Sadly, receiving a fake review on your Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) is not a rare occurrence. In fact, it is quite common and something many businesses have experienced. Both Yelp and Amazon have sued fake review posters and in October of 2021 the Federal Trade Commission notified 700+ national advertisers that deceptive endorsements can lead to financial penalties. Legal action hasn’t stopped or prevented fake reviews from continuing to be published, nor has paying huge fines, but that doesn’t mean as a business owner there is no way to fight back.
When it comes to fake Google reviews the two major issues that local business owners encounter are:
- Fake reviews on their Google Business Profile – They are on the receiving end of negative fake reviews. For some small businesses this could be a sudden influx of multiple negative fakes reviews.
- Positive fake reviews on competitors Google Business Profile – A competitor that didn’t have many positive reviews or had negative reviews is suddenly getting an influx of positive 5-star ratings they have paid for. This is review fraud – a business gaming the review system to hide their negative reviews, increase rankings, and buy their way to the top (learn more about this review spam).
Fake reviews continue to be a huge problem, and beyond the businesses they impact, these reviews do harm to consumers. A recent Uberall-Transparency Company study found that nearly 11% of Google reviews were potentially fake, which could amount to ~200 Million reviews in the US alone.
Trying to have a fake or spammy Google review removed can sometimes feel as frustrating as receiving the review (some call into question if the guidelines or spam algorithms even work), however; it is still important to make attempts to have the review removed, even though there is no guarantee that Google will take it down.
What to Do When You’ve Received a Fake Review:
Respond to the Review
While you may not be able to have the review removed, you do have the ability to respond. If the review is indeed fake, of course you will not be able to actually resolve the problem for this person. However you can make it clear to other customers and prospective customers that you are aware of the review, you take what reviewers say seriously, and that as a business you are dedicated to remedying these types of situations.
Just as there are guidelines for leaving a review, Google has some tips for responding. Your response should not be defensive. Keep it brief, and do your best to respond as you would for a negative review.
“Hi, [insert reviewer’s name],
We take these matters very seriously. Unfortunately, we have no record or recollection of any customer experience fitting this account, nor can we verify your identity from our records. We would like to investigate this issue further, please contact [insert contact name] at [insert company email address], so that we can resolve this issue immediately.”
If you can’t respond in a calm and professional manner, don’t respond at all. Yes, it’s very upsetting to receive a fake review, but how you respond is a reflection of the company, and securing business from a potential customer is far more valuable than getting the last word in.
In some cases there will be no point in responding. Use your discretion to determine the best course of action.
Report the Review
You can notify Google Support about a violation of their content guidelines by flagging the review.
1. Click the icon on the top-right corner (the three vertical dots) and click “Report review”.
2. Select which rule the review violates.
3. Check over the violation type selected and click “Submit.”
Then you’re done. You will only hear from Google Support if they require additional details from you or if they have information to share with you.
When reporting a review:
A) If you can, have several people report the review in question.
B) Once a review is flagged, wait three business days for a response. However, if the review is loaded with hate-speech, profanity, and/or has highly sensitive content, escalate it immediately through Google Support. According to Google, a team of human operators reviews all flagged content.
C) Google now has a tool that allows you to manage your review removal requests. This tool helps you check the status of any reviews you’ve reported. This is also an additional way for you as a business owner or marketer to “report a new review for removal” for any of the profiles you manage.
Report the Review via Google Business Profile Manager & Support
If the fake review has not been removed using the flagging method, get in touch with Google Support. You can do this through:
1. The Google Business Profile Dashboard
- Log into your GBP dashboard.
- Go to the Reviews section.
- Scroll to the review you would like to flag, click the icon on the top-right corner (the three vertical dots).
- Click “Flag as inappropriate.”
- Select the reason for reporting the review (off topic, spam, conflict of interest, profanity, bullying or harassment, discrimination or hate speech, personal information).
- Click “Submit.”
2. Ask the Google Community For Help
If you have a specific question with regards to the spam policy or are seeking advice from other community members, you can use the Support Forum to get answers and help.
Make Your Case
Okay, so you have finally got in touch with Google Support, now what? Well, you have to make a case and do your best to show
- why the review is false,
- how it violates the policy,
- why it should be removed,
- make sure you have images/screenshots, links, and any other details that back up your claim. The more proof you can provide the stronger your case will be.
After you report it and make your case, Support will tell you whether or not they will escalate the review(s) to a “specialist.” This specialist will determine the outcome and notify you by email.
Report a User in Maps
In 2020, Google released a feature that allowed you to report Google Map users who are contributing false information, uploading offensive content, or abusing Google’s content policy. If you have a legitimate fake review and can show that a user is violating Google’s user contributed content policies which is defined as “fake content, copied or stolen photos, off-topic reviews, defamatory language, personal attacks, and unnecessary or incorrect content.” You may also want to report users that you believe are writing fake positive reviews for your competitors.
- Open the Google Maps mobile app.
- Tap the Review, Photo, or Question/Answer for the user that you would like to report.
- Tap the username.
- Tap the top right icon (three vertical dots).
- Select “Report profile.”
- Choose the type of abuse.
How We Had a False Review Removed
When the review is clearly fake or spam, it’s easier to remove. For instance, we had the following review removed because the “experience” being referenced was absolutely not related to our business and services:
I followed ALL of the steps above:
- We responded to the review. We actually kind of thought it was funny how far off this reviewer was and it didn’t really bother us that the review was there, as it is very obvious to anyone that this review is not for our business.
- I reported the review and provided my contact information and reason why the review was being flagged.
- The review I reported violates their content policy as an Off-topic Review. The review is for a furniture company called Masseys. We do not sell furniture here at Whitespark.
- I made the case to the support associate and showed how it violated their content policy, at which point he advised me that he agreed and will send this to one of their specialists. He informed me that he cannot guarantee the removal as it is up to the discretion of the review specialist. Either way he would be in contact with me. In less than 24 hours, I was notified that the review would be removed. Success!
The Best Defence is a Good Offence
The best way to ensure that a fake review won’t be detrimental to your business is having a solid review strategy in place. Reviews are the second biggest local pack/finder ranking factor and a GBP conversion factor. If you are not making reviews a priority for your business, then you need to start.
Building up your reviews by encouraging customers to leave you an online review is an easy way to mitigate the risks of receiving a fake review while showcasing how awesome your business is. Plus reviews build stronger customer relationships, positively impact rankings, and provide credibility and social proof.
Simple and Effective Ways You Can Grow Your Online Reviews:
1. Encourage All Customer Feedback
Sometimes we are blinded by the allure of those shiny review stars, but before you start asking all your customers for a review, have you checked in with them to see how they are feeling about your service or product? Reviews are the outcome of great customer service, so how is yours stacking up?
There are so many opportunities for you to obtain customer feedback, here are eight easy ways to help get you started.
2. Monitor Your Brand Mentions
Stay on top of what people are saying about your company. Any solid reputation management plan includes monitoring what people are saying and engaging with your audience.
Start by setting up Google Alerts, it takes no more than 10 minutes. Add alerts for your brand name, website, CEO, and keywords. There are also a bunch of applications in the market that can help you with monitoring social mentions, building brand awareness, and reviews. Examples would be Mention, Brandwatch, or Sprout Social.
You don’t have to review your alerts every day, but schedule a small block of time once a week to review the alerts and stay on top of what people are saying about your business.
3. Start Asking Every Customer For a Review
Having a solid review strategy in place is a great way to combat a fake review. Receiving consistent reviews builds up your review numbers, and provides a more complete picture of how your company truly operates.
The best way to build up your online reviews is to make asking a part of your daily operating practices, and knowing that you will have to ask a lot of customers before one will leave a review. It’s nothing personal, life is busy and just because a customer doesn’t leave a review immediately, doesn’t mean they never will.
Potential customers are not just reading reviews on your Google listing, they are on sites like Angie’s List, Facebook, Trip Advisor, etc, so it’s up to you to ensure you are listed on these sites, and actively trying to get reviews here as well.
You can manually encourage reviews on these sites by directing customers to these sites, or consider using a review platform that helps you organize your feedback requests, earn testimonials, grow your online reviews , and streamline the process.
Don’t let a bad or fake review hold your business hostage. Set yourself up for review success by implementing a winning customer feedback and review strategy. With Whitespark’s Reputation Builder you can grow, manage, and market your online reviews and customer feedback all in one place to drive sales up for your business. Start your free 14-day trial today.
Most review platforms are easy to use, it’s a matter of entering your company information, adding clients, sending a customized email asking if they would recommend your business, requesting feedback on their experience, and then asking if they would leave a review. This is exactly how our Reputation Builder works. The bonus of using a review tool like this, is that you also have many additional features at your disposal, you can incorporate customer survey’s to get specific customer feedback, you can showcase your reviews on your website, and you can monitor your reviews across many platforms so that you can respond in a timely manner.
Having a solid review strategy in place that helps you grow your reviews on your Google listing and multiple third-party sites is not only a deterrent for fake review spammers it’s good for your business, your local rankings and building your reputation.
A Negative Review or Rating Does Not Equal a Fake Review
Negative reviews happen. No business is perfect and not every single customer will be satisfied, mistakes will be made. Receiving a negative rating only review can be annoying because you don’t know why someone is unhappy with your business and removing rating only reviews is really hard. But also, negative reviews are not all bad news. While hearing someone had a negative customer experience sucks, it’s an opportunity to make things better.
- Provide honest feedback that you can turn around and use to improve your business or make changes.
- Create trust. Seeing only positive reviews of a company can result in people questioning the authenticity of the reviews. Seeing a few sprinkles of negative reviews creates a level of trust.
- Create opportunities for turning something bad into something good. You won’t be able to please everyone, but if you can make things right for someone, why not try? If you can take that negative review and turn it into a positive one, that will be noticed. How you respond and how you react will be what other’s are judging.
- Research shows that “5 star rated businesses have below-average sales—the sweet spot is 3.5 to 4.5 stars.” Consumers do not want perfection. They want to be able to trust in the reviews they see on Google, they want business owners to be active in responding to reviews, and they want to see recent reviews.
You Got This!
Don’t let spammers get the best of you with fake reviews. Stay on top of your reviews, always flag and report fake reviews (even if they are challenging to remove), and get a solid review strategy in place for your business.
Do you have any fake review horror stories to share? Or better yet, any awesome pro-tips to help other businesses who are dealing with a fake review? Let us know in the comments below!