Review-Gating Will Get Your Veterinary Practice Banned From Google
While it may be a tempting strategy to garner more positive reviews to attract new clients, review-gating is increasingly becoming a hazardous venture for veterinary practitioners. If you’re unclear about what “review-gating” entails, let’s start with an understandable definition.
Pet owner review-gating is when a veterinary clinic tries to govern the reviews they receive by first inquiring about the clients’ experience with their pet’s care, then only urging those with positive remarks to share their reviews online. Consequently, the clinic can enhance its online reputation by spotlighting more positive reviews and restricting negative ones, creating an impression of superior care quality than may be the reality.
“Review-gating can be seen as a way to ‘game’ the process. It’s a method for veterinary clinics to manipulate the online review system by selecting positive feedback and diverting negative responses away from public platforms. This can generate a distorted impression of the clinic’s genuine quality or client satisfaction levels, as only positive experiences are publicly displayed,” stated DJ Vallauri, Founder and CEO of the VET Marketing Agency.
Review-Gating Can Get Your Veterinary Practice Google Banned
The bottom line is Google opposes review-gating. Google has guidelines that forbid businesses from sifting or manipulating reviews, as this activity can create a false impression of the business’s performance and quality. Google advocates for genuine, unbiased client reviews as they are instrumental in assisting users in making informed decisions. This is why they penalize businesses that are found to be review-gating, which may include removing reviews or even punishing the business in search rankings.
Pet Health Platforms Are Against Review-Gating
Pet health platforms generally do not support review-gating either. They value genuine and unbiased client feedback, as it helps potential clients make informed decisions when choosing a vet clinic or other pet-related services.
These platforms often have their own guidelines and policies to ensure the submitted reviews are authentic and not manipulated. While specific policies may vary between platforms, they generally expect vet clinics and other pet 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 platform’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 client 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 announced 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.
Google’s Position on Review-Gating
In 2018, Google took a significant step to protect the trust we place in online reviews. From then on, businesses had to comply with Google’s policy, which stated they should not “discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers,” i.e., review-gating.
In 2022, Google discreetly updated its review policies by moving 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 tactics that businesses use to manipulate their online reviews by encouraging positive feedback and discouraging negative feedback. Some common review-gating strategies include:
Businesses send out satisfaction surveys or feedback forms to their clients, asking about their experience. If the client responds positively, the business will then prompt them to leave a review on a public platform like Google or Yelp. If the feedback is negative, the business may try to resolve the issue privately and not encourage the client to share their experience publicly.
Incentivizing positive reviews:
Some businesses may offer incentives or rewards to clients for leaving positive reviews, such as discounts or freebies. This tactic can skew the overall perception of the business, as it encourages clients to provide only positive feedback in exchange for a reward.
Ignoring negative feedback:
Another review-gating example is when businesses 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 violates their guidelines for honest and unbiased customer feedback.
Is Review-Gating Risky for Veterinary Practices?
We all understand the importance of responding to all client online reviews and research shows 81% of pet owners always read reviews before choosing a veterinary clinic. So if you’re gaming the system by review-gating, you’re placing your practice at risk of being banned or even worse, facing the FTC’s legal action.
When it comes to responding to our veterinary customer reviews, our Customer 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 pet parent who happens to read the response before making a decision on where to bring their fur baby for medical services.
About the VET Marketing Agency
The VET Marketing Agency (VMA) is a premier provider of veterinary website design and digital marketing services. We offer veterinarians solutions to grow their businesses through strategic consultation and a suite of a-la-carte digital marketing services.
The VET Marketing Agency services include custom veterinary website design, veterinary search engine optimization, veterinary paid advertising programs, social media marketing, engagement services for animal hospitals, and 24/7 reputation management services for veterinarians.
We are located in New Jersey, and unlike our competitors, we exclusively support the veterinary industry. The VET Marketing Agency is a certified Google Partner and a member of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA), and also a member of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association (IVPA).
Contact us to find out more, visit VETMarketingAgency.com or call (800) 609-7657 ext. 700.