Google reviews can make or break your business. So it makes sense that the question of how to remove a Google review is paramount for anyone who has been the target of a negative (or even fake) review.
Unfortunately, removing or deleting Google reviews is not always straightforward or simple. In some situations, it may not even be possible, such as where a legitimate customer or client engaged in a genuine marketplace interaction with your business. However, businesses may remove Google reviews when they are fake, violate Google’s Terms of Service, or cross into the territory of defamation. We recommend taking these five steps:
- Preserve evidence of the review’s URL;
- Reach out to the review’s author and request removal;
- Flag the review to Google for Terms of Service (ToS) violations; and
- Flag the review from within your Google My Business account,
- Pursue legal action against the reviewer behind the fake review.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience working with hundreds of businesses to remove negative and fake reviews from consumer review platforms. We have learned which methods work to remove fake Google reviews—and which ones do not.
In this article, we explore the impact of Google reviews on businesses and show you the most effective strategies to having reviews removed. Then, we discuss legal options for responding to negative or fake Google reviews.
Potential Impact of Bad Google Reviews on Your Business
In today’s digital landscape, consumers look to online reviews more than ever. In fact, 49% of consumers trust reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family. In this section, we examine the impact on your reputation, both digitally and physically.
How Can Negative Brand Mentions Hurt Your Google Rankings?
Unfortunately, negative brand mentions can hurt your business’s ranking on Google search results due to the Quality Raters Guidelines.
Google uses third-party Search Quality Raters to categorize information for search results. These raters do not directly influence search rankings; however, they evaluate websites and provide feedback about them to Google.
According to Google’s guidelines, a webpage cannot be given a high rating if the site has a negative reputation. Its Search Quality Raters look at factors like:
- Financial fraud reports,
- Overwhelmingly negative reviews,
- Negative reviews from watchdog websites,
- Better Business Bureau rankings, and
- Negative news reports.
While it seems that Google has not yet completely finalized its approach to the sentiment behind articles and mentions, it only makes sense at the moment that negative publicity about a business may result in lower rankings.
What is the Potential Impact of Bad Google Reviews on Your Business?
Negative and fake Google reviews can affect more than your Google search rankings. In fact, a new PowerReviews study found that online reviews are now more powerful than price, brand name, free shipping, and recommendations from friends when making purchase decisions.
And that impact goes beyond online shopping; 57% of shoppers check online reviews before making a purchase in-store.
The importance of online reviews for a business cannot be understated. Negative Google reviews can be devastating for your business. They can affect your company in several ways, including:
1. Impact Local SEO Rankings
As mentioned above, your business’s online reputation is impacted by your online reviews. And the lower your online reputation, the more likely it is that your search engine rankings will suffer—hurting your local business discoverability in organic search.
2. Decreased Foot Traffic & Customers
The unfortunate truth is that for most consumers, it is difficult to discern between fake reviews and real ones. Even a completely fabricated negative review can affect consumers’ opinions of your company, which can lead to fewer customers who are willing to buy your product or service.
3. Impaired Public Reception & Reputation
If the number of negative reviews reaches a certain point, they can impact the public’s opinion of your business. If the public loses trust in your product or service, it can be difficult to gain new customers.
4. Lost Sponsorships or Brand Partnerships
If your business relies on partnering with other brands in your niche or landing sponsorship deals from other companies, your online reputation can put that in jeopardy. Other brands will not want to be associated with a company whose public reputation has been blemished.
5. Can Embolden More Hostile Reviewers
Unfortunately, mob mentality is very much alive in digital spaces. Once one poster makes a negative claim against your business—whether it is true or not—others will feel encouraged to do the same.
6. Damaged CEO Reputation
More and more, the top executives at every company are scrutinized closely—and a CEO’s reputation is inseparable from the company’s overall standing. Negative reviews denouncing a CEO can lead to public blowback and revenue loss for the company.
7. Difficulty Hiring & Keeping Quality Talent
Your employees’ morale, pride in their workplace, and even loyalty will be tested if your business suffers from negative public opinion. And recruiting top talent can be difficult if prospective employees see negative reviews and feedback about your business online.
8. Having to Close Your Business’s Doors for Good
With enough damage done through lost sales and brand partnerships, a business may face the risk of bankruptcy or permanent closure.
Why Are Google Reviews Important?
Online reviews reign supreme. According to SEO giant Moz, positive local reviews can boost your chances of ranking higher on search engines. Reviews make up roughly 15% of SEO ranking credit.
And Google is the primary source of online reviews—since it makes up nearly 60% of all internet reviews—while 63.6% of all consumers choose to research product reviews and businesses using Google.
How to Delete a Google Review of Your Business
Receiving a negative or untruthful Google review can be frustrating, if not downright harmful. In this section, we give tips on deleting a Google review—and whether it is possible to turn off Google reviews altogether.
How Can You Delete a Google Review of Your Business?
Unfortunately, having a Google review removed or deleted is not always a straightforward process. And in some cases, it is not even possible.
But to have the best chances of removing a fake Google review, follow these steps:
- Preserve evidence of the negative or fake review’s URL;
- Reach out to the review’s author to request that they remove the review;
- Flag the review to Google for Terms of Service (ToS) violations; and
- Flag the review from within your Google My Business account.
Preserve Evidence of the Review’s URL
The best way to protect yourself, preserve all of your options for addressing fake negative reviews, and make your case is to document evidence of the fake or negative online review in question. To save the review, follow these steps:
- Navigate to the Google review,
- Click on the account holder’s name, and
- Screenshot and copy the review’s URL.
Be sure to save screenshots and PDFs of any communication as well, along with any documentation of your flagging, reporting, and disputing of the review.
Timestamp all screenshots and compile the evidence into a chronological timeline. The more documentation of evidence you have, the stronger your chances of success if you eventually take legal action.
Reach Out to the Author
It is a good rule of thumb that if you do plan to respond to a review, you should do so in a timely manner. A 2022 ReviewTrackers report found that after posting a review, roughly 52% of customers expect to hear back from a business within seven days.
The most common reason for a customer to post a complaint online is that they want to be heard. In cases like these, you may see a quick resolution by simply:
- Letting the person know their complaints have been heard,
- Offering solutions to the problem (such as an apology or a refund),
- Informing them that the problem is being addressed, and
- Requesting a phone call to take the discussion offline.
Keep in mind, responding to a client or customer review in the wrong way can do more harm than good—especially if it is in a very public forum where it might attract more attention.
Responding to a review can also legitimize it, even if the experience described in the review was faked. If you plan to have the review removed for a term of service violation, it can hurt your case to respond to the review first.
Instead, opt for a phone call or other direct line of communication that turns the impersonal situation into a personal one.
Minc Law Review Response Tip: Medical professionals should be even more careful responding to reviews since it is very easy to violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Calling the reviewer by name (even if they gave their name in the review) or doing anything to acknowledge that the reviewer is a patient could violate professional privilege obligations. For further information, we recommend reading our article explaining how medical providers can respond to negative medical reviews.
Flag the Review to Google Via Google Maps
Before flagging any review, make sure to acquaint yourself with Google’s review guidelines so that you understand what is considered an appropriate review. For example, Google’s policies prohibit posts that contain:
- Content that is not related to the business being reviewed,
- Harassment or threats of harm,
- Spam or fake content, and
- Conflicts of interest (e.g., reviews written by competitors or disgruntled employees).
If you find that the review does violate Google’s terms of service, you can flag it—either through Google Maps or through your Google My Business account. We cover each option below.
To flag a review through Google Maps, simply:
- Find your business listing on Google Maps,
- Click on the three vertical dots next to the review in question,
- Flag the review as inappropriate, and
- Identify the nature of the violation and fill in the requested information to submit the request.
You should then receive a follow-up email from Google confirming that they will look into the matter.
Flag the Review From Within Your Google My Business Account
Another option is to flag the fake review using your business account. If you have not claimed a Google My Business Account, we recommend doing so. In our experience, reporting reviews through Google My Business tends to be more effective than the flagging option above.
To report the review using this method, simply:
- Log into your Google My Business account and open the location you would like to manage (if your business has more than one location),
- Select Reviews from the menu bar,
- Navigate to the false review, and
- Click the three vertical dots to flag the review as inappropriate.
Once you have flagged the review, it will be escalated to a team of Google Business review specialists. This review process usually takes up to 72 hours.
How Can You Turn Off Google Reviews?
The short answer is that unfortunately, you cannot turn off Google Reviews. As mentioned above, reviews made about your business will still be live even if you delete your profile.
If you are worried about negative, fake Google reviews, the best practice is to focus on acquiring more positive reviews and practicing stellar customer service instead.
But some cases involve malicious or targeted attacks—for example, a business may face large volumes of negative reviews at once or be targeted due to public backlash. In these situations, Google may turn off or temporarily disable Google reviews for your account.
Google Review Reporting Tip: Twitter is often a common resource for consumers wanting to catch a corporation’s attention—and Google is no different. You can tweet at Google Small Business Support (@GoogleSmallBiz) to escalate your concern and attract more attention for your flagged review.
How to Contact Google About a Negative Review of Your Business
In this section, we explain how to get in touch with Google in response to harmful reviews about your company.
However, keep in mind that a flag or report of a bad Google review may go unanswered due to a large volume of reports. Also, platforms like Google generally do not involve themselves with disputing the authenticity or legitimacy of third-party content due to protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Because Google is not usually liable for negative or defamatory content displayed on its platform, it generally is hesitant to arbitrate in all but the most obvious situations. But if you want to try contacting Google anyway, follow the steps below.
How to Claim Your Google My Business Profile
First, make sure you have claimed your Google My Business account. Simply navigate to Google’s Business Profile Manager and search for your business name in the search box.
Click “Manage now” to claim your business and update information and manage reviews.
If the account has already been claimed by a previously authorized user for your company, request ownership from the current profile owner.
How Can You Contact Google About a Fake Negative Review of Your Business?
Ideally, every fake or malicious Google review would be easily and quickly removed after you report it. But, unfortunately, it is not that simple.
If you have tried reporting a harmful review and received no response, you may wish to contact Google Small Business Support to pursue the matter further. You can contact Google using your business profile by taking the following actions:
- Login to your Google My Business account and click on Reviews in your menu bar;
- Select Need More Help from the Support bar on the left side of the page;
- Select Customer Reviews and Photos > Review Removal Issues > Contact Support;
- Choose your preferred method of contact (email or phone) and fill out your contact information; and
- Include the text, a screenshot, and the Google Maps link of the inappropriate review.
How Long Does It Take to Hear Back From Google Small Business Support?
In most cases, you should hear back from Google within 24-48 hours. At that point, you will have the chance to make your case to a support specialist.
The communication will likely be with the same department that already determined the review should remain online, which is why it is important to be thoroughly prepared with evidence and documentation.
Because of the delicate nature of the situation, we recommend reaching out to an experienced internet attorney to help you.
What Does Deleting Your Google Business Account Do to Reviews?
Deleting a Google Business Account does not stop negative reviews from being written about your business. By deleting your account, all you are doing is relinquishing control over your profile. The profile itself continues to exist.
Instead of deleting your business account, the best course of action is to have the review itself deleted using one or more of the steps above.
Legal Options For Responding to Fake & Negative Google Reviews
Should your attempts to contact Google about the review(s) go unanswered, it may be time to work with an experienced internet attorney to sue to obtain a court order and remove the content.
While it is true that you can sue for a bad review, the review must cross into the territory of defamation or violate the platform’s terms of service in some sort of way. If the bad review does not meet one or both of these requirements, it will be very difficult to win a lawsuit.
Do You Need to Respond to All Google Business Reviews?
In the eyes of consumers, a business that responds to reviews is nearly twice as trustworthy as a business that does not. Responding to reviews in an appropriate manner contributes to your reputation as a trustworthy, professional, and caring organization.
However, whether you should respond to a Google Business review depends on the situation. In some cases, responding to a review could actually do more harm than good—especially when your response legitimizes a fake review.
When deciding whether to respond to a bad review, consider the type of interaction the review is generating from your customers or prospective customers. If the review is already receiving a great deal of negative attention, it may be wise to respond with a polite message inviting the original poster to continue the dialogue in another (preferably more private) forum.
For example, your response may look something like this:
“Thank you for your feedback. It sounds like your experience at [Company Name] didn’t match your expectations, and we are sorry about that. Would you be willing to get in touch with us at [Email Address] or [Phone Number]? We would like the opportunity to investigate further and work with you to resolve any issues as quickly as possible.”
But each situation is unique. Certain professions, such as doctors or lawyers, have strict professional rules regarding confidentiality which limit the ability to respond to fake Google Business reviews. If you determine that a response is necessary, it is good to consult with an attorney before doing so to determine the best approach.
How Can You Detect Fake Google Reviews?
While it is impossible to make everyone happy, not all negative reviews come from real customers.
But how can you tell the difference between a customer who had a negative experience at your business and a malicious poster whose goal is to harm your brand’s reputation with fake Google reviews?
Below, we list five techniques to discern fake reviews from real ones.
Consult Your Business Records
Thorough business records are useful not only for remaining in regulatory compliance but also for discovering which reviewers were real customers. If you suspect a review is fake, compare it with your records.
Does the username resemble any customer names? What about the date and/or the events of the review in question—do they match any real events in your records?
If you cannot find anything in your records that explains the negative review, that may mean the review is fake.
Research the User’s Account
You may also be able to learn a great deal from the reviewer’s profile. The following red flags may indicate that the user is not a real customer leaving reviews in good faith:
- The account has had very little (or no) activity besides the review of your business;
- The account was created on the same day as the review;
- The account username is anonymous (e.g., “John S.”) or obviously farcical (“Ben Dover”); and/or
- The profile photo is a stock image.
Minc Law Tip: One quick way to check the legitimacy of a user’s profile is to run a reverse image search on Google. You can upload an image from your files, drag and drop the picture into Google Images, or search Google Images for the photo’s URL. If the image is a stock photo or comes from elsewhere online, it is a good sign that the reviewer’s profile is not legitimate.
Analyze the Timing of the Review
If your business has suddenly received several unusually low reviews in the same short time frame, that timing may mean the reviews are a coordinated attack.
And if the reviews were uploaded when the majority of your customers would be asleep, odds are that the reviewer is located in another time zone—and unless you sell globally, they are not a real customer.
Look at the Review’s Language
Fake reviews often contain strange wording or improper grammar. The content of the review may also seem off, such as an inaccurate description of your services or products or a promotion of your competitor.
Finally, fake reviews are more likely to contain especially inflammatory rhetoric designed to outrage readers.
Look for Signs That the Review Was a Professional Hit Job By a Competitor
In our experience, a few cases of fake reviews have been carried out by professional review agencies (or “hitmen”). These groups are often overseas agencies that are hired by a business’s competitors to harm their online reputation.
The most obvious sign that the reviews are a coordinated hit job includes reviews that are:
- Riddled with grammatical errors,
- Posted at odd times of the night (at least for your time zone), and
- Contain vague or irrelevant descriptions of your product or service.
Can People Be Held Liable For Fake Google Reviews?
If your business is the target of fake Google reviews, it is natural to wonder what legal recourse is available to you. But whether you successfully sue for a fake review depends on the circumstance.
When determining whether it would be worthwhile to pursue litigation over a false Google review, consider the following:
- Is the review defamatory? If the review is a false statement of fact (i.e., not opinion) that causes damage to your or your business’s reputation, it crosses into the territory of defamation.
- Does the review describe a situation that was never an actual marketplace interaction? For instance, perhaps your competitor or an individual with a personal grudge has hired an overseas company to bomb your Google page with fake reviews.
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, the individual(s) who posted the fake Google reviews may be held legally liable for their actions.
What Are the Legal Options For Responding to Fake Negative Google Reviews?
In some cases, you can do everything in your power to have a negative Google review removed, but it is just not possible. When nothing else works, you may be tempted to sue Google— but that is almost always a bad idea.
Instead, if you need to take legal action, it is usually better to sue the poster themselves.
Filing a defamation lawsuit over a review should be a last resort after you have exhausted your other options (such as the removal strategies listed above). If the negative Google review is costing you business or impugns some grave allegation (such as sexual harassment), you may feel you have no choice but to take legal action.
Pursuing litigation may be an effective way to remove negative reviews—but it does come with several risks. Such disputes are often resolved without having to go to trial, but there is always a chance the lawsuit could become contentious. The poster may claim several defenses to defamation, for instance, and there is always the risk that the lawsuit will draw even more unwanted attention to the situation (also known as the Streisand Effect).
The risks and costs associated with filing a defamation lawsuit over a review mean that it is essential to work with an attorney with experience in defamation law.
Generally speaking, suing for a fake Google review is possible only if the review meets one of the following requirements:
- It contains defamatory language,
- It attempts to harass or extort your business, or
- It violates the review platform’s terms of service.
If you are reasonably certain the fake Google review was posted by one of your competitors, it is likely you can convince them to remove the review with a cease and desist letter. If that does not work, you may be able to file a lawsuit if you have legal claims for:
- Business disparagement,
- Unfair/deceptive trade practices, or
- False advertising.
Minc Law Can Help You Remove Google Reviews
We know just how devastating fake or negative Google reviews can be for your business. But don’t worry. Receiving a bad or fake review is inevitable in today’s digital landscape. Approaching its removal with a strategic game plan can set your business apart from others and enable you to truly thrive. However, we do not recommend approaching negative or fake online reviews alone.
At Minc Law, we know the ins and outs of reporting and removing reviews from Google and have worked with hundreds of businesses to clean up false and fabricated online reviews.
“Minc Law and Dan Powell worked closely with us to get defamatory material removed from social media sites. We would not have been able to get this accomplished without them. They are true professionals, and have the resources and skills to guide clients through the process to a successful resolution.”
Jen Duncan, March 4, 2022
If you would like to explore how we can help you remove fake Google reviews from your Google My Business listing, you can reach out to us by calling (216) 373-7706, filling out our contact form, or speaking with a Chat representative.