Review gating in the trust economy: Why Google & Birdeye are against it

Aanchal Narad

11 min read Last Updated Sep 5, 2023

review gating

Nowadays, businesses know how important reviews are in a customer’s search for a local business. Many businesses feel pressured to try to influence reviews in their favor.

However, by manipulating the review process, they undermine the very value reviews hold: trust. In April 2018, Google updated its review guidelines for businesses collecting customer reviews. Among the new changes was banning a practice known as “review gating.” Both Google and Birdeye are against review gating.

As Google states alongside its Prohibited Content policy: Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.

This article thoroughly explores everything wrong with review gating and why businesses should not do it.

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What is review gating?

Review gating refers to when a company only sends happy customers to review sites. Unhappy customers are filtered out to prevent negative reviews.

Those who say they had a positive experience are redirected to a form where they can easily post an online review. In contrast, those who say they had a negative experience are sent to the business’s website to leave a comment privately. The result is a deceivingly positive rating for the business that may not represent actual customer opinion.

The trust economy relies on genuine customer feedback to make informed decisions. Customers today rely heavily on online reviews and ratings to assess the reputation and quality of businesses. When review gating is used, it distorts the accuracy of these reviews, presenting an inflated positive image while suppressing negative feedback.

How do businesses gate reviews?

There are multiple ways businesses can ‘gate’ reviews. Here are a few examples:

  • Using software to preface each review request with a sentiment question. Were you satisfied with your experience? Yes/No”, then only sending those who say “Yes” to review sites to share feedback.
  • Selectively routing survey respondents to review sites based on their responses. Most survey companies allow businesses to set up “skip and display” logic, sending unhappy customers to different questions than happy customers. Using this, businesses can get away with only asking happy customers for reviews. 
  • Asking only those customers to leave a review who you think will leave positive feedback face-to-face and refrain from asking unsatisfied customers for feedback.
  • Offering incentives for positive reviews. This results in biased positive feedback that needs to reflect real customer experiences.

Review gating example

Selectively asking customers for feedback or reviews based on their positive experiences can create a skewed perception of a company’s reputation.

As the process of review gating involves filtering out negative reviews before publicly posting, it is misleading. 

Here’s an example of review gating:

Imagine a newly opened restaurant, “Taste Haven,” which wants to boost its online reputation. To achieve this, they implement a review gating strategy for their online review platforms.

The general positive review path:

  • When a customer dines at Taste Haven and has a delightful experience, the staff encourages them to leave a review.
  • The restaurant hands out business cards or sends follow-up emails with links to review sites, specifically requesting positive feedback.
  • If the customer clicks on the link and gives a positive review, they are directed to the respective review platform where they can share their experience.

Negative review path:

If a customer has a negative experience, the staff doesn’t ask for feedback or direct them to review sites.

Instead, the restaurant management may reach out to the disgruntled customer to resolve the issue privately without prompting them to post a public review.

The Issue:

While review gating may seem like an effective way to enhance a business’s online image, it has raised ethical concerns and has been against the guidelines of review platforms.

A screenshot from Google's Prohibited and restricted content. It shows Birdeye and Google are against review gating.

Why is such review gating controversial? 

  • Misleading representation: Review gating can skew the overall rating of a business, presenting an inflated positive image and hiding genuine customer grievances.
  • Unfair advantage: Businesses engaging in review gating gain an unfair advantage over competitors who don’t employ such practices, leading to an uneven playing field.
  • Trust and credibility: Review gating undermines the trust and credibility of online review platforms as users might not have faith in the authenticity of the reviews.
  • Violation of platform policies: As mentioned earlier, review gating violates the guidelines of many review platforms, which can lead to penalties or the removal of the business from the platform.

That is why Birdeye preaches to businesses only to request reviews, not “positive” reviews only. Focus on providing excellent products or services and encourage customers to leave honest feedback without manipulation. 

Emphasizing transparency and genuine customer satisfaction will ultimately build trust and reputation in the long run.

Why is Google against gating reviews?

Google’s mission is to provide users with relevant, trustworthy information. Customer’s Google reviews are at the core of the trust Google strives to foster. These reviews describe authentic experiences from unbiased sources.

Reviews help consumers find the best local businesses; reviews and ratings impact how local businesses rank in Google search results. By not allowing review gating, Google intends to keep the integrity and power of reviews intact.

Does Birdeye allow review gating?

No. Birdeye does not allow review gating. Read Section 5 of our Terms of Service for complete details.

Birdeye collaborated with the Google Maps team and updated Birdeye to comply with the new review gating rules.

We have also launched several new features to crack down on fake reviews. These include:

  • Stricter user authentication for Birdeye reviews using a Google or Facebook login
  • Tighter review content relevance requirements
  • Enhanced spam and slander detection algorithms

Businesses that use Birdeye to collect and manage reviews know all the reviews they receive are authentic and ungated. They can rest assured that customers and prospective customers trust those reviews to be a genuine representation of their business.

Birdeye’s review generation process

Businesses using Birdeye can get new reviews using three different workflows. Google has validated all of these workflows.

1. Sends review requests to all your customers

Birdeye integrates with 300+ CRMs and customer management software to automate the workflow. Right after a customer visits a local business, they automatically receive a review request email or text. The customer can write a review on a third-party site. All these options are provided to all customers, regardless of their sentiment (positive or negative).

review request

2. Combines customer experience and third- party reviews

Many of the businesses we work with want to measure their Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) at every touchpoint in the customer journey. 

While collecting this internal NPS/CSAT data, these businesses also want third-party customer reviews. Birdeye allows businesses to set up 2-in-1 customer experience templates to measure satisfaction internally while simultaneously soliciting reviews on third-party sites.

The key distinction here is that if the business decides to include third-party review requests in its customer experience template, they must be sent to all customers, regardless of how they score the business on NPS or CSAT.

no review gating

3. Combines surveys and third-party reviews

Many of our small business and enterprise clients want in-depth insights into their customer experience. Birdeye allows them to create custom surveys at every customer journey touchpoint. 

In addition to survey responses, many businesses also want to collect more third-party reviews. Birdeye allows businesses to include a third-party review request at the end of each survey.

Birdeye does not tolerate review gating in these surveys. In other words, if a business adds a third-party review request to any survey, all customers taking that survey will be given the option to write a third-party review, regardless of their sentiment.

Birdeye Surveys

Why is review gating bad for businesses?

Here are three reasons why you should avoid review gating.

1. You will lose the trust of your customers and prospective customers

 Your customers will only trust your reviews if it’s clear they are authentic and represent an unbiased view of your business. Gating reviews defeats that purpose by leading to disproportionately positive reviews that customers view as less credible, especially when their experience doesn’t match what they read about.

2. Companies like Google are unlikely to publish your reviews if you use gating

If you gate your reviews, Google can likely detect this. They may remove your reviews, and/or penalize your business in search rankings.

3. Review gating doesn’t help you get ahead

Birdeye has accumulated review data for 100,000+ businesses over the past several years.

We looked at review ratings and conversion data for businesses that used Review Gating (prior to Google releasing their policy on review gating in April 2018) vs. businesses that did not use Review Gating (or subsequently turned it off after the Google policy change).

We observed that businesses not using review gating increased their review count without any meaningful impact on their ratings. 

Your best action is to build customer trust by collecting reviews for all customer interactions. Understanding all points of view about your business can help you improve aspects of your operations that you maybe hadn’t even thought of before. Besides, negative reviews aren’t a bad thing.

They help prove to prospective customers that your reviews represent real experiences, making them trust the positive ones even more.

Most successful businesses use a tool like Birdeye that automates their end-to-end review process while following industry best practices. 

Birdeye and Google partnership to combat review gating

Birdeye has partnered with Google and has API integrations for each step of the review process. That means a private API integration for getting new reviews, API integration for automated review response, and API integration to display maps and reviews on your business profile.

In addition, Birdeye also integrates with CRM software such as Salesforce, HubSpot ServiceTitan, and Yardi to seamlessly automate review request solicitation and generate new reviews in one place. 

If you’re a channel partner or reseller, review gating is still bad

If you have chosen Birdeye as your trusted partner for reputation management or customer experience management, it’s our responsibility to make sure you and your businesses are compliant with the policies of all third-party platforms — be it Google, Facebook, or any vertical-specific review site. Review gating is harmful to you and your customers for the same reasons listed above.

FAQs on review gating

Q1: What is review gating?

Review gating is a practice where businesses filter customer feedback or reviews before publicly posting them. It involves soliciting customer feedback and selectively displaying only positive reviews while suppressing negative ones.

Q2: Is review gating considered ethical?

Review gating is generally considered unethical and against the guidelines of most review platforms, including Google and Yelp. These platforms discourage businesses from selectively displaying reviews, as they can mislead consumers and compromise the authenticity of the review process.

Q3: Why is review gating frowned upon?

Review gating is frowned upon because it distorts the overall perception of a business’s reputation by hiding negative feedback. This can mislead potential customers and undermine the trust and transparency that online reviews are meant to provide.

Q4: What are the potential consequences of using review gating?

If a business is caught using review gating, review platforms may take various actions, including removing its reviews, penalizing its visibility, or even suspending its account. This can significantly impact the business’s online presence and credibility.

Q5: What are some alternatives to review gating?

Instead of review gating, businesses can focus on:
– providing exceptional products and services to encourage genuine positive reviews from satisfied customers. 
– respond professionally to negative feedback
– demonstrate a commitment to customer satisfaction
– addressing any concerns

Q6: Is there a difference between review gating and soliciting reviews?

Yes, there is a difference. Soliciting reviews is the practice of actively encouraging customers to leave feedback, both positive and negative, about their experiences with a business. It becomes review gating when businesses selectively display only positive reviews and suppress negative ones.

Q7: How can businesses improve their online reputation without review gating?

Businesses can improve their online reputation by providing excellent products and services, offering exceptional customer support, engaging with customers through social media and other channels, and actively responding to positive and negative reviews transparently and constructively.

Preserving the trust economy

Trustworthy reviews benefit both businesses and customers. That’s why preserving an authentic review ecosystem is the core mission of both Google and Birdeye.

By giving existing customers an outlet to share their experiences, businesses can acquire new customers while gaining insights into the customer experience. Customers can consult reviews for reliable, unbiased information when comparing local businesses so they’re confident in their selections.

Google and Birdeye automate and simplify the review process while maintaining trust in reviews. Everyone wins.

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Originally published