received from the date that they suspected the unethical incentives commenced.

Here is the current process for collecting reviews. Businesses need to ensure that they aren’t using language or review funnels that send only the top, positive or five-star reviews to Google.

Review gating will basically look like this:

  1. Messaging a customer and asking if their experience was positive or negative.
  2. If they say it was positive, the customer is directed to leave a review online.
  3. If they say it was not positive or negative, they are given a feedback form that is then sent directly to that business, with zero encouragement to leave a third party review on Google etc.

Google views Review Gating as artificially inflating positive reviews, and not necessarily a true indication of an average customer experience.

One possible reason why Google has implemented this additional guideline to its review policy is to mitigate their own liability under ICPEN’s (International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network) international guidelines for review administrators, which states:

  • be equal and fair in the collection of reviews (NO GATING)
  • be alert and proactive in the moderation of reviews
  • be transparent in the publication of reviews (NO FILTERING of negative reviews).

What does Google’s new review gating policy mean?

Like most things Google, this new policy is fairly vague and leaves a lot of room for actual interpretation.  Google has a long history of writing vague policy statements, which act as a deterrent & also leave Google space to amend them in the future.

Phil Rozek (LocalVisibilitySystem) did a great analysis of the new review policy “rule” & presented several possible ways to look at it, ranging from the lenient:

  • “It’s OK to ask your happy customers for reviews as long as you let them know they can leave a negative review if they want.”

Or:

  • We don’t care who you ask but don’t try to control star ratings or review content.

To the strict:

  • “Ask all or none of your clients for reviews. Don’t tell them what to say. Pretend rating stars don’t exist”.

To the ambiguous:

  • “You shouldn’t ‘selectively solicit’ or ‘discourage or prohibit’ reviews, but we’re leaving this open to your interpretation”.

You could for example still use the review gating process as a first step in ensuring customer satisfaction and try to smooth over a dis-satisfied customer, before asking them for a review and make a case that you are still compliant.

Whether you manually reach out to your customers or you’re using an automated software, ensure that all customers are given the option to leave a review or give feedback regardless of whether their experience was positive or negative.

You can still Review Gate on Other sites

Remember that these guidelines only apply to Google reviews. Google is the undisputed champion of online reviews, but they’re far from the only game in town.