93% of consumers read customer reviews before making a decision about a local business. When it only takes 1-3 reviews for 40% of potential customers to form an online decision about a brand, it’s more important than ever that your reviews reflect your business positively and accurately. So what can a business do to make sure their local business listings are free from fake negative reviews?
At a time when every review matters, the ability to remove negative Google reviews and effectively manage your online reputation can be a game changer for local businesses. Fortunately, Google has 9 specific violations that allow a business to remove bad, negative, and fake reviews from their listings. By removing reviews that are in violation of Google’s Review Policy, a brand can improve their ratings, climb the rankings and ultimately entice more customers to visit their business.
The 9 Google Review Violations
1. Spam and fake content.
Online directories are really starting to crack down on people who leave fake reviews. In fact, just last year, an Italian man was sentenced to nine months in jail and fined for leaving fake reviews on TripAdvisor.
Most local search directories have automatic filters that attempt to mitigate fake reviews from being posted on local business listings, however, some still seem to slip through the cracks. In these cases, you can flag the reviews in order to bring them to Google’s attention directly. To spot a fake review look for signs like overly generic reviews, ridiculous usernames, fake/non-human avatars, nearly identical reviews left by the same person for different businesses, or multiple reviews posted by the same reviewer in a short period of time.
2. Multiple negative reviews from the same person.
Sometimes, one person will use multiple Google accounts in order to leave more than one review for the same business. They could ask friends to use their accounts or they could create multiple fake accounts. However they decide to do it, using multiple accounts to leave multiple negative reviews about one experience with a business is against Google’s review guidelines and should be flagged for removal.
3. Inappropriate content, profanity and racial terms.
Any use of inappropriate content or profanity and racial terms in a review is grounds for removal. This also includes explicit content, offensive content, hate speech, harassment, and bullying. Google’s content policy consists of many different guidelines restricting this content from reviews.
4. Fraudulent reviews from competitors.
Sometimes businesses go to drastic measures to beat their competitors in the local search results. At times, this may result in attempts to hurt a competitor’s online reputation. If multiple businesses in the same industry and in the same general area receive a bad review from one person in a relatively short timespan while leaving one competitor a glowing review, this is usually a sign the person behind the reviews is the competitor.
5. Oops! Wrong business.
There has been some circumstance where a customer clearly, but accidentally left a review for the wrong businesses. This is easy to spot because they refer to products or services that are completely unrelated to what your business does. In this case, you can either respond to the review and politely ask them to remove it or dispute the review with Google.
6. Leaving reviews at locations they didn’t visit.
If you have a multi-location business a bad experience at one location could cause a customer to go on a tangent of writing bad reviews at every location in attempts to harm the brand’s reputation as a whole.
Google’s review guidelines state that you can only leave a review with a business location that you’ve actually had a customer experience with. It’s pretty unlikely that a customer visited more than one location on the same day and had the same negative experience at each location. Another good clue is the location of the user versus the location of the business. For example, if the user is in Florida, but they wrote a review about a location in Ohio and Texas in the same few days.
7. Reviews from current or former employees.
Whether the review is good or bad, reviews from current and former employees directly violates Google’s review guidelines under the “Conflict of Interest” section. This also means that employees aren’t allowed to post reviews about their competitors either.
8. Reviews that aren’t relevant to an actual experience.
Digital media is enabling the distribution of news and other stories. However, this means that if your store or location becomes the subject of a news article or story, you may begin to receive reviews from people all over the country. The problem comes when these people are commenting on news stories, voicing their opinions, making personal rants, etc. Reviews are meant to contain content that is only based on customer experiences which means anything off-topic or unrelated to experience is against Google’s review guidelines.
9. Inappropriate Images
People can also submit reviews in the form of photos. Many of the guidelines that apply to the text in reviews also apply to any visual content uploaded along with the reviews. Images should only depict the experiences being had at the actual location where the customer is leaving the review for.
How to flag and remove Google reviews
For reviews that violate Google’s terms of service:
1. Open Google Maps and Search for your business location.
2. Click to view all of your business reviews. Select “All Reviews”.
3. Click the three dots in the top right corner of the review you wish to remove and select “Flag as inappropriate”
4. Fill out the ‘Report a Policy Violation’ form and submit
For removal of reviews that violate applicable laws – like slander or copyright infringements – submit a legal removal request. Follow the directions on the page. Google will walk you through the legal removal process.
How to Respond to Negative Google Reviews
Apologize and thank them for their feedback – Negative reviews help corporations make changes to improve current business practices. Apologize for the unsatisfactory experience and thank them for giving honest feedback.
Respond appropriately – Remember that the conversation is public. Never blame the customer or attempt to argue with them.
Invite the conversation offline – Don’t go back and forth with an unhappy customer on a public review site. Ask them for more details to ensure it doesn’t happen again and provide them with contact information so they can get in touch with customer service.
Short and Sweet – Don’t say more than absolutely needed. The idea is to handle the review as quickly and politely as possible.
How to Respond to Fraudulent Reviews
Keep your cool – Remain calm. Don’t attack them, you don’t want to bring more attention to this review than it deserves.
Clarify the situation – If the interaction this reviewer did not happen at your store location, make sure you clarify that. Reply that you have no record of doing business with that person.
Ask them to take it down – It doesn’t hurt to ask the reviewer to take down their fraudulent review. Sometimes people will regret writing a fake review and when you bring it to their attention they will take it down.