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Jason Brown

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

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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.

Jason Brown
columnist

SEMrush columnists are authors who had proved their expertise in digital marketing and contribute regularly to our community.

After more than a decade working in the field, I am currently the Spam Hunt for Sterling Sky. 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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