Google is the great aggregator and indexer of all things online. Whether it’s their index of websites or their map system with indexes of physical locations, it’s no wonder why billions of people turn to it when they have a question that needs answering. In their constant quest to provide all possible information for every search, Google created the ability to leave reviews for a business through their My Business system. Anyone with a Google account can leave a review of a business. More, if they visit that business and own an Android phone, they may even get a push notification asking them to leave a review. Google actively solicits these reviews. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t necessarily do much work in making sure those reviews are legitimate. They certainly don’t verify whether or not a review is real or fake based on the content of the rating. Anything too vulgar or hate-filled will trip a filter and never get posted, but Google doesn’t do much filtering beyond that. Reviews from users far away from your business are common, as well as users who only leave negative reviews on hundreds of companies. So, what happens if you – a humble business owner – find that you’re getting fake reviews on Google? You want to get rid of them, but can you? The answer may be yes, but it’s tricky. Google has a few limited systems in place that you can use, but you only have limited options available to you. To be precise, there are four of them. Here are your options, as well as some instructions to get you started on each method.
Before We BeginBefore you can take action to get any Google reviews removed, you need to make sure that you have the groundwork in place. Specifically, you need to have created a Google My Business account and claimed your Business Profile. Once you’ve claimed your profile, you’ll be asked to verify it. The verification process typically involves a text, a phone call, or a postcard sent in the mail, so make sure to get this done ahead of time. The reason for this is that you can’t manage your reviews unless you’ve verified ownership over the business profile. Without that crucial verification, you’re just another Google user, and you don’t have any authority to remove reviews as a standard user.
Option 1: Content Policy ViolationsThe first and most traditional option for removing a review is when it violates one of Google’s content policies. You can read through the complete content policies here, but we’ll summarize them for you below. Google has ten “categories” of why a review might violate its policies and be worthy of removal. These are:
- Spam and Fake Content. A spam review is removable, and a review that does not reflect reality is considered fake and can be removed, though it may be hard to prove in some cases.
- Off-Topic. If a review gets into a rant (especially about social or political issues), it can be removed for not being relevant to the business being reviewed.
- Restricted Content. Reviews that include images or links to prohibited content can be removed. These include things like alcohol, guns, adult services, or financial services. Google also restricts links to landing pages for these products/services, contact methods such as emails or phone numbers to buy them, or promotional deals such as coupon codes.
- Illegal Content. This section pertains to anything that violates copyright or other legal rights, sexually abusive content, anything about criminal acts like organ harvesting, illicit products like drugs or endangered animal products, violent images, or terroristic content. The vast majority of businesses won’t have to deal with this, thankfully.
- Terrorist Content. Terrorist organizations are not allowed to use Google’s services for obvious reasons.
- Sexually Explicit Content. While Google will happily index adult content and legal adult services, their more public-facing services like reviews do not allow explicit content on them.
- Offensive Content. Google says, “We will remove content that contains obscene, profane, or offensive language or gestures.”
- Dangerous or Derogatory Content. Any reviews that threaten harm to others, that display bigotry or hatred, harass individuals or groups, or incite violence can be targeted and removed. As a business owner, you can draw attention to these so that Google can remove them.
- Deceptive content, false advertising, or pretending to represent another business, organization, or individual that you don’t work for can get the content removed.
- Conflict of Interest. A business owner reviewing their own business, an employee reviewing their employer, or a competitor are examples of reviews and can get a rating removed.
Option 2: Asking the UserThe one guaranteed way to remove a review is if the person who posted it originally deletes it. So, why not see if you can make that happen? A crucial part of reputation management is learning how to deal with poor or unfavorable reviews. Reaching out to users who have had a bad experience, working with them to improve their situation, and asking them to edit their negative feedback to reflect their authentic experience is a necessary process. Unfortunately, this only works with reviews that are negative but real, not fake. And, of course, some users will choose to hold firm and won’t be willing to work with you to find a solution. Many, however, will be glad to work with you. In fact, from a user’s perspective, leaving a bad review in hopes of getting more direct customer service is a tactic employed by thousands of people every day. So, here’s how you do it.
- Verify the details of the situation. See if you can match the user to your customer database. Check to see if there are any support tickets with that user, and proactively address them if so.
- Reply to the review. Be apologetic, don’t downplay their feelings or their issue, and ask for more details as necessary. Offer direct contact with a support agent if relevant.
- Do your best to rectify the situation. This step may or may not be possible depending on the specific situation. For example, a store might offer a replacement product at no cost, but a restaurant might not provide anything more than a gift card or a refund.
- Once the situation is resolved to the user’s satisfaction, politely ask them to edit their Google review to reflect the solution or remove it if it’s no longer applicable. If they do not edit or remove it, you can leave your reply to reflect the situation and explain it to other users.
Option 3: Contact Google DirectlySuppose you’re unable to get the review removed by the Google automatic process, and you’re unable to get the user to respond to your requests. In that case, you might be able to contact Google directly and ask them to look at the situation more closely. Before you do this, gather information:
- Take a screenshot of the relevant review. If you’re dealing with numerous reviews you want to be removed, screenshot them individually.
- Gather information relevant to the case. For example, if you can prove the user has never been a customer, that is important information to note. If the user has a history of leaving negative reviews for a wide range of companies, or if they seem to fish for coupons or “compensation” somehow, individual reviews might not violate policies, but the overall behavior does.
- Once you have your information gathered, click this link and fill out the form. This link will take you to the Google My Business helpline. The final step of the form allows you to pick a contact method, though which methods you have available may vary.