Jul 24, 2020

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How To Deal With Fake Online Reviews of Your Business

Online reviews are a natural extension of “word-of-mouth” marketing. One person buys a product or service then tells their friends all about the experience they had. Studies show that 95 percent of customers read an online review before making a purchasing decision. And, 94% of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a brand or business. Too many negative reviews can harm your reputation, and your business will suffer.

But, you can fix the problem by addressing customer service problems, product failures, and other issues so that customers leave more positive reviews in the future. So, how do you actually do that?

Sometimes, not all of your negative online reviews are real. Spammers, competitors, and upset customers may try to harm your business with fake reviews that can be difficult to remove. Here are some tips for addressing these reviews and advice on how to report them to Google.

Spotting a Fake Review

Some businesses actually choose to purchase reviews to build their online reputation, but this is not a good idea. There are several potential legal consequences for publishing these reviews. In fact, Amazon has been known to crack down on fake seller reviews with lawsuits.

Now that you know you should never purchase fake reviews, here’s how to know how to spot one if they show up on search engines, review sites, or social properties.

5 Ways to Tell a Review is Fake

1. It Lacks Detail. It’s hard to describe using a product or having an experience if it hasn’t actually happened. Fake reviews often offer general praise, rather than focusing on the specifics. "Truthful hotel reviews, for example, are more likely to use concrete words relating to the hotel, like 'bathroom,' 'check-in or 'price.' Deceivers write more about things that set the scene, like 'vacation,' 'business trip' or 'my husband.'," explains a now-classic research study from Cornell.

2. Includes a Lot of Verbs, Not as Many Nouns. Genuine reviews focus more heavily on describing situations with nouns, while fake reviews replace these with verbs. This “action” is supposed to make the reviews sound more convincing, but it ends up doing the opposite.

3. Features More First-Person Pronouns. When reviewers want to sound sincere but aren’t, they use more first-person pronouns like “I” and “me.”

4. The Review is One or Five Stars. Though many one and five star reviews are real, some are not. If a review is extremely positive or negative, it may be from a fake reviewer trying to dramatically increase or diminish the average rating for a product or service.

5. The Reviewer has a Spotty History. If the reviewer doesn’t have any reviews, has many reviews or uses the same language across several different reviews, they could be a scammer. Most sites will allow you to click and see a reviewer’s profile, where you can investigate these issues.

How to Remove Fake Reviews from Google

In addition to responding to any negative reviews (which you should always do), you’ll also need to remove them if they are in fact fake, based on the guidelines we’ve shown above. The challenge is that Google doesn’t know who your true customers are, and they won’t accept a simple “they didn’t shop with us” as an excuse. It can be extremely difficult to prove someone’s online identity, particularly because Google allows anonymous usernames. Additionally, someone doesn’t need to make a purchase to interact with your brand.

In terms of responding to these messages, Google has some detailed advice. Their top tips are: be brief, be defensive, be pleasant, and respond in the same way that you would for a negative review by a real customer. You might write something like this:

Hi, [name].

We take these matters very seriously. Unfortunately, we have no record or recollection of your experience with us, nor can we verify anything about your identity from your name in our records. If you have done business with us, we would like to investigate this issue further. Please contact [name] immediately at [email] so that we can resolve this issue.”

Once you’ve made your response, it’s time to flag the review. Here’s an example from a company called Whitespark:

The flag will take you to the “Report a Policy Violation” page.

Enter your email address, and select the Violation Type. That’s it. If Google needs more information from you, a representative will reach out.

To speed up the process (and increase the chance of the review being removed), have other people flag the review to increase awareness of the problem. You should receive a response to your query within a few days through the regular path, but if the review includes profanity or hate speech, you may want to contact a Google support team member immediately. Here’s how you do so:

  • Log into your Google My Business dashboard.
  • Go to the Reviews section.
  • Select “Support” from the home menu.
  • Choose a method of contact - email or phone.
  • Fill out the contact information.

Google says you should hear back within two business days.

Once someone responds, you need to make the case that the review is false, why it should be removed, and how it violates Google’s policies. Share any details, links or images that back up your claim. The Google support associate may escalate the review to a “specialist” to determine the outcome of your request. Once a decision has been made, you’ll receive a call or email.

Other Ways to Ask for Help

If you work for a small business, you can also try tweeting the Google Small Business Support Team via Twitter and asking the Google Community for help and advice. Here’s how you get answers from the Google Support forum:

  • Go to the Spam & Policy Forum within Google My Business.
  • Search for issues that are similar to yours, or ask a new question. You might find an answer on the forum.

Of course, none of these steps will guarantee that a fake review is removed, but they should help significantly.

You can follow similar steps on other platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, and always consider reaching out to a support team for help. Remember to respond to each and every review, especially if it’s negative. Stay calm and address the situation politely. The more you do to make your customers happy and prove you’re doing so, the better off your reviews will be in the future.

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