Google just updated its review guidelines for Google My Business users who collect reviews from customers. This applies to the user-generated content that shows as star ratings and customer reviews on Google platforms such as search results and map results. This April 12, 2018 update included specific guidelines on review gating, which is filtering candidates before asking them to leave you a message.

The following criteria apply to the indicated format in addition to the Prohibited Content policies.

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

Google Review Gating Guidelines 1

Is review gating part of your review management 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 violating Google’s new review guidelines.

Businesses who use Reputation Loop to manage, monitor, and market their online reviews don’t have to worry as Reputation Loop features an option that keeps your reviews in compliance with Google’s New Review Guidelines.

Googles New Review Guidelines SM

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

Historically, the penalty for violating Google’s review guidelines is the removal of reviews collected while violating the policy. For example, if Google discovered a company was paying for reviews, they would remove all reviews received from the date they suspected the unethical incentives started as such incentives violate the review guidelines.

Take a look at your current process for gathering reviews and make sure you aren’t using language or review funnels that send only the best, five-star reviews to review sites. Review gating generally looks like this:

  1. You send a message to a customer that asks 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 negative, they are given a feedback form that is sent to the business or a link to contact the business with none of the direction or encouragement given to positive customers to leave a review online.

Google views this type of review funnel as a way to artificially inflate a positive online presence that is not a true representation of the customer experience.

So, what do you do if your process could be seen as review gating?

Whether you personally reach out to customers or you are using automated software, check the message you are sending to customers. Ensure that all customers are given options to leave reviews and/or give feedback regardless of their pre-selected experience.

Why Google Thinks Review Gating is Bad

Google’s business philosophy is to give the customer (that is search users, not businesses) information they need and information they trust so they always come back Google. Customer reviews are the currency in a trust economy that influences where people spend their time and spend their money.

To remain THE one-stop-shop for all things internet search related Google needs to attract, satisfy and retain its users.  Google needs search users to trust the reviews that are posted on Google platforms to accomplish this. To stay a trusted source of reviews, they want to deter review gathering practices such as review gating that inflate the number of good reviews while suppressing the number of bad reviews.

There are a lot of players in the online review game – customers, future customers, businesses, marketers, review sites, review management software, search engines and advertisers. No matter your position or perspective, the guidelines are set to maintain the high level of influence reviews have on consumer actions (which is great for everyone) by protecting the trust that consumers have that a collection of reviews is a true representation of what they can expect.

Committed to Maintaining Trust in Reviews

You know that having reviews online as social proof for future customers is vital to the success of your business. Following Google’s new review guidelines keeps the reviews you earned where they can be seen, so your online reputation is marketing your business 24/7. Don’t let a violation remove all the hard work you’ve put in earning the reviews you have posted online.

We support Google’s guidelines for prioritizing trust in reviews and protecting the power of reviews. Part of trusting Reputation Loop to manage your reviews is knowing that we stay up-to-date with the latest developments on how to best gather, post, and market your business reviews. Automating your online review management helps you stay in compliance with the review sites, like Google, that matter most to your business.

 

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Zach_Color_Trans_small_CroppedAbout The Author

Zach Anderson is the co-founder of Reputation Loop (helping small businesses grow by generating customer feedback and online reviews) who loves online marketing and golf.