[UPDATE MARCH 17th, 2021: Google has released a free tool specifically for escalating review removal requests and managing and tracking those escalations. It’s not particularly suited to agencies that manage multiple businesses but it’s certainly worth trying as a first port of call when you need a review removed.]
A poor review is every business owner’s worst nightmare come true, especially if you feel that the comments are unreasonable or downright untrue. A negative review, or series of negative reviews, can seriously undermine the blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into building your business over the years.
Over and above the annoyance you feel and the impact it may have on your team, there are several other ramifications which you’ll need to deal with. Your immediate reaction to save face will almost certainly be to look into how to remove a Google review. You may spend hours trying to figure out if you can delete a Google review because of how poorly your business is portrayed for all to see.
We get it.
However, there’s more at stake than the simple annoyance you feel when you see the one-star rating attached to comments about your business. You’ll need to take a measured approach to dealing with the offending review if you’re to limit fallout and succeed in convincing the powers that be to remove a Google review on your behalf.
Why are Google reviews so important?
It’s no secret that reviews in general are a vital part of running a local business. In fact, with 9 out of 10 local consumers trusting online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, building a strong review profile is arguably as important as choosing the right people to deal with your customers and ensuring your business is visible on Google.
According to the media monitoring tool, Mention, reviews are important to businesses for seven reasons. These include providing social proof which subsequently drives purchases, increasing online visibility, building trust, aiding with decision making and sparking conversations around your brand. Most importantly, they have a clear and tangible impact on sales.
BrightLocal has been studying consumer attitudes towards online reviews for a decade and our own research confirms the overwhelming impact that a strong review profile can have on a local business. It’s for that reason that we often encourage local business owners and local marketers to prioritize online reviews.
Google is the fastest growing review site
Reviews left specifically on Google have additional importance over and over the standard benefits. In a research piece focused on the comparison of business review sites, we concluded that Google is the fastest growing review site, beating out the likes of Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor and FourSquare.
While all are garnering new reviews at an impressive rate, Google’s growth outstrips the other platforms by a notable margin. The percentage of new reviews left on Google jumped 278% between 2015-16, while the second fastest growing platform, TripAdvisor grew by just 85% in comparison for the same period. This popularity naturally makes reviews left on Google (both good and bad) of particular importance.
Google reviews are a ranking factor
Signals from Google reviews are also a local ranking factor. The industry-standard Local Search Ranking Factors survey placed Google My Business signals as the number one local pack ranking factor, and review signals the third most important factor.
Having poor reviews can therefore torpedo your local SEO activity. If you’re new to local SEO, know this; local search is said to represent around 46% of total Google searches, so the knock-on effect of a negative review on your local SEO could seriously kill your local business website’s traffic.
It could also have a direct impact on your bottom line, with 69% of local consumers looking online for a local business at least once per month and 56% searching for local businesses weekly.
Add in the fact that half of consumers conducting a local search on their smartphone go on to visit a bricks-and-mortar store (as per Google research) and it quickly becomes clear that a strong Google review profile is a very powerful asset. Being able to remove a Google review that isn’t favorable therefore takes on new significance.
Google reviews appear prominently on Google SERPs
Reviews on Google provide valuable information about your business to both you and your customers. Business reviews appear next to your listing in Maps and Search, and can help your business stand out on Google.”
This is great when your reviews are positive, but if a one or two-star rating appears in the mix, the fact that Google reviews appear so prominently in the Google My Business knowledge panel and next to your business listing on the local search results page can become an issue.
Why would you want to delete a Google review?
We’ve seen that reviews in general, and Google reviews in particular, are interlinked with many aspects of your local SEO and reputation management. They can affect how and where you’re ranked on Google and how local consumers new to your brand perceive you.
Over and above those first impressions, if poor reviews impede your local pack ranking, they could also mean you lose website traffic and miss out on in-store visits.
The biggest worry perhaps is that it’s well established that the majority of consumers trust online reviews. As a business owner, it stands to reason that you’ll want to delete a Google review that shares a poor experience, criticizes your staff, products or services or otherwise makes claims that you wouldn’t want other consumers to read and believe.
Of course, Google has different feelings about this. Its aim is to have reviews which reflect real, honest experiences. That said, if your review monitoring process identifies a steady stream of negative reviews, your first port of call should not be to submit a delete request but to address the commonly recurring issues.
Provided the reviews are genuine and from a range of different, verified customers, the poor reviews offer you valuable insight as to how your business, product or service is being received and what local consumers want you to change.
If you run a hotel, for example, and reviewers often complain of long check-in lines or dirty rooms, adding more staff to the front desk or bolstering the housekeeping team could prevent additional negative reviews in future.
How to remove a fake review of your business on Google
We all know that fake reviews exist. Consumers know this too, but there are signs that fake reviewers are getting better at hiding their unscrupulous practices. Our latest Local Consumer Review Survey found that slightly fewer consumers read a fake review in 2018 versus 2017.
In his BrightLocal article on fake reviews, Google My Business Gold Product Expert Ben Fisher says that there has been a surge in false reviews. He notes that it’s hard to spot them, both for us humans and for Google’s own systems, explaining,
What makes the problem of fake reviews even more concerning is that Google, even with all of their computing power, machine learning and artificial intelligence, can still not effectively detect review networks or swapping behaviors, they still allow for 1-5 star reviews with no content, and, to make matters worse, it doesn’t seem like they perceive fake reviews as a significant enough of a problem for them to effectively address it.”
It isn’t easy to prove and remove a fake review, but it can be done. Before you take steps to remove a Google review that you consider to be fake, it’s worth doing some damage control:
- Respond to the review (you can find our complete guide to dealing with negative reviews here to help you shape your answer).
- Don’t explicitly call the review out as being fake. Instead, use words and phrases that suggest you don’t have a record of their custom. If you can’t be 100% sure, invite the reviewer to get in touch with details of their visit so that you can investigate further.
- You must be polite, professional and courteous in your response. Keep in mind that you aren’t just writing a response that the fake reviewer will see. Your genuine customers and real prospective customers will be reading too. In fact, 89% of consumers read the business’ response to reviews so be courteous and useful in your response.
With your public response up for damage control, head to your Google My Business dashboard to flag the fake review. Log in to your Google My Business profile and then select ‘reviews’ from the menu on the left hand side. Locate the fake review and click on ‘flag as inappropriate’.
Research the reviewer
Next, do some research of your own to find out more about the profile leaving the fake review. Click on the reviewer’s name to bring up their profile photo. Is it a genuine image or a stock photo? Perform a quick reverse image search to find out. A stock photo could be a red flag.
Look at who else has been reviewed by this profile. Click on their profile name and Google Maps will open up. At the top, you’ll see the number of contributions (reviews) made by that same profile. Under that, you’ll be able to see all of the reviews that profile has left.
To build your case that this is a fake review, hone in on the types of businesses reviewed. Are they all within similar niches? Has the profile reviewed 10 or 12 different mom-and-pop computer repair shops in quick succession, for example? Are all reviews in the same area (such as your town, city or state) and surroundings or are they dotted around the country/ world?
Still on Maps, you’ll see ‘Photos’ next to the reviews tab. Click on that and you’ll see what, if any photos, that person has uploaded. Are those images genuine images or do they appear to be stock photos? Stock photos are, again, a red flag.
Get in touch with Google
Once you have gathered as much evidence as you can, contact Google My Business support with your request to remove a Google review. To do this:
- Log in to your Google My Business profile
- Find ‘support’ on the left hand menu
- Click on ‘contact’ and then ‘more help’
- Now, locate ‘customer reviews’ and then click on the ‘manage customer reviews’ sub-category
- You can now request a call, send an email or request a chat.
How to remove a review of your business which goes against Google’s guidelines
If you spot a review which you can prove goes against Google’s own guidelines for reviewers, you could have a strong case to ask that the review be deleted.
Google is getting better at policing reviews but, with so many new reviews appearing each day, it’s by no means a perfect system. It won’t approve reviews that contain certain language or that it flags as spam, but other reviews against its guidelines can slip through. If you spot one, you’ll need to submit a request to remove a Google review manually.
Google’s prohibited and restricted content guidelines
To put yourself in the best possible position to protect your business from negative reviews, you’ll need to become familiar with Google’s own review policies. Knowing what these are gives you just cause to ask that a Google review be deleted for being in breach of these guidelines. Here’s a quick summary of what’s not permitted:
If you spot the same review content multiple times or the same review text posted from different profiles, it could be classed as spam.
Review content should be specific to your location and the experience. If it’s a general tirade or contains personal, social or political content, it falls foul of Google’s off-topic guidelines.
Any review which contains obscene language or offensive gestures isn’t permitted.
Dangerous and derogatory content
Content which contains threats, harassment or is discriminatory is also cause to delete a Google review.
Reviews shouldn’t be written by one person and attributed to another.
Conflict of interest
You are not permitted to review your own business, offer incentives for reviews or post negative reviews about competitors to misled search users or manipulate rankings.
Review content shouldn’t contain links, offers or calls-to-action to restricted or prohibited items such as firearms, tobacco, pharmaceutical items, medical devices or alcohol. Coupon codes, discount offers or contact information to purchase restricted items also isn’t permitted.
Content that infringes copyright, depicts sexual abuse, includes banned products such as illegal drugs or trafficked animal products, depicts violence or is related to terrorist groups is prohibited.
How to flag reviews which conflict with Google content guidelines
You can request to remove a Google review which contravenes its policies. To do this, log in to Google My Business, either from the app or from your desktop. Find the review that you wish to bring to Google’s attention and click ‘flag as inappropriate’. It can take several days for the review to be checked so you’ll need to wait before logging back in to see if the review in question has been removed.
How to remove a negative Google review
Negative reviews are a fact of life for every business owner and, unfortunately, you won’t be able to convince Google to remove a review simply because it gives you a low star rating or is critical of your business. If the review doesn’t break policy guidelines and you can’t prove it’s fake, you won’t be able to get the review deleted.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to minimize the impact it has on your online reputation.
Equip yourself with our guide to dealing with negative reviews. If you feel, as the business owner, that you can’t be measured in your response, ask a co-worker to take the task over. All good responses to bad reviews have a few things in common;
- The business apologizes for the poor experience in a sincere manner
- The tone of the response throughout is authentic, polite, and helpful
- The business thanks the reviewer for their feedback and acknowledges that it can be used to help improve the business moving forward
- The business demonstrates a commitment to excellent customer service and a real desire to rectify the issue
- The business invites the reviewer to get in touch, via email or phone call, to discuss the issue in private
If you’re able to work with the reviewer to resolve their complaint, ask them to update or remove the negative review. It is easy for the reviewer to do this and you can offer them the following assistance to update a Google My Business review:
- Open Google Maps on your computer or smartphone
- Click the menu button in the top left corner
- Under the ‘Your Contributions’ menu item, click Reviews
- Scroll down to the relevant view and then click the three dots icon
- Select edit to update the review or delete to remove it entirely
In a world where online reviews are a lynchpin of the consumer journey, they’ve taken on new significance for local business owners too. Seeing a negative review, whether true, fake or unfair, can feel like a personal attack and so the natural reaction is to want to suppress that feedback.
In reality, though, no business will ever be able to maintain a 100% positive review profile. Negative experiences (and, let’s be honest, negative people) are a fact of life and no matter how committed you are to your customer service standards and product or service quality, factors outside of your control will mean that from time to time, a consumer isn’t happy with their experience. Don’t let this put you off from actively soliciting reviews.
Online consumers neither expect (nor particularly trust) an entirely positive review profile. Having only five-star reviews can raise a red flag, so a few negative reviews can actually help your profile to appear more genuine. If you follow our advice for dealing with those reviews, it’s also a chance to demonstrate another aspect of your business which many local consumers appreciate.
A few negative reviews here and there shouldn’t impact your average star rating, provided you continue to proactively add new reviews to your profile and work hard to generate reviews that underline exactly why your business has a great reputation.