You likely have heard of Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business). GBP is a free platform where your business is verified so that you may claim and optimize your GBP listing.
If you own a business, creating this profile is the first step. Get started at https://google.com/business.
Once your listing is verified and published by Google, you can begin to collect reviews. With the prevalence of hackers and illegitimate companies, Google’s requirements to post your listing are more stringent than ever. It’s worth the effort, however. Think of it as your best free SEO (at least for now).
Google reviews represent to Google that your business is authentic, and the number of legitimate reviews received can improve your rankings. Here are tips to respond to reviews and to avoid having your Google reviews penalized:
- Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on your Google listing. Google will assign you a unique URL to share with customers to obtain reviews. Admins on your account can access your URL to share. THIS IS THE URL YOU WANT TO GIVE YOUR CLIENTS. See below for information on potential violations you want to avoid.
- You can offer this URL in several ways, including a QR code that you can use on business cards and other marketing materials. You may also share that link through email or social media.
- Set up alerts for new reviews and respond to every review, both positive and negative. Ideally, respond to reviews within 24-48 hours. Be kind and concise; lengthy responses can deter readers. Responding demonstrates your commitment to customer service and engagement.
- Maintain a polite and professional tone in your responses. Thank them, express your enjoyment in working with them, and use keywords for your business in your response if you can do so naturally and sensibly. For example, include keywords such as your services, location, or products.
- Negative reviews are inevitable for most businesses, as you will never please everyone. When addressing negative feedback, acknowledge the issue, apologize for any inconvenience, and offer a resolution if possible. Plus, anyone reading the review can see additional information you provide about the transaction. Responding promptly, fairly, and kindly as possible may turn a negative experience into a positive one.
- If you get an inappropriate review or one that violates Google’s policies (e.g., spam, offensive content, or unrelated to your business), report it for removal.
- If a customer initially leaves a negative review, but you resolve the issue to their satisfaction, kindly ask them to update their review to reflect the positive outcome. You cannot delete Google reviews, but your clients can edit or delete reviews that they submit. Google may delete reviews that are verified to be fraudulent.
Posting fake positive reviews or trying to manipulate your review ratings can lead to severe consequences, including having your Google listing removed or penalized.
Always encourage genuine feedback from real customers.
Why Review Gating is Controversial
In 2018, Google stated in its policies: “Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”
In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission released its own guidelines regarding online customer reviews.
Also in 2022, Google renamed Google My Business to Google Business Profile and users managed profiles through Google Maps. At that time, their policies no longer specified the language above.
Some interpreted this omission that there was no longer a penalty for review gating.
However, as of the publication of this guide, current Google policies explicitly address fake engagement and deceptive content and behavior for businesses.
“Contributions to Google Maps should reflect a genuine experience at a place or business. Fake engagement is not allowed and will be removed.
- Paying, incentivising or encouraging the posting of content that does not represent a genuine experience.
- Discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews, or selectively soliciting positive reviews from customers.
- Content that is not based on a real experience and does not accurately represent the location or product in question.
- Content that has been incentivized by a business in exchange for discounts, free goods and/or services. This includes merchant requests for revision or removal of a negative review through offered discounts, free goods or services, or other incentives.
- Content that has been posted by a competitor to undermine a business or product’s reputation.
- Content that has been posted from multiple accounts to manipulate a place’s rating.
- Content that has been posted using an emulator or other device tampering service, modified operating system, or other method to mimic genuine engagement, manipulate sensor data or results, or otherwise thwart or confuse normal operations.”
Source: Google’s Policy on Fake Engagement.
Review gating manipulates a business’s online reputation. Platforms like Google and Yelp have policies against these practices, encouraging businesses to collect reviews organically. Attempts to filter out negative reviews or selectively direct customers to leave positive reviews may lead to penalties or the removal of all reviews, ultimately impacting the credibility of your business and website.
My professional opinion is review gating manipulates a business’s online reputation. With platforms like Google and Yelp creating policies against these practices, I will NOT encourage my clients to participate in review gating.
The best practice is to treat all customer feedback equally and not to influence the process of leaving reviews based on their sentiment. Encouraging genuine feedback is an ethical and sustainable approach to managing online reviews.