As a local business, the reviews you receive on Google My Business can have a massive daily impact. You may find it’s harder to attract new customers through Google as more and more people are put off by negative reviews. Or you may find that you start to slip down local rankings when compared to the local competition.
This is something that is especially frustrating especially if you believe those reviews aren’t even from real customers and may in fact by a jealous or simply a malicious competitor. Often you are left feeling helpless as Google frequently refuses to remove reviews and the whole thing begins to feel like it’s in the hands of the gods. But don’t panic, there is plenty you can do. By the end of this article, you’ll have some simple surefire strategies to help with your online reputation management.
Table of contents
- Is a review fake or negative
- How to request fake review removal
- How to respond to reviews on Google
- How can I tell if a Google review is fake or negative?
This is a common question but it’s not a simple one, sometimes it’s very difficult to tell the difference between fake and negative customer reviews. They both say things that can be quite hurtful if you take pride in your business. They both negatively impact your business. What’s more, Google reviews may as well be anonymous as you don’t even have to use your real name.
There are a few telltale signs of fake reviews:
- Reviews with truly ridiculous names – More often than not these are fake reviews. Some people are comedians and love to use a fake name, but in the majority of cases, you can bet on it being fake. I’ve seen hundreds of fake reviews using celebrity names and bad puns alike.
- Lots of negative reviews over a short timeframe – If you normally receive one or two reviews a month and then have twenty negative reviews dropped in a week you can almost guarantee they are fake. Unless you ran some form of event and did something very, very wrong!
- Unbelievable negative statements – When people are angry they can be a bit over the top. However, if you see statements like ‘total scam’ or other things that you are 100% sure could never be true about your business then it’s probably fake. If you’re a restaurant and it’s a statement like ‘served cold food’ then don’t let your pride get the better of you. You may believe that could never happen, but mistakes happen so treat it as though it’s a genuine review.
- Reviews from people with a single review – If you have a large number of negative reviews all from people who have only ever done a single review on Google then it’s likely they are fake. Most people overlook this, but below each reviewers name, it says how many reviews they have completed on Google’s platform.
There is a very fine line between a normal negative review and a fake review, if you really annoy someone then it may encourage them to post their first ever review on Google because of the poor experience. Some people prefer to remain anonymous and not use their real name.
To be blunt don’t spend too much time trying to figure out if a review is negative or fake. A lot of the time it doesn’t matter, if it looks real to potential customers it’s still harmful.
But I’m certain it’s a fake review
If you’re convinced you are dealing with a fake review problem then you can contact Google. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a positive outcome as it has to be crystal clear beyond even the smallest shadow of a doubt that the review is fake for it to be removed.
So you want a review to be removed, first check that it breaks the review rules set out by Google. The rules that are most useful are:
- Spam and fake content – If the review has clearly fake content or is posted multiple times under different names then there’s a chance it could be removed under this guideline. You’ll have much more success removing duplicate negative reviews than ‘fake’ content as Google always leans in favour of the reviewer being real if there is any doubt.
- Political, social or personal rants – If a review isn’t about the experience with the company then it can be removed. For example, a negative ranting review on a vegan restaurant just for it being vegan could be removed. Also, a review attacking a business owner for any personal reason not relating to the company and product/service will be removed.
- Swearing and obscene language – If someone completely loses it in a negative review and is dropping the ‘f-bomb’ then it’s a fair reason to ask for the review to be removed. Any form of offensive language in reviews is grounds for review removal.
- Hate speech or dangerous content – This covers everything from reviews complaining there aren’t enough female bartenders to negative reviews about gay business owners. All of the usual hate speech rules apply and aren’t acceptable Google are very responsive with hateful content removal. In addition, if a review bullies, intimidates, threatens or encourages self-harm it will be removed. We’ve seen everything from suggesting that waiters kill themselves to personal threats of harm against business owners if they don’t receive a refund. None of this behaviour is acceptable and Google responds promptly when it comes to removing it from their reviews.
- Impersonation – I’ve seen mixed results with this one. Sometimes reviews are removed sometimes they aren’t. The rules state that if someone is impersonating an individual, company or organisation then the review will be removed. However, it’s often tricky to get reviews with celebrity names removed unless the person reviewing has a very keen eye.
- Conflict of interest – This rule prevents competitors (if you can prove they’re competitors) and former disgruntled employees from leaving negative reviews. Naturally, it’s a lot harder to prove if they are using fake names but if they leave a review with a clear conflict of interest publically then Google will happily remove it.
Ok so you’re sure that it’s a fake review what to do next, well it’s simple:
- Sign in to Google My Business
- Once you’ve selected the business you’re managing click the reviews button
- Find the fake review and click the three-dot menu button.
- Click ‘Flag as inappropriate’ and it opens the policy violation form.
- Enter the email address associated with your Google My Business page.
- Select the type of violation and submit.
Don’t expect miracles the success rate is relatively low you can also get directly in touch with the Google My Business team through your account and request a call or ask for further advice on the Google Advertiser Community forums.
How to respond to reviews on Google
So you may have got lucky and seen a review or two removed, but you may still have some negative reviews (some of which are potentially fake). At this point stop worrying about whether they are fake or real and deal with them.
Here are some simple tips to follow when replying to reviews:
- Offer refund to fake reviews – If you’re convinced that it’s a fake review then apologise and offer a 100% refund, at the end of the day a full refund of their nonexistent order won’t cost you a penny.
- Be apologetic, not defensive – Most potential new customers will respond much better to negative reviews that show a humble apologetic response rather than an excuse.
- Show a resolution – An apology is a great start but most important is showing action. Take control of the issue and display excellent resolution skills, respond to the negative review with exactly what you will do for that customer.
- Go above and beyond where possible – Exceeding expectations is something that far too few businesses do, all too often we stick to our policies and do the bare minimum. You can turn a negative into a positive for example item lost in the post, offer a full refund (as you should) along with a discount off a future order for the inconvenience.
- Don’t be greedy or short minded – Having to refund customers sucks, but I can guarantee you having negative unresolved reviews will be much more expensive. Refund even when you normally wouldn’t (unless someone is really abusing the system). Treat this like a marketing expense you are ensuring you don’t lose potential future customers by taking a loss in the short term.
- Only mention fake reviews as the last measure – If you’ve received hundreds of fake reviews and had no luck getting them removed then as a last resort only mention the review being fake publically. Simply put, it looks like an excuse. Be sure to carefully word your message or rewrite our message below:
“Hi [name], we’re sad to see your negative review. We’ve recently had a lot of fake reviews on Google and haven’t been replying to them as promptly because of this. We really hope that you aren’t one of our many loyal amazing customers. If you are, simply get in touch by phone (01246 000000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with an order ID or receipt and we’ll be make sure you get the full 100% refund you deserve. Also as a way of apology, we’d like to offer you this £10 voucher off any future orders.”
The art of dealing with negative or fake reviews is all about exceeding expectations and showing excellent issue resolution. Good customer service makes you stand out from the crowd and can turn a few negative reviews into a potentially really positive experience. Also, did you know that more people worry about perfect five-star average reviews than scores between four and five. If your reviews look too good to be true then the occasional fake negative review won’t harm you so don’t sweat it and just reply to it like you would any real unsatisfied customer.
Other reputation management ideas for Google reviews
So you know how to get rid of some of your fake negative reviews and how to respond to negative reviews for the best potential outcome. Your job isn’t done here are two bonus strategies to help you manage your reputation on Google reviews:
- Post publicly about the experience on social media – If you have a local customer base they will be just as annoyed as you are about fake negative reviews. Post about it on your social media and make a bit of a joke about it. In doing so you are also likely to receive more positive reviews from your loyal brand advocates who will want to help defend your business.
- Encourage real reviews – If you only have four customer reviews then a single fake review with one star can do a lot of damage. If you have a thousand reviews good luck to anyone trying to reduce your overall star rating the fake reviews simply get lost in a sea of real customer testimonials.
Encouraging real reviews is perhaps the best way to prevent issues with negative or fake customer reviews. People are more likely to leave reviews if they are upset about an experience, at the end of the day it’s a great way to get a business’s attention to resolve an issue. You need to encourage your customers to leave reviews so you have constant feedback which you can use to both advertise and improve your business.
If there’s any aspect of reputation management you need help with let us know. It doesn’t matter if that is reviews on Google My Business or negative reviews elsewhere our team have the experience to help.