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Removing negative reviews from Google can appear to be a complicated and frustrating process, but thankfully it's not impossible (in fact, if you follow this guide, you'll be fully equipped to tackle your own negative review gripes).

News travels quickly today, and social media has become the word-of-mouth accelerant businesses live and die by. Online reviews on sites like Google play an enormous and emerging role in influencing our buying behaviour. People love to explore experiences, travel and products before they book or buy. You'll almost certainly have read Amazon, TripAdvisor and Google reviews yourself at some stage and made decisions based on them.

To buy, or not to buy... that is the question.

Review sites like Google My Business are important because we value other people's opinions, and when we're unsure of something, we look to others for validation. As a business owner, you'll care about what people think. Negative reviews can make or break you. A mixed set of reviews is a good thing, particularly if most are good reviews; it shows that your business and offerings are authentic. Remember that you can't please everyone, all of the time.

Sadly, some people will leave negative reviews on Google about your business or services. But it's not all bad news.

Can I remove a bad review on Google?

*Yes, you can (with an asterisk). If you feel that the review is fake or even defamatory, you can take steps to remove it (just like on TripAdvisor). You can dispute a Google review, but it's not always straightforward; the process can be a little murky. If you're in a situation where you need to remove a negative review, it's always best to continue to generate positive reviews at the same time, so that people will read between the lines. You'll want to elevate your star rating and improve your rankings as quickly as possible if you've been hit with a nasty review.

Spotting and reporting fake Google reviews

Impressions matter! It's essential that you quickly get to work and limit damages by responding to the reviewer, even if you suspect their review is fake. This shows other potential customers that you care and actively involve yourself in customer feedback. The way you respond will allow them to see your support service skills, empathy, consideration and will help them understand your side of the story.

When replying to the review, make sure that you don't make it personal and are not defensive in any way. Respond kindly, apologise if you think it is required, and offer to put things right if you can. If there is any way to communicate in a private space, then do so. If not, ensure that the response is short, friendly and to the point. How you handle the response might lead to the reviewer removing their post. Invite the reviewer to contact you personally so that you can investigate their experience in full. Follow up where possible and do everything that you can to help turn their incident into a positive experience.

How Google's review removal policy works

Google's review policy guidelines are very clear and easy to follow. Here's the rundown of what they won't tolerate:

Spam and fake content
Content should be a genuine reflection of an experience at the location in question. A review should be honest and not manipulate ratings for the sake of it.
Off-topic
Reviews should be about the specific place in question and not become forums for rants, social discussions or political conversations.
Restricted content
Reviews cannot be seen to promote products or services that are subject to local legal regulations. This includes gambling, alcohol, arms, adult and financial services,  and health or medical offerings.
Illegal content
Google does not accept content related to any illegal activity, including infringement of others' rights, sexual abuse, illegal acts and products, and images of violence and terrorism activities.
Terrorist content
Google will not tolerate any content that promotes acts of terrorism, motivates violence or celebrates terrorism attacks.
Sexually explicit content
No sexual content is permitted, particularly if it exploits children. They will remove the content, shut down the account, and send a report to the relevant national centre for missing and exploited children and relevant law enforcement establishments.
Offensive content
Google will remove any obscene language and gestures.
Dangerous and Derogatory Content
Google Maps is a platform for polite and safe communication. They do not permit incitement of hate, bullying or self-harm promotion.
Impersonation
Google does not permit content attributed to another person, or that can be misleading or deceptive.
Conflict of Interest
Conflict of interest relates to posts about self-promotion, posting content about a current or past employment experience or about a competitor to manipulate their ratings.

If Google deems that the review meets the above criteria in any format which includes photographs, videos and written reviews that distort the truth, then they will remove the content.

Reviews are automatically processed to detect inappropriate content like fake reviews and spam. Google may take down reviews flagged in order to comply with its policies or legal obligations.

How to actually get a negative review deleted

Google's review policy states that any review that is fake, defamatory or inappropriate will be removed. The easiest way to get a negative review deleted is to do the following: you will need to login to your Google My Business account and select your location. From the menu at the top left, you'll find the "Reviews" section. Once you have located the review that you would like Google to delete, click on the vertical dots menu and select the "Flag as inappropriate" option.

Finding the "Reviews" section in Google My Business

Alternatively, you can quickly Google your own business, find the negative review in your Google My Business listsing (right hand side of the search results) and repeat this process - this time clicking "Report review", which will lead you to this screen:

It typically takes Google a few days to review your request and verify if they will remove the review. If at all possible, you can ask other people and customers to report the review as well, which may draw more attention to the content and encourage Google to remove the review.

If for any reason, flagging the review does not get it removed from your business listing, then the next step is to report it to Google's Small Business Support services. Visit business support and select "Contact us", "Customer reviews and photos" and then "Manage customer reviews". You can choose if you'd like to receive help by web chat, email or via phone. You can expect help within 24-hours.

Now that you are in contact, you can explain why Google should remove the review. Be prepared to tell them why you believe the review is in violation of their own policies or why it is classed as a fake Google review or spam. If the support team cannot remove the review themselves, they may escalate the issue to a senior review specialist who will make the final decision.

Why you can't just take every negative review down

Google reviews help consumers make informed buying decisions about places, services and people. At the heart of that is this notion of the "trust economy", where businesses who do right by their customers are celebrated and rewarded, while shady merchants and bad actors (pardon the pun, Nic Cage) are quickly caught out in a public forum.

Reviews increase brand trust, bolster your online reputation, show your consumers your transparency and how you deal with both positive and negative reviews, out in the open. A “genuine” negative review can improve your service offerings by helping you understand what you are doing wrong and how you can make it better. Many negative reviews are actually constructive criticism, so it's worth taking a deep breath and keeping this in mind before responding to them.

Since reviews drive click-through rates and can ultimately convert more browsers into buyers, it pays to have a strategy in place for responding to bad reviews on your business listing; some customers will look to see how you handle negative feedback to get a gauge on what to expect from you in future. Make sure that your business takes proactive steps to ask for reviews and responds to all of them in a timely manner. They will drive traffic to your website and in turn, your physical location (if you have one).

How to respond to genuine negative reviews

Although you’ll never want to receive a negative review on Google, always consider being thankful that the reviewer has taken time to write about their experience. You can take this opportunity to improve your business and, if you play your cards right, could even improve your reputation and standing with specific - and all future - customers. By responding to online reviews thoughtfully, you'll increase your chances of retaining an unhappy customer, you'll win trust and you'll certainly improve your online reputation.

Check out this awesome example from Koala:

An absolutely brilliant response to a negative Google review by Koala

You will need to reply to the reviewer quickly, politely and offer a solution. Remember that reviews are visible, so it is essential to remain polite, calm and unemotional; there is nothing worse than getting into an argument in a public arena. Not handling the response with empathy, understanding and an apology could result in irreparable damage to your reputation. Try and offer an acceptable solution and then take the communication offline.

Be sure to say thank you for the review and focus on building relationships with the reviewer and your other customers. Always respond to a negative review.

All in all, responding to reviews - both good and bad - will help you win in the trust economy. Reviews breathe life and soul into your business and offering transparency allows other potential customers to read between the lines. Invest in your relationships and build loyalty by showing that you care for each of your customers or clients.

Stay on top of your reviews across Google and other review sites

Building trust and positive sentiment is hard. Even harder when something goes wrong. But when things are going right, scoring amazing reviews from your customers is a highly-effective way to organically build your online credibility.

With Cloutly, you can build social proof online by asking your customers for reviews and directing them to any review site you choose (like Google, TrustPilot, Facebook reviews etc). It's the best way to bring all your reviews (from all your review sites) into the one place, get more reviews anywhere, and display those glowing reviews live on your website to build trust with new customers.

Try Cloutly free for 14 days and start getting more reviews in under 3 minutes.