Thanks to the Internet of Things, you can research everything online, and most people use Google to answer their questions about how negative reviews affect your business. Reviews and ratings are the go-to informants for any bad reputation signals, such as poor quality, bad customer service, or other grievances. However, many companies maneuvered around bad reviews with a process now known as review gating.
Review gating is when companies direct customers to leave good reviews, and customers with negative experiences are asked to send complaints directly to the company through a form.
Typically, this occurs when companies want reviews and ask customers if they had a good experience. However, if a customer replies they had a good experience, they are directed to leave a review.
If a customer initially reports a bad experience, the company sends them to a private form instead of leaving a review. This is done to protect the company’s online reputation by weeding out negative reviews so that potential customers never see them. The result is that a company builds a fake “positive” reputation while sweeping the dirt under the rug.
It’s also against Google’s new Prohibited Content policy.
What are Examples of Review Gating
There are actually multiple review gating examples that are prohibited by Google and other search engines. These include:
- Using a program to request reviews starting off with a sentiment question. This lets the company know whether it’s likely a customer will leave a positive or negative review. If your sentiment is positive, the customer will be linked to a review site to leave their positive feedback.
- Survey companies have made a business out of review gating by selectively routing survey responders to review sites based on how they responded to questions. Happy customers leave reviews, and disgruntled customers are never heard from (at least on Google).
- Some companies offer incentives for positive reviews. This results in skewed feedback for the purposes of just getting a freebie.
Of course, searchers are looking for real customer experiences, so they want to see the good with the bad. Unfortunately, it’s also hard for companies to get off the ground when customers leave bad reviews, even if it is not reflective of the overall experience.
What Does Google Do to Review-Gating Companies?
Google has begun punishing companies who are engaging in review gating activities by removing reviews and ratings, as well as lowering your search ranking.
However, these punishments are not set in stone, and it’s hard to prove review gating is happening unless you are actively telling customers not to leave negative reviews. The goal is for companies to encourage customers to talk about their experiences, whether it was positive or negative.
What Can Businesses Do Instead of Review Gating for Good Online Reputation Scores
No matter how you look at this new policy and what you have done to get reviews in the past, you should look at your customer experiences and find common responses, whether positive or negative. Is there a particular feature that doesn’t work? Is shipping slow? Do they constantly report poor customer service? It’s important to look at reviews objectively and craft a plan to get ahead of negative feedback.
Here are some steps to take to avoid review gating while still maintaining an excellent online reputation with your customers:
Reply to Every Review
Customers want to be noticed and heard when they leave a review, whether positive or negative. You can create a “response library” in Google Sheets with common customer questions and answers, as well as neutral replies to negate poor reviews.
For example, a customer goes to a local restaurant and leaves a review on Google that the food was cold, resulting in a 2/5 star rating. A typical response to negate this would look as follows:
Hi [Customer Name], I’m the restaurant manager, and I want to apologize for the experience you had. Our business is built upon excellent food quality. Please contact us at [email protected] so we can make this up to you ASAP.
The reply shows sincerity and offers a resolution to the customer.
Use a Response Library
When it comes to social media posts and ads, many comments are actually questions about the product, and some of these comments may be inflammatory, such as “I’ve heard of this. Isn’t it a scam?”
Even in this situation, you can craft the perfect response in advance using a response library. In column A, you list all questions relevant to your online campaigns. In column B, list all of the proper customer service replies. These should be insightful, courteous, and on-brand replies that guide potential customers back to your products.
Try Surveys or Email Marketing for Reviews, but Allow All Reviews
You can still use email marketing to ask for reviews or even try a survey program to survey large quantities of people for reviews. However, you can’t direct them to leave only positive reviews or route negative responders to another form instead of Google reviews. If you are sending people to review your content, you have to accept the good and the bad.