6 ways to combat a negative review attack on your Google My Business profile

Negative reviews. The Achilles heel to many local businesses trying to get by and succeed on Google My Business.
6 ways to combat a negative review attack on your Google My Business profile

As small business owners, we never want to see negative reviews, and it can be quite distressing when we see them come in.

But what happens when tens, or even hundreds, appear in a short space of time? Are all these real? What on earth do you do?

Not all negative reviews are created equally, and in this fickle world, legitimate negative reviews which want to offer your business feedback are overshadowed by negative review attacks which sole goal is to ruin your business.

How to handle legitimate negative reviews (which offer feedback on your business products or services) is a topic all to itself, but what should you do if your Google My Business business profile is under attack from negative reviews which are malicious and unjustified?

What do I mean by an attack?

In most of the circumstances where I’ve been required to resolve negative review attacks, the people behind the campaign are usually local competitors trying to tank your business or cyber-trolls who have a bit between their teeth about with the business director (not the business itself).

Here are the usual signs which point to whether you’re getting attacked with negative reviews

  • Your Google My Business profile has multiple 1-star negative reviews over a short space of time and completely bucks the trend of how often you usually get reviews.
  • The negative reviews have little to no text or detailed feedback; they are just low-star ratings.
  • The negative reviews are left from Google user profiles with very few reviews (e.g. 1-3 reviews).
  • All the reviews on the Google user profile are negative and spaced out across inconsistent times and geo-locations (e.g. 1 review in 1 city).
  • If the negative review does have feedback, it may be a personal attack or describe an experience which has no representation of your business and services.

The problem with negative reviews is exacerbated further as Google’s algorithm is, in my opinion, a little bit too accepting and not critical enough when reviewing their legitimacy. At the time of writing this article, I’m almost 100% sure that Google’s review algorithm doesn’t flag large scale negative review bombs and considers it suspicious. 

However, if you’re getting attacked with negative reviews, don’t go into full panic melt-down, there are a few things which you can do to take control of the situation.

Here are my 6 ways of combating a negative review attack on your Google My Business profile.

1) Manually report the reviews with multiple accounts

Unfortunately, Google isn’t going to willingly remove reviews just because you don’t want them on your profile. Google is very ‘pro’ user-generated content, and you can’t manually remove reviews, images, videos etc which have been uploaded by a Google user profile.

It’s a pain.

However, there is a little flag which can help.

Business owners and other Google users can report/flag all user-generated content on a Google My Business profile. If you don’t think something represents your business, report it. 

The good news is that this manual reporting feature is very quick and easy to do. Here’s how to manually report a negative review:

In my experience, flagging user-generated content only gets you so far, and it certainly seems to take quite some time for the reports to be actioned by Google. However, here are a few tricks I’ve found to improve the effectiveness of the reporting feature:

  1. As well as reporting the review from your GMB business dashboard, use a Google user profile with an abundance of Klout* to report the content. 
  2. Report the content with more than one Google user account (see above) at different times of the day.
  3. Don’t give up after one session of reporting. Try reporting the content again after 5-7 days.

*By Klout, I mean a Google user profile (this is mine) which has a history of leaving reviews and is teaming with user-uploaded images tied to the account. A local guide level of 6+ is particularly helpful.

2) Call Google and report the reviews

Google wants to talk to you. I would go so far as to say that they go out of their way to try and talk to you. Unlike Facebook, who wants you to use their messaging platform to report any issues, Google places a strong emphasis on telephone calls and talking to you directly over the phone.

A useful tool which you may not realise exists is the ‘talk to a specialist’ contact form which puts you in touch with a Google representative within minutes.  

The tool is excellent because the Google Specialists have a suite of tools which you simply don’t have as a Google My Business user. 

Here’s what usually happens on the call:

  1. The Specialist will confirm your details
  2. They’ll ask you what your issue is
  3. You’ll explain what the problem is
  4. The Specialist will investigate the issue
  5. The Specialist will ‘escalate’ the matter to their specialist team, who’ll review the problem and get back to you via email/phone within 24-48 hours

Reporting negative reviews to a Google Specialist can take a little bit of time, because, in my experience, the Specialist likes to look at every review which you want to flag one-by-one. If you’ve got several negative reviews which you need to report, I recommend grabbing a cup of tea and having some patients.

A great tip which I credit to SEMRush is to create a Google Sheet document which lists all the URLs of the reviews you want to support. Within the sheet, you should contain the following information in separate columns:

  1. The name of the person leaving the review
  2. The URL of the review you want to report
  3. The URL of the Google user profile
  4. A ‘comments’ tab where you can leave a few remarks as to why you feel the reviews are unjustified and suspicious.

With all that being said, there are a few common problems which I encounter when talking to a specialist:

1) There can be a language barrier. 

The majority of Google’s contact centres are based overseas, and not all specialists are as fluent in English. My advice is to be patient; however, if you’re struggling, politely stop the call and complete the contact form again.

2) The specialists have a limited set of tools and won’t be able to sort your issue immediately (they usually escalate the issue).

3) Your issue may not get resolved.

Unfortunately, just because the Google Specialist escalates your problem doesn’t mean that the review is going to get removed. It’s down to the discretion of Google as to whether they’ll manually remove a review, and their process is pretty much looking at their algorithm to see if the review is fishy.

However, don’t let this dishearten you, as persistent sometimes work.

Which leads me to…

3) Call Google again and change your story

Ok, so here is a tactic which sometimes works, but not in all situations. It involves two words ‘cyber-attack’. 

Tech companies take ‘cyber-attacks’ very seriously, and it’s incredible to hear the difference in reaction a Google Specialist has if you plead that your account is under a ‘cyber-attack’.

In all honesty, I do consider getting unwarranted negative reviews as a form of cyber-attack which should be taken very seriously. The only issue is that proving that the negative reviews are indeed a cyber-attack can be difficult. However, if your business has a large number of negative reviews which have occurred in a short space of time from Google user profiles with very few reviews on their account, then I would pull out the ‘cyber-attack’ card from your deck.

The process of calling Google is precisely the same, but when you get asked what your issue is, plead that you think that your account is under a cyber-attack and that you don’t know what to do. Be sincere and say that your business is suffering (because it is) as a result of the attack.

Also, don’t forget to collate the reviews into a Google Sheets document and send it over to them.

4) Write a response to the review which highlights why you think it’s fake (use an example)

While you’re waiting for the negative reviews to be reviewed by Google, it doesn’t mean you should sit back and ignore them. Google’s investigations can take days and multiple phone calls before anything happens, so it’s best to attack the negative reviews at numerous angles.

The following trick is something which I particularly like as it puts the power back into your hands.

Answer the negative review, but be publically critical of the legitimacy of the review. Here is a template which I’ve used for some of my client’s.

Hi [name],

Thank you for taking the time to leave us a review.

We noticed that you had left us a 1-star review, but we’re under the impression that you’ve not visited our business. It looks like (at the time of writing this response) you’ve only left a single review which seems very peculiar.

If you didn’t know, your Google profile is public, and you can see your review history here: [insert link to their google profile]

We feel your account is just being used to leave unwarranted negative reviews.

If this is a genuine review, then we would love to hear from you directly so we can improve our service. Please, get in touch with our team directly using the email address [insert your business email address here]

Kind regards,

[your business]

I use this type of response for two reasons: 1) It highlights to customers that the review is being investigated, and 2) it includes proof (in the URL link to the users Google profile) as to why you think their review is suspect.

The only thing which answering a negative review won’t accomplish is how the poor star rating will still affect the overall score on your profile. Unfortunately, this is something which can only be solved from reporting methods mentioned previously.

Regardless of the type of review (positive or negative), you should make it part of your business process to answer all of them. Reviews are there to help you connect with your customers, and if they’ve taken the time to leave a review, then you should show your appreciation by responding.

5) Write a post on social media and GMB explaining the situation

I believe firmly in maintaining communication and transparency between business and customers. The trust you build with your customers through clear and positive communication encourages them to understand and support your brand.

While some businesses may think that acknowledging an influx in negative reviews is feeding the egos of those who are carrying out the attack, I believe that simply ignoring the situation only means customers who are discovering your brand for the first time could form the wrong first impression of your business and brand; first impressions count.

If you’re the silent business type who likes having a sandy head, that’s fine. However, I would strongly recommend you make an exception on keeping silent if the rest of these methods aren’t helping your situation. 

Making a public statement across your social media channels, website, Google My Busines Profile (through a GMB post) and even a press release which highlights the issue your business is facing paints a very clear picture to anyone discovering your business that there is something unusually wrong.

If you’re considering making a public statement, here are a few areas which I think you should cover:

  • Explain the situation as clearly as possible
  • Identify why you think it’s happening
  • Let customers know that you’re in contact with Google and seeking legal advice
  • Reassure customers that your services are the same high-quality they have always been
  • Ask customers to get in touch with you if they do have legitimate feedback to improve your service

6) Focus on generating more positive reviews

I’ll paraphrase a quote I got from a conversation I had with a Google Specialist not that long ago.

Me, “What should I do in the meantime to combat these negative reviews?”

Google Specialist, “You should work on generating more positive reviews as they hold significantly more weight than negative reviews and are more likely to show on your profile.”

Fight fire with fire. 

Comprehensive and content filled positive reviews are one of the main ranking factors for Google My Business profiles. If your business doesn’t have a process in place to generate more positive reviews, then you’ve certainly got an opportunity to improve your Google My Business profile significantly.

According to our Google Specialist above, positive reviews are ‘significantly’ more likely to carry more weight on your ranking signals but also show up higher on the review tab within your profile.

The process of generating more positive reviews is something which I go into more detail in a different article, and it’s an advised tactic to combat any negative reviews which are stubbornly not being removed.

Shield’s up! We’re ready boys! Bring on the negative reviews.

Bringing it all back around

Should you be worried about negative reviews? Yes, but there are ways which you can minimise the impact they’ll have on your business.

Following the steps above may or may not remove the negative reviews on your Google My Business profile, but they’ll undoubtedly give you a little more power.

If there is one tactic to take away from this article, it’s to with-out-a-doubt implement a review process to generate more legitimate reviews. No matter how many fake negative reviews you get on your business page, high-quality positive reviews will rank higher and ultimately prevail. 

I can’t stress enough that, no matter what, try not to let negative reviews get you down. Always believe in your business, and continue to provide the best quality service to your customers.

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