The ABC‘s of Online Reviews: Myths, Facts, and Review Removal

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The ABC‘s of Online Reviews: Myths, Facts, and Review Removal

Jason Brown
The ABC‘s of Online Reviews: Myths, Facts, and Review Removal

There seem to be a lot of confusion regarding reviews, both positive and negative with business owners, employees, and marketing companies. I help out on the GMB forum and see lots of people claiming to have fake reviews on a daily basis. Google's language is confusing, so I am going to spell out what makes a fake review and how you can go about reporting it. 

Fake Review Myths 

Myth: Unknown Poster

On a daily basis somebody posts on the forum, "I search my records and do not have any customers by this name," or "I am a small business and know all of my customers by name." 

Fact: Google allows for users to use aliases, so it is impossible for business owners to know who left the review. Some reviewers also want to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation. 

Myth: Loophole in Review

"There are several incorrect facts in the review."

Fact: Google is not going to take sides in a dispute over he said/she said. All Google cares about is that the review reflects a personal experience. If the reviewer stated the receptionist was on their cell phone and you claim that you have a strict no cell phone policy while on shift, that will not allow the review to come down. 

Myth: Personal Attack

The reviewer said nasty things about my employee.

Fact: If the reviewer states the employee was short and rude, that does not constitute a personal attack. If the review posted that the employee was a slob and had the breath of a trash can, then that is a personal attack can be removed. If the reviewer states the employee is a racist, that will not get the review removed. If the reviewer uses foul language and derogatory terms, Google will remove the review. 

Myth: They Were Not a Customer of Mine

They never completed the sale.

Fact: If they called and spoke to your staff, it is a personal experience. I left a negative review for Smog check business because they were not open 20 minutes past their open time. That review is perfectly acceptable. I even posted a picture of the hours and included it in my review and reviewed the other business I went to instead. 

Myth: It Is a Competitor

They left me a negative review and left a positive review for my competitor.

Fact: There are a handful of reviewers that left a negative review for one business and went elsewhere to get service. I did when I had to get my car smogged. In fact, I had to take my other vehicle to a different smog facility as I needed a Star facility. I have left reviews for 3 different smog places. If the reviewer is posting countless negative reviews for your competitors while leaving a positive review for themselves, then that is a different story, and those reviews need to be reported. 

Myth: Review Posted Outside of Business Hours

We were closed when the review was posted. 

Fact: I post reviews months after the fact as I get busy. If I am going to leave a negative review, I will wait until I have calmed down so as to not vent out of anger. 

Myth: Can I Opt Out of Reviews

My business doesn't need to rely on reviews and does not need them.

Fact: As long as you have a business listing you are able to receive reviews.

Myth: Deleting My Google Listing Stops the Reviews

Can I delete my listing to stop the reviews? 

Fact: Closing or deleting your listing does not stop the reviews. Amy's Baking Company has been closed for over two years, and they are still getting reviews. If you do delete the listing, it is only deleted from your account, and the reviews remain live. 

What is a fake review or review that violates the guidelines?

Google has updated the policy to bar reviews from current and former employees. 

"Ask family or friends for reviews." Stop taking this advice. If the review is not a personal experience, it violates the law and TOS. Only your customers or people who have a personal experience are allowed to leave a review. 

Review Contests: You are not allowed to ask for a review and then enter the reviewer into a contest. I have seen people argue that they never stated it what type of review so it should be fine. It is not. You are not allowed to incentivize for any review. You wouldn't enter a negative reviewer into you TV giveaway. 

Discounts for Reviews: You are not allowed to give a discount on services for leaving a review. 

Review Swapping: You are not allowed to exchange reviews. I see this a lot within certain niches. This is not allowed, as this is directly related to asking friends for reviews. There are other people involved in review swap groups. Again, this is illegal.

Buy Fiverr Reviews: Could you not, please? It is super easy to spot the fake reviews purchased off of Fiverr. 

What to Do if You Have a Negative Review That Needs to be Removed

You need to flag it in your GMB dashboard and wait three days. If the review is not removed after three days, you need to contact the GMB support on social media.

You can tweet to them https://twitter.com/GoogleMyBiz @GoogleMyBiz or visit the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GoogleMyBusiness/. Please note it can take up to two weeks to be resolved. 

If the reviews are not for your business or for a competitor, you will need to visit the GMB forum and create a thread. Please do not jump into an existing thread as you will be asked to create a new thread. You will need the name of the business, address, phone number, website and link to their map. Do grab the link:

  • Google the business and click in the Knowledge Panel listing on the right side.
  • When it opens and has the full map to the right of the listing, click the share icon.
  • Then click the radio button to short URL and copy the URL. You will need to copy the URLs to for all of the reviews. I suggest ending the copying with reviews/ example: https://www.google.com/maps/contrib/0000213301000/reviews/.

We need each review link in order to escalate all of them. One link will not get all of the reviews looked at. If there are running a contest, get a picture of the contest. Google will end up removing any reviews during what time frame they suspect were posted because of the reviews. In most cases, I have seen Google delete all of the reviews. Unless a TC asks to be tagged, please do not tag a TC or multiple TC's will not help exited the thread. If you do not want to post all of the details publicly, you can create a Google document and post the link. You can ping me over at Reviewfraud (see bio) for help too. 

Yelp Reviews

Yelp has cracked down on reviews. They have now made it against the TOS to ask for a review. If they catch you, they will put one of their warnings on your listing. You need to flag each review individually. I have had a lot of success getting fake positive reviews removed. It is harder to get negative fake reviews removed. I have not had any success getting obvious fake reviews removed. When you flag the reviews, give tons of details to help the case.

Facebook Reviews

You can flag the reviews, but I have found it is easier to flag the profile if you know it is a fake profile. I have had more reviews removed because the account holder never verified their identity. You can also get reviews removed if they use foul language. 

When it comes to reviews, Aaron Weiche from Get Five Stars, "The goal shouldn't be to get x amount of reviews and then stop. You should always be trying to attract new positive reviews."

You should always have a steady flow of reviews coming in. You can send out follow up emails asking your customers how their experience was and advise them that you are always open to all feedback. You can set up survey questions and at the end of the survey, ask the reviewer to share their experience online. Again, leave Yelp out of it. Ask your customers to check in on Yelp and offer a discount for the check-in. This is allowed and the next time they visit Yelp, they will be reminded to leave a review for their check-ins or business that they searched for. 

Reviews For ORM?

Reviews should be a by-product of your service and not a way to attempt to rank or game the system. Reviews should not be part of an elaborate ORM, Online Reputation Management, service. Stop thinking about reviews as the magic ranking source. There are multiple factors in play when it comes to ranking in the map pack. Falsifying reviews may seem like a quick win, but if the FTC finds out, they will fine you. Worse, you can have an unhappy customer out with their negative review. I have seen it happen and it is not pretty. That review never goes away. 

Monitoring Reviews

I recommend monitoring your reviews. If you are single location business, it is easy as you will get an email or alert from Google or Facebook. With Yelp, you can ask for email alerts. If you manage multiple locations, there are several services to use. You can use Yext or Get Five Stars. I recommend that you look at both options to see what works best for you and your budget.

If you are unsure about the reviews you see and want to have an expert take a look at them, please visit the GMB forum and we will be willing to take a look at them. In fact, Joy "The Hawk" Hawkins wrote in more detail 8 types of negative reviews Google will remove.

I have been writing and speaking about fake reviews for the past year. I have been in several news segments highlighting businesses falsifying reviews because they are important not only to you but also in regards to search results.

Reviews will continue to remain a major factor for consumers with the increase in voice search results. When you use voice search to find a restaurant near you, you are told the average review rating. Consumers will pick the 5-star rating over a 4-star rated restaurant. Keep an eye on reviews for your company; these reviews are so important now, and will be critical in the future.

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After more than a decade working in the field, I am currently the SEO manager for Over The Top Marketing. Although I have focused on local SEO for nationwide multi-location franchises since 2015, my resume includes combating and reporting fake online reviews, which includes several local and national news appearances. My comments can be found regularly in the GMB forum and I'm in the process of becoming a Top Contributor. You can find me on Twitter talking SEO and music; say hi sometime.
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Some businesses like pizza hut give free sides for a review is that still legal?
Jason Brown
Sam Hughes
That is never legal. If you submit proof to Google and Yelp, their reviews will be taken down.
Ellen Lianti
Hi Jason... really respect for your idea
Nice information Sharing
tejaswini sunraise
Such a useful information for every business mind. Great!
Rentickle
Hello Jason,

Great article . very helpful. Thanks
Hello Jason,
The review and back links with review is not enough to get traffic as most the time people do not follow your links even not follow your links as they are looking High PR links. So a new website hardly get traffic from Reviews.
for example [link removed by moderator] is a new website of carving wooden furniture and I have added more than 20000 reviews on different website but no traffic and I am looking to generate traffic. Not sure I am wrong or write but I am failed in reviews and backlinks strategies.
Nikola Bojkov
Thanks, Jason for starting this topic. In my experience, most of my clients struggle to explain to their customers how they can write a Google review on their Google My Business / Google Maps page.

If anybody needs instructions on how to get their Google review link here is a step-by-step tutorial:
https://embedsocial.com/blog/google-review-link/

The main requirement is that customers must be logged in to write the review and also most of the time they are approaching the business in a physical location, meaning that they use their mobile phones.

To help them I suggest them to use a direct link to their 'Leave a Google review' form that they can print in a QR code in their menus/flyers.

Hope this helps
Vandana Verma
Hi Jason, Really an Interesting Article you have posted on Reviews. Negative Google reviews are the biggest problem for every business as it throws a bad impact on the reputation of the business. I have also experienced this type of problem and I couldn’t found the solutions, but your article has solved my problem. Thanks for posting such an interesting article, I will get back to you for new updates.
Jason Brown
Vandana Verma
I am glad I was able to help and share my knowledge and experiences.
Sanaullah Kiani
Thank you for this awesome article. It really helped me for voice search.
Simon  Cox
Like this - good set of parameters to look out for. Always been a bit difficult explaining to business owners when they are upset how to deal with someones bad review when all they want to do is punch something (me normally - don't shoot the messenger!).
I just couldn't leave your website before telling you that I truly enjoyed the top quality info you present to your visitors? Will be back again frequently to check up on new posts [link removed by moderator]
Cal Phillips
Great points on reviews Jason. Having our 1st negative review, I thought the world was coming to an end. Later learning any star review, helps organic ranking. If that customer really wanted to put the screws to a business, they should not say anything at all. lol Reviews also allows the owner of business to respond, (recommended) making another comment in review section. Responding to a review good and bad, lets the search engine know the business is still alive and active on the web. Knowing this, I don't respond immediately, letting review (mostly 4-5 stars) float to the top helping organic rankings. Then coming back few months later thanking them for the business & enjoyed meeting them, which reminds me.
Andy Kuiper - SEO Analyst
Thanks Jason :-)
Jason Brown
Andy Kuiper - SEO Analyst
Andy, I hope it is helpful for you and your clients.
I don't really understand Google's criteria for removing a review. I have one that started with "I've never used her services but..." and proceeds to talk about how we had a phone conversation and that I was rude or whatever. it was a conversation not about my service, but about something completely different. I had a good reply but I don't understand why they didn't remove it.
Jason Brown
Karen L
Karen, I see these types of reasons to get a review removed. Google will not remove a review over a loophole. They look to see if the reviewer had a personal experience. The reviewer doesn't have to be a customer to leave a review. A business may receive a review for any of the following: not being open during posted business hours, calling and nobody answering the phone, a driver having road rage, not having ample parking, etc. The only criteria is that is is a personal experience. Google doesn't want to take sides in he said/ she said when it comes to the details of the review unless vulgarity/ racist or insulting language is used.
Tim Colling
Karen L
Karen, I understand your frustration. The best way to overcome one of those negative reviews is to earn a lot of other, genuine, positive reviews to overcome the impact of that one negative one. For what it's worth, there is some research that has found that consumers are more likely to "believe" or "trust" an company's average review score when it's slightly less than a perfect 5.0 average.
Tim Colling
This is a very useful overview of a complex and constantly-changing aspect of SEO and online marketing. In my own work with clients, I have found that getting the information we need in order to reach out to customers after the sale is not always easy. Many of our clients are in the healthcare industry, where the intake staff traditionally never had to ask for email addresses or other forms of online contact information. Staff training and compensation practices that reward the collection of this information is an important first step in the entire review gathering process.
Rina Nose
This article help me to more understand and give more value in online services
Very helpful article this makes to understand that review plays an essential role in websites traffic and ranking. Thanks for sharing.
{link removed by moderator}
Determined Solutions SEO
I agree with Nomi, this is a great article. I'm now following GMB on twitter. I got the link about the bad reviews. I didn't know you could actually get fake reviews taken down. I thought you could just hope to bury them with good reviews. Super useful. Thanks!
Jason Brown
Determined Solutions SEO
I am glad I was able to help educate on the removal process. Contacting GMB on Twitter or Facebook can take up to a week to get a response and then up to 2 weeks to get it resolved. I recommend using the GMB forum if escalated attacks, i.e. a major blitz of negative reviews being posted.
Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering issues with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I cannot join it. Is there anyone else having identical RSS issues? Anyone that knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanx!!
[ad removed by moderator]
Jason Brown
I can not stress this enough: Do not delete your GMB listing from your dashboard in hopes of deleting your reviews. A business owner did this and ended up losing control of this listing. Now he can't contact GMB support for assistance as he is no longer affiliated with the listing. He now needs to wait for the pin number via snail mail to reclaim access before he can seek further assistance. While his listing is unclaimed, his reviews remain live and he is unable to reply to them or receive email alerts for future reviews being posted. His attempt at damage control only made matters worse and severely delayed the process.
Jason Brown
Google has just updated their review policy this past week and it is now against their TOS to use software for customer surveys to only accept positive reviews and cut off when the survey becomes too negative and direct the user to contact the business to discuss this matter further. It will be interesting to see the first case where this gets reported and how Google responds to the business and its reviews. One company already updated their platform to comply. Here is a nice breakdown for more information. https://www.sterlingsky.ca/review-gating-is-now-against-the-google-my-business-guidelines/ I know of a few services that will be impacted greatly by this.
Great article to read! We will publish our own “review platforms’ comparison” article soon, where we will uncover interesting points about moderation and removal procedures, etc. We are called PissedConsumer .com, and we are distinct from others as we give customers an opportunity not only read and write reviews, but call to companies for free and publish video interviews from real customers!
Jason Brown
Pissed Consumer
I'd love to read it when it comes out. Please tweet at me when it's live. I am open to checking out your system for analysis and cross-comparison for a future write up.
Ganesh J. Acharya
Great helpful hints on how to take down fake reviews. Again, if reviews are fair enough, I think accepting the mistake publicly may help maintain the brand reputation.
Curtis Boyd
I really like how Yelp will allow you to make a case for review removal - Facebook and Google should beef up their system to allow that also. I also love the fact that Google will remove reviews with foul language, too many kids are using Yelp even though it's supposed to be an 18+ website. This MarketingLand article talks about a BOT that can help remove bad reviews. https://marketingland.com/objection-cos-sparky-bot-service-finds-reasons-bad-reviews-taken-236257
Ben Martin, CAE
I'm beginning to see the SEO angle of reviews as an unfortunate corruption of online reviews in general. There is more to reviews than just improving the quality of your placement on SERPs; 97% of people actually read the reviews to make buying decisions. In the escalating arms race between review platforms and fake reviews, the consumer loses.

The best solution to this problem is validating that the reviewer has actually been a customer of the business being reviewed. I like Open Table's model where you're only invited to review the restaurant once the restaurant confirms that you showed up for your reservation. Of course, even this model can be gamed, by having employees or family make reservations and then reviewing the restaurant. Still, it's way beyond the sad state of affairs on the major platforms.

I invite anyone interested in advancing the science, ethics, and business of reviews to join The Review Society at ReviewSociety.org.
Jason Brown
Ben Martin, CAE
Ben, I am not sure I buy into the validation system. For starters, consumers do not have to be a customer to leave a review. If a work truck cuts me off, I am entitled to leave a review. I know of a company that this happened too because the driver had road rage and flipped off another motorist. Users are also allowed to use aliases to protect themselves against retaliation from unscrupulous businesses. There are the handful of small businesses and mom and pop shops that would need a cheap and affordable option as they are usually on shoestring budgets. It also can not overly complicated or the abandonment rate increases.
Ben Martin, CAE
Jason Brown
The reviewer's identity can be suppressed even if they've been validated as a paying customer. I don't agree that you should be able to review a company if you've not been a customer. There should absolutely be an outlet for that kind of complaint (I'd complain directly to the company or to the police), but review readers are looking for information to help them make smarter purchasing decisions -- that one of a company's trucks cut you off irrelevant, in my opinion.
Jason Brown
Ben Martin, CAE
I have to disagree. If somebody witnesses something the public should know, they are completely free to share. I saw a case where a business owner had a public meltdown that was caught on camera and the person that filmed the incident post the video and a negative review. I think the public has the right to know so they can make a complete and informed decision. On the flip side, I saw a business get a negative review because there wasn't space to park a big rig. I think that crosses the line, but Google said it was perfectly ok.
Curtis Boyd
Jason Brown
I think it should depend on the website where the review is being written. There should more websites to write reviews based on your relationship with the business.

Take a look at this review for a hospital. It's about Valet Parking. How is that helpful to a consumer trying to make a decision about the hospital?
https://www.yelp.com/user_details?userid=xD4gcFOyU0iyu6i9O-9oIQ
Jason Brown
Curtis Boyd
I agree that type of review shouldn't be allowed. In fact, some of there other negative reviews with images shouldn't be allowed too.
Ben Martin, CAE
Jason Brown
We will have to agree to disagree. I think Google's loose definition of "review" is a big part of the corruption problem. The stricter the review requirements, the better.

For example, Yelp's Review Guidelines say "We want to hear about *your firsthand consumer experience*, not what you heard from your co-worker or significant other." Essentially, reviews that aren't about *your firsthand consumer experience* are fake reviews in Yelp's eyes. Would you consider a movie review fake if the author hadn't actually watched the movie? Again, I think Open Table is the best example of a widely known review site that has strict review and reviewer requirements -- basically a closed system.

This discussion also calls attention to the differences between reviews, testimonials, complaints, and compliments. If a business across the street from my home is a noisy neighbor, or if one of their trucks cut me off, or if I take issue with their stance on gun control, I should have an outlet to complain, but I don't think a review is the appropriate format. Same goes for compliments.

Personally, as a reader of reviews I would consider such complaints and compliments as fake, and gloss over them. Unfortunately, in my view, those star ratings for fake or irrelevant reviews are now part of the computation of a business' standing on SERPs.

Great discussion!
Jason Brown
Ben Martin, CAE
There needs to be a complete overhaul of the review system, starting with government oversight. There is too much at stake and consumers are not being protected. One of the top offenders still keeps posting fake reviews to combat the real negative reviews. They were exposed on TV as having fake reviews, and that didn't deter them.
Ben Martin, CAE
I'm not sure how a validation system would work but someone saying "I've never used your services" is something that shouldn't be there. But obviously what you are saying about the "cut off in traffic" case shows that they will not remove it.
Jason Brown
I am an avid user of Yext and love their platform and email filters. I have also experienced Get Five Stars and it is a killer platform. Get Five Stars also covers Q&A management. I can vouch for both services and cannot recommend them enough. I am not able to vouch for your platform or services and I, as always urge businesses to do their homework when selecting any service provider.
You recommend monitoring reviews.... I am Head of SEO at a reputation monitoring software company called BirdEye [link removed by moderator]
Not only does ORM software monitor the most common areas reviews are left like Yelp/Google/Tripadvisor etc... but using an ORM software company like BirdEye will monitor things that are said about your company on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc and alert you

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