5 Things You Can Do to Combat Fake or Negative Google Reviews
According to Google, nearly 70% of all potential clients who find your law practice through your Google My Business listing will check your reviews before contacting you. The reviews at the top of your review stream can mean the difference between a new potential client or a missed opportunity, so combating fake or negative Google reviews should be a top priority in every attorney’s local marketing strategy.
Why Did You Get a Negative or Fake Google Review?
Understanding why you received a negative review is where we need to start. The first thing to remember is that few law firms these days make it through a year without a couple of negative reviews. You can do everything perfectly, provide excellent service, produce a terrific outcome, and still end up with a negative review. Generally, negative or fake Google reviews are the result of:
- The client felt that the outcome should have been different or better than what you achieved.
- The client felt like they were charged too much for your services.
- The client felt like you did not communicate with them enough.
- Your office legitimately dropped the ball, and the client has good reason to complain.
- The client or potential client had a personality conflict with you or one of your staff (e.g., they thought you were rude or not compassionate).
- The client or potential client is unreasonable, malicious, dumb, or just a bit nutty.
- A disgruntled current or former employee is trying to stick it to you.
- A competitor or other bad actor is trying to negatively influence your local rankings or disparage your practice.
The first four or five items on that list can be dealt with proactively and reactively. Proactively, you can prevent many bad reviews through a sound system of communication with your clients and by setting realistic expectations for them, but that is another topic. Here we are primarily talking about responding to bad or fake reviews.
Bad Reviews May Be the Symptoms of a Systemic Disease
I would be remiss if I did not address legitimate bad reviews. Bad reviews can be hard to swallow. They can feel like a personal attack on you and your practice, and feeling a little defensive to them is perfectly natural, but do not get so defensive that you cannot see the value in a legitimate bad review. When you get a bad review, try to see it from your client’s perspective, you may be able to use it to improve your operations. If you receive a few negative reviews that all have the same underlying theme, they may be symptoms of a bigger problem with your practice. Remember, for every person who left a review, at least five more feel the same way but did not leave a review. So, two or three bad reviews with the same tone probably mean that you are doing something wrong. The easiest way to combat bad reviews is to avoid them in the first place.
6 Ways to Deal with Negative or Fake Google Reviews
- Respond to GOOD reviews on Google, not bad ones.
- Ask the person who wrote the review to change it or remove it.
- Flag the review in your Google My Business review manager.
- Contact Google Support directly.
- Use a reputation management system.
Keep reading, and I will tell you how to do each of the above.
Respond to Positive Google Reviews
If you receive a positive review on Google, you should respond to it. Thanking your client reinforces the excellent experience they had with you, and it looks good to potential clients who read your reviews, and it calls more attention to the good reviews. However, the primary reason why you should respond is Google likes, especially when you do it right.
Don’t Respond to Negative Reviews on Google
Yeah, I know, that is the opposite of everything you have been told, but in my experience with more than 200 law firms, you should only respond to bad reviews if you are sure that you can turn it around. Even then, it would be best if you did so directly (by telephone preferably), not through a response to a negative Google review. Responding to negative Google reviews typically worsens matters, and it draws more unwanted attention to the bad review. Getting defensive, making excuses, or justifying the situation will only escalate the problem and prolong your suffering.
If the negative review is fake, responding to it won’t have any effect. It doesn’t change the star rating, and it won’t prompt Google to remove the fake review. If it is a fake review intended to harm you and posted anonymously using a fake Gmail account, there is nothing you can say in response to it that will improve the situation.
Google may look at your response to a negative review as legitimizing it or look at your response as a sufficient response to negative reviews. In either event, responding to a negative review cements your review and may make it impossible to remove it.
Additionally, responding to a negative review also makes other clients feel like your Google review page is an excellent place to get your attention and air all their grievances. If you want to minimize the number of negative reviews, exercise your right to remain silent.
Finally, responding to negative reviews can have legal consequences. If you apologize, it may look like you did something wrong professionally. If you get defensive, you may risk exposing confidential information that could land you in hot water. There is no upside to responding to a negative Google review.
Responding to a negative Google review should be reserved only for extreme cases when there is no better way to address the problem, and you have already been unsuccessful in removing it.
Make Positive Reviews Work Better for You
Reviews are part of your Google index profile, and if written correctly, they can help your local rankings. Google sees your responses to reviews as you are a good steward of your profile and may give you favorable treatment because of it, but that is not the real secret. Google looks in your profile for things that are relevant to searches being done. The more relevant you are to the search term and searcher’s location, the more likely you will appear at the top of the search results. The problem is, most clients do not take the time to provide the kind of information that will benefit you in the rankings. For example, a good review might say, “Bob did a great job; we highly recommend him.” But that doesn’t say what you did or where you did it, so there isn’t much for Google to work with. However, you can respond and say, “Thanks Fred, it was great meeting you in our Lancaster office. It was a pleasure helping you with your bankruptcy case.” Now, you have given Google the missing pieces to help boost your relevancy, but this does not take the place of personal interaction. If someone leaves you a positive review on Google, go ahead and post your “thank you” in a response but also pick up the phone and thank them personally or send them a handwritten thank-you note. It will a long way toward making that client a brand advocate for you.
Ask, and You Might Receive
When you respond to a negative Google review, reach out to the person who left the review to see what you can do to make it right. If the criticism is well-founded, you may be able to turn the situation around. If you can make the client happy, you should ask them to update the review to 4 or 5 stars. If they are reluctant to do that, explain that the bad star rating hurts your business and ask them if they would be willing to remove the negative review altogether. If they do update the review, be sure to respond graciously.
Flag Bad Reviews as Inappropriate in Google
If you are unsuccessful at persuading the person who left the negative review to change it or remove it, or if you do not know the person who left the review (it is fake), it is time to remove it through Google. Google will only remove a review if it violates its guidelines. Unfortunately, Google’s interpretation of their guidelines heavily favors the reviewer, not the business owner.
To determine which of the Google guidelines the reviewer has violated and flag it in Google, you can visit this link https://bit.ly/badgone. There you can find step-by-step instructions for flagging a fake Google review along with the guidelines. Below I have listed the Google guidelines that law firms most frequently use to remove fake reviews:
- Spam and fake content – Reviews should reflect your genuine experience at the location and should not be posted to manipulate a place’s ratings.
- Off-topic – Only post reviews based on your experience at the specific location. Reviews are not meant to be a forum for general political, social commentary, or personal rants.
- Offensive content – No content that contains obscene, profane, or offensive language or gestures is permitted.
- Dangerous & Derogatory Content – Business owners and reviewers are not permitted to post dangerous or derogatory content.
- Impersonation – Reviews cannot be used to mislead others. This applies to deceptive content as well as false representations. The reviewer cannot impersonate someone else to leave a fake review.
- Conflict of Interest – Reviews are not for posting content about a current or former employment experience. Reviews are not for posting content about a competitor to manipulate their ratings.
Note: Google’s review algorithm automatically screens reviews for inappropriate content; however, it seems to rarely catch fake reviews. I hear from attorneys all the time that someone posted a negative review about them that they do not know. Unfortunately, these can be the most difficult to remove because Google does not verify any of the information in the review. Google takes it at face value. It does not give you much of an opportunity to prove that the review is fake. Google does not even require the reviewer to be an actual client of yours. It only requires that the reviewer have actual contact with your law firm. That means that people can leave a bad review for you because they feel like they were treated rudely on the phone, they did not like that you are charging for a consultation, they could not find parking, etc.
How to Flag a Fake Google Review
Once you have identified an appropriate violation, the next step is to flag the review. Law firm owners can flag reviews in two different ways; by flagging the review on Google Maps or through the Google My Business review manager.
Flagging a Fake Review on Google Maps
To flag, a negative review on Google Maps, search for your law firm by name, city, and state (Joe’s Law Firm Boise ID). It may be obvious, but this only works if you are using Google for your search engine. It will not work on DuckDuckGo, Bing, etc.
In the right column of the search results, you should see your business profile. Under your firm’s name, you should see a link that shows your star rating and the number of reviews. Click that link, and a pop-up will appear that lists all your reviews.
Find the offending review. Then click the three vertical dots next to the review on the right and click “Report review.” That will lead you to a box where you can select the guideline that you believe it violates. Once you submit it, Google will display a “Thank you” message. That is it. You will get an email that says, “we’re looking into it.” Frankly, I have never figured out exactly what they “look into,” you cannot submit any evidence or even leave a comment when you report the review.
Flagging a Fake Review in Google My Business
You can also report a fake review through the review manager in your Google My Business profile. You need to be logged in to your GMB account.
In the menu on the left side, select “Reviews” and then find the offending review. From here, it is the same procedure as above to flag the review.
It generally takes about three days to get a response from Google, but don’t get your hopes up. In most cases, Google will send you an email that says, “We looked into it, and we do not think the review violates Google’s guidelines.”
In my experience, you have slightly better odds of getting the fake review removed using GMB than the Google Maps method. That could be because, if you use GMB, the flagged review will be reviewed by a live person, whereas the Google Maps method relies on AI.
Contact Google Small Business Support
When the other methods have failed, it is time to get Google support on the phone, which is easier said than done, but this is the last, best chance of getting the fake review removed from your Google business profile. You may ask if contacting Google support is the best chance of removing a fake review; why not start with it. Well, the first question that Google will ask you is, “have you contacted the reviewer to try to resolve the problem?” The second question is, “did you try to flag the review through Google My Business?” If you haven’t, they likely won’t bend over backward to help you.
There are two ways to get in touch with Google support. Google doesn’t make it easy to find this information, so you may want to save this information for future reference.
The first method is to call Google directly. When I do this, I usually call the main number for Google (650) 253-0000. You won’t likely get a live person, but you will be able to select from a menu to get connected to Google Maps and Reviews or GMB support. Depending on their call volume and time of day, you may get a live person from that department (after a significant wait), or you may be asked to leave your name and phone number, and they will call you back (typically in 24 to 48 hours).
The second method is to submit what amounts to a support ticket to Google. To do this, follow these steps:
- Login to your Google My Business account and click on “Reviews” in your menu bar.
- Find the “Support” bar on the left side of the page (a pop-up Support bar will appear).
- Select “Need More Help” in the support bar, then “Customer Reviews and Photos.”
- Select “Review Removal Issues” and then “Contact Support.”
- Select your method of contact – either email or phone. The phone is your best bet for the first contact, but subsequent exchanges will likely be through email.
- Complete your contact information.
- Paste the text of the inappropriate and fake review and select “Automatically include a screenshot.”
- Include the Google Maps link of the review.
- Explain why the review is fake and all the guidelines that you believe it violates.
- Submit the form
Typically, Google will call you back in 1 to 3 days. The problem is that everyone who may answer the phone needs to be alert to the importance of this call and someone who can respond appropriately to Google’s questions always needs to be available.
Be Prepared to Argue Your Case
When you get on the phone with Google, you will need to make your case and be prepared to explain:
- Why the review is fake,
- How it violates Google’s policies and review guidelines,
- The harm done to you and your business,
- Provide all relevant images, links, and additional evidence to support your claim.
It is unlikely that Google will give you a response to your complaint on the phone. In most cases, they will tell you that they need to investigate it further, and they will be in touch. You will generally have their response in 3-4 days. They may also ask for additional detail or information, so watch for emails from Google and respond to them right away.
Use a Reputation Management System to Combat Bad Reviews
There is no way to prevent negative or fake Google reviews, but one sure way to minimize the impact of negative reviews is to push them far down in your review feed with 4 and 5-star reviews. If your good reviews far outnumber the bad ones, the bad ones will not get as much attention. If the bad reviews are far down on the list, they are less likely to get views.
You can try to get good reviews yourself, but that is not as easy as you think. Ask 100 clients to leave you a review on Google, and you might get one to do it, and when they do, you will likely get a blank 5-star review that does nothing to win you new clients or help your local rankings.
That is why you need a system that automatically requests reviews from your current customers while helping to reduce the number of negative reviews. It should send review requests by text and email and make it easy for your clients to leave a review. Your system also needs to send follow-ups and reminders to leave reviews and give you an easy way to respond to your reviews. Your review system should also alert you when you receive a new review, especially the negative ones, so that you can respond right away.
Advantage Attorney provides all our clients with a complete reputation management system at no charge. Our system gives you more control over your reputation, not just on Google, but anywhere you might get a review. It monitors hundreds of review sites and alerts you whenever a new review is received. If you are not a client of Advantage Attorney, you can use our review system for just $29 per month with no contract.