What is review gating and why should you not do it?
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In an age when maintaining an excellent online reputation is absolutely necessary and also challenging, businesses sometimes tend to adopt prohibited practices. Review gating is among those. Considering that reviews constitute an important part of the consumers’ purchase decisions, it has become inevitable for businesses to ensure that they portray an authentic and positive online image at all costs. Did you know that 93 percent of the customers first consider reading online reviews and then they make their purchase decisions? What if they come across only positive reviews and no negative reviews? Well, then it is a possibility that the business is gating reviews. But what exactly is review gating? Keep reading to find out!
What is review gating?
Review gating is the process of filtering positive experiences of consumers, and suppressing unsatisfactory experiences, in order to demonstrate a positive online presence. When a customer indicates a positive experience, he/she is directed to a portal to leave a review. But what happens when a customer indicates a negative experience? In that case, the review left by the customer will not be made public.
Example 1: “Hey, thank you for visiting us. Please leave us a review to help us serve you better.”
Example 2: “Hey, thank you for choosing us as your service provider. Did you like our service?”
(Customer responds “yes”)
“Great, then please leave us a review!”
Do you see the difference between the two review requests? While the first one is for all customers, the second one is trying to filter the people who have had a good experience with the business. Here, the word “then” is problematic. The business that is manipulating the reviews is engaging in review gating.
Gating reviews simply means deceiving the customers. Here are some common scenarios that demonstrate the gating of reviews:
- Screening customers to determine positive experience and asking only those to leave reviews
- Incentivising people to leave good reviews about their business
- Routing respondents to review sites that have a high NPS or CSAT score for the business
- Parking negative reviews and not making those public
Is review gating illegal?
Yes, review gating is illegal. Well, let’s understand this with a recent case.
In January 2022, the Federal Trade Commission imposed a $4.2 billion penalty on Fashion Nova, an online fashion retailer, for manipulating reviews. What this business did was the misinterpretation of product reviews. The business further claimed that the website contained reviews of all the purchases. In reality, they were suppressing reviews that had a star rating of less than 4 out of 5. The retailer never posted those reviews and rather parked them for ‘company approval’. They faced consequences in the form of a hefty fine and a stain on their online reputation. The FTC is quite strict with the review policies and hence it is advisable that you do not practice review gating at any costs.
What does the FTC say?
As per the Federal Trade Commission, businesses should not simply ask for reviews from people by pre-screening their experiences. Instead, they should be unbiased in this regard and accept reviews from all customers, whether they’ve had a good or bad experience. FTC says that negative reviews are equally important. Not only do they open ways for you to enhance your services but also make your business look authentic to your potential customers. If a customer comes across your business and sees 50 reviews, all good ones, all 5-star reviews; then your business will appear too good to be true, and there goes your customer! When you receive a bad review, how you deal with that customer and how you respond to the review is what makes all the difference.
The Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed to stop businesses from preventing customers from leaving honest reviews. However, review gating was a grey area and though it was unethical in nature, it was not straightforwardly illegal. Then the FTC made some changes in the framework and released guidelines with the intention to take strict action against businesses that were manipulating reviews.
Google’s review gating policy
In its Terms of Service, Google says that it is not advisable to discourage or disallow negative reviews or solicit positive reviews. But what is it that can happen if a business engages in review gating? If Google finds out about a business that is quite actively soliciting negative reviews and only posting positive reviews, then Google will delete ALL the reviews. All of them. So, if you are also thinking of dealing with negative reviews in this way, then it is time that you sit down and re-formulate your strategies.
Yelp believes in the rightful creation of online reputation and hence has policies based on the same. The recommendation software of Yelp is designed in such a manner that it highlights reviews that are genuine. It identifies reviews that have been requested and doesn’t recommend those. According to Yelp, here are some best practices that businesses should follow:
- Do not offer discounts or freebies in exchange for reviews.
- Don’t ask friends or family members to leave reviews.
- Do not encourage your employees to compete in the collection of reviews.
- Do not ask for reviews after you’ve collected feedback through contact forms or survey forms.
Risks associated with review gating
Review gating is frowned upon and is a highly risky practice. If you engage in the same, here are the consequences that follow:
- You lose the trust of your customers: What is the whole point of asking for reviews from your customers? It is to build a positive brand image so that potential customers can put their trust in you and avail services that many other happy customers have. If you demonstrate positive reviews that paint a rosy picture of your business, but customers do not have an experience similar to what they read online, you simply lose trust.
- Your business can be penalised: Just like we pointed out earlier, many reviews such as Google and Yelp prohibit review gating. Engaging in such a pratice can lead to a hefty penalty like Fashion Nova did. These review sites deploy tools that can detect solicited reviews and can even delete them all. So, by engaging in review gating, you’re also putting all the genuine customer experiences at the risk of permanent deletion.
- Your online reputation can be tarnished: It takes years worth of hard work to build an online reputation, and once spoiled, all that effort goes to waste. So, if you are on the path to building and growing your online reputation; then you must engage in practices that are genuine. Review gating isn’t going to benefit you anyway. It will only worsen your chances of acquiring more customers and generating revenue.
Review gating is a practice that is illegal and possesses the potential to bring you down. So it is best to stay away from prohibited activities and pursue the right path to build customer trust. Remember that negative reviews are as important as positive reviews as they help you evolve and become more competent. If you feel that you are receiving negative reviews that can be from your competitors, or if you receive reviews that are inappropriate in any sense, you can flag those for addressal by the concerned review platform. So have some sound review generation strategies in place, learn to respond to negative reviews, and ask for reviews from all your customers. Make the most of what people say about you!