While it may be a tempting tactic to gain more positive reviews to help drive new reservations, review-gating is increasingly becoming a risky proposition for hotel operators. If you’re not familiar with what “review-gating” is, let’s start with a clear definition anyone can understand.
Hotel guest review gating is when a hotel tries to control the reviews they receive by first asking guests about their experience and then only encouraging those with positive feedback to post their reviews online. This way, the hotel can improve its online reputation by showcasing more positive reviews and limiting negative ones, making it seem like a better place to stay than it might actually be.
“Review-gating can be considered as "gaming" the process. It's a way for hotels to manipulate the online review system by cherry-picking positive feedback and steering negative feedback away from public platforms. This can create a misleading impression of the hotel’s true quality or customer satisfaction levels since only good experiences are showcased publicly,” stated DJ Vallauri, Lodging Interactive’s Founder and CEO.
Review-Gating Can Get Your Hotel Google Banned
Simply put, Google is against review-gating. They have guidelines that prohibit businesses from filtering or manipulating reviews, as this practice can create a false impression of the business's performance and quality. Google believes that genuine, unbiased customer reviews are crucial for helping users make informed decisions, so they take action against businesses that are found to be review-gating, which may include removing reviews or even penalizing the business in search rankings.
OTA’s Are Against Review-Gating
Online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Booking.com generally do not condone review-gating either. They value genuine and unbiased customer feedback, as it helps potential customers make informed decisions when choosing a hotel or other travel-related services.
These platforms often have their own guidelines and policies to ensure that the reviews submitted are authentic and not manipulated. While specific policies may vary between OTAs, they generally expect hotels and other travel businesses to be transparent and fair when it comes to reviews. Engaging in review-gating can lead to consequences, such as the removal of reviews or other penalties, depending on the OTA's policies.
The Federal Trade Commission and Review-Gating
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the U.S. government agency responsible for regulating deceptive or unfair business practices, which includes practices like review-gating. The FTC has guidelines for online endorsements and testimonials, which emphasize the importance of honest and transparent customer reviews.
The FTC doesn't specifically mention "review-gating" in its guidelines, but the practice can fall under deceptive or unfair practices, especially if it manipulates the overall impression of a business by selectively promoting positive reviews. The FTC can take legal action against businesses that engage in deceptive or unfair practices, which may include fines or other penalties.
The FTC $4.2 Million Lawsuit
The FTC declared that Fashion Nova, an online fashion retailer, agreed to pay a $4.2 million penalty for deliberately not publishing negative product reviews. Fashion Nova also agreed to stop suppressing customer feedback.
The FTC's complaint accused Fashion Nova of "misrepresenting that product reviews on its website represent the opinions of all buyers who submitted reviews when, in reality, it concealed reviews with ratings below four out of five stars. This case marks the FTC's first legal action involving a company's attempts to hide negative customer reviews." Furthermore, the agency informed 10 review platforms that they must cease "avoiding the collection or publication of negative reviews."
This case is the first of its kind, focusing exclusively on reviews and imposing such a substantial fine. It signals that the FTC is taking a firm stance against abusive review practices.
As reported by Near Media, review gating is not only unethical but is now explicitly illegal.
Google’s Position on Review-Gating
In 2018, Google took a significant step to safeguard the trust we place in online reviews. From then on, companies had to comply with Google's policy, which stated they should not "discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers," ie. review-gating.
In 2022, Google discreetly updated its review policies by relocating the above statement from its original location to the "fake engagement" section within its prohibited content guidelines.
Currently, the guidelines list the following under fake engagement/deceptive content: "Discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews, or selectively soliciting positive reviews from customers."
Review-gating examples involve various methods that businesses use to manipulate their online reviews by encouraging positive feedback and discouraging negative feedback. Some common review-gating tactics include:
- Pre-screening surveys: Companies send out satisfaction surveys or feedback forms to their customers, asking about their experience. If the customer responds positively, the company will then prompt them to leave a review on a public platform like Google or Yelp. If the feedback is negative, the company may try to resolve the issue privately and not encourage the customer to share their experience publicly.
- Incentivizing positive reviews: Some businesses may offer incentives or rewards to customers for leaving positive reviews, such as discounts or freebies. This tactic can skew the overall perception of the business, as it encourages customers to provide only positive feedback in exchange for a reward.
- Ignoring negative feedback: Another review-gating example is when companies simply choose to ignore negative feedback and focus only on the positive. They might not respond to or address issues raised in negative reviews while actively engaging with and promoting positive feedback.
It's important to note that engaging in review-gating practices can result in penalties or consequences from platforms like Google, Yelp, or other review sites, as it goes against their guidelines for honest and unbiased customer feedback.
Is Review-Gating Risky for Hotels?
We all know the importance of responding to all guest online reviews and according to Drive Research, 81% of consumers always read reviews before booking a hotel. So if you’re gaming the system by review-gating, you’re putting your property at risk of being banned or even worse, having the FTC knocking on your door.
When it comes to responding to our customer's reviews, our CoMMingle Guest Review Response team believes in doing things the right way. This includes responding to all reviews, positive and negative, and ensuring we tailor the responses to be relevant and insightful to the next potential guest who happens to read the response prior to making a booking.
Our CoMMingle service has responded to millions of guest reviews for over 1,500 properties since 2001, and we work with independent and branded properties of all types. For more information visit us at LodgingInteractive.com.