When you are purchasing a product or service online, you most likely peruse the reviews before making your decision. According to a study by Podium, 93% of consumers say online reviews have an impact on their intent to purchase.
Business owners are passionate about receiving accurate feedback from customers. In addition to using such feedback for marketing purposes, reviews also give an indication of how an agency is performing.
Reviews also impact online ranking, which influences your brand’s visibility in search engine result pages. Many publications, such as Search Engine Journal, cite reviews were the most prominent local SEO ranking factor in 2017.
It’s no wonder, after putting in so much hard work, that business owners melt into a pit of despair upon receiving a fake or defamatory review—I know, I’ve witnessed it on multiple occasions.
But there are solutions, depending on the situation, for how to deal with fake and defamatory Google reviews, based upon my firm’s client experiences and how we guided them to a solution.
Before I continue, it’s important to keep in mind the golden rule.
Don’t let your emotions respond!
I understand that untrue or potentially defamatory reviews just make agency owners want to scream the roof down. However, if you start responding with your emotions in full swing, it’s not going to do you any favors.
Imagine a prospective insurance shopper looking at your angry response. They could interpret it as being unprofessional because you are not keeping your cool. Furthermore, you may look guilty in the eyes of others because you are not responding in a professional and calm manner.
Prospects and customers don’t want to see a shouting match online. If your first impulse is to send an angry response, sleep on it! You may feel better the next day and ready to respond in the best way possible. Regardless, aim to respond to fake reviews within 24 hours.
Removing or deleting fake Google reviews
Fake reviews are particularly frustrating. You can spot them usually due to a suspicious user name and profile picture, which also may be blank. Here’s an example left for one of our clients who delivers their services face to face.
There are multiple reasons why someone would do this. Perhaps it’s a competitor playing dirty or a disgruntled employee. It could be a customer who took things the wrong way after refusing to pay for a booked session that was cancelled at the last minute, which violates the client’s terms of service.
This review is alarming and instantly could damage the reputation of the business if not dealt with appropriately. So let’s go through the options.
Contact Google My Business
If the review directly violates Google’s review policy and terms of service, then it’s worth contacting Google My Business, the team that is responsible for Google reviews. Click ‘Contact us’ in the top right and then you have an option for a call back after selecting ‘Customer reviews and photos’ and ‘Manage customer reviews’ from the menu.
When talking to Google, it’s handy to have ready the clause of their terms or review policy that the offending review directly violates.
Be warned! The team from Google My Business may not accept your case, even if the offending review directly violates their terms. Here’s an example explaining why. The call center is based in India. After explaining that the above review falls under ‘Offensive content’ in the review policy, the agent, after performing a series of checks, informed me that the review does not violate their terms.
After explaining what ‘touchy’ and ‘feely’ means in the UK, the agent noted down my argument and informed me that the case would be sent to a specialist team who rejected our argument. It seems like the team in India aren’t aware of what certain terms mean in the UK.
If you fail the first time, it might be worth trying again later on. If you repeatedly fail to gain success using this method, move on to the next option.
Flagging a Google review
On a desktop, you will see little flag icon next to the review.On mobile, tap the three dots and select ‘Report review’.
On mobile, tap the three dots and select ‘Report review’
Then enter your email and select the appropriate violation type using Google’s review policy as a guideline.
Now it’s time to get support. Contact your clients, friends and family. Tell them what has happened and ask them to also flag the review. Send step-by-step instructions to make it as easy as possible for them to help. You’d be surprised how others, especially clients, will support your cause.
The more flags Google receives, the more likely they will take action and remove the review. Again, it’s worth noting that this option does not guarantee success. From our experience, it has worked for some and not for others, but it’s still worth doing.
Submit a legal request of removal
After a time, if flagging does not work, you have the option of submitting a legal request of removal. Because Google asks you to cite specific provisions of law, you may wish to consider consulting an appropriate legal professional before submitting this request.
Responding to fake Google reviews
If all the above fails, or for whatever reason you want a quicker solution, the next option is to respond. Here is how I responded to the fake review detailed above:
Anyone looking at your reviews and seeing this response is more likely to view your brand favorably. Other gleaming feedback along with the fact that the offending review has a suspiciously fake name and no profile picture may work in your favor.
Keep your response objective and to the point or feel free to use the above as a template.
It’s important to note that sometimes, fake reviews do not leave any feedback as shown in this example.
I have found it practically impossible to remove these reviews because, in Google’s eyes, the user is registering their genuine feedback using their star rating. The user also has used what looks like a genuine name. In this case, the best option is to respond.
Responding to defamatory or inaccurate Google reviews
Now, this requires a different strategy. A defamatory review contains inaccurate feedback left by an actual customer. They may use an alias account when leaving feedback. Usually, their feedback will help you identify which customer this relates to.
For the record, Google states the following in their review policy:
“Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased.”
Contacting Google and flagging the review may not be the best option; therefore, a response is required. To help you understand how to respond, I will use a situation that was presented to another client who is a psychotherapist.
After being presented with a dangerous situation, our client reported the incident to the relevant authorities. Our client has a legal obligation to do this, which is clearly communicated to the customer before any counselling sessions are delivered.
As a result the customer left an inaccurate and defamatory Google review.
Working with our client, their legal department and the regulatory authority, we drafted an email response informing the customer that their feedback violated Google’s review policy. We recommended they alter their feedback to represent what actually happened.
Our client’s customer then amended their review and removed all defamatory content. We then drafted a response for our client.
It’s inevitable that businesses will eventually receive negative reviews. However, so long as the feedback falls in line with Google’s review, it’s not worth tearing your hair out. A concise and objective response is the best option.
Pump up your ratings!
If you do receive a negative review that you still think isn’t deserved, ask for more reviews! Contact your current and previous clients, suppliers and affiliates. Ask them for feedback. If you receive an influx of positive feedback, a prospective customer may disregard the negative review when engaging with your business. It also raises your average star rating.
Asking for feedback and reviews on a regular basis is now considered a standard business practice. Ensure that your agency has an appropriate procedure for gathering feedback and managing your online reputation so you are prepared to proactively protect your hard-earned reputation.