It’s no secret— negative online reviews can hurt your business and tarnish your brand identity. Research shows that 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses before making a purchase. Reputation management has become a necessity for business owners in order to grow, let alone survive in a competitive market. The real secret is that the negative reviews that contain fake or illegitimate content actually have a higher percentage of being removed from your online listings. You’ve had the power to protect your online reputation all along; you just have to know how to use it. Here we’ll show you the steps that need to be taken in order to remove fake or illegitimate reviews from your online business listings, and share a few success stories from our experience that have generated positive results.
1. Identifying Illegitimate Reviews. Just about every major online review site has a code of conduct in place for its consumers. Any review that is not in compliance with these guidelines has the potential to come down; in fact, most online directories encourage you to bring these reviews to their attention in an attempt to maintain the integrity of their reviews. While every individual directory may differ in terms of what’s considered inappropriate, the majority of reviews that contain the following content have a high rate of removal:
- Spam or promotional material
- Personal rant from a former employee
- Reviews written by a competitor
- Reviews for the wrong location
EXHIBIT A: A local pizza shop experienced an onslaught of negative reviews on their Google My Business pages, affecting their overall rating for both of their locations. Upon further investigation, we discovered they were coming from the same users. This would fall under the category of spam.
They traced the sudden spike in the number of negative reviews back to an incident in which the business owner’s son had written a negative review on a directory about a local pet boarding facility. The owner of that pet boarding facility apparently launched the spam attack on the pizza shop in retaliation.
We brought this to the attention of Google My Business Support, and the illegitimate reviews have since been removed, rectifying the dip in their ratings across all three locations, thus protecting the brand identity of their pizza shop in their local area.
2. Flagging and Disputing Reviews. Once you’ve identified the reviews that violate user guidelines, the next step is to take action and report the review to their content moderators. The first and easiest way to do this is to flag the review in question. Most major review sites will have a flag icon next to the review that when clicked will allow you to mark it as questionable content, and will notify their content moderation team.
This can either be done by flagging the review as a user on the public view of your online listing, or by logging into the review site as the business owner and reporting the review through your online dashboard.
Certain review sites only allow a negative review to be flagged once per user, so it’s very important to select the violation that makes the strongest case for removal. Review sites like Google, on the other hand, will allow business owners to take the dispute a step further by reaching out to their support team directly via phone or email. This will give you the opportunity to present your case in greater detail and will increase your chances of getting the review removed. This method, however, takes time and is more effective if you are familiar with the verbiage used in their content policy.
EXHIBIT B: In this example, we found two one-star reviews posted to a Google My Business Page for a local vendor in the entertainment sector. We noticed that a local competitor had just received 5-star ratings from the same users who had posted the negative reviews within the same time frame. By using the method of flagging the reviews, and taking it a step further by contacting Google Support directly to present our case in greater detail, we were successful in removing both of the fake negative reviews that would’ve otherwise brought potential customers to their direct competitor.
3. Following Up on Disputed Reviews. Once you’ve identified and reported the fake or illegitimate reviews that are hurting your reputation, the next part of the process is to follow up. Check your online listing regularly for any changes to your overall rating. Most review sites will also send an email to notify you, whether the review was successfully removed or your request for removal was denied.
This step is essential in helping you determine your next plan of action. If the request for removal was denied, take another look at the review and see if you can approach your dispute from another angle. You should also consider responding to the negative review, either publicly or privately, but be careful to do so in a strategic way that protects the integrity of your brand. The longer you wait to follow up on your reviews, the more they will negatively impact your online reputation.
EXHIBIT C: An assisted living center received a number of one-star reviews that violated Google My Business terms and conditions due to a conflict of interest. Further investigation of the content of those reviews revealed that they were posted by a former employee and the employee’s friends & family members.
By identifying these reviews, flagging and disputing them, and taking the time to follow up with the Google Support Team, we were able to successfully remove the illegitimate reviews from their listing. A combination of negative review removal, and positive review generation, brought the company from an initial 3-star rating on Google My Business, all the way up to 4.6 stars!
You can remove fake or illegitimate negative reviews. The question is: will you? It takes time and persistence— and a thorough knowledge of the content guidelines for every specific review site— but it’s all worth it in the end if it means protecting your brand and bringing in more customers in the long run.
In addition to negative review removal, Online Reputation Management encompasses many moving parts including Positive Review Generation, Local Search Engine Optimization, and even Social Media.