A question that crops up a lot is how to deal with false Google Local reviews. For example, what if you receive a one-star review from someone who was never actually a customer? Or what if they were a customer but are blatantly giving false information? Surely there's a process in place to prove it and get it removed, right?
We encountered this recently with a client of ours that had such a Google review, written by someone living across the country who had never actually been a customer. Worse yet, viewing this person's review profile to see all the other reviews they've written shows a pattern of shady reviews. In a way this was good news, we thought, since it serves as further evidence of the review being illegitimate.
When we got on the phone with Google, however, we were disappointed.
After jumping through a series of canned answers their stance was essentially this:
Since this person was not malicious or sexually inappropriate in the wording of their review it technically doesn't violate Google's terms of service for reviews. Protecting the rights of our users is important to us so we don't become involved or investigate cases like this. You're welcome to contact the user yourself to have them remove the review, but removal is at their discretion.
So basically as long as a person doesn't use foul language or overtly attack someone they can invent whatever story they like, however true or false. Once it's live, it's live until they take it down or legal action is taken to forcibly take it down.
What surprised us was not Google's reluctance to remove a review simply for the asking, but that they don't even have policies or systems in place to handle this contingency. It may not happen constantly, but with the sheer number of Google reviews happening all over it seems certain that it comes up often enough to warrant having a method of addressing it.
If it were an arduous process, fine. If it takes some time to sort out, fine. But a business having essentially no recourse whatsoever?
"Inappropriate" Google Reviews?
The rep kept insisting that businesses can flag a review as inappropriate, but if the wording of the review is technically not "inappropriate" there is little that will come of it. The rep also suggested replying to the review and pointing out that the person was never a customer; that way other prospects can see that and won't view it as negatively.
Trouble with that reasoning is that when someone sees your business and a few others in local search where it displays rating stars, the first thing they'll see is the overall review average and/or the most recent review. If the most recent is the negative, fake one, they're not going to see your reply. They're going to see something that scares them away and not look further.
This seems backwards, since a huge portion of Google's revenue comes from paid ads from businesses. One would think creating a better business experience would be a priority.
It seems that in many cases the best solution for businesses is to bury the phony review with as many new, positive ones as possible. It's not ideal, but in lieu of Google actually addressing this issue it seems the only recourse for businesses (short of expensive legal action).
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