Friday, March 1, 2013

What To Do About Google Fake Reviews

By Mike Munter

You can skip right to my Plan Of Action For Fake Reviews about halfway down this page, or you can start here and read the background.

Background Research

Before sitting down to write my advice on handling this article, I did a little research to see if there was anything online that I was missing.

Of course, I went to Google and entered "How does Google handle fake reviews".  I hoped I'd find a few words from big G that would actually be useful for businesses who face the problem of receiving fake reviews.

First, I found Google's official stance on the removal of reviews which I share in the screen shot below.

google review removal policy
Here's the cliff notes version:

  1. Flag the review as inappropriate (later we'll see if this actually works or not)
  2. Attempt to reconcile with the customer (not much help if the review is fake)
  3. Google has systems in place AND their algorithm may flag and remove reviews it finds to be abusive or inappropriate (not really helpful if the review is already live)
As you can see, Google doesn't offer much in the way of helping you, other than their "flag as inappropriate" option.  Let's see if this actually works.

Does Flag As Inappropriate Help Remove Fake Reviews?

It appears the short answer is "Yes", but from the timeline on this thread, it seems to really take a long time.

Let's take a look at a snapshot using this case study:

does flag as inappropriate help remove fake reviews screenshot 1

As you can see, business owner GarryM opened a complaint thread on Google's support forum in May of 2009.

After lots of feedback and a couple of useless replies from Google employees, the reviews were finally removed over a year later.

does flag as inappropriate help remove fake reviews screenshot 2

Of course, this data is almost 3 years old now and we would hope that Google has improved both its review monitoring systems AND its customer service center in order to improve their response to cases like this.

This enjoyable BBC video adds further speculation that Google is aware of the issue and working hard to improve their systems.

I followed up with Chris Emmins of on March 3, 2013 to get an update on what he has seen lately with regard to 'flag as inappropriate'.  Here's what he had to say:

"There is not even a guarantee of a response when using the 'flag as inappropriate' tool. More importantly, the degree of diligence overall within the system is extremely poor. Google announced recently that they were upping their game in terms of detecting fake reviews and served warning to businesses attempting to game their resources. Well, they are still not effective. Tellingly, they advised people not to write reviews whilst still on the premises - in other words, like other reviews resources, one of the few detection systems they have revolves around reviews coming from the same IP address as the business owners. In the age of WiFi, this is clearly a nonsense - and the 'professional' or more capable reviewers have in any case been using IP proxy addresses for a long time anyway. In addition, it is notable that Google are focusing on fake good reviews. It appears that they are still not greatly bothered by fake bad reviews - and certainly some of the cases we see and the lack of action on the part of Google substantiates this. Such poor resources are in my opinion, not fit for purpose and cause harm to both consumers and reputable businesses."

Personally, I have faith that Google will eventually figure it out.  I like to believe Google's intentions are good and given the overwhelming number of complaints they must get - we have to keep our fingers crossed that they will get the "fake review" portion of their algorithm tweaked soon.

In the mean time, do your due diligence, following the plan below.

Plan Of Action For Fake Reviews

Step 1 - Flag The Review

If your business has been victimized by fake reviews, the first thing to do is report them to Google by clicking on the "Flag As Inappropriate" button.

flag as inappropriate example
Then you'll be taken to this screen where you can file your report with Google:

flag as inappropriate step 2
Then wait.  It could take several months before Google is able to address your complaint, although here is a thread where one lucky business owner got their review removed in a matter of days.

Step 2 - Respond To The Review

As the business owner, hopefully you have already claimed your page and when it is verified by Google, you can then respond to fake reviews and point out the reasons why you know they are fake.

The business owner in this example does an excellent job of pointing out the reasons why the review is fake and further informs potential customers of his customer service policy.

business owner reply to fake review

Now that you've done all the damage control that you can do, it's time to go on the offensive.

(For any business owners reading this, I'd love your feedback on how long it is taking Google to address these complaints).

Step 3 - Solicit More Positive Reviews

This proactive approach is what many call "Reputation Marketing".  Use every means necessary to recruit and incent your happy customers to post positive reviews for you.

Give them the link in your email marketing blasts, print it on your business cards and promote it on any printed direct mail you send.  Although Google doesn't recommend offering incentives in order to get reviews, I personally don't agree.  They are not the ones losing money because of the fake reviews appearing on your Places page.

I would not go overboard, but perhaps offering a small discount on a purchase or a bonus value added item that has a nice perceived value would help motivate your clients to post a review about your product or service online.  

You might also consider informing this template in your approach:

Dear Customers, 
We are being victimized by fake reviews on Google and we are asking for your help. 

If you would be so kind, please take a few minutes and visit this link (give them your Places page) and write a few words about your experience working with us. 

We sincerely appreciate your help as we await response from Google on our complaint. 

Thank you, 

Your Name

Getting lots of positive reviews takes work, but the effort will be well worth it.  Stick to it and you may soon find that the influx of good reviews push down the negative (fake) ones and help improve your overall rating score.


Unfortunately, if your fake reviews are appearing on your Google Places page, reputation management will not help you.

The irony is that you WANT your Google Places page to rank well and be found by people looking for what you do. Since reputation management helps bury negative listings, it won't be of much benefit in the case of Google Places.

If your fake reviews appear on other sites, such as Yelp, then you will absolutely want to consider reputation management because when we create, publish and promote fresh content about your business, that Yelp page can be pushed off page 1 of search results.

For a fast, friendly and private consultation, please call 503-890-6663.

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