The term totally makes you think of dark suited figures sneaking through an office in the middle of the night with flashlights, rifling through file cabinets looking for bad reviews and then tearing them viciously into little pieces that gather in piles on the carpeted floor like paper snowdrifts. All Watergate references aside, this is not a far off description for what “review gating” actually is, and why Google is cracking down on it like the US Justice Department cracked down on the Nixon Administration back in 1972.
So let’s start with what review gating actually means.
Review gating is the act of requesting online reviews and then utilizing a mechanism to suppress negative reviews while only accepting positive reviews. It goes something like this:
- We do business together.
- I send you an email asking you for a review with a link to click.
- The link takes you to a page that asks you to rate how we did on a scale, like 1 to 5 stars.
- If you choose five stars, you are then redirected to another page with a link to leave your review on the review site of choice, typically Google or Facebook.
- If you choose 4 stars or less, you are redirected to a page where you can describe why your experience was not optimal. This form is then emailed to me and you are told “thank you for your feedback” but you are not given the option of leaving a review.
See what happened there? The business wants only positive reviews so they set up a “gate” to see how you felt about them before requesting the review. You think we did a perfect job? Excellent! Please tell the world. You think we did less than perfect? OK, please explain why you feel this way so that we can do better next time or make it right.
If you are reading this and wondering why anyone would go through all this trouble for a little old review, then you probably haven’t been paying much attention to how online search looks these days. A quick search for any sort of business of Google frequently yields results of local businesses with big bright stars next to their names.
It’s like a kindergarten talent show out there and if you’re the business with the least amount of star stickers, you usually lose that potential client to your competitor who has more stars than you. And heaven help you if you are the business who has only one or two reviews and both of them are negative! These Google reviews are in your face and seriously impact consumer behavior, so businesses have been paying a lot of attention to them lately and doing everything they can to get more and better reviews because they know there is a direct correlation between online reviews and income.
Thus, businesses that understand how important reviews are to their business are willing to go to great lengths to acquire them and keep them perfect. Review gating has been around for years and has been fairly popular because it serves 2 purposes - It not only helps get only good reviews for the business, but it also provides a mechanism for unhappy clients to vent and for the business to gather valuable feedback. It seems like a win-win system, right?
You see, since Google’s goal is to provide the best results possible when people search for something. That’s why Google is Google, right? They are really good at providing relevant and accurate results for virtually any search query you can think of. Well, as described above, reviews are now a big part of that search experience. So what if someone does a search and ends up with a business who is just really good at review gating, but not necessarily the actual best result for that person searching? Google values authenticity and accuracy, so it’s a question of egalitarianism, and Google does not take kindly to people trying to game their system.
Google is very clear about their stance against review gating in their guidelines, and many SEOs have documented Google taking recourse against suspected review gaters by removing a large quantity of reviews from their listing.
So what are you supposed to do?
Just ask everyone for a review and hope you did a good enough job that they leave you a great review?
The process remains the same: send clients an email with a link to leave a review, except this time the review buttons and the feedback form are on the same page and the client decides on their own whether or not they leave a review or send feedback.
Yes, this means you might get a bad review, but it also may mean you get a good one. That’s the risk you take, but the reward is a higher number or reviews which drives purchasing decisions. And look, if you have a google my business listing on Google, people can leave you a review at anytime whether or not you request it, so if someone wants to leave you a bad review there’s pretty much no stopping that. In fact, it can be argued that sending out a review request that sends them to a page where they can submit a form to complain may decrease the chance of them taking their gripe to Google reviews instead of straight to you.
In the end, whether or not you agree with Google dictating your behavior when it comes to how you gather reviews, it is their platform so their rules. The right thing to focus on though is numbers - When you have 50 reviews you’re not as worried about the 1 bad one. And it’s not just for your own peace of mind, your potential customers are likely to make a judgement call on you just from the number of reviews you have, not the reviews themselves. If you are the business with a 100 reviews when your competitor has 1 or none, then you are highly likely to get that person’s business based on sheer volume alone, not on the actual content of the reviews.
So don’t be a crook. Ask everyone for a review and stay out of offices in the middle of the night, it never ends well.