Online authority is the backbone of a company’s reputation. A business with an impeccable track record among its customers and community is a strong contender for the position of industry leader and trendsetter.
When a business does right by their customers, their reputation improves. But even the best businesses can end up being the victim of questionable online reviews.
A study by the Harvard Business School found that 20% of Yelp reviews are fake, a number that would concern any small business owner.
Having questionable reviews removed, ones that do not accurately reflect the business is essential to maintaining an appealing reputation.
What exactly qualifies as a ‘questionable review’?
When we say ‘questionable’, we mean fake or otherwise invalid. Business owners need to understand that a negative assessment doesn’t instantly qualify the review as fake.
A legitimate negative review can be a tough pill to swallow. It’s easy to become defensive or dismissive, even when the customer had a valid poor experience. How business owners handle valid negative reviews provides a glimpse into the business culture. The public back and forth will influence future customers.
Even if you don’t end up getting the upset reviewer to remove their negative review, showing that you’re aware of their problem and trying to make things right will be enough to protect your reputation.
Assuming that doesn’t work, you can encourage more members of your community to leave reviews of their experiences.
The easiest way to hide negative reviews is to overshadow them with positive ones.
That said, a negative review and a fake one aren’t treated the same way by platforms like Yelp, Google and Facebook.
Review the ToS (Terms of Service)
Let’s assume that you’ve already tried to reason with the reviewer. If that went poorly, your next option is to determine whether or not the review violates the ToS of the site. When it comes to negative reviews, even the most scathing one won’t get taken down unless it violates the Terms of Service (ToS) of the site.
Each individual site has their own ToS agreement, but what’s important to understand is that as long as the review operates within the limitations of that agreement, it’s not going anywhere. Unless a review actually violates the ToS of one of these platforms, the chances of it actually being taken down are pretty low.
Google reviews don’t just influence the online authority of businesses in an abstract ‘word-of-mouth’ way. Sites like Moz have determined that online reviews account for 13% of how Google (and other search engines) decide to rank search results. In other words, those questionable reviews can actually convince Google to keep you further and further away from the coveted first page of Google.
Considering the impact that Google reviews can have on the average small business owner’s online reputation and overall business, it only makes sense that we’d address this first.
The very first step is for business owners to review Google’s review policies. If a review is found to be in violation of them, it can be removed from Google My Business listings. For example:
- Advertising: Reviews that directly advertise something else (adding links to other websites or phone numbers).
- Spam: Promotional/Commercial content, reviewers posting the same content multiple times.
- Off-Topic Reviews: Posts based off of someone else’s experience, or that aren’t about the specific place being reviewed.
- Keeping it Clean: Obscene, profane or otherwise offensive language. Personal attacks on others can also be considered in violation of this policy.
- Conflict of Interest: Anyone accepting money to leave a review or a review written by a competitor.
- Hate Speech: Reviews that advocate against people based on their race, religion, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, veteran status or gender identity.
You get the idea. Anything that’s under one of these policies qualifies to be removed.
Over the years, Yelp has become one of the most influential review sites in the industry.
Considering that this was the site that Harvard Business School cited as having 20% fake reviews, you’re more likely to encounter the fake review scenario on Yelp. Just like with Google, a review can only be taken down if the review violates Yelp’s Content Guidelines.
While reporting a review doesn’t guarantee that it will end up being removed, there are a few policies in place to make sure inappropriate reviews aren’t up on the site. More specifically:
- The Reviewer has an Apparent Conflict of Interest: Competitors or former employees, received payment for review, are promoting another business.
- The Review doesn’t focus on the Reviewer’s Own Consumer Experience: Review is about another consumer’s experience, a response to a current event in the news, disputing another Yelp review, about another business or is plagiarized from another source.
- The Review Includes Inappropriate Material: The review contains hate speech, lewd commentary or threatening language.
- The Review Contains False Information: Contains statements that are materially and demonstrably false (not opinion).
The fact that Facebook is already integrated into the lives of millions of people is precisely the reason why business owners need to be aware of how and when to handle questionable Facebook reviews.
A review can only be reported on Facebook if it doesn’t follow Facebook’s Community Standards.
Here are a few of the things that aren’t allowed on Facebook:
- Nudity or other sexually suggestive content
Hate speech, credible threats or direct attacks on an individual or group
- Content that contains self-harm or excessive violence
- Fake or impostor profiles
How to Flag a Fake Review
Once you’ve exhausted all your options, and you’re sure that this review, in particular, violates the site’s ToS, you can take the final step of flagging/reporting the review.
It’s by no means a definite solution, seeing as how each site needs to perform their own investigation, but it can be an effective method of removing reviews — assuming they’re actually fake (or otherwise invalid).
According to Google themselves:
To flag a review for removal:
- Navigate to Google Maps.
- Search for your business using its name or address.
- Select your business from the search results.
- In the panel on the left, scroll to the “Review summary” section.
- Under the average rating, click [number of] reviews.
6. Scroll to the review you’d like to flag and click the flag icon .
7. Complete the form in the window that appears and click Submit.
Keep in mind that it can take several days for a review to be assessed by Google, so don’t try to contact the support team right after you flag the review.
As Yelp puts it themselves:
1. Locate the review in the Reviews section of your business account
2. Find the flag icon and click Report this review:
Once completed, Yelp’s moderators will evaluate the review and email the business with their decision.
Once you’ve determined that the review violates Facebook’s Community Standards, Facebook has an extremely simple process from there on out:
Once that’s handled, your report will be reviewed by Facebook and they may potentially remove the review if it doesn’t follow their guidelines.
Dealing with the fallout of a negative review is never fun. But no business owner should be subject to a fake review. In the age of digital media, a negative review or two can have serious consequences for business owners. If you suspect a review is somehow invalid, inform the review site and make them aware that the review is questionable.