Fake Google Reviews... and what to do about them
by Jo Shaer, on October 5, 2017
The only Google map listing enquiries that we dread are the ones that involve fake reviews.
In particular when the business owner tells us that they know it is a fake review because it was left by someone who was never actually a client of their business.
What is a fake Google review?
We had another case this week. One of our regular clients has been in business for 15 years. He has 3 massage clinics with 2 or 3 masseurs at each clinic. These have only ever received 4* and 5* reviews and usually congratulate the masseuse in question.
Then two weeks ago, he received a 1* review. As with many business owners, he took the bad feedback incredibly personally. He told me that he felt as if someone had insulted one of his children!
And then, just a couple of days later, another one appeared.
The client was distraught.
And then his analytical brain took over. Whilst both reviews mentioned the word massage, they did not specifically cite the masseur in question. Both reviewers had only left that one review and, most importantly, he did not recognise either of the names as clients.
He smelled a rat and was convinced that, in an incredibly competitive market place, another clinic was paying people to leave fake bad reviews. He wanted those reviews taken down immediately.
So what can you do if you get a 1* review that you believe is fake because you don’t recognise the name of the customer?
Investigate your review
You should definitely respond and politely request more information about when they visited your business as you cannot locate them on your records.
Whilst you are waiting, I would also highly recommend clicking on the name of the reviewer to look at their previous history of reviews.
Last year, we worked with a local Handyman who had received a 1* review.
When we delved deeper, we discovered that the reviewer had left ten 1* reviews that day - all on the map listings of London-based Handymen. Curiously, there was also one 5* rating. Yup, you guessed it, on a Handyman site.
Flag and report a policy violation
We flagged the 1* review on our client’s listing and it was gone by the end of the day. It was easy for Google to see what was going on here.
If you decide you want to complain to Google, the simplest way is to hover over the review, until you see a flag. Click that and report a policy violation. Those two highlighted words are the crux of the matter. Your report has to be about a violation of policy.
Here are the policy violation types that you are offered :
This post contains hateful, violent, or inappropriate content
This post contains advertising or spam
This post contains conflicts of interest
Naturally, your finger will be drawn to the option about conflicts of interest… but that might not be the right category at all. You need to really consider what it is that you are complaining about… and the burden of proof lies firmly with you.
Look at the definitions of these policies:
Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they're honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you're a business owner, don't set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.
Off-topic reviews: Don’t post reviews based on someone else’s experience or that aren't about the specific place that you’re reviewing. Reviews aren’t meant to be a forum for general political or social commentary, or personal rants. Wrong location or the place is closed? Use the Report a problem link to report that information instead of writing a review.
How to remove Google reviews
Jessie at Whitespark was successful in getting a fake review removed but, as you will see from her article, it became quite clear that the reviewer was complaining about a business in a completely different industry. It wasn't actually fake at all! It was off topic and that’s the policy violation that Jessie reported. She also reported the issue from her GMB dashboard with screenshots and further explanation.
Why Google can't remove your fake reviews
If all you can complain about is that you have a series of 1* reviews in a very short space of time from ‘customers’ you don’t recognise who have only ever left that one review… this is not enough proof for Google to say categorically that there is a conflict of interest.
The most important point to remember is that the client name you have on your records may not match the Google account of the person leaving the review. Google is very reluctant to remove this type of bad review because... it could be genuine!
It’s not just you…
This unhappy situation is evidenced by a thread that runs to 14 pages of complaints from local businesses across the world here
The Google Moderators are unable to help them - only point them towards the process for reporting a violation. And, judging by the large number of unhappy people who are still seeing reviews that are damaging their business, this is a waste of time.
One complainant suggested that they should set up a counter group and give positive reviews on each other’s business. To add insult to injury, this strategy was quickly shot down in flames by a Moderator. Leaving reviews for business where they had no direct experience would be against Google’s Terms of Service - and they could find their entire business map listing closed down.
There were also claims that Google’s Local Guide Programme has made the problem worse. It has become easy for individuals to gain higher Local Guide status and the scammers have taken advantage of this. Some business owners even report seeing fake reviews from Level 5 Local Guides being offered as a service by some unscrupulous agencies.
How to deal with a fake Google My Business review when you cannot remove it
As with any bad review, the only way to deal with it is using the LAER method… Listen, Acknowledge, Explore and Respond.
Thank them for their feedback.
Confirm that you take complaints seriously and want to investigate.
Ask for more details as you don't recognise their name and want to respond.
And the best advice of all? Encourage as many of your happy clients as you can to go home and leave you a good review on Maps. You need enough to push the bad one off the front page! But remember - don’t incentivise, because that would be against Google’s Terms of Service!