Policing the internet again, Google discourages review-gating.

Review-gating is just so terrible! (Where’s the sarcasm font when I need it?) What’s review-gating? It’s the practice of asking customers if they are happy before encouraging them to write a review on Google. Oh my gosh. What a terrible, awful thing to do. (More sarcasm. You probably caught it that time, huh?)

I say Google is “discouraging” review-gating as though I’m discouraging my son from texting and driving. No, discouraging is the wrong word. Because if my son texts and drives, or if a local business is caught review-gating, there will be serious consequences.

What consequences? Well for one, he’ll be grounded from… wait. You want to know what Google is going to do to the businesses they catch review-gating…

It is my understanding that the business may be stripped of all of their reviews and will not be allowed to get new ones for an undetermined time period. Ouch! I guess those are the #ConsequencesOfCrossingGoogle

Okay, I get it, Google. You’re discouraging cherry-picking so that future customers will get an accurate, more-rounded look at the true nature of a business. You want the good and the bad. Fair enough. I understand that logic and can even support it.

The problem is that users aren’t getting accuracy in reviews. They’re getting fake reviews written by (or paid for by) the competition. They’re getting unfair reviews from ex-employees with a grudge. They’re getting unwarranted reviews from customers who aren’t even customers; they’re just people who called and didn’t like the price they were quoted so they review a business they didn’t even hire. I’ve even seen a case where a business got a politically motivated negative review simply because the business owner stayed at one of Trump’s properties!

READ: Be Careful Handing Out Those One-Star Reviews

So business owners who really do have a very happy customer base are trying to deal with these fake reviews in any way they know how.

Yes, they are encouraging their happy customers to write reviews. Yes, they are cherry picking. They need to because the fake reviews are bringing down their otherwise stellar online reputation.

Review sites are expecting fair and accurate reviews in a world that isn’t fair and accurate.

But it could be. You see, the average Joe may not be able to spot a fake review. But if you study the space a little bit, they’re pretty easy to find. As an example, when a reviewer has reviewed a handful of “local” businesses that happen to be “local” to several different parts of the country, it’s a red flag that that reviewer is probably getting paid to write these reviews. That is unless he’s visiting Cincinnati, Albuquerque and Kingsport, Tennessee all in the same week. (Possible, sure; but unlikely.)

Also, fake reviewers (especially the disgruntled employees) usually set up fake profiles just for the sake of writing the review. So if a review is written by an online personality with no web history… red flag!

The engineers at Google, Facebook and Yelp are certainly smart enough to write algorithms that could filter out these kinds of fake reviews. So why don’t they? As someone who has written over 150 authentic online reviews, I can tell you this. The negative reviews are the most read and the most liked. They are content that brings customers to their sites and the review sites like them there. They aren’t in a hurry to remove them because they are considered valuable content.

Well I say boo. It’s not negative reviews we want. It’s authentic reviews that help us make our purchase decisions. So if you just clean up the fake stuff, we’ll still keep coming to your sites.

Give users the power

Here’s one more idea. Not all users are naive about phony reviews. We can often tell if something doesn’t seem quite right. So what if the review sites gave us some power?

Most review sites provide their users a handful of options to “vote” on their reviews. Yelp votes include UsefulFunny, and Cool. Google offers Like and Share as their choices. Facebook’s options are Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry.

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Only Facebook’s Sad and Angry choices are in the negative. But even if a person uses one of these, future readers don’t know if they are trying to say that they are sad or angry about the customer’s experience or that they are sad or angry about the review itself.

I think Yelp, Google and Facebook should give us the option to vote down the review with choices like Fake, Unfair, Inappropriate, Irrelevant and You’re Probably a Disgruntled Ex-Employee. Then maybe people would be a little more careful about what they say and each review site could use algorithms to push these kinds of reviews to the bottom or remove them altogether.

And you know what might happen if they did this? Business owners wouldn’t need to ask their customers if they were happy before encouraging them to write a review.

Thanks for reading.

David McBee