It can feel so unfair. Getting a fake or negative review can sting and make you want to yell foul. But charging in hot-headed is the last thing you want to do. Let’s take a look at how to respond to negative or fake online reviews about your business on Google, Facebook, Yelp, Tripadvisor or any site.
Unfortunately, fake reviews posted on Google are all too common and can affect the performance of your business reputation online. Even though many companies like Google, Yelp, and Amazon have taken steps to deal with fake reviews, non-genuine negative posts continue to plague online businesses.
We all know there great reasons to get Google reviews that are important for your business. First, these modern “online testimonials” provide users with social proof of your business and can significantly influence consumers. Second, when you’re getting 100’s of genuine reviews it helps to boost your rankings which means greater visibility on the search engines—who doesn’t want that?
So, realizing the importance of reviews, it is necessary to minimize the impact of fake and negative Google reviews attributed to your business. However, trying to get a fake review removed can seem like an almost impossible task. Even in your most ardent attempts to eradicate an obvious bogus review, you may find that it still takes time for Google to remove it. In some cases, the fake review will remain no matter what.
Let’s look at some of the best and most effective ways to deal with fake Google reviews that may impact your business.
How to Act if You Receive a Fake Review
There are several proactive and positive ways you can respond to any kind of fake review.
First up, always, always, always respond in a positive manner
When someone takes a shot at us, we usually want to fire back. Cool your heels though. Usually, the best first step to take if you receive a review that looks like spam or a phony review is to make a positive response. Writing a polite but direct response to the fake review is a positive signal to customers and potential clients that you’re on deck. It shows that you’re aware of the situation and you operate your business in a professional manner.
You should also follow Google’s guidelines on responding to any kind of review – whether it is fake or not. For example, in their article on how to respond to reviews, Google recommends 2 things which can be helpful in responding to fake reviews:
- Avoid taking reviews personally
- Don’t try and win arguments with frustrated customers
- Your response should always be “useful, readable, and courteous.”
- Keep responses short and to the point.
Google also advises that you can flag reviews that violate their guidelines. However, more on that later in this article.
Here is a review response template you can tweak when responding to a Google review that you suspect is fake:
“Hello [customer name]. We appreciate it when our customers take the time to leave us online reviews because as it lets us improve and serve our customers better each and every day. However, I took a look and it seems we have no record of any customer matching your name. Because we take our genuine customers’ comments very seriously, please contact me, [your name], here at this location if you are our customer. We can do our best to resolve this issue immediately. Thank you. “
You can use a similar template for other review sites such as Yelp. For example, here’s a template if you suspect a fake review on Yelp:
“Hi [customer name], we understand that you may be frustrated with your experience. However, we think there could be some confusion. The issues you mentioned don’t related specifically to our business. So, although we’d like to help and take your comments on board, we are unable to do so. We are happy if you want to contact us at [phone number] or [email address] and ask for [your name]. If you can answer any questions you have about our business, we’d be more than happy to do so. Thanks, and have a great day.”
So, when responding to a fake review, it is best to take a stance based on facts rather than your personal feelings and emotions. It’s important to note that your response is not for the benefit of the fake reviewer, but for the benefit of the marketplace as a whole. In a way, you’re professionally peacocking; showing prospective customers that you operate your business professionally.
In some cases, the review looks so fake and bogus it makes orange toupees and spray tans look real. In these cases, there is no point in responding at all. However, responding to some negative reviews and not others may give a sense of accuracy to those fake/negative reviews where you haven’t responded. Best to use your own discretion here.
How to flag the fake review
Google realizes that many unscrupulous persons or businesses can use their review system to negatively impact competitors or leave unfair criticism. Therefore, you can flag the fake review which may result in it being taken down.
The steps that Google recommend to flag inappropriate content are the following:
- Find the review in question and click on the 3 dot menu and click “Flag as inappropriate.”
- In the “Report a policy violation” page, enter your email address and choose the violation type and submit.
Remember that posting reviews that are spam or fake with the intention of boosting or lowering ratings is a clear violation of Google’s review policies. Also, if there is hate speech or profanity in the review, you should also contact a member of Google’s support team immediately.
If a Google team member needs more information from you, they will contact you.
Another way to help remove the fake review
Apart from personally reporting a violation of Google’s posting policies, you can also enlist the help of others to flag the review. Sometimes, there is strength in numbers and it may help to get the review removed quicker.
Once the fake review is flagged, check back in a couple of days to see if it has been removed.
What steps can you take if the fake review isn’t removed by flagging it?
Contact Google My Business Support to report fake reviews
Your next step to attempt to have the fake review taken down is to contact Google My Business (GMB) support team. There are three ways you can do this:
- Log in to Google My Business Account Dashboard. In your dashboard, head to reviews and then find the Support link. You then fill out the necessary information and send a screenshot of the review. A member of the GMB team should contact you within 24-28 hours.
- Contact GMB via Twitter. You can also contact GMB via @GoogleSmallBiz. A team member may get in touch with you where you can explain the situation.
- Contact the Google community. There are many trusted Google community members who have gone through the same thing as you have. You can post your situation to the Spam & Policy Forum in Google My Business and wait for a reply. Alternatively, there may already be answers to your exact issue that have been resolved successfully.
Information for review violations
As already mentioned, it takes 24-48 hours for a GMB support team member to contact you. In that time, you can prepare the information that they need to consider whether to remove the review or not.
You will need the following information:
- Clear reasons why you believe the review is fake or spam.
- Point out how it violates Google’s policies.
- Reasons why the review should be removed.
- Other proof that the review is fake. For example, you may find other review activity from the same account that doesn’t add up or multiple reviews for the same type of business.
Once you have made your case, it is now up to the support team member to review the case and determine the outcome.
However, Google state in their policy help page that they don’t get involved when there is a disagreement about facts since they have no way of proving or disproving them. So, just because you claim the review is fake is no guarantee that it will be removed.
But, if you can prove that the review has nothing to do with your business, uses profanity, and is clearly fake or spam, there is a good chance that it will get removed.
How to Combat Fake Negative Reviews with Reputation Management
In the end, any business can receive negative reviews – fake or real ones. The best way that you can make sure that any kind of negative review doesn’t impact your business is to build your online brand and reputation. This is called a reputation management strategy.
There are two reasons why a solid reputation management strategy is essential for your business.
- First, if you were to see that a company received 99% positive reviews with a few negative ones, you would rarely pay much attention to the negative ones. Especially, if the company in question addressed the concerns of the negative reviews.
- Second, if a company only received a few reviews in total and they were either all 100% positive or all negative, it calls into question the validity of the reviews. However, seeing that there are 100s or even 1,000s of reviews (see one Starloop Member here), the majority of which are positive, gives an air of authenticity to the reviews.
The Upside to Negative Reviews
There is actually a positive side to receiving some negative reviews from customers. As the old adage goes: “you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Receiving a few negative reviews should not be viewed automatically as fake reviews. A few negative reviews in among many positive reviews shows that you have nothing to hide and your business and reputation is real. In fact, having 100% positive reviews could cause some customers to mistrust the reviews especially if you have a low review count.
Negative reviews, even if the customer is highly critical, may also have an element of truth to them. It could be that the customer experience could have been more pleasant, or the product should have worked better. When it comes to brand reputation management, the important thing is how you respond.
Negative comments give you an opportunity to grow your business and help meet all of your customers’ expectations.
How to Protect Your Online Reputation from Fake Reviews
No one likes to receive a bad review. How you respond to Google reviews—even fake ones—can boost your online reputation. A positive response to a review will always put your brand reputation in a good light. There is more you can do to protect your reputation.
Getting more reviews can lower the impact that a few negative fake reviews cause. This is why your reputation management strategy should focus on getting more genuine Google reviews. After all, if potential customers see hundreds of real reviews, a few fake reviews will stick out like the proverbial “sore thumb.”
How to Spot Fake Google Reviews
There are several ways to spot fake negative reviews. Usually, the biggest red flags that a review is fake are a lack of detail. But false Google reviews may just have one star without any detail. Or you could discover that the reviewer was never your customer.
Let’s look in more detail at how to deal with fake bad reviews so you can protect your online reputation.
1. Fake reviews lack detail
Many false reviews are easy to spot because they don’t have specifics. It’s hard to describe an experience if it never happened. So, fake reviews often deal in generalities. Examples of fake Google reviews could be things like non-specific criticism, multiple negative reviews in a short time, or using a harsh tone.
2. False reviews use overly-descriptive words
To spot false reviews, pay attention to the types of words the reviewer used. Does it sound like the language an average person uses? Or do the words sound like they’ve been pulled from a list of synonyms?
3. Check the reviewer’s profile
If you suspect that a review is fake, it’s worthwhile checking out the reviewer’s profile. For a start, you could see if the person is a genuine customer. Or you can check out their other profiles. Also, pay attention to other reviews they leave. Are all their reviews scathing and cynical? It could also be that the negative review is the only one on their profile.
If you suspect a fake review, it’s time to report the review to Google. But you may be wondering: “How do I report a review on Google?” Read on to find out.
Let’s look at some of the best and most effective ways to deal with fake Google reviews that may impact your business.
Although receiving fake or spammy reviews can be maddening, with a solid online review strategy, there is no reason why they should affect your business.
You should always respond in an appropriate matter to fake reviews and flag them for review by Google. However, being pro-active when it comes to receiving genuine reviews from happy customers can be the best offense against defending your reputation against fake reviews.
Photo by Matthew Brodeur.