Negative and fake reviews can be extremely damaging to your business. It is crucial to know how to dispute a Google review and have it removed as quickly and effectively as possible.
We recommend taking the following steps to dispute and remove a Google review:
- Document and preserve the Google review;
- Dispute the review from within your Google My Business (GMB) account;
- Flag the review in Google Maps;
- Reach out to Google Small Business Support;
- Contact the reviewer directly to request removal;
- Respond to the review publicly (in some situations);
- Work with an experienced defamation and content removal attorney; and
- Use online reputation management (ORM) services to suppress the negative content.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience navigating Google’s complex reporting processes involved in having reviews removed from the internet. We have worked with hundreds of businesses to take down fake and negative reviews from consumer review websites, and we know which methods work best.
In this article, we explain how Google reviews impact your business (for good and bad) and which types of reviews are prohibited on the platform. We then provide actionable tips for reporting—and removing—harmful Google reviews.
Why Google Reviews Are Important for Business
Online reviews are extremely impactful on a business’s competitiveness and longevity. This is especially true on Google, which hosts approximately 64% of all online reviews and accounts for around 90% of all internet searches. Because online ratings have an outsized effect on customer traffic and sales, a poor average rating on Google Reviews can affect every aspect of your business.
In this section, we examine the importance of a positive presence on Google Reviews, along with how negative Google Reviews can affect consumer behavior.
Why is It Important for a Business to Maintain a Positive Online Reputation?
Given today’s digital business landscape, your business’s online reputation is crucial for its success. Customers look to reviews to help them make purchasing decisions—which means if your online reviews are unfavorable, or even average, it will be difficult to stand up to the competition.
Roughly 9 out of 10 customers read online reviews before buying a product, and only 9% of customers would engage with a business that has lower than a 3-star rating.
One BrightLocal study found that on average, businesses ranking in the top three positions in Google’s local search have 47 online reviews.
Roughly 88% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations, and customers spend 31% more at a business with positive reviews.
Cultivating a positive presence on review platforms is about much more than marketing; in today’s online world, it is crucial for the survival of your business.
Impact of Bad Google Reviews on Consumer Behavior
Negative reviews on Google can significantly impact your business’s reputation and, as a result, your bottom line. Consumers turn to Google for research before making a purchasing decision—and if your reviews are negative, consumers will take their business elsewhere.
A 2021 BrightLocal survey found that 94% of consumers are more likely to patronize a business with positive reviews. A single negative article on the first page of search results risks losing a business up to 22% of potential customers—and two negative articles double that percentage.
Many consumers start their Google search by looking for local businesses. They might search “sporting goods stores near me” or “Italian restaurant Atlanta.” With enough bad reviews, your overall rating on Google suffers—which then drops your ranking in search results and causes fewer consumers to find you in the first place. If you rely on local search results to find new customers, a poor overall rating can equate to a death sentence for your company.
Negative reviews can damage your brand image and credibility, leading customers to view your business as untrustworthy and unprofessional. Customer behavior is tied to their overall trust in a company; if they do not trust you, they are likely to turn to a competitor.
Customers also expect businesses to demonstrate professionalism and customer service in the face of negative feedback. In fact, 45% of consumers report they are more likely to buy from a business that responds to poor reviews.
What is the Impact of Bad Google Reviews on Your Business as a Whole?
Poor Google reviews can devastate your business. Countless studies suggest that online reviews impact customer purchase decisions more than price, brand name, free shipping, and even personal recommendations. Even your in-store sales depend on online reviews; 57% of customers check online reviews before making an in-person purchase.
Negative reviews can impact your business in several ways, including:
- Lower local SEO rankings and organic search traffic. With a lower overall rating on review platforms, your business is less likely to appear at the top of search results—which makes it harder to increase brand awareness and new leads.
- Damaged public perception. Poor reviews—even if they are fake—can harm your business’s reputation. Customers will easily lose trust in you if they read enough negative reviews about your business.
- Lower sales. With lower online search visibility and an impaired reputation, fewer customers will be willing to buy from you.
- Snowball effect for bad reviews. Digital spaces are breeding grounds for mob mentality—so the presence of one negative review can encourage others to pile on and post bad reviews of their own.
- Lost brand partnerships or sponsorships. An impaired reputation can damage your relationships with other brands in your niche. If you rely on sponsorship deals or partnerships, poor reviews will narrow your options.
- Blemished CEO reputation. Negative reviews attacking top executives can cause public backlash and revenue loss for your business.
- Trouble attracting and retaining top talent. Employees want to work for businesses they respect and trust. If negative reviews damage your reputation, it will be much more difficult to recruit (and retain) quality staff members.
And of course, after enough lost revenue and harm to your business’s reputation, your organization faces a real risk of bankruptcy—and closing your doors for good.
What Types of Reviews Are Prohibited By Google?
While a negative review of any kind has the potential to harm your business or drive away customers, only a select few types of reviews are banned by Google.
Substantially true Google reviews that convey a negative opinion about a legitimate experience are unlikely to be removed. Generally, Google’s moderation team will remove three key types of reviews:
- Content that violates Google’s Review Guidelines and Terms of Service (ToS),
- Fraudulent reviews that do not reflect a genuine marketplace interaction, and
- Defamatory content or reviews that attempt to extort or harass a business.
In this section, we help you understand each type of prohibited content on Google’s review platform.
Understand Google’s Review Guidelines & Terms of Service (ToS)
Google’s Terms of Service (ToS) do not allow content that is clearly offensive and abusive. For example, you may be able to report reviews containing the following types of content:
- Harassment, hate speech, or personal attacks;
- Offensive or sexually explicit content;
- Spammy, fake, or misleading statements;
- Personal or confidential information (like bank information, medical records, or social security numbers);
- Reviews made by those with a conflict of interest (such as competitors, employees, or family and friends of the business owner); and
- Content that is not relevant to the review (including social or political commentary).
Google’s guidelines also specify how businesses and reviewers can interact on the platform. For example, businesses cannot incentivize customers to leave positive reviews. Reviewers are also not allowed to review the same business multiple times from multiple accounts.
If Google’s moderation team determines that a review violates the ToS, they may remove it from the platform.
Learn How to Spot Fake Google Reviews
In our experience at Minc Law, we commonly see fake reviews from three types of perpetrators:
- Competitors in your industry who want to drive business away from you,
- Real customers who had a negative experience and are exaggerating out of spite, and
- Third parties with a grudge who want to take revenge by harming your business.
It can be difficult to differentiate between a negative review and a fake one, so the best advice is to trust your intuition. Start by checking your business records and trying to find a matching customer interaction or name.
Then, investigate the reviewer’s account. Was it created on the same day as the review? Does the reviewer have an anonymized username (like “John S.,” or even “Seymore Butts”)? These are signs of bad-faith posters.
You can also check for red flags within the review itself, such as if it:
- Contains inaccurate descriptions of your services,
- Promotes a competitor,
- Uses inflammatory rhetoric, and
- Contains several typos and grammar errors.
To learn more about identifying fraudulent reviews, see our in-depth guide: “6 Ways Businesses Can Spot Fake Online Reviews.”
Understanding Exactly What Constitutes a Defamatory Google Review
While extortion and blackmail occasionally take place on review platforms, defamation is typically the most common legal claim brought over a malicious or negative Google review.
Online defamation is a false statement of fact published online that damages the subject’s reputation.
For example, say an online reviewer claims to have witnessed that your business is running a child trafficking ring out of your backroom. This claim is completely untrue, but it leads to other reviewers piling on out of outrage. Your average rating drops below three stars, and soon, you see fewer customers visit your store as a result of the accusations against you.
While defamation does not always have to be this extreme, left unchecked it can be very harmful to a business’s reputation. You may need to pursue legal action if a reviewer uses false statements of fact to negligently or intentionally damage your business.
How Business Owners Can Dispute & Delete a Google Review
Reviewers who are determined to damage your business through fake or exaggerated negative reviews may use one of several tactics. They might pose as multiple reviewers leaving several reviews, or they may simply leave one-star reviews with no text. They may exaggerate a real negative experience they had, or they might fabricate an entire review.
No matter the reviewer’s methods, there are ways you can fight back. In this section, we list the most effective ways to dispute and remove harmful Google reviews.
Document & Preserve the Google Review
The best strategy is to preserve as much evidence of the fake and harmful review in question. It will be difficult to prove your case to Google’s moderation team—much less file a defamation claim against the poster—without proof of the review.
To preserve evidence of the review, follow these steps:
- Locate the review,
- Click on the user’s profile or username,
- Take a screenshot of the review, and
- Copy the review’s URL.
It is also essential to include timestamps in your documentation since Google does not display the date the review was left. Instead, the post will display a vague approximation like “8 months ago.” Be sure to save any email notifications you received about the review being posted.
Proof of the date of the review can be helpful when determining the statute of limitations (the time limit you have to take legal action) should you need to file a lawsuit over the bad review.
Three Different Ways to Dispute & Delete a Google Review
When disputing a review to Google, it is important to focus on the identity of the reviewer and your relationship with them.
If the reviewer is an ex-employee or a competitor, for instance, it is easier to verify the context of the review. Google’s moderation team tends to be more responsive if you can identify the reviewer with some certainty.
Below, we list three effective ways to report a review to Google.
Dispute the Review From Within Your Google My Business Account
If you think a Google review violates Google’s ToS or is fraudulent, the owner or manager of your Google My Business (GMB) account should follow these steps to dispute the review:
- Sign into your Google My Business account;
- Locate the review you wish to dispute by visiting the Reviews section of your GMB account;
- Click the three dots next to the review and choose “Flag as inappropriate” from the menu of options;
- Fill out the form to provide a reason for flagging the review and any additional details or evidence to support your claim; and
- Submit the form and wait for a response.
If Google’s moderation team determines that the review violates platform policies, they will remove it from your business listing.
Keep in mind that flagging a review is not a guarantee that it will be removed. Google’s moderation team has full discretion over whether a review violates platform guidelines.
Flag Google Reviews in Google Maps
You can also flag a review that violates Google’s terms of service through Google Maps. Simply:
- Locate your business listing in Google Maps,
- Click the three vertical dots next to the review,
- Flag the content as inappropriate,
- Fill in the requested information to identify the nature of the violation, and
- Submit the request.
After submitting the request, you should receive a follow-up email from Google verifying that they will investigate the matter.
Reach Out to Google Small Business Support
If you have received no response to previous reports, you can try contacting Google Small Business Support to follow up on the matter. From your GMB profile, take the following steps:
- Click on Reviews in your menu bar,
- On the left side of the page, choose Need More Help from the Support bar,
- Select Customer Reviews and Photos > Review Removal Issues > Contact Support,
- Fill out your contact information and choose whether you prefer to be contacted by email or phone, and
- Insert a screenshot, Google Maps link, and/or the text of the review in question.
Keep in mind that flagging a bad Google review does not guarantee you will receive an answer. Google and similar platforms are protected from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, meaning they are not inclined to involve themselves with litigating the legitimacy of third-party content.
Twitter is another effective way to catch the attention of a corporation—including Google. Tweet at Google Small Business Support (@GoogleSmallBiz) to attract more attention to your request and potentially see a faster response.
Minc Law has had several potential clients approach us for help with harmful and fake business reviews. We generally suggest reporting the review to Google first, using the methods described above—and in many cases, these methods resolve the matter.
However, once you have exhausted these remedies, it may be time to reach out to an experienced content removal attorney for help.
How Long Will It Take For Google to Remove the Review?
Google’s moderation team reviews each request to verify whether the review violates the platform’s guidelines.
In most situations, you should receive a response from Google within 24-48 hours. But depending on the complexity of the case and the volume of requests, this process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
There is also no guarantee that the review will be removed. If the moderation team denies your request, you will then have a chance to explain your case to a support specialist. Be prepared to present additional documentation.
Due to the nuances involved in successfully navigating Google’s reporting processes, we recommend reaching out to an experienced content removal attorney for help.
What Can I Do About Wordless One-Star Google Reviews?
It is unfortunately common for malicious individuals to spam their targets with multiple wordless, one-star reviews. If you are used to a high average rating and suddenly begin receiving multiple one-star reviews at once, this may be a sign that the reviews are not from legitimate customers.
Generally, single one-star reviews are not actionable as defamation because they are considered expressions of opinion. People have the right to express dissatisfaction with a business without explaining themselves further.
However, external factors may make the review actionable for implied defamation (otherwise known as defamation per quod).
For example, if you can show that a single person generated the one-star reviews, you may be able to sue them. One individual who leaves dozens of unfavorable reviews from different accounts may be liable for misrepresenting their identity and the nature of their relationship with your business.
Make sure to read our comprehensive guide answering if you can sue for a bad review.
Effective Strategies to Delete a Google Review if Google Refuses to Remove It
Negative reviews are a part of doing business—and not all harmful reviews should be reported to Google or necessitate the filing of a defamation lawsuit. The reviewer may be a truly dissatisfied customer, for example, who will take down the review if you resolve their complaint.
If you have tried the methods discussed above without much success, you still have options—which we discuss below.
Contact the Reviewer Directly to Request Removal
If you have reason to believe a real customer left a negative review, you can try resolving the situation through excellent customer service. Some customers simply want to feel heard and understood—and if they do, they are likely to remove or edit the review on their own.
If you know the identity of the customer, try calling them or reaching out to them privately. In your response, remember the following tips:
- Show sympathy and that you have heard their complaints,
- Try resolving the situation through an apology and/or refund, and
- Let them know that you are looking into the problem.
Consider Responding to the Review Publicly
If you are unsure of the poster’s identity but the post seems legitimate, you can try responding to the bad review itself. Responding professionally and without defensiveness can show the customer (and other readers) that you value feedback and wish to resolve your customers’ complaints.
Keep these tips in mind when crafting your response:
- Thank the reviewer for their feedback,
- Address the facts laid out in the review and calmly explain your side of the story (if applicable),
- Let them know that the issues are being addressed,
- Invite them to contact you privately so you can resolve the issue offline, and
- Keep your response polite but succinct.
If you do plan to respond to a review, try to do so within a few days. Be sure to wait long enough that you are responding with a cool head, though; replying defensively or out of anger can do more harm than good.
Avoid responding to reviews that your gut says are fake. When a business responds to a review, it legitimizes the post—which can hurt your efforts to have it removed for a ToS violation.
However, medical and legal professionals (or anyone else bound by confidentiality obligations), should generally NOT respond to reviews. Because you are prohibited from sharing any information about your clients—or even confirming that they are your client—it is best to avoid responding to reviews at all.
For more information on how these professionals should handle negative reviews, see our article: “How Doctors Can Respond to Bad Patient Reviews.”
Work With a Defamation Attorney to Pursue Legal Action & Compel Removal of the Google Review
If a defamatory review is harming your business and you are unable to remove it yourself, legal action may be your only option.
If you know the identity of the reviewer, your attorney can send a cease and desist letter. These letters are faster and more cost-effective than a lawsuit, but they usually convince the recipient that you will pursue legal action if their behavior does not stop.
A cease and desist letter can be especially effective if you believe a competitor posted the fake Google review.
Working with an experienced attorney to file a defamation lawsuit may also be an effective tool for removing a negative review. If the reviewer is anonymous, filing a John Doe lawsuit can help unmask their identity and hold them accountable for their actions. You may also be able to file a lawsuit if you have claims for:
However, a lawsuit comes with risks that you should seriously consider before moving forward. The defendant may use one of several defenses to defamation, and the lawsuit can quickly become contentious. Not only can the lawsuit drag on for several months, but it also presents the risk of the Streisand Effect: drawing more unwanted attention to the matter and harming your reputation even further.
Utilize Online Reputation Management or Suppression Services & Strategies
Removing a negative review is not always possible (or worth the trouble). One way to mitigate the harm caused by negative content online is to suppress it with reputation management strategies.
Online reputation management (ORM) involves using a combination of techniques and tools to create positive, branded content and boost your online reputation. These services often use search engine optimization (SEO) best practices to rank positive content higher in Google search results, pushing negative reviews further down where they are less visible.
Even if you are not the target of malicious online reviewers, proactively creating a positive brand reputation can be your first line of defense. The stronger your online reputation, the more difficult it is for a single negative review to damage your business.
We Help Businesses Remove Defamatory Google Reviews
A barrage of negative and fake online reviews can have catastrophic consequences for you and your business. It is critical to act quickly, compile all relevant information and evidence to support a claim for removal with Google, and reach out to an experienced content removal or internet defamation attorney.
At Minc Law, we have removed over 50,000 pieces of defamatory content from the internet, including fake Google and other consumer reviews. We know what methods work to remove false reviews from Google and how to compel removal without drawing further unwanted attention to the matter.
“Obtaining this legal representation saved our business. Minc Law represented and defended us against defamation so our customers didn’t have to. Minc Law gave us a voice and Daniel Powell made sure we were heard and considered in each part of the process. He also provided practical advice that helped us avoid a snowball effect, and added a human element while dealing with social media organizations.”
April 12, 2022
To schedule your initial, no-obligation consultation with an intake specialist, reach out by calling us at (216) 373-7706 or filling out our online contact form.