If you have ever wondered whether you can remove Yelp reviews, the answer is yes! Fake and negative Yelp reviews can cause irreparable harm to a business’s reputation. Even one less-than-stellar online review can carry serious consequences for a business’s bottom line and ability to stay open.
If your business has been the target of a fake or negative Yelp review, there are things you can do to permanently remove them and restore your online reputation. We recommend the following steps to remove unwanted Yelp reviews:
- If you know the customer and believe you can resolve the issue with stellar customer service, contact them via phone to try to resolve the issue. Do not respond to the review online directly.
- Determine whether the review violates Yelp’s Terms of Service and Content Guidelines. If there is a violation, you can flag and report the content to Yelp through your business Yelp account, and request that they remove the review.
- If appropriate, pursue more aggressive legal strategies to remove the Yelp review, including, but not limited to, sending a settlement demand, sending a cease and desist letter, or initiating litigation to obtain a court order to remove content.
At Minc Law, we regularly help clients navigate the challenges caused by negative Yelp reviews. We have extensive experience helping companies remove or respond to fake, negative, and defamatory reviews.
In this article, I will discuss the benefits of removing fake and negative Yelp reviews, how to do it, and how long the process takes.
When to Remove a Yelp Review
If your business receives a negative Yelp review, it is imperative that you act quickly. The longer you wait to respond to the situation, the more damage the online review can cause. But it is important to know that how you respond is every bit as important as when you respond.
Below, we take a closer look at your options for responding and what best practices are to remove negative reviews from Yelp.
In What Circumstances Can a Business Remove Bad Yelp Reviews?
There are two primary ways to get a review removed:
- The customer that posted the review can remove it, or
- Yelp can remove the review.
If you are familiar with the customer that posted the review, you may try giving them a call. Do not respond directly to the review on Yelp, because that may draw more attention to the negative review. Typically, with a little customer service, you may be able to satisfy the customer’s concerns and they might voluntarily remove the review before any of this is necessary.
But, if you are dealing with a particularly contentious customer reaching out to them could backfire. Some customers return to Yelp to leave even more defamatory and negative reviews, making the situation even worse.
Sometimes, contacting Yelp may be the most efficient method to remove the review. Yelp acts as the gatekeeper and you will need to provide them with a sufficient reason to remove the bad review. Not only do business owners have to comply with Yelp’s rules, but consumers also must follow specific guidelines as well.
In Yelp’s Terms of Service (TOS), they specifically state, “We reserve the right to remove, screen, edit, or reinstate User Content at our sole discretion for any reason or no reason, and without notice to you. For example, we may remove a review if we believe it violates our Content Guidelines.”
Their TOS also lists several reasons why reviews might violate their rules and result in removal. Namely, reviews cannot violate content guidelines, defame a business, present false information (fake Yelp reviews), violate third party rights, or threaten others.
Check to See if the Review Violates Yelp’s Content Guidelines
Yelp’s Content Guidelines delineate Yelp’s expectations when it comes to reviews (and the types of reviews that may be subject to removal). Yelp recognizes that consumers and business owners may not always agree, but they expect a certain modicum of honesty and respect.
Yelp will remove reviews that violate their content guidelines, so it helps to know their rules. When it comes to removing negative reviews, these are some of Yelp’s most significant content guidelines:
- Inappropriate content. Yelp considers threats, online harassment, and hate speech inappropriate. If you spot a negative review with this type of language, you should flag the review.
- Privacy. A review should not include photos of other customers (unless they have given permission) and should not list anyone’s full name.
- Personal experience. Reviews should be written only about firsthand experience, not something that was “heard” from a third-party.
- Demanding payment. Yelp should not be used for extortion. Reviews that threaten a business as a way to extract payment is a serious violation of Yelp’s content guidelines.
When dealing with review websites like Yelp it is particularly important to understand their rules, because every user (whether a customer or business owner) must play by the platform’s rules.
When we contact any review site or review platform regarding negative content, we are careful to use their language (when possible), particularly if we are reporting TOS violations. Doing so increases the chance that the review site will thoroughly review the request and potentially remove the unwanted review.
How Can a Business Owner Tell When a Yelp Review is Defamatory?
A bad review (or any statement for that matter) may be considered defamatory if it communicates false facts that harm the reputation of another.
In virtually any defamation case, a plaintiff must generally prove that:
- There is a false statement purporting to be fact;
- The false defamatory statement was published by the defendant;
- The statement is of and concerning the plaintiff;
- The defendant was negligent in publishing the statement (or the defendant acted with actual malice or reckless disregard if the plaintiff is a public figure);
- The plaintiff suffered reputational and/or economic damages as a result of the publication.
You should consider whether a reviewer may have any legal defenses to a defamation claim. For reviews, the legal defenses that frequently come into play are the defense of opinion and the substantial truth doctrine.
An opinion is a statement that cannot be verified as either factual or false (e.g., “I have high standards and I believe their cashier was rude.”). The substantial truth doctrine applies if the review is truthful, even if there may be minor inaccuracies.
Say a customer leaves a legitimate review, but they mistakenly say they visited your business at 2:30 p.m. when they were actually served at 3:00 p.m. This type of review would likely be covered by the defense of truth.
Reviews can also be defamatory if they are fake. A review is fake if it is written by someone who was never a customer or conveys a customer experience in their review that did not happen. Below, we explain how businesses can better spot fake Yelp reviews.
How Can Businesses Spot Fake Reviews on Yelp?
If you deal with a high volume of customers and are unsure whether a Yelp review is fake or legitimate, there are certain red flags that indicate you are dealing with a fake review.
First, we recommend comparing the username and alleged customer experience with your business records. If you cannot match the review to an actual customer or complaint, this is an indicator that the review could be fake.
You can also spot fake reviews by:
- Analyzing the user’s profile and activity,
- Language they use, and the
- Timing of their reviews.
Accounts that are new and appear to have been created for the sole purpose of creating a negative review about your business may fake. The use of fake satirical usernames should also raise suspicion.
If you notice a pattern concerning the timing of reviews, that may also be a red flag you are dealing with fake reviews. For example, a Yelp reviewer that publishes batches of bad reviews on multiple review websites all at once should arouse suspicion.
Another red flag is if you see several bad reviews posted around the same time on the same business profile. Some individuals try posting multiple bad reviews under different usernames, so similar posts made within a matter of minutes or days could indicate a fake review.
Online Reputation Management Tip: It is wise to monitor your business’s online reputation to that you can respond to negative reviews promptly. Some ways to monitor your online reputation include (1) creating a Google Alert to monitor mentions of your business, (2) claiming all online business profiles, (3) reviewing your social media accounts for damaging content, and (4) purchasing exact match domains.
When Will Yelp Remove a Review For Violating Content Guidelines?
Removing a review for TOS violations is completely within Yelp’s discretion. Technically, Yelp can remove a review even if it does not violate one of their guidelines. On the other hand, Yelp may elect not to remove a bad review even if it does violate their guidelines.
The California Supreme Court clarified Yelp’s right to refuse to remove a review in Hassell v. Bird, 5 Cal. 5th 522. To summarize the case, the plaintiff, Dawn Hassell, was an attorney that briefly represented the defendant, Ava Bird in a personal injury case. After some communication difficulties, Hassell terminated the representation and notified Bird of her decision.
Several months later, Bird posted a lengthy defamatory statement on Hassell Law Group’s Yelp page. Hassell reached out to Bird, requesting that she edit or remove the review. Shortly thereafter, Bird posted another defamatory review on Yelp under a different username. Hassell determined Bird was behind the second review as well and responded by filing suit.
The Court determined that the statements were defamatory and ordered Bird to delete the reviews and ordered that she was prohibited from posting any additional reviews about Hassell Law Group in the future. However, after several unsuccessful attempts to serve Bird with the order and remove the reviews, Hassell resorted to contacting Yelp and requesting that they remove Bird’s defamatory review instead.
Yelp was served with copies of the court order and asked to remove the defamatory reviews made by Bird (under two different anonymous accounts). When Yelp refused to remove the reviews, they were held in contempt of court. Yelp appealed, taking the case to the California Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of California rejected Hassell’s arguments, determining that Yelp was immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Specifically, Yelp was not the publisher or speaker who created the defamatory reviews, so they had no obligation to comply with the court order against Bird.
While the outcome was unfortunate for Hassell, not all cases end badly. The lesson learned in Hassell v. Bird is that Yelp does not like to be treated as an adversary or compelled to take action.
However, in our experience, that should not discourage business owners from filing lawsuits to get defamatory content removed. Generally, if a business gets a court order showing content on Yelp is defamatory and a violation of its TOS, Yelp is usually agreeable to removing the negative review voluntarily. If you have a strong case and approach Yelp respectfully, they will respond. Many times the person who wrote the review will respond as well.
Reports of copyright infringement, privacy violations (ex. publication of private facts, false light), and conflicts of interest are taken far more seriously than many other claims by businesses to remove bad yelp reviews. Yelp has also published the following article, “When Should I Report a Review” that is worth reading on the subject.
Benefits of Removing Bad Yelp Reviews
Removing negative Yelp reviews can benefit your business’s conversion rate, growth, and online reputation. You do not have to take our word for it though, because there is plenty of data to support why a business should cultivate positive reviews and remove negative ones.
Below, we take a look at some relevant statistics that highlight the importance of online reviews for businesses.
Increase Conversion Rates
Including customer reviews on a business website can increase conversion rates up to 270% and customers who read positive reviews spend 31% more on a business’s products, on average.
On the other hand, four out of five consumers changed their minds about a purchase after reading negative online reviews.
Propel Business Growth & Longevity
A one-star increase in your business’s Yelp page can lead to a 5-9% increase in revenue. Businesses can also lose up to 22% of potential customers when a single negative review is found online. That loss of customers can jump to nearly 66% if three or more negative articles are discovered.
Loss of customers can naturally lead to a loss in revenue: a business with a 1-1.5-star rating reports 33% less revenue than the average business.
In the employment context, 84% of job seekers emphasize that a company’s online reputation influenced their job choice, while businesses with a negative online reputation spend on average 10% more per hire.
Bolster Your Business’s Online Reputation
Your business’s online reputation matters more than traditional advertising. In fact, an estimated 75% of consumers do not trust traditional advertising practices (they are much more likely to trust online reviews). Moreover, online reviews affect the purchasing decisions of 67.7% of consumers.
In addition to helping your business grow, removing negative reviews can also prevent a “monkey see, monkey do” situation. For better or worse, consumers tend to follow patterns. People are more prone to post bad reviews if they see others posting bad reviews.
Steps to Submit a Request to Yelp to Remove a Review
Before taking any steps towards removing a negative or fake Yelp review, you need to preserve evidence of the review. We recommend taking several clear screenshots that show all pertinent details of the review (the username, date of the review, and the review itself).
If you have to take legal action, it is very important that you have evidence of the original negative or fake review.
Once you have preserved evidence, you can review Yelp’s Terms of Service to see if the review violates any of their content guidelines. If the review clearly violates any of Yelp’s rules, you can report the review.
To report and remove a negative or fake Yelp review, you will need to:
- Claim your business page at biz.yelp.com;
- Locate the review you wanted removed in the “Reviews” section of your Yelp business account; and
- Select the three dots (the “More Options” button) and click “Report Review.”
Also, do not respond directly to the review on the platform. Not only does this decrease your chances of removing the review, but it can also draw more attention to the unwanted review.
1. Claim Your Yelp Business Page
To report a false or negative Yelp review, you must first “Claim your business” on Yelp.
Claiming a Yelp business page and profile enables you to (1) respond to Yelp reviews via direct message or a public comment, (2) track user views and custom leads that Yelp generates for your business, (3) add photographs and a link to your business’s website, and (4) update important business information (ex. Business hours and phone number).
To claim your Yelp business profile:
- Navigate to biz.yelp.com,
- Click the red button ‘Claim your business’,
- Then click ‘Manage my free listing’,
- Enter your business’s name and zip code,
- Input your email address and a password to create an account,
- Verify your Yelp business page by entering your verification code.
After claiming your business Yelp page and profile, it is then time to locate the negative or defamatory review that you want removed.
2. Locate the Review You Want Removed
Click ‘Reviews’ on the left-hand side of your Yelp business page dashboard.
You can then sort through all past business reviews on your page to locate the unwanted review(s).
3. Report the Review
After locating the unwanted Yelp review, click the three dots to the direct right of the review and select ‘Report Review’.
Yelp moderators will evaluate the online review to determine if it violates their ‘Content Guidelines’. This may take several days.
To keep track of the review and its evaluation status, simply hover your mouse cursor over the flag icon that appears to the direct right of the review.
Once you have reported the bad Yelp review via your business page, you may need to contact Yelp for further support if you do not receive a response. In the section below, I will discuss how long Yelp usually takes to respond to a review, on average. If you have waited longer than average to receive a response, it may be worth reaching out.
Before contacting Yelp, you will need your case number from your original flag submission so they will know the online review you are referencing.
Here is a link to their support form. We do not recommend submitting this without the support of an expert unless you are extremely confident. You usually only get one shot at this.
Yelp does not have a support line for everyday Yelp users (consumers). They do have a phone number for business support (877-767-9357), but this department does not make any decision regarding removing reviews. The right customer support representative may know where to direct your request for removal support.
Our firm has established a working relationship with Yelp’s legal department and has their direct contact information. When appropriate, we utilize these contacts to escalate issues for review.
How Do I Remove a Yelp Review That I Posted?
If you posted a customer review about a business and would like to remove it yourself, that is a relatively simple task. Yelp support provides a breakdown of the steps you will need to take:
- Go to the Reviews section of your account;
- Click Remove Review (the trash can icon) below the review you want to remove;
- Click Confirm.
Length of Time to Wait Before the Yelp Review is Removed
Once you report a review, Yelp typically takes anywhere from 24 hours to one week to review the request. If Yelp moderators decide the review should be removed, they will remove it immediately and notify the Yelp user that their review violated their guidelines. This is also typically the amount of time Yelp’s support team takes to respond to escalations.
What Should You Do if Yelp Does Not Remove the Review?
For starters, do NOT respond to the unwanted review on Yelp. This can backfire, and lead to what is known as the ‘Streisand Effect’, where more unwanted attention is drawn to the negative review. This may ultimately compromise your legal rights.
Before jumping into any litigation, you will want to try to resolve the issue with excellent customer service If that fails, several legal remedies may be preferable to a lawsuit.
Reach Out Privately to the Customer
You may be able to get the review removed by practicing stellar customer service. If you call the customer, apologize, and offer to make amends they may be agreeable to removing the review.
Effective customer service tends to resolve many situations because most dissatisfied customers just want to feel acknowledged.
Consider Pursuing Legal Remedies
If you have reached out to the customer and Yelp to no avail, you still have options. It can be frustrating when your initial efforts prove unsuccessful, but you have some legal tools at your disposal to get a negative review removed.
An experienced online defamation attorney can send the Yelp reviewer a cease and desist letter or make a settlement demand. Even if this fails, you can file a lawsuit to obtain a court order to remove content from the internet. However, filing a lawsuit should be a last resort. If you do not have a sound legal claim, you could trigger the Streisand Effect and draw more negative attention to your business.
At Minc Law, we can help you weigh your options and select the best legal strategy. Often, we can remove negative Yelp reviews after clients have failed themselves. We know how to obtain and compile the evidence you need to make the most persuasive case to Yelp’s legal team. We also know how to approach unhappy customers to get them to amicably remove reviews without making the situation worse.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Business’s Online Reputation While Waiting For the Negative Yelp Review to Be Removed?
Your online reputation matters, so you should be working to strengthen your online presence. Do what you can (ethically) to obtain more positive Yelp reviews. In many cases, this will effectively drown out a lot of severe negative effects of many negative reviews.
Online reputation management tactics are a great way to bolster your business’s reputation. One method of bolstering your reputation entails getting more positive and legitimate reviews.
Three ways you can procure more positive Yelp reviews are:
- Engage with your customers and get feedback,
- Provide a high-quality service and/or product, and
- Claim all online profiles, complete them, and make them easily accessible to consumers.
Another way to improve your online reputation is to create positive content. This is something you can do while waiting for a false review to be removed – and it can help drown out negative reviews.
If you do not have the time to create positive content (or you are not well-versed in Search Engine Optimization) we recommend working with services like Review Inc. to help strengthen your reputation.
For more information on whether online reputation management tactics are right for you and your business, make sure to read our blog post ‘Removing Content: Online Reputation Management vs. Legal Services’.
We Can Help Your Business Remove Bad Yelp Reviews
Bad Yelp reviews can happen to any business. How (and when) you respond makes all the difference. There are several things you can do to protect your business against negative reviews, but we recommend seeking professional assistance.
At Minc Law, our practice is dedicated to removing defamatory online reviews and other fake content. Not only can we help you remove unwanted reviews, we know what it takes to stop online defamation and put an end to internet attacks.
“Unbelievable! I am a C Suite executive who has dealt with the top law firms and Aaron, Daniel, and Kaelynn and team are superior in the quality and execution of matters than most of these firms. When I had an urgent issue arise related to defamatory content online, Aaron and his team jumped on the matter immediately and within a few days had the content down and deleted. Moreover, we have not stopped there and have initiated litigation to ensure that these are repercussions for such comments. I am writing this out of my own volition and at my urging because I would like others to know that if you have any issues with content online about yourself, you don’t have to feel helpless and can proactively identify and hold those responsible accountable. Thank you Minc Law firm. From bottom of my heart.”
Anonymous, Dec 11, 2020
If you would like a free consultation to discuss Yelp removal options, you can reach us by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.