In today’s online world, failing to remove a fake Google review can place your business name and reputation at serious risk. Fake Google reviews can lead to negative publicity, loss of potential customers, decreased profits, and other consequences.
Businesses can remove fake Google reviews in four ways:
Ask the original author to remove the negative review,
Flag the negative review to Google for Terms of Service violations,
Pursue legal action against the person who posted the review, and
Use online reputation management and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to bolster your business’s reputation.
If your business has recently been hit with a bad review, do not worry. Whether it is a disgruntled client, competitor, a vengeful former employee, or an anonymous online troll, negative reviews happen to every business at some point. What is important is that you follow the best practices of how to respond to bad reviews and arrange to get them removed as quickly as possible.
Identifying Fake Google Reviews
As a business, it is imperative that you pay close attention to your online presence and have a good idea of which reviews are real and which are completely fabricated. What makes a review suspicious varies from case to case, so the best advice is to trust your intuition.
Learning to spot a fake review takes some practice, but the methods are relatively simple.
First, compare the review to your business records and customer database. Can you match the username, transaction, or negative experience to any record you have on file? If the review does not seem to reflect a real experience at your office, it is the first red flag.
Then, take a closer look at the reviewer’s account itself.
Was the profile created on the same day as the review?
Has the reviewer made any other reviews besides the review of your business?
Is the username or profile photo suspicious (such as a play on words or a photo taken from a stock photo site)?
If it looks like an account was created on the same day as (or for the purposes of) writing the review anonymously, it could be a sign of a fake review.
Suspicious timing could be another indicator of fake reviews. They may start popping up at regular intervals, or perhaps your business suddenly goes from a majority of five-star ratings to an influx of negative reviews.
Finally, the language of reviews could reveal inauthenticity. Perhaps the review uses:
Inaccurate descriptions of your service or product, and/or
Direct or indirect promotions of your competitor(s).
If any of these apply to the review’s language, it could be fake.
How Fake Google Reviews Can Impact Your Business
Google reviews increase your business’s visibility and improve its reputation. Below, we discuss how positive Google reviews improve your local SEO ranking—and how big of an impact fake Google reviews can have on your business.
How Do Google Reviews Help With Your Local SEO Ranking?
When an individual is looking for a business nearby—like a restaurant or an auto shop, for example—they typically open Google and type “[business type] near me.” Google then uses a complex combination of the user’s location, search history, and local business data to suggest businesses to the user.
Claiming and updating your business’s Google My Business profile can help your business rank better in Google’s search algorithm. And responding professionally to Google reviews about your business also shows Google (and potential customers) that you value feedback.
Because of the nature of the algorithm, positive reviews about your business contribute to the quality of your Google search rankings.
How Can Fake Google Reviews Damage Your Business’s Reputation?
The consequences of fake negative Google reviews may seem straightforward at first; they hurt web users’ opinions of your business.
However, the ways a false review can damage your business vary. We list five common ways below.
1. Decreased Foot Traffic & Customers
If consumers read negative reviews about your business, they usually do not know whether the review is fake or not. Their opinion of your business will be affected by these negative reviews—and in turn, you will see fewer new customers deciding to take a chance on your company.
2. Loss Of Reputation in the Public Eye
With enough negative reviews, the general sentiment about your business worsens. Potential customers and the general public can lose trust in your company’s product, service, and even integrity.
3. Loss of Advertising & Sponsorships
With your loss of public reputation, your company may lose advertisers or sponsors as well. Other companies will not want to invest in a company that is seeing fewer sales and interactions with potential customers, since the return on investment (ROI) would most likely be much less than they would prefer.
4. Reviewers May Feel More Comfortable Leaving Negative Reviews of the Business
As they say, once it rains, it pours—and unfortunately, this adage holds true when it comes to reviews. Once a negative review or two is published, other reviewers may feel inclined to pile on and add their own negative experience—embellished or not.
5. Lower Employee Morale & Difficulty Retaining Quality Employees & Talent
It stands to reason that if your business is seeing less customer traffic and experiencing negative public opinion, your employees will have less pride in their place of employment. It may even become difficult to hire and retain top talent if they see questionable reviews about your company online.
6. Damaged CEO Reputation
Today, a CEO’s reputation is directly related to the company’s image as a whole—and business leaders are increasingly held under a microscope.
Negative reviews revealing or fabricating a misstep by a high-profile CEO can result in loss of revenue, public blowback, and a damaged brand image.
7. Decreased Bottom Line & Having to Close the Business’s Doors for Good
With the loss of sales, foot traffic, and advertising deals, a business that has been bombarded by fake negative reviews faces the real risk of losing enough revenue to go bankrupt or out of business entirely.
How to Remove Fake Google Reviews & Damaging Content
If a reviewer is determined to leave a fake Google review for your business, they may use one of several methods. For instance, they may:
Post as multiple people and post multiple reviews;
Leave a one-star review with no text;
Post statements that are blatantly false; or
Leave a review made up of mixed substantive truths and falsities.
What Steps Can You Take to Remove Fake Google Reviews?
Assuming the situation involves a real client of your business, the best solution in most situations should hopefully be obvious: customer service. A happy customer never leaves a bad Google review, after all.
But if reaching out to the reviewer personally does not work, you can also try flagging and reporting the review to Google. We cover both options in more detail below.
Option #1: Have Original Author Remove the Review
According to a ReviewTrackers’ study, roughly 52% of customers expect to hear back from a business within 7 days after posting their review. 4 Therefore, as a general rule, businesses should respond to a review within 24-48 hours of posting.
Usually, the reason a person posts a complaint online is that they want their voice to be heard. Sometimes letting the person know that their complaints have been heard and the problem is being addressed is all that is needed.
It is important to also offer solutions. Is the customer just seeking an apology? What about a refund? Asking the customer what will resolve the situation is important.
Responding to a review in the wrong way can do more harm than good—not to mention bring more unwanted and unnecessary attention to the review. Responding to a review can also encourage more bad reviews and decrease the chances that the website will remove the review for a term of service violation.
And finally, a bad response can put you in hot water legally if you say the wrong thing. Responses can be especially troublesome for professionals such as doctors and lawyers, who have strict confidentiality obligations.
Option #2: Flag and Report the Review
Flagging a fake Google review is the first step towards having Google remove false online reviews. Think of it as sending a signal to Google to alert them, “Hey! Something is not quite right here. Please come take a look!”
But before pulling the trigger, always make sure you check Google’s review guidelines first to determine what Google considers an inappropriate review. 6 Google’s policies prohibit the following types of reviews:
Spam and fake content;
Off-topic content (such as posts unrelated to the location or business in question);
Restricted content (such as links or contact information for where consumers can buy illegal goods or services)
Illegal, sexually explicit, and/or terrorist content;
Offensive and obscene language and gestures;
Dangerous and derogatory content (such as harassment or threats of physical violence/harm);
Brand impersonations (such as trademark infringement, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices by other businesses); and
Conflicts of interest (such as reviews written by the business’s owner, current or former employees, or competitors).
Once you have identified an appropriate violation, the next step is to flag the review. Local business owners and companies can flag reviews in two different ways: by flagging the review via Google Maps or through managing one’s Google My Business reviews.
To flag a defamatory or fake review about your business, simply Google your business or visit Google Maps to find your business listing. Then:
Find the review in question that you want to flag,
Locate the flag or three vertical dots next to a review,
Click the flag or three dots, and
Flag the review as inappropriate.
After flagging the review as inappropriate, you will be directed to a page to ‘Report a policy violation.’ There, you can identify the nature of the violation, fill out your email address, and submit the request.
After flagging the review as inappropriate and selecting which Google policy it violates, you will receive a follow-up email letting you know they are looking into it.
Flag the Review From Within Your Google My Business Account
If you are a business owner, you can also flag Google reviews through your Google My Business Account. In our experience, reporting reviews through your Google My Business account has historically proven more effective than the flagging option above. All you need to do is:
Log in to your Google My Business account,
Open the location you’d like to manage (for companies and businesses with more than one location),
Select ‘Reviews’ from the menu bar,
Identify the fake review in question, and
Click the three vertical dots and flag the review as inappropriate.
After flagging a review, the review in question will be escalated to a Google Business review team of specialists to be analyzed. Flagged reviews are NOT assessed or analyzed by artificial intelligence or auto-detect filters.
Google’s review flagging process usually takes 72 hours before any action is taken regarding the review. You will also receive an email confirming this.
As opposed to flagging a Google review via Google Maps or a business’s public review profile, we have generally found that most people have better success rates having reviews removed through this method.
Just always remember, removing Google reviews is a process—one in which patience is truly a virtue.