How to Handle Fake Negative Reviews Online
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Fake negative reviews online can severely impact your small business’ rating and taking the right steps to resolve this is essential. This is particularly important because you want to make a good first impression for potential customers on Google, Yelp, and Houzz.
These fake negative reviews are often not automatically caught, which means you need to be hyper aware of your company’s profiles on various review websites.
In most situations it’s impossible to tell who is posting under false names. It could be a someone who randomly chose your business to target, or it could be a competitor. It’s typically not worth taking the time and energy to discover, though.
Focus on attempting to get the review removed, and if you can’t, then resort to Plan B: responding.
Responding to Fake Negative Reviews
If you are unable to get a review removed, then we highly recommend responding. Review websites offer you a chance to respond, and this is the time to take advantage of the feature.
Many potential customers will understand what seems to be an outrageous claim and will ignore it. It’s essential, though, to show that you’re active on the page and are willing to resolve an issue.
There are often funny, at times harsh company responses circling around, but we typically don’t recommend doing so. Instead, respond politely (and in brand voice) and address each point. If the review isn’t comprehensive enough to allow that type of response, then one method is offering a refund.
This helps you appear willing to work to resolve the situation, but you won’t actually be out of any money because these aren’t real customers.
Handling Fake Google Reviews
Unfortunately, Google makes it pretty difficult to remove fake reviews, even if it appears to violate their Terms of Service. It is possible, though. Because these reviews are often not automatically caught, you will need to monitor your Google page. You will need to make the argument to Google that it’s against their policies.
If the user has an obviously fake name, it can be easier to resolve. As Joy Hawkins shares, she received reviews from names like “Rocky Stallone”, “Mohammed Sham”, and “Spamaian Mumbai”. While these may receive a few points for creativity, they’re obviously a fake user that went to great lengths to leave negative reviews.
How to Report Fake Google Reviews
There are a few different ways you can report fake reviews to Google, each with a higher escalation than the previous option. While it’s difficult to get reviews removed, you should still attempt each of these solutions.
Flagging Negative Reviews
The first step in contesting a fake negative review is flagging. This sends the post to a human at Google who will check the request and the user’s account.
To flag a comment, open the reviews panel for your company in Google or Google Maps. Hover on the right side of the date and click the flag icon.
This gives your four choices:
- This post contains hateful, violent, or inappropriate content.
- This post contains advertising or spam.
- This post contains conflicts of interest.
In the case of a fake name, choose the fourth option.
In an understandable move, Google requires five different Google accounts to flag a review before they review. Instead of passively waiting, grab some friends or colleagues with Google accounts to flag it as well.
Contact Google Directly
If flagging a review doesn’t work, you can contact Google. Google offers email, chat, and phone support, but it’s often a toss-up based on the rep you get. If you get a great rep, they can be very helpful and provide the insight you need to pursue getting the review removed. If you get a poor rep, you may not get any further in the process.
Use the Google Product Forum
This option takes you to the Google My Business Review subcategory. Google contributors and employees actively monitor these channels and can help you get in contact with the right person. This has worked for some companies, but it could take time and there’s a bit of chance involved.
Make a Legal Removal Request
This option isn’t the easiest, but for significant impact on your company’s online profile, this could be worth the time and effort. Google has certain legal obligations when users report false content, and libel.
When a user makes a legal removal request, they must act upon it.
In the US, you need to submit a court order. Within this you need to show evidence that a crime has been committed, and that Google is allowing it to happen. Use Google’s own review policy when making these requests; you want to point to the exact rule that’s being broken.
Resolving Fake Negative Yelp Reviews
Similar to Google, negative Yelp reviews can be removed, but it’s not a given. Yelp has historically stood very firm with their belief that reviews can’t be altered by the company owner. This is good for users looking for accurate reviews, but it creates a problem with fake reviews.
Yelp is not legally responsible for the content on its website, with an exception for review crimes like blackmail. While it probably doesn’t need to be said, don’t retaliate and don’t track users down on other platforms. This doesn’t look good for you or your company, and it can potentially be held against you.
Their filtering algorithm often doesn’t catch negative reviews, so you will need to submit manual requests.
How to Report Fake Yelp Reviews
There a few different ways to approach removing reviews on Yelp, and some companies find good success with these methods. It doesn’t work every time, especially with fake reviews, but it’s worth the effort. If this doesn’t work, then you can respond with an offer to refund the user.
Ask Users to Remove the Review
In these situations, many users are looking for a place to vent and are not as mad as their review may seem. If you approach them respectfully and ask if you can help right the situation, they may be willing to delete or edit the review.
For fake users, this shows that you’re willing to make it work, but won’t be out any product because they haven’t purchased anything.
Terms of Service Violation
Like Google, Yelp has a Terms of Service that every user must accept before activating their account. Their TOS prohibits personal attacks on employees, whether that’s based on disability, ethnicity, religion, or another factor.
For example, if a user makes a racist comment regarding one of your employees, that is in violation of their TOS and you can petition to have it removed. Always include the words “terms of service” in these submissions so the automated support program catches it.
It’s also a smart idea to respond to the review stating that you have “flagged this review for a violation of the Yelp! terms of service.”
Responding to Fake Negative Houzz Reviews
Houzz’s review process for negative reviews is fairly straightforward, but it’s hard to tell how successful you can be.
Attempt to Resolve the Issue
Houzz notes that many proactive sellers can work with the user to change their review, but for fake reviews this will be difficult. Many fake reviewers aren’t going to work with you because they’re, well, fake. However, it’s important to show Houzz that you’ve made an effort or why you believe this is a fake user.
You can request removal for reviews less than three stars that were posted within the last 30 days. (Another reason it’s important to monitor your pages!) You will need to go to Seller Central and select the Request Removal button on each relevant review. This will send a message to the user to retract their review.
Request Removal Based on Review Policy Violation
Houzz states that they will remove reviews that violate their Review Policy, which includes indecent content and false claims. Their process is vague, but you can submit a support request and include all relevant information.
You Can Remove Fake Negative Reviews
Your online presence is more than your website; monitoring online reviews websites is a crucial part of this as well. Knowing the right steps to removing fake negative reviews on Google, Yelp, and Houzz can help you manage your online reputation and boost your rating. Receiving fake negative reviews online doesn’t have to be the end of your great rating.
By Marc Apple
Marc Apple is recognized as a leader in the marketing industry and has 20+ years of experience helping businesses of all sizes improve their digital marketing. He specializes in website design, SEO, social media, and paid search programs. He is a frequent contributor to other marketing websites and speaks regularly about marketing to small business owners and startups. To learn about Marc and to contact him, visit his author bio page.
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