In 2019, it’s essential for businesses to understand how to remove Google reviews. Failing to remove negative or fake Google reviews can put your business and reputation at serious risk. Fake Google reviews can also lead to negative publicity, loss of customers, decreased profits and other unwanted consequences.
Businesses can remove unwanted Google reviews in three different ways:
- Ask the original author to remove the Google Review
- Flag and Report the Review to Google
- Pursue legal action and obtain a Court Order to have the review taken down
Below, we’ll walk you through each of these methods in more detail.
If you are a business which has recently been hit with a bad review, DON’T WORRY! Every company gets bad or fake Google review eventually. It’s inevitable. You can have perfect customer service, provide a money-back guarantee, and never make a mistake. Yet still, someone is going to be that… unhappy, crazy, dumb, or downright malicious of a person that it will happen.
Whether it’s a disgruntled customer who wants a free product, a competing business which feels threatened, a vengeful ex-employee, or an anonymous online troll looking to cause some trouble, it happens.
What’s most important, however, and what we cover below is how you handle a fake Google review after it happens and how you get it down.
Below are three definitive methods to remove Google reviews.
A surefire way to remove a Google review is to convince the original author to remove it. If a reviewer can put a Google review up, they can just as easily log in and take it down. While this might seem like common sense, depending on the circumstances, it can actually be one of the most difficult paths to take for a successful resolution. That’s especially true if the review is fake or published anonymously. Assuming that’s not the case, the solution in most normal situations when negative reviews are received by businesses should hopefully be obvious…
Customer service, customer service, customer service. You’re a business or professional after all, aren’t you?
Simply put, excellent customer service will always result in fewer bad reviews. Without question, it is the best long term strategy and solution for businesses to prevent bad reviews and get bad reviews removed if posted. As they say, “The customer is always right.” And, when handling bad reviews on Google, it’s good to adhere to this mantra and take a customer-first-approach.
When deciding on how to approach and deal with authors to request they remove a review, consider the following:
- Whether it’s in your best interest to respond: Unless you’re a big brand or involved in a business or industry with high volume traffic or a substantial amount of customer reviews, then it’s generally not wise to respond to a Google review. Responding to a review in the wrong way could actually harm your business and may lead to a significant rise in Google’s rankings. Also, a general rule of thumb is that reviews are harder to remove once you’ve responded to them publically because you’ve technically addressed the reviewer’s concern and given your side of the story. Finally, there are potential legal implications for specific professions. Responding to a Google review should be your last resort, and typically reserved for extremely harmful reviews and when you’re sure it likely isn’t ever being removed.
- Speed and responsiveness: If you do respond to review, do so quickly. According to a ReviewTrackers’ study, roughly 52% of customers expect to hear back from a business within 7 days after posting their review, while nearly 25% expect a response within at least 3 days. If you’re looking to keep in line with industry standards, the consensus dictates businesses should respond to a customer’s review and concerns within 48 hours of posting. Customers are anxious to receive a response, so don’t keep them waiting!
- Method of contact: How you contact a reviewer can significantly impact whether your review is removed or remains online. If possible, opt for a phone call rather than a written message. Turning an impersonal situation into a personal one can help assure a reviewer their complaints are being taken seriously. After all, it’s extremely easy for a message to be misinterpreted online. Or, maybe a phone call isn’t possible for whatever reason. Do still offer them a direct line of communication (ex. Personal email, Facebook Messenger, etc…).
- Appropriate remedy: Are you past the point of no return? Is the customer and reviewer just seeking an apology? Or what about a refund? A 2015 customer rage study actually found businesses that offer both an apology and monetary refund scored twice as high for customer satisfaction than those that only offered a monetary remedy. However, don’t offer a monetary remedy or credit in situations where the language of the review is clearly extortionary.
- Confidential restrictions: Consider whether you’re violating any privacy or professional restrictions when contacting a reviewer, along with what you can and cannot discuss or divulge in a public response. Doctors and lawyers, among other professionals, should especially think twice before responding to online reviews at all. Check out our past blog post on how doctors can respond to negative online reviews to better understand the implications for specific professional classes when responding online.
- Do everything reasonably possible: Should an apology, refund, or constructive dialogue fail to yield the removal of a review, consider where there is anything else you can reasonably do to right this wrong.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that businesses can do everything right customer-service-wise and still end up with negative Google business reviews. Sometimes, you’re just dealing with difficult and irrational customers and reviewers who have no intention of ever removing their review. Nothing you say or offer will suffice, and reaching out could, in fact, make the situation ten times worse!
It’s just the name of the game.
Lucky for you and your business, you do have two other options. Now, it’s time to bring the review to Google’s attention and ask them to remove it.
Google Review Removal Tip: Google’s Contributed Content Policy prohibits the offering or acceptance of money in exchange for reviews. Make sure not to cross over into this territory by actively incentivizing customers to post positive reviews.
Get Google to Remove the Review
If you failed to persuade a reviewer to remove a bad review, or the reviewer never responded to you or you don’t know who the reviewer is to begin with, and you’re still left wondering how to remove a Google review, it’s time to involve Google.
Below are two ways you can alert Google to let them know a review is fake or violates their guidelines and should be removed.
Flag & Report Google Reviews To Remove Them
Once you’ve carefully assessed the review in question, it’s time to get to work.
How to Flag a Fake Google Review
Flagging a fake Google review is the first step towards having Google remove false online reviews. Think of it as sending a smoke signal to Google to alert them that, “Hey! Something isn’t quite right here. Please come take a look!”
Don’t get trigger happy with your review flagging finger. Always make sure you check Google’s review policies to get a good idea of what is and isn’t acceptable content. For example, Google prohibits spam and fake content, and requires a reviewer or poster’s content to reflect their genuine experience at a location or business. They also prohibit:
- Off-topic content
- Calls to action and offers for the sale of products and services
- Illegal, sexually explicit, and terroristic content
- Offensive and obscene language and gestures
- Dangerous and derogatory content
- Conflict of interest
When flagging reviews, there is something to be said for “strength in numbers,” meaning, if you have several users flag the same review, it may lead to a greater chance of it actually being removed by Google.
Don’t just flag a review because you disagree with it. However, if something seems fishy, dig a bit deeper into Google’s policies to see if the review actually violates them.
Local business owners and companies can flag reviews in two (2) different ways; by flagging the review via Google Maps or through managing one’s Google My Business reviews.
1. Flag Fake Google Reviews in Google Maps or Business’s Review Profile
In order to find a defamatory or fake review about your business, simply Google your business, or head on over to Google Maps to find your business listing.
- Find the review in question that you want to flag
- Locate the flag or three vertical dots next to a review
- Click the flag or three dots
- Flag the review as inappropriate
After flagging the review as inappropriate, you’ll be directed to a page to ‘Report a policy violation’, There, you can identify the nature of the violation, fill out your email address, and submit!
After flagging the review as inappropriate and selecting which Google policy it violates, you’ll receive a follow-up email letting you know they are looking into it.
Now you’re finished with the flagging process! You generally will not be receiving any further messages from Google concerning the review. And, in our experience as internet defamation attorneys, we’ve generally found that this method of flagging reviews really only has success in the most extreme and obvious cases. However, if you’re looking to remove Google reviews in a comprehensive manner, it’s important you exercise all options that could potentially lead to a review’s removal.
2. Report the Review From Within Your Google My Business Account
If you’re a business owner, you can also flag Google reviews by way of your Google My Business Account. In our practice, reporting reviews through your Google My Business account has historically proved more effective. All you need to do is:
- Log-in to your Google My Business account
- Open the location you’d like to manage (for companies and businesses with more than one location)
- Select ‘Reviews’ from the menu bar
- Identify the fake review in question
- Click the three vertical dots and flag it as inappropriate
Do understand that after flagging a review, the review in question will be escalated to a Google Business review team of specialists to be analyzed. Flagged reviews are NOT assessed or analyzed by artificial intelligence or auto-detect filters.
Google’s review flagging process will take 72 hours before any action is taken regarding the review.
As opposed to flagging a Google review via Google Maps or a business’s public review profile, we’ve generally found that most people have better success rates having reviews removed through this method.
Just always remember, it’s a process. Patience truly is a virtue when removing Google reviews.
Report Fake Google Reviews To Google Small Business Support
In a perfect world, every fake and defamatory online review would be removed immediately after being flagged, and every legitimate review would remain online. However, that’s an ideal and far from the reality of Google’s review removal landscape.
Should your flagging of a fake or negative Google review go unnoticed or unanswered, it’s time to start contacting Google directly by reporting the review to Google Small Business Support.
The unfortunate reality is that this time, the reported review is sent back in front of Google’s Business review team of specialists to re-analyze it. That’s right, they are sent back to the same department which already determined the review should remain online.
That’s why this is your one big shot at getting a Google review removed. When you present your case for a second time to the same department of specialists which ruled against your initial flagging, it’s absolutely essential that you come prepared with strong documentation.
At Minc Law, we do NOT recommend clients going at this alone. Reporting fake and malicious reviews to Google Small Business Support should be done with experienced attorneys who have proven success removing reviews and comprehensive knowledge of Google’s content guidelines and policies.
Working with an experienced internet defamation attorney will help make sure your business is thoroughly prepared before speaking to Google Small Business Support. Specifically, we can help you explain:
- Why the review is fake,
- How it violates Google’s policies and review guidelines,
- The harm done to you and your business.
- Provide all relevant images, links, and supplemental evidence to support your claim
To report fake or malicious reviews on Google to Google Small Business Support, do the following:
- Login to your Google My Business account
- Click on ‘Reviews’ in your menu bar
- Locate the ‘Support’ bar on the left side of the page (a pop-up Support bar will appear)
- Select ‘Need More Help’, then ‘Customer Reviews and Photos’,
- Select ‘Review Removal Issues’ and then ‘Contact Support’,
- Select your method of contact – either email or phone
- Fill out your contact information
- Paste the text of the inappropriate and fake review and select ‘Automatically include a screenshot’,
- Include the Google Maps link of the review
Now, just sit back and wait. You’ll generally hear back from Google Small Business Support within 24 to 48 hours
IMPORTANT: We’ve come across numerous online guides on how to report Google reviews to Google Small Business Support, which advise that businesses contact Support and then simply choose a method of contact (phone or email). While this was the correct way to report reviews in the past, Google has since changed their Google My Business layout and process for reporting reviews.
This is why we recommend reaching out to an experienced internet defamation removal attorney when reporting fake reviews to Google Small Business Support, as they can help identify the correct process for reporting reviews, better sift through relevant content policy guidelines, and explain why the review in question is fake and why they violate Google’s review policies.
Documentation & Preservation of Evidence is Essential For Making Sure a Google Review is Removed
Preserve, preserve, preserve!
Make sure to document all evidence which is relevant to the review you are seeking to have removed. It’s essential you keep an extremely detailed time-frame of the flagging, reporting, and disputing process, that way, you’ll be able to check up on your review with certainty.
To preserve the correct evidence – both the URL of the review and the identifying IP address of the reviewer – we suggest taking the below 3 steps.
- Locate the Google review(s)
- Click the reviewer’s name
- Screenshot and copy the URL
Screenshot and Copy the URL. Let’s use the Cleveland Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium Google Business profile as an example. Note that we’ve blurred out reviewer’s names and portions of the URL address to preserve anonymity.
Step 1: Locate the Google review
Step 2: Click on the reviewer’s name.
Step 3: Screenshot and Copy the URL
Make sure to timestamp all screenshots, have a trusted friend or colleague take supporting screenshots, and compile all evidence into a chronological timeline. Preservation and documentation of evidence are also essential for seeking a court-ordered removal or filing an internet defamation lawsuit.
A great way to preserve online evidence links is to ‘Print’ via your browser (ex. Google Chrome) and then “Save as PDF.” Not only is the screen copy typically high quality, but it usually automatically timestamps and dates the evidence in a PDF E-format which requires no further action.
Additionally, if you’re willing to pay for services to ensure your screenshotted evidence stands up in a court of law, we recommend businesses and individuals use https://www.page-vault.com/. Our firm uses Page-Vault for every case we handle. We also use the following software programs to track changes and updates on webpages and entire websites:
- PageFreezer.com: a website and social media archiving solutions program.
- Visualping.io: a web detection service for monitoring website changes.
If you are unable to convince Google to remove a Google My Business review, then it’s time to bust out the big guns by taking legal action.
Google Review Reporting Tip: In today’s day and age, social media is used for almost everything. Google Small Business Support is no different. Tweeting at Google Small Business Support (@GoogleSmallBiz) is also an effective way to get their attention and escalate the matter and review in question.
Pursue a Court Order to Have the Google Review Taken Down
Convincing Google to remove reviews isn’t an easy task, and it’s not too uncommon for Google reviews to skirt Google Small Business Support’s escalation process and remain online. Especially if the issue you are facing is one of defamation. Simply put, Google doesn’t respond well to defamation allegations. They don’t like to take sides in factual disputes and don’t have a complete picture of what happened. They also don’t tend to care much about things they aren’t liable for.
Additionally, it’s in Google’s interests that customers provide all types of feedback. It’s also in Google’s interests to have more content, more reviews, and more information. So most of the time, they’re going to defer to the poster and not take content down.
This is when it comes time to get a court ordered removal or injunction to get a review removed.
There are two primary situations where you will need to pursue a court order to have a Google review taken down:
- When a reviewer’s identity is known and all removal efforts have been exhausted
- When the reviewer’s identity is unknown and is anonymous (also referred to as a John Doe lawsuit)
Court ordered removals really should only be sought as a last resort, and when you are left with NO OTHER OPTIONS.
When a Reviewer’s Identity is Known
Court-ordered defamation and review removals are highly effective tools which are respected and upheld by numerous search engines (Google, Yahoo, & Bing), websites, and other online platforms. They are a meaningful adjudication of a content-related legal violation.
When dealing with a known reviewer (defendant), there’s almost always a chance there’s going to be a contentious lawsuit, where defenses are asserted, claims are picked apart, and risks appear around every corner. Filing an Internet defamation lawsuit and seeking a court -ordered removal requires both tact and strategy, so you’ll need to discuss with a lawyer about the potential risks, expenses, actionable claims, potential defenses and privileges, and more (ex. Where to file your Internet lawsuit, what damages and relief can be obtained, etc…).
This is not something you can tackle on your own.
You might not even have an actionable claim. That’s why it’s imperative to reach out to an experienced Internet defamation attorney to advise you on the best course of action and respective costs and risks of seeking a court ordered removal.
When a Reviewer’s Identity is Unknown & They Are Anonymous
If you’re dealing with a fake review or anonymous reviewer, then removing a review will likely be a more complicated process – requiring you to file a John Doe lawsuit. A John Doe lawsuit is best practice when a reviewer or poster’s identity is unknown and generally requires a plaintiff to adhere to specific filing criteria.
For example, when reviewers and defendants are anonymous, plaintiffs will need to thoroughly consider the best place to file their lawsuit for purposes of discovery and relief. They’ll also need to provide sound reasoning for why a lawsuit is being initiated in X state.
A John Doe lawsuit is then followed by the registration or filing of your case in an out-of-state jurisdiction to subpoena respective webmasters, Internet service providers (ISPs) and site administrators for the anonymous reviewer’s IP addresses and account information.
These processes can become extremely complicated, and need to be done extremely fast to preserve and obtain necessary evidence properly. I cannot stress this enough, but it’s incredibly important to work with an attorney who knows what they are doing and has experience with these types of procedures and protocols.