Online reviews can boost or hinder your business. If you have strongly negative reviews on popular websites, you can be certain that earning new business will be a painful, uphill climb.

People tend to trust in the experiences of other people. Ask the Edelman Trust Barometer. For the last 4-5 years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has consistently proved that your audience trusts peers most and businesses least. So, dealing with fake online reviews harming your business should be a priority.

Google has policies to protect small businesses from malicious, fake reviews. But the bad news is that Google isn’t very effective in automatically taking such reviews down. Whether you respond to reviews yourself or engage in digital marketing agencies like Matter Solutions to manage online business listings, it’s important to get involved and deal with the review as soon as possible.

How to spot a fake review

There are a few general characteristics that make fake reviews stand out:

  • A fake review tends to have a vicious, overtly aggressive tone not directed at any specific bad experience with your business
  • General criticisms without any specifics that actually refer to your business
  • Incomplete profile information and no profile picture
  • No reviews apart from your negative review and a positive review for your competitor
  • False reviews could be a bunch of ratings without reviews all posted suspiciously within a short interval of time

Why fake reviews are so dangerous

Fake reviews can significantly affect your online reputation and business. Customers tend to trust online reviews, whether they’re positive or negative. Fake reviews could deter new customers from exploring you as an option. Fake reviews could cause new customers to disregard your business and buy from competitors instead.

What is being said about you on the internet shapes your brand, and fake reviews have the power of destroying the brand that you are trying to build.  

How to deal with fake reviews and prevent them from affecting your business

Here’s a 4-step process of how you can safeguard your business from the damage caused by fake reviews.

1 Monitor and identify

From Facebook to Google and niche review websites in your industry, there are several places on which you could be facing attacks from fake reviews. To prevent their damage, you have to be vigilant on all of these platforms. Doing that manually is not practical. You could miss a fake review or see it too late to prevent its damage from affecting you. That’s why you should invest in a good brand monitoring tool.

Set up alerts for your brand name on a tool like Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts to be notified each time someone mentions your brand on the internet. Paid options such as Brand24 even have special notifications for negative mentions.  

2 Report

Once you have identified fake reviews, you can report them to the website that they are published on. If the review is published on Google, hover over it and click on the flag icon. Choose a violation and report the review. If this doesn’t work, you could reach out to a Google Support Associate using your business dashboard or tweet Google support.

You can similarly report reviews on Yelp and Facebook. Don’t overlook niche review websites that are popular in your industry.

3 Respond

It’s not enough to report a fake review, because your customers could see it before the review website’s support team takes it down. When you spot a fake review, the first thing that you should do is respond to it. Since most fake reviews involve general criticism, this step can be extremely easy.

Simply apologise for the bad experience and ask the customer what exactly he or she faced an issue with so that you can have it fixed. Customers value businesses that respond quickly and want to fix negative experiences. In fact, good responses to negative criticisms are great for earning customer trust and new business.

4 Fight back

While identifying, reporting and responding to fake reviews, it’s also important for you to fight back the negative press with a positive press of your own. Ensure that your website showcases customer success case studies. Request your happy customers to share their experiences on Google, Facebook and other review websites.

You could even incentivise the process to collect more positive reviews. By offering discounts in exchange for reviews, you will not only gain positive press but also repeat business from potential loyal customers.

Fake reviews are among small business owners’ most annoying pet peeves. You can effectively manage them by simply identifying, reporting and responding to them.