How to Deal with or Remove Fake Negative Google Reviews
Posted by Emery Pearson on Feb 21, 2023 12:00:00 PM
If you’re a small business, negative reviews on Google can be especially devastating, and you can’t afford to ignore a bad Google review. If you haven’t been paying attention to your Google reviews, it’s time to wake up and take the wheel. If you don’t have time for reputation management, well, that’s what we are here for. But assuming you do, here are some tips to ensure your Google reviews are a more accurate representation of your business.
Why Google Reviews Matter
Reputation management on Google is an ongoing process. You should never just respond to bad reviews. You should make a point to respond to every review, whether good or bad, at all times, when appropriate. Even in the cases where nothing was said, but someone left you stars--respond. Encourage additional feedback in situations where nothing was said by prompting the reviewers with questions about the product/services they received. All reviews (especially ones that reference your products and services) help your local SEO rankings as well as provide potential leads with more information about what you do.
Here are some stats from BrightLocal’s 2023 Local Consumer Review Survey.
- 98% of people read reviews for local services
- 87% of consumers used Google to evaluate local businesses in 2022
However, the percentage of people who leave reviews is small, so negative reviews stand out. This is why you should respond to every review–to encourage people to review, to let your customers know you read and care about reviews, and to provide context to negative reviews (whatever the circumstance).
What to Do About Negative Reviews
Obviously, negative reviews are not always fake. You may run into reviews that were left by legitimate customers that had a poor experience. Don’t ignore these. Respond to the review on Google, and then follow up with that unhappy customer with a phone call (if possible) to ensure they feel heard and try to remedy the situation. If you don't have their contact information, leave your contact information (or info for the owner or manager) and ask them to contact you so you can make things right.
Some steps to respond appropriately include:
- Thank them for taking the time to review
- Apologize that their experience didn't meet their expectations and let them know that you hear what they are saying
- Offer any explanation or context (without sounding defensive or minimizing their feelings)
- Explain that their experience doesn't live up to your standards or expectations
- Offer ways to make it right—you might just ask them to call you directly so you can discuss how to make it right
Best case scenario? You work with them, make things right, and they update their review. Worst case scenario? Someone reading the reviews sees that you care, making them more willing to overlook the negative review.
What to Do if a Google Review is Fake
There are few things more frustrating than someone tainting your business’s reputation, especially if they didn’t do business with you and are pretending they did. Google does have a feature to request the removal of fake reviews, but it is a little tricky to use.
When you think you have a fake Google review, be sure to verify whether it is before taking action. To determine if it's fake, consider:
- Are they in your CRM or point of sale software? If not, they likely aren’t a customer.
- Are they on record for contacting customer service? If not, recommend they do so in your response with a direct link to contact customer service.
- Do they lack specific details, such as which employee helped them? They may just not remember the name of the employee, but typically if someone has a bad experience, they take note of names.
- Has there been an influx of negative reviews in a short amount of time? It could be that a competitor or spammer is after you.
- Did the reviewer recommend a competitor in their negative review? This is usually a clear indicator that a competitor is behind the review.
How to Report a Fake Google Review
First, you need to be logged into your Google My Business account and have your business claimed. (Not set up yet? Here's how to get started.)
Then, click "View my Profile" or just find your business on Google Search.
Click the three vertical dots and select "Report Review." This will take you to a list of reasons to report. There isn't an option specifically for "fake," so the closest option is "Off topic." If you can tell for sure that it's coming from a competitor, you can select "Conflict of interest."
If a competitor is behind the fake negative reviews, a faster method is to contact them and request that they stop the activity and remove the fake reviews. If they don’t, you always have the option of reporting them to the Better Business Bureau and your local Chamber of Commerce.
Another method to request removal is through Google Support, which is basically the same as going through the Google Search or Map view.
How to Report Negative Google Reviews
The only way to request that a negative Google review be removed is if it violates Google’s guidelines. Reporting these reviews entails the same steps as above, with the report reasons being:
- Bullying or harassment
- Discrimination or hate speech
- Personal information disclosed
What if Google Doesn't Remove a Review?
Unfortunately, bad reviews aren't always removed, especially if it's not obvious that it is fake or malicious. Additionally, Google has changed or removed some of the contact methods. Currently, the only available option to try and escalate the problem is to use the contact form through Google My Business support.
You should also respond professionally and kindly to the review in question and explain that you believe they have reviewed the wrong business. This is more for the benefit of potential customers who are reading the review than anything. You might say something like,
Hello! We would like to investigate this matter further, but we're having trouble finding your information in our system. Please contact us at XX.
Or, if you believe they may have accidentally reviewed the wrong business, you can gently point that out and give the specific reasons why (i.e., we don't have a salesperson with that name, or we are not open on Mondays). Again, anything you say here is to help potential customers understand the context of negative reviews.
Bad Reviews aren't Business-Killers
Bottom line? One negative review, heck, even several negative reviews, won't be the end of your business. This is especially true if you ensure you are visible in your reviews--which means responding to all the reviews you get, positive and negative.
Potential customers are savvy--they understand bad reviews happen and know that every business has disgruntled customers. In fact, many consumers are much more skeptical about businesses that have only positive reviews! Your best bet is to counteract the negative review by responding to it and encouraging all your customers to leave reviews so that your Google reviews better show the reality of your customers' experiences.
When it comes down to it, positive reviews have the power to drown out negative reviews. Always ask your happy customers to leave Google reviews about your products and services! These positive sentiments can go a long way in convincing others to do business with you and significantly contribute to your local SEO.
Written by Emery Pearson
Emery is the content strategist at Tribute Media. She has an MA in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University, and she is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at Antioch University. She lives in southern California with a bunch of creatures and many plants.