Bad Google reviews hit you in the gut when they show up in your inbox. It feels like a slap in the face, especially if you’ve made such an effort to run your business in a positive way. Reviews are some of your most important content—it’s a big deal.
You know you did good work. I know you did good work. The rest of the Internet knows you did good work, too, after reading the rest of your reviews. So why did this person give you an infamous 1-star?
We’ll get into that below, but first we’ll see if there are grounds to get rid of it.
How to Dispute a Bad Google Review
A lot of bad reviews out there can, in fact, be removed… if you know what to look for.
Let’s cut right to the chase: you can get a Google review removed if you can demonstrate that it violates the user policy. What counts as a review violation? So glad you asked.
- Fake reviews
- Conflicts of interest
- Off-topic reviews
- Restricted content (more on this below)
- Anything depicting something illegal
- Sexually explicit or terrorist content (obviously)
- Profanity, hate speech, or anything offensive
- Depictions or endorsements of violence or self-harm
Pro tip: you can also get good reviews removed for these reasons too.
Focus on looking for the signs of the first 3 violations, because those are what make it through Google’s filters. The algorithms take care of everything else.
If you find anything that indicates the review is illegitimate, log into your Google My Business account to flag the review.
- Click on “Reviews” on the left-hand menu.
- Click on the 3-dot menu of the review in question.
- Add details as needed and confirm you want to report it.
If Google doesn’t do anything about it, then you can escalate your complaint. Click on the customer support menu in the bottom-left corner of the Google My Business reviews screen. You can include more details about your case there, and the Support team will get back to you in a day or two in most cases.
How to Spot Fake Google Reviews
Fake Google reviews are easy to spot on average because they’re usually spam, too. Look for the telltale signs of fake reviews:
- Not much activity on Google Maps
- Almost never a “local guide” (an active, trusted reviewer, like yours truly)
- All (or almost all) of the account’s reviews are negative
- Reviews tend to focus on one industry because they target competitors
- Occurring in pairs or groups
- One-sided or containing few or no concrete details
Fake reviews are often spam, and for obvious reasons: real people with real profiles don’t usually follow the same suspicious patterns of activity. That’s why you should check every bad review for signs of spam. If you can build a good case, then you can ask Google to remove it with confidence.
How to Spot Conflicts of Interest
This is the easy one. Conflicts of interest generally involve anyone who has ever worked for your company, past or present. On Google reviews these can include:
- Disgruntled employees trying to smear the company
- Employees being asked to give the company a positive review
- Friends and family giving a good review to “support local business” who have never bought anything
- Past employees “lending a hand” with a positive review
What Counts as Restricted Content?
“Restricted content” on Google reviews sounds kind of nebulous, but it just means “anything that discloses contact information or directs people toward it.” That includes contact forms, so any external web pages, landing pages, or promotions of any kind would be flagged immediately.
It’s basically an extended spam clause that prevents anyone from trying to skirt around the more specific definitions of review violations. You can find a more comprehensive list of the criteria here.
How to Escalate a Bad Review Removal
Good news: even if Google’s service reps deny your request to remove a bad review (which is likely to happen), you can escalate your case with a more in-depth support request.
The support line for Google My Business is conveniently hidden from obvious places, but I’ve found it for you right here.
Start the process by entering your contact information and the basic issue(s) surrounding the bad Google review you’d like removed. This includes three basic sections that only take 1-2 minutes to fill out, including:
- Typing the nature of the issue into a small text field.
- Confirming the issue by clicking on the badge that best represents “removing a review” (pictured below).
- Providing your contact details so the support team can follow up with you.
Then the fun part comes: you get not one, but two large text boxes to tear down the bad review, systematically, like a lawyer seeing red. You get to use up to 1,000 characters per text field, and you get two text fields (for some reason). It can take some detail and argumentative skills, but this is what a response looks like.
Notice how the request draws a direct connection between the content of the review and specific policy violations. That’s the key to getting a bad Google review removed, since Google’s reps won’t usually go out of their way to look into the details (unfortunately). It falls to the business to make a case against the bad review.
There’s no guarantee that it will work, as Google gets the final say, but I’ve had good luck with this process so far. If Google still won’t remove it, however, then you’ll have to reply to it to mitigate the damage it causes.
How to Reply to a Bad Google Review
Not every bad review is spam or fake. Sometimes people have poor experiences, and that’s when you need to roll up your sleeves to respond directly.
It’s important to draw upon your reserves of empathy before so much as touching your keyboard—bad reviews don’t always contain details for you to verify. Empathy, humility, and caution will maintain your diplomatic credibility. That’s what responding to bad reviews is all about really. It isn’t about trying to win back the angry customer who wrote it. That person doesn’t want anything to do with you.
So why bother responding at all?
It shows everyone else reading those reviews that you take customers seriously.
Writing a Review Response: The Process
It helps if you can verify the details of the customer experience behind a bad review. Your brand might owe that person an apology, or the whole incident could have been a misunderstanding. It’s also possible that you could have no records of that person, but it always pays to find out.
Here’s the general structure to respond to a bad review, in any event:
- Thank the person for leaving the review. It adds class and credibility to your brand and yourself, especially if you’re a sole proprietor.
- Validate how the reviewer feels. People want to be heard, not dismissed.
- Tell them what you’re willing to do to fix the situation, giving them “something” up front.
- Explain why or how something happened or the source of the misunderstanding.
- State that the bad experience doesn’t reflect the standards you expect of yourself or the rest of the company.
- Give them a way to reach out if they need further help.
- Wish them well (even if they’re spewing vitriol).
Keeping it professional and positive lends credibility to your brand. If the bad reviewer is just having a bad day, that person’s anger will contrast even more sharply against the measured words in your response, marginalizing the bad reviewer as one of “those” kinds of people on the Internet.
Pro tip: well-wishing the reviewer at the end can provide a chance to reinforce your brand message for everyone else who reads the review, too. Being happy for someone who found a better [XYZ] somewhere else can still be worth a virtual high-five.
Can People Buy Bad Google Reviews Against You?
Yes, and I’ve dealt with them directed at my clients before. Luckily they’re pretty easy to spot most of the time—the people getting paid to make bad reviews don’t usually put any effort into it, so they check all the boxes of a fake review. This leaves a spam footprint that can be used as evidence to remove them. Depending on the Google service rep reading your request, you may need to get back in touch once or twice, but I’ve also had Google remove bad reviews without even requesting evidence.
It’s almost as if people selling fake bad reviews are lazy, or something.
Can You Sue Someone for a Bad Google Review?
Everyone has a reasonable right to free speech unless it becomes hate speech or defamation against your business, and the filters will catch the hate speech 95% of the time. Keep that in mind.
Suing someone over a bad Google review is technically possible, but I couldn’t tell you how it would play out legally. I’m not a legal expert. However, I’d be willing to guess that the cost of litigation won’t be worth the financial reparations for a single bad review.
That’s it for bad Google reviews. Happy hunting out there!