Picture this: Your business just released a new line of products, and the buzz online has been overwhelmingly positive. However, a few unhappy customer reviews are tainting your perfect record. The “delete review” button is right there, calling your name. Should you press it?
When you filter out negative reviews and keep only the positive, you’re partaking in something called review gating. While some may think ensuring a 5/5-star reputation will do wonders for a brand, this practice can actually distort a company’s image, undermine customer trust, and even lead to serious consequences.
To help you understand the impact of review gating, we’ll be exploring what it is, why you should avoid it, and how you should deal with customer reviews of every stripe.
Table of Contents
- What is review gating?
- Google’s policy on review gating
- The delicate balance between your brand and consumer trust
- Are there consequences for gating reviews?
- How to manage good and bad reviews
What is Review Gating?
As the name suggests, review gating is the act of creating a “gate” that all reviews have to pass through. Customers with positive sentiments make it through the gate and can post freely online. Customers who hint at negativity will be removed or redirected away from public forums.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario to illustrate review gating in action:
Let’s say you placed an order for a new pair of shoes. One week after receiving your sneakers, the company emails you with a review request. The first question is a simple yes or no: “Are you satisfied with your purchase?”
- If you click “yes,” you’ll reach the company’s website, where you can leave your positive (and very public) review.
- However, if you click “no,” you’ll be funneled to a private form that asks you to share your negative feedback. While the company will see your constructive criticisms, other customers never will.
Through this sneaky practice, the shoe company will amass only positive reviews on its site. This falls under the umbrella of review gating. Deleting negative reviews and incentivizing good reviews are other forms of this problematic practice.
Google’s Policy on Review Gating
When it comes to review gating, Google has its own thoughts on the matter. The world’s most popular search engine takes an anti review gating stance, listing misrepresentation and fake engagement on its list of prohibited and restricted content.
Google further encourages truthful review practices by:
- Making it impossible to turn off Google reviews
- Giving businesses a mechanism for reporting spam and fake reviews
- Using machine-learning algorithms to identify unusual review behavior
The Delicate Balance Between Your Brand and Consumer Trust
Of course, there’s a reason why review gating is even a topic of debate: It’s tempting. After all, who doesn’t want page upon page of glowing 5-star ratings?
However, as appealing as a perfect streak of reviews is for building your brand, it can also be a giant red flag. Today’s customers can sniff out review manipulation and false engagement like digital bloodhounds. They know that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. At the end of the day, authenticity means more to your customer than a perfect score.
Ultimately, reputation management comes down to whether you value consumer trust or brand image more. And with more than 80% of consumers claiming that trust is a vital factor in their shopping decisions, it should be clear which one is more important. Being a likable, trustworthy brand means doing everything you can to generate authentic positive reviews—while owning up to the bad and the ugly.
Think about when you shop around online. You probably want to see a few negative comments to learn more about your potential purchase. Well, your customers are the same. When you discourage or prohibit negative reviews, you hide the “other side of the coin” that consumers rely on to make informed decisions.
Are There Consequences for Gating Reviews?
Review gating may seem relatively harmless, but it comes with its share of repercussions.
First, there’s the question of legality. Consumer protection laws around review gating may be a little behind the curve, but they’re quickly catching up. Although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t explicitly say that review gating is illegal, the organization is cracking down on dishonest review practices. In 2022, the FTC fined e-tailer Fashion Nova $4.2 million for suppressing negative reviews—and it’s coming for other companies, too.
While smaller businesses are unlikely to attract the attention of the FTC, there are still consequences for cherry-picking reviews. If Google catches you padding your Google reviews, they can (and will) delete all of your comments. Additionally, your SEO rankings may suffer.
Finally, some of the worst consequences for review gating are in the court of public opinion. Customers who suspect that your ratings have been manipulated or manufactured are less likely to shop with you.
How to Manage Good and Bad Reviews
So, how should you handle online reviews? Let’s look at best practices for managing the three kinds of ratings:
- The Good – These are your 5-star shoutouts. You may not need to rectify anything, but you should still engage with positive feedback. Responding with a quick thank-you note or message of gratitude is a perfect way to use relationship marketing to your advantage.
- The Bad – These are reviews from your somewhat dissatisfied customers—maybe the fit was slightly off, or their delivery took too long. When responding to negative reviews, it’s essential to respond quickly with an apology and an offer to resolve any issues.
- The Ugly – These are your really bad reviews. We’re talking 1-star, full-of-curse-word comments. In these cases, it’s best to move the interaction away from the private space by offering to work toward a resolution via email or DM—after apologizing, that is.
Notice how this isn’t review gating. You’re still leaving the review intact, but you’re continuing the conversation in private.
Ultimately, no matter how much those 2-star ratings sting, you should abstain from review gating. At best, you’ll lose consumer trust; at worst, the FTC could come knocking.
Instead, think of those negative reviews as beneficial. They’re reminders to do better next time. They’re opportunities to show future customers that you take feedback seriously. They’re indicators of transparency that say, “Sure, we make mistakes, too—but we strive to make them right.” Now that’s the behavior of a brand you can trust.
At Human, we know a thing or two about instilling trust and loyalty. We’re all about helping your organization thrive through honest, innovative marketing and creative branding. Drop us a line today to find out more about our 5-star services.