Have you ever received a negative Google review that you know isn’t authentic? Getting rid of phony negative or fake reviews lends to your credibility as a business and helps protect you against negative publicity, loss of clientele, loss of income, and other negative implications.
There are four main ways to combat fake Google reviews. These include asking the original author to remove the negative review, flagging the negative review directly to Google, pursuing legal action against the person who posted the review, and using Online Reputation Management and Search Engine Optimization.
Convincing the original author to remove their negative comment or fake review is a surefire way to save your brand. While this method can prove to be difficult, especially with fake reviews, it is based on outstanding customer service. Focusing on excellent customer service can help prevent negative reviews. Responding directly to a fake or negative review can be detrimental unless you are facing a PR crisis and the public needs to hear from you on a serious issue.
Responding to reviewers can rile them up and make them more upset than they originally were, and by responding to the review you bring attention to it from potential customers or clients. When customers see negative reviews, it encourages them to do the same and gives them the impression that your Google reviews are a safe space to dump negative feedback. Responding to a message like this also discourages Google from taking action against the comment and can perpetuate the issue. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, responding to a negative comment in an attacking manner can sometimes be legally fatal. What you post publicly can and will be used against you if a customer decides to take legal action against you, your business, or your comment. Think twice before lashing out. Carefully choose your words and have another set of eyes take a look to give you honest feedback. Stick to the facts in your response, understanding that your words could come back to haunt you otherwise.
What to consider if you choose to respond to a review:
● Do so within 48 hours to exceed the customer’s expectations.
● Respond using direct and personal methods of communication (ex. Phone or video chat instead of an email).
● Listen to the customer feedback and prepare to offer an apology or solution promptly.
● Respect the reviewer’s privacy.
● Do whatever possible to resolve the dispute with the customer but avoid forceful bullying and verbal harassment.
The next method to remove a negative Google review is to flag the review. Google has an automatic screening process that removes all reviews that it finds to be inappropriate, but oftentimes the screening process misses fake and negative reviews.
Google finds the following types of comments to violate their guidelines and act as grounds for a review to be removed: spam and fake content, off-topic content, restricted content (think local advertising laws and age requirements to make purchases), illegal, sexually explicit, and terrorist content, offensive, and obscene language and gestures, dangerous and derogatory content, impersonation, and conflict of interest. If you believe that a review is violating any of these terms, you can flag the review to get Google’s attention to take a closer look.
How to flag a Google review:
● Have several users flag the review to gain traction
● Flag reviews using Google Maps
○ Find the fake or negative review
○ Click the flag or three vertical dots next to the review
○ Flag the review as inappropriate
● Flag reviews using your Google My Business account
○ Log into your Google My Business account
○ Open the location/company you would like to manage
○ Select “reviews” from the menu bar
○ Identify the fake or negative review
○ Click the three vertical dots next to the review to flag it as inappropriate
● Report to Google directly
○ Log into your Google My Business account
○ Click on “Reviews” in the menu bar
○ Locate the support bar on the left side of the page
○ Click “Need More Help”
○ Click “Customer Reviews and Photos”
○ Click “Review Removal Issues”
○ Click “Contact Support”
○ Select your method of contact (phone or email) and fill out your contact information
○ Paste the text of the fake/negative review and click “Automatically Include a Screenshot”
○ Include the Google Maps link to the review
○ Wait 24-48 hours for Google to respond
● Document and save evidence of the review in question
If the previous two methods don’t work, you can pursue legal action to get the review removed. When the reviewer’s identity is known, a lawsuit can be an effective tool to have the review removed. Many of these cases are resolved before anything actually goes to court so taking this route is highly effective in defamation cases. Filing an internet defamation lawsuit requires consideration of potential risks, expenses, actionable claims, defenses, etc.
If the reviewer’s identity is not known, the process can be more complicated. A lawsuit of this nature requires a plaintiff to subpoena internet service companies. The process can be difficult because your attorney will need to contact Google to have them find the identity of the reviewer using private data that can be difficult to retrieve. This may involve filing your case in an out-of-state jurisdiction, reaching out to webmasters, internet service providers, and site administrators for IP addresses and account information. The process must be completed as soon as possible, as it can become costly and complicated very quickly.
The final method to remove a fake or negative Google review is to use Online Reputation Management (ORM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). ORM takes action to improve your reputation on the internet while SEO uses tools and techniques to make changes to websites and online content to boost your business or brand ranking on Google searches. Reputation Management works to drown out negative reviews by creating positive content while SEO ensures that the positive content shows up first in searches, thus burying the negative comment so it’s very difficult to find and effectively removed.
Here are some tips using ORM and SEO to your advantage when dealing with negative and fake Google reviews:
● Regularly ask customers for feedback
● Focus on getting as many positive reviews as possible
● Use social media channels to connect with your customers
● Focus on publishing positive content
○ News on relevant industry trends
○ How-to guides and best-of lists
○ Cost articles about your business, products, and services
○ Brand-related content
● Actively monitor your business’s online reputation
○ Google search your business in your browser’s private or incognito mode
○ Create a Google Alerts account to monitor mentions of your business
○ Review social media accounts for damaging content, mentions, and comments
○ Claim all online business profiles
○ Purchase exact match domains
If you are struggling with negative and fake Google reviews, analyze your options, and start with the lowest-risk option. It is important to remember that every business occasionally gets blindsided by negative and fake Google reviews. While online reviews can help grow your business, demonstrating to the public how great your business is, things can go wrong. Keep an eye on your reviews and act quickly!
Innovast Digital Marketing provides Reputation Management and Search Engine Optimization services. If you are feeling overwhelmed and want to improve how your business is perceived on the web, let us help you!