You can probably think of a lot of ways Google has made your business better, but one modern headache still remains: fake Google reviews. They’re like party crashers — uninvited and ruining it for everyone. Over 40% of shoppers consult Google when planning an in-store purchase. Since it only takes them an average of 5 to 7 impressions to form an opinion of your brand, acting quickly can save your local SEO.
In this quick guide, we’ll arm you with everything you need to spot a fraudulent review while driving customer satisfaction. Let’s dive in!
How To Spot Fake Google Reviews
It’s time for a round of “Find the Fake Review.” Here are two examples of a positive review. Can you spot the fake reviewer?
“This is the best restaurant ever! Amazing food, great service, and fantastic atmosphere!”
“Enjoyed the grilled salmon at dinner last night. It was perfectly cooked, and the lemon butter sauce was a great touch. The waitstaff was attentive, especially our server, Mike, who recommended a lovely Chardonnay.”
Hopefully, you wouldn’t book a table after reading the first one. It’s a typical example of red flags in a fake Google review. Still, it’s not always easy to define the one thing that would allow you to recognize genuine reviews.
We wish we could just hand you a checklist to spot each fake negative review with ease, but this step will require some detective work on your part. Whether on Google or in your favorite online shop, you’ve probably seen a review that seemed… off. It just doesn’t sit right because it’s too generic or unnaturally polarizing.
Even positive reviews often lack the specifics a real customer would mention, like the texture of the chef’s famous chocolate cake or your staff’s friendliness. Instead, they paint in broad strokes, with overly enthusiastic praise or unreasonably harsh criticism that feels disconnected from true experiences a potential customer might have.
That’s why you’ll need to look out for patterns during review management. Fake ones might come in batches, much like graffiti on a freshly painted wall. You might notice striking similarities in their language or timing — a cluster of negativity or praise appearing suspiciously close together. It’s these patterns that often give a fake review away.
Here’s where it gets tricky, though: distinguishing a fake review from a genuine negative review. The latter, while unpleasant, is part of doing business. They offer specific feedback, even if they come wrapped in impolite language, and they’re tied to real experiences. The grilled salmon above may just as well have been dry, and Mike could’ve been rude.
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Someone leaving a fake review, however, usually won’t go through the trouble of actually visiting your establishment. Since it’s often a competitor playing dirty or an individual holding a grudge, their fake Google reviews tend to be manufactured from thin air to hurt your business reputation.
Now, you, as a smart business owner, could tell yourself, “So what? Everyone will know they’re fake. They’ve read Brafton’s blog post too.” But, unfortunately, many clients will struggle to differentiate fake from negative reviews due to the reasons we mentioned. That’s why a false review can unfairly skew your business ratings, painting a distorted picture of your service or product, and why you should address it immediately.
Also, let’s not forget the legal and regulatory side, including Google’s review policy. Falling foul of these can lead to penalties, possibly even lawsuits. Responding to customer feedback, even if it’s fake, is not only a great way to show other clients you care about your brand; it’s the first ingredient to safeguard your online reputation.
Types of Customer Reviews Eligible for Removal
When it comes to removing customer reviews from your Google business profile, it’s crucial to understand what types of reviews are even eligible for removal under Google’s guidelines. Not all negative reviews can be removed, as there are specific instances when the mighty search giant will deem your request acceptable. Here are some examples:
- Spam and fake content: This includes any reviews that are clearly artificial or posted repeatedly, with no genuine customer experience behind them.
- Off-topic reviews: Sometimes, a customer review can deviate from the actual experience. For instance, a review of a plumber that only focuses on political opinions or personal rants.
- Restricted content: Reviews promoting regulated goods and services, like alcohol, gambling or medical services, are generally not allowed.
- Illegal content: Any review that supports illegal activities or contains illegal content is subject to removal. This can be anything from endangered animal products to images infringing on copyright.
- Terroristic content: Online reviews that endorse terrorism are strictly prohibited.
- Sexually explicit content: Reviews should not contain any sexually explicit material or even promote sexually explicit behavior.
- Offensive content: Derogatory and offensive comments or those inciting hate or promoting discrimination are all eligible for review removal.
- Impersonation: Reviews where individuals impersonate others or falsely represent their identity are not allowed.
- Conflict of interest: Biased reviews, such as those written by business owners about competitors’ businesses or those written in exchange for payment or discounts, are subject to removal.
Google’s review policy will be way more comprehensive than anything the length of this blog post allows, but it’s also important to realize that quite often, an inappropriate review requires a judgment call on the search engine’s part, whether that’s Bing, Google or Yahoo.
Just think of a review like, “Cozy place, but saw a mouse scurrying under the tables!” This could be a genuine observation, but also potentially defamatory if unproven. Equally challenging, a review by an actual customer might contain profane language, thus affecting the overall judgment of the review.
As a business owner, you’ll probably find these edge cases especially annoying, which is why it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the Google employee accessing the situation from the outside without any knowledge of your business. Try and stay calm, and deliver pure facts to help them make the right decision.
7-Step Guide to Removing Fake Reviews
Addressing fake and negative reviews shouldn’t be a one-off task on your to-do list but a regular building block of your reputation management strategy. Instead of only becoming active once you receive a review, you should make some tasks part of your routine.
Actively encouraging satisfied customers to leave reviews is a proactive step in ensuring that your online presence reflects the true nature of your business. A steady flow of genuine positive feedback can significantly offset the impact of any negative or fake ones while fostering a more tightly-knit relationship with your most loyal customers.
Also, it helps to familiarize yourself with the legal aspects and Google’s review policies. As you’ve seen, Google prohibits a whole range of content deemed inappropriate, and in some cases, your business might even have the option to pursue legal action. However, you won’t do it if you aren’t aware of your options. There’s no need to be a lawyer, just educate yourself about the basics.
With this background in mind, here are two paths to address fake reviews.
Path 1: Contacting a Reputation Management Organization
If the situation is complex or you lack the time to manage online reviews, enlisting the help of a professional reputation management organization can be effective. They specialize in monitoring and improving your online reputation, including dealing with fake reviews.
Path 2: Flagging Reviews Yourself
The second option is the DIY path, and probably the most common and suitable one for most businesses. Focus on the facts and remember that Google may take some time to respond or choose not to remove a review based on your assessment.
- Log into your account: You’ll need to flag reviews from within your Google Business Profile account so that Google can verify your identity. If you’re running multiple businesses, make sure you pick the right one.
- Identify the review: In the overview of all reviews and comments, you can click on the hamburger icon to flag individual reviews as inappropriate.
- Categorize the issue: Before you provide your own take on the situation, you’ll be asked to categorize your complaint based on the most common categories, such as spam, profanity or discrimination.
- Provide details: Google may require you to complete a survey to gather more information about why the review should be considered for removal, which can be especially helpful with those edge cases.
- Respond publicly: While you’re waiting for Google’s response, it’s advisable to respond to the review professionally, showing potential customers your commitment to addressing these issues promptly.
- Follow up if necessary: Once everything is filed with Google, you can keep track of your report’s status and any communication from Google regarding the flagged review. Obviously, you don’t want to annoy the Google team. Just respond to follow-ups and provide information wherever possible.
- Evaluate further actions: If the review is not removed and you find that it’s severely impacting your business, you may want to consider legal action.
Each path offers a different approach to maintaining your online reputation, and you may choose one over the other depending on an individual review, your business setup or personal preferences. Even if you normally handle the process yourself, you can still involve a reputation management agency or lawyers if things get too overwhelming or legally complicated.
Spotting and flagging fake reviews shouldn’t be intimidating, and once you’ve gone through the process, you’ll embrace it as part of your normal business routine.