There's no doubt that online Google reviews are important to business success. A 2018 study showed that almost 90% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. With this in mind, getting a first negative review on Google can feel devastating.
Most businesses will inevitably have to deal with a dissatisfied review at some point. Developing a proactive plan for negative reviews can make a huge difference.
So how to deal with Google My Business negative reviews?
The first step is to determine if the review is legitimate or illegitimate: that is, a real or fake review.
Does the review have no other history on the account, is very short and doesn't include many service details, or contains unnatural language? If so, the review may be fraudulent. However, most negative Google reviews are from legitimate customers and should be responded to appropriately.
Only approximately 10.7% of all Google reviews, whether positive or negative, are fraudulent. The vast majority of negative reviews on your Google business profile will be from real customers. By replying to these reviews, businesses can grow customer relationships and increase trust within their target market.
When responding to negative reviews, keep the following five principles in mind.
One negative review will not significantly impact your SEO efforts. Negative reviews can even build trust between potential customers and local businesses. If responded to appropriately, a bad review will not significantly damage your brand's reputation.
For negative feedback in particular, it's critical to respond to the review. Customers appreciate a fast response, so try to reply to all negative reviews within 24-48 hours. Reputation management software solutions may be a helpful tool to ensure that a damaging review does not "slip through the cracks".
When replying to negative reviews, avoid defensive or accusatory language. Acknowledge the writer's poor experience and thank them for their feedback, while remaining polite and professional. This is both for the benefit of the unhappy customer as well as potential customers reading through reviews. Showing that your company values customer experience can go a long way when developing target market trust.
When possible, resolve bad business reviews by offering refunds, discounts, or other ways of settling complaints. Occasionally this results in users removing their bad review, but not always.
Consider moving the conversation off of the public Google Reviews platform. Offer an email, phone number, or another method of contact and work to resolve the issue offline. While readers on your business profile do want to see that you care about customer experience, there's no need to broadcast details of the exchange in the comments of a Google Review.
After doing what you can to respond to a negative review, much is out of your hands. A small percentage of customers may alter or remove bad reviews based on your response, but the majority won't. To mitigate the damage, businesses can focus on increasing their pool of positive feedback reviews. This dilutes the ranking impact of poor Google reviews. Ramp up your digital marketing efforts to collect positive reviews from happy customers: create an email campaign, automatically generate review links for each new customer, and more.
Google remains opaque regarding its scoring systems: star ratings are not simply calculated as an arithmetic average. Google uses other signals like site traffic, business listing, and reviews from other websites to calculate your star rating. Taking steps to optimize these other items will reduce the damage of negative reviews to your star rating.
Occasionally, you may receive a fraudulent review on your business account. These can take the form of multiple bad reviews submitted at once by the same person, reviews containing fake information, inappropriate content, or other reviews that violate Google's standards of prohibited content.
The first step to take when you believe a review on your listing is fake is to report it to Google. Business owners can request to have reviews removed from their Google profile in three ways: from Google Maps, Google Search, or the backend of their Google My Business profile. Here is a guide to flagging reviews through each method.
In general, Google users can flag any review whether or not they own the business listing. Here is what a review flag looks like from the front end of Google Maps:
And what reporting a review can look like from the back-end of Google's business center:
Click the three dots in the top right corner of the review and select "Flag as inappropriate". From there, you'll be asked to select the reason for your flag, as well as confirm submission.
This will send the review to Google for manual inspection, where they will determine whether or not to remove it from your business profile. The process takes up to three business days.
The flagging process may be unsuccessful in removing reviews. To follow up, you may try contacting the Google Support team for assistance. Be sure to document all the relevant information as to why you would like the review removed, including evidence of fake content.
As a last resort, publicly respond to the review with a reference to Google's prohibited content policy. Here's an example:
Thank you so much for your feedback. While we value reviews from all of our customers, we have reason to believe this submission is fraudulent. It violates the "Spam and Fake Content" section of Google's prohibited content policy: https://support.google.com/contributionpolicy/answer/7400114#zippy=%2Cspam-and-fake-content.
If this assumption is in error, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear more about your experience and make things right for you."
A word of caution: It can be tempting to try to flag all negative reviews on your account, whether they're true or not. Avoid this, and report only reviews that you have a valid reason to believe are fake.
In some cases, businesses may be "review-bombed" by a group of people with the intention of artificially lowering their star rating. This can happen for any number of reasons but is often politically or ideologically motivated.
The most important thing to remember if your business is review-bombed is not to panic. Both Google Maps and Google search use machine learning algorithms that often detect review bombs and filter them from ever reaching your listing.
If you still find yourself dealing with a torrent of one-star reviews, try to diagnose the inciting incident. Why are these reviewers so upset at your company and seeking to manipulate ratings? Check the news, local social media boards, and take inventory of any potentially disgruntled employees.
Once you have a better idea of the root of the problem, take steps to resolve the negative press. Issue a statement, speak with employees, implement a new business policy, or whatever else makes sense for your situation.
After addressing the root cause of the review bombing, conduct a full audit of your Google reviews. How many many reviews are fraudulent? How many have you flagged to Google's support team? When did the review-bombing start and how long did it last? Contact Google's support team with all the information you can gather from this audit. From there, they may be able to help remove reviews or mitigate reputation damage.
Dealing with negative Google reviews can be a daunting task, but it's important to take the time to address them. With a little effort, you can remove fake reviews, build customer trust, and even survive review-bombing attempts with your star rating intact.