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August 31, 2021

Review Gating: Why You'll Regret Incentivizing Customer Reviews

Incentivizing online customer reviews, also known as review gating, violates the TOS for most platforms. It's also completely unnecessary.

More importantly, it's not necessary

Recently, I’ve encountered a few new reputation management vendors (plus a few established ones) actively promoting what is known as “review gating” as a product feature. 

What is review gating?

The act of selectively soliciting reviews only from customers that you have qualified as happy.

How this works in practice:

  • Customer sent survey > if happy > sent to leave a public review
  • Customer sent survey > if unhappy > sent to private feedback channel

In marketing speak, I’ve seen gating described as:

“Review filtering”

“Qualifying question”

“Private feedback collection”

"Review incentivization"

“Those who respond positively get sent to a public forum”

In an effort to maintain trust and transparency online, this process has been explicitly prohibited by Google for a few years now.

Doing so can result in your review content being deleted in bulk. Thousands of reviews, gone in an instant. We’ve seen it happen before.

Because of this we highly discourage local businesses from attempting to review gate. Widewail’s services do not gate, and we’ve found doing so is not necessary to build a great reputation and grow your business via local search. I’ll explain why in this post.

Why risk your reputation - and just as important, your organic local search rankings?

Data is Overwhelmingly Positive

Analyzing 177,737 reviews from 2020, Widewail found 88% of all reviews are either 4-or-5-stars (without gating of course).

There is a common misconception that if you actively solicit customer feedback the result will be a whole bunch of negative reviews, doing more harm than good. 

In our experience, that’s just not how it plays out.

Contrary, we’ve found ratings get better when local businesses start asking for public customer feedback at scale. The average Invite client’s rating climbs +0.3-stars in the first few months (ex. from 4.4-4.7).

Under normal circumstances, the vast majority of local business experiences are positive, but without prompting customers and making it easy to leave a review, those positive experiences tend to be disproportionately underrepresented online.

Why?

Unhappy customers are more motivated to share. They will dig up your profile and make it hurt. Whereas your happy customers have moved on to other things.

By asking all customers and making it easy for them to leave a review, naturally (without gating), more happy customers get involved and ratings go up. A win-win.

Yes, you could avoid the whole issue and collect feedback privately, but as a result, you’d miss out on the increasingly valuable SEO benefits of gathering customer review content on Google and public other review platforms. A high volume of positive reviews helps organically increase your business’s visibility in local searches.

Take Invite client Code Style Club for example:

  • 39% increase in site visits
  • 67% increase in phone calls
  • 277% increase in search and map result appearance

All because of happy customers sharing their experience on Google.

Embrace the Negatives

Negative reviews are not something to be feared. With the proper techniques and perspective, they can be handled efficiently, effectively and appropriately. We cover negative review response techniques in this post.

The upside to negative reviews:

  • When handled appropriately, you will publicly demonstrate to future customers that in the event they have a bad experience they will be treated with respect and an effort will be made to solve the problem.
  • They add credibility to your positive reviews.
  • They add authenticity to your online reputation.
  • Feedback patterns can be used to improve the in-store experience.

Anecdotally, this customer quote we came across last year reinforces this point:

"To the owner. My daughter read and 100% respected all your reviews, good or bad, and loved your responses to all of them. She knew your dealership was the place she wanted to go because of how you respond to all your reviews." 

Assuming negative review volume is not out of control when handled professionally negative reviews can have some positive impact on your business.

To clarify, what is “out of control” in this context? As a benchmark, generally, we recommend <10% of your reviews be negative (3-stars or less). 

As a broad guideline, 2-3 months with a negative review percentage over 10% should be an indication the in-store experience could be fine-tuned.


Thank you for reading Local Marketing Insider. Review gating may be tempting, but before pursuing the strategy I encourage you to consider the risks.

If you enjoyed this article from LMI #015, you can find the entire Local Marketing Insider catalog here. Also, to receive the newsletter 2x/month please consider subscribing.

See you in 2 weeks - Jake, Marketing @Widewail

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Jake Hughes

I’m Marketing Manager here at Widewail, as well as a husband and new dad outside the office. In Vermont by way of Boston, where I grew the CarGurus YouTube channel from 0-100k subscribers. I love the outdoors and hate to be hot, so I’m doing just fine in the arctic Vermont we call home. Fun fact: I met my wife on the shuttle bus at Baltimore airport. Thanks for reading Widewail’s content!

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