In the early months of 2018, Google added additional content restrictions for reviews on its maps and business pages. The most impactful is a new rule that prohibits selectively soliciting positive reviews.
“Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”
Google’s new guidance was likely in response to large companies with automated systems that were encouraging happy customers to leave public reviews while sending unhappy customers to private feedback forms.
According to the new rule, a coffee shop employee can only ask a friendly regular to leave a review if they also ask the angry customer who complained their coffee was too hot.
Perhaps that was Google’s intent. I suspect it was not.
The real issue was likely the problems that arise from large-scale automation offered by companies like Reputation.com, Birdeye, and Podium.
Review Gating by Reputation Management Companies
This has been standard practice for many reputation management companies and businesses for years. Many services advertised the ability to survey customers and direct unhappy respondents to private feedback forms and happy customers to public review sites like Google, Yelp, etc.
These automated systems worked well for a while, but Google began cracking down on this behavior last year.
Some large reputation management companies, like Birdeye, saw thousands of reviews disappear in late 2017. Those familiar with the matter believe it was likely due to auto-populating 5-stars when customers arrived on the review page. This could have been a violation of the ‘impersonation’ guideline. Since then, Google has updated its link structure to make auto-filling 5-stars with a link impossible.
It’s also possible that it was the first shot across the bow on the practice of review-gating, which was formally added to Google’s review requirements in the first half of 2018.
Reputation Management Companies Respond
All of the major reputation management companies responded by heralding the decision by Google. It’s a bit disingenuous, though. Before the change, they were touting their ability to filter reviews as a major feature.
These companies either removed the feature to filter review or allow the client to turn it on and off with a disclaimer about Google’s new rules.
What about Bulk Collection of Google Reviews
It should come as no surprise that these companies also conveniently ignored one of the other new rules:
“Don’t solicit reviews from customers in bulk.”
Google doesn’t define what ‘bulk’ means, but having software automatically ask each customer could be considered ‘bulk’. I also suspect that the reputation managment companies define bulk as “sending out more than one request at a time” and if they send theirs out individually, they are compliant.
The truth is no one knows what Google means by bulk. They haven’t defined it.
Is sending an email to 10 people bulk? Is sending out 1,000 individual requests using automated software in 24 hours bulk?
Because the rules are so vague, we’ll have to rely on enforcement to guide us.
Many of the larger companies are working directly with Google in order to be compliant. If they can request reviews a large number of reviews and be compliant, chances are emailing your recent customers with a request for reviews will also comply.
Enforcement of Google’s Review Guidelines
If Google has reason to believe that a review doesn’t meet the standards, it may be removed. At some point, Google may review businesses that have a 100% 5-star rating for suspected review-gating. More likely, Google will review technical aspects to identify suspect reviews. This may include user origination, location, timing, frequency of reviews, or other user information to determine if the review is genuine.
The Bottom Line
Technically, you should be asking all of your customers for reviews – even the unhappy ones.
This isn’t necessarily a bad approach.
Having some critical reviews can actually help build credibility in the rating. If there are no critical reviews, customers may question whether it’s an accurate representation of your business.
If asking all of your customers for a review results in a poor rating, it’s a business problem – not a review problem.
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About the Author
Brian Dooley is a healthcare marketer and the founder of Independence Digital, a marketing agency that connects patients to medical providers. He was previously the Director of Marketing and Customer Care for one of the largest urology practices in the nation. Specialties include medical practice websites, increasing patient volume, profitability, and positioning medical providers as best-in-class.