New FTC Guidelines for Online Reviews

5 yellow stars


The FTC recently issued new guidelines for online reviews, which means that your current review practices may not be in compliance. The Federal Trade Commission is  concerned with ensuring that “consumers who rely on online reviews of companies, products, and services” are able to get a “true and accurate picture of what other consumers think.”

That means they have made some overhauls to the ways in which businesses are permitted to ask customers for reviews. 

Take the following steps to stay in compliance with the FTC’s Guide for Marketers.

1. Ask all customers for reviews.

It is no longer permissible to ask for reviews only when you think the customer or client might be happy with your product or services. Ask all customers and clients for feedback.

This can be frightening. Reviews exercise a lot of power over businesses and your goal may be to exercise a measure of self-protection.

Asking all customers and clients for reviews has been shown to increase review volume while having little effect on overall review scores. More volume is key because we know that it’s important to have more reviews than your competitors do!

Reviews help you listen to your customers. That allows you to solve problems that they’re facing when they interact with your business, which in turn helps you create better business outcomes. Don’t be afraid to face the full scope of the customer experience head-on. 

2. Be consistent in how you ask for reviews.

It is not okay to make it more difficult for some customers to leave a review than others. If you text out a review link then text it out to every customer. Automate it. By doing so, you eliminate any perception of bias.

Never prevent or discourage any customer from leaving a negative review.

When we manage your reviews for you, we encourage unbiased feedback collection. We believe in letting customers have their say. This is in compliance with both the FTC’s guidelines and with Google’s.

3. Avoid incentives

While there are ways to give out incentives that do not violate the guidelines, it’s usually best practice to avoid them altogether. Most platforms, like Google, already have clauses in their terms and conditions which prohibit the incentivization of reviews.

Still, if you feel you must incentivize the review in order to get one at all, you must not condition it, either explicitly or implicitly, on the review being positive.

Realize that even without that condition, you run the risk of introducing bias every time you incentivize a review. In addition, you may change the weight or credibility that customers give to that review. 

When you do incentivize the review, FTC guidelines require you to publish that fact clearly and unambiguously. For example, if the reviewer received compensation or a free product in exchange for their review then you must place that information somewhere near the review once you publish it. 

4. Publish all genuine reviews

Displaying reviews on your site comes with many benefits. One of those benefits is an SEO benefit: your site simply becomes more visible when you show updated, customer-generated content regarding your experience with a business.

You get social proof no matter what the reviews say. Even a negative review says that someone has interacted with your product for good or for ill. In an age where many products and services are fake, this matters. In addition, most customers understand that even the best business will sometimes wind up with unhappy customers who leave low ratings.

In fact, a pure 5-star rating doesn’t make sales. Studies show that the likelihood of purchase peaks at star ratings between 4.0 and 4.7, and actually decreases at 4.8 and above. 

You are also prohibited from publishing reviews in a misleading way. You should not be doing anything special to display the positive reviews more favorably than the negative reviews. 

If you’re taking advantage of our Online Review Management service, we use a Review Widget to put reviews on your website. Ensuring that reviews are handled fairly is a matter of adjusting the settings. Be sure that first and third party reviews are set to display 0.5 stars and up. When setting Facebook review widgets, ensure that the settings are placed on “Show All” so that customers can see everything that is being written about your business. 

In addition, you may need to audit your service pages or have us audit them for you. In the past, common practice has been to cherry pick certain reviews to highlight specific business strengths. This could be seen as deceptive highlighting of positive reviews.

5. Publish your review collection and moderation process

The FTC now requires all companies to clearly and conspicuously disclose how they collect, process, and display reviews, as well as how they determine overall ratings, to the extent necessary to avoid misleading or confusing consumers.

Be sure to have a review policy that covers these details.

6. Create procedures to combat fake reviews

When a client tells us that a review may be fake, we can take steps to investigate and take appropriate action. This could include removing suspicious or phony reviews, reporting the reviews as fake on Google, Yelp, or other platforms, responding to the review to indicate the reviewer was not a customer or client, or addressing the issue with the person responsible for leaving the review.

You may not edit the reviews in a way that alters the message. Cleaning up punctuation and grammar is probably okay, but you may not change words to make a negative review sound more positive. For the most part, you’re going to want to automate the process and display your reviews in a way that doesn’t alter them or edit them in any way, something we already handle for you. It’s not possible with our system to alter the content of a review.

Finally, your process must treat all reviews the same way. Treat positive reviews and negative reviews equally. Don’t subject reviews to greater scrutiny. 

It’s all about transparency!

Reviews are, ultimately, all about building trust. Trust is only built in a climate of transparency and authenticity. Treat every review the same and treat every review as a chance to make your business stronger than ever.

Need help with reviews? Learn more about our online review system.

Leave a Comment