Does Review Gating Impact Star-Ratings?

In April 2018, we performed a grand experiment. Google had publicly declared that “gating” was formally banned. So, we switched every customer in our system that was still gating to a fully Google compliant, non-gating process to ask for reviews. And, now we can answer this question:

Does review gating impact star-ratings?

The answer: The data shows gating had very little impact on the average star-rating but that NOT gating saw a significant increase in review volumes.

Google review guidelines against review gating

End of Review Gating Sees Increased Volume of Reviews

Gating, for those of you that missed the memo, is the process of assessing customer sentiment and only asking those that were happy to leave a review. And the penalty for violating the guidelines was review takedowns.

For our research, we went back and looked at roughly 10,000 locations that were in our system the year before the switch with gating turned on and compared those same locations after gating was turned off. Here is what we found for their Google ratings for the two time periods:

Comparison of average Google star-rating of 3rd-party reviews for 12 months before and after gating

As you can see, the impact of not gating review requests on average star-rating was very small (4.66 w/ gating vs. 4.59 w/o gating); so small that in any given business it likely didn’t even impact the rating score at all. From where we sit, it is such a small amount that risking Google’s wrath and the potential of review removal for violation would not be worth it.

However, with no gating, the volume of reviews during the period dramatically increased by 68% (32,689 total Google reviews w/ gating vs. 53,790 w/o gating). It is hard to tease out cause and effect in this data but the gains in review volume with no gating more than offset any minor drop in rating score.

Review Gating: Guardrail or Road Block?

There was some discontent and teeth-gnashing when we removed gating. We lost a few clients. But, most businesses came to the same conclusion that we had; reviews are so valuable to engage with that, regardless of the occasional negative review, removing gating was worth the chance to improve their business.

For many businesses, reviews can be emotional and sometimes painful to deal with. We’ve always been of the mindset that businesses should request reviews from all customers but fear of negative public reviews prevented them from even wanting to engage in the world of reviews. So, even though we discouraged its use, we offered businesses the option to “gate” reviews when we first started GatherUp.

Retired sample flow from GatherUp (previously Get Five Stars) showing review gating

Our sense was that once a business fully engaged with a strategic review process and realized that the goal was not only reviews but building a better business, that they would eventually move away from gating. But to demystify the review process, a business first had to adopt and engage with one.

And we found that over time that many businesses did “get it”. They realized that improvement was the goal and that customer reviews provided the building blocks for that.

Now that we have stopped gating, businesses have learned that the process of asking for reviews from every customer does, in fact, help them build a better reputation and more importantly, a better business.

About The Author

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GatherUp and helps oversee our research, industry insight and agency offering. Mike has long been regarded as the foremost expert on local search and Google Maps, earning the nickname “Professor Maps”. Mike also co-founded Local University, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time.  He writes at his blog and does a twice a week LocalU podcast about Local marketing. 

6 Replies to “Does Review Gating Impact Star-Ratings?”

  1. Some “negative” reviews will also help increase sales. For businesses with a good customer experience, someone leaving a badly written, possibly unhinged sounding 1 star review could reassure future readers of that review.

  2. Mike,

    Thank you very much for that. Such a small drop in rating but nearing double the volume.

    I know a few businesses doing gating and will share this on.

    From the study we did it was the volume of reviews that was more significant, something you have written about previously.

    As volume increased beyond say 1000, most were below 4.5, which is the sweet spot you spoke of recently.

    I guess negative reviews force businesses to alter their philosophies and improve their service which is a win for all.

    1. The sweet spot from what I have seen is in the 4-4.5 range but I think what really resonates is authenticity.

      Yes if businesses focus on getting better it is a win for all.

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