The Smart Way to Deal With Fake Negative Reviews on Google, Yelp and Other Sites

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in damage control-mode. Your business has been hit with a fake negative review on Google, Yelp, or another online platform, and you want to deal with it ASAP. Preferably by wiping it off the face of the Internet.

Fake negative reviews are all too common. It’s trivially easy to create an account on these sites and write feedback for all the world to see. For business owners who’ve worked hard to build their reputation, these types of reviews are exasperating.

It is possible to get fake reviews removed in some cases. But that’s not always the case. Dealing with fake negative reviews is a delicate process, and it’s one you should prepare for before it becomes necessary.

We’ve laid out a step-by-step process for how to deal with fake negative reviews of a business, including how to report fake reviews and what to do when removal isn’t possible.

How to Deal with Fake Negative Reviews, Step-By-Step

Dealing with fake negative reviews is easier when you have a plan of action. The process will differ between businesses, but the basic steps are as follows:

  1. Verify that the review is fake.
  2. Determine if the review violates the rules.
  3. Report the fake review through the official channels.
  4. If the review stays up, decide on the best course of action.

1. Are You Sure the Review is a Fake One?

When we say ‘fake negative reviews’, we’re talking about reviews that are either:

  • Written by someone who was never a customer, client, or associate of the business; or
  • Making claims about the business that aren’t true.

It does a business no good to conflate bad reviews with fake ones. Do your research before alleging a review isn’t genuine.

If you have a very small customer or client base, it’s easier to tell if a review is coming from someone the business has never dealt with. Otherwise, some tell-tale signs of a fake review include:

  • Review was authored by a brand-new profile with no other reviews and a sparse profile
  • Tone is overly aggressive or threatening and clearly meant to provoke
  • Language includes industry jargon that actual customers or clients rarely use

2. Does the Review Break the Rules?

Suppose the review comes from someone you know has never dealt with the business. What next?

You can tell that to Google or Yelp. Trouble is, they don’t know who your customers are. Should they take your word for it?

People don’t even need to be customers to leave a valid review; they just need a customer experience. That can mean reaching out to the business by phone or email, or dropping by the premises.

It’s seldom possible to get a fake review removed simply because the reviewer wasn’t a customer. The most promising route to taking down fake reviews is to report them for violating the site’s terms of use.

Google, Yelp, Facebook, and other sites each have their own separate community guidelines. In general, the following behaviour is usually grounds to report a review:

  • Demonstrably false information
  • Current or former employees reviewing their employer
  • Business owners or their employees reviewing a competitor to manipulate rankings
  • People posting the same content repeatedly, or reviewing the same business from multiple accounts
  • People claiming to represent an individual, company or organization without permission
  • Obscene or offensive language that goes beyond ‘colourful’
  • Threats, harassment, bullying, or discrimination

If you believe the review in question violates the site’s rules, proceed to step 3; otherwise, skip to step 4.

3. Will Google/Yelp/Facebook Remove the Review?

Don’t call out the reviewer as a phony in public. Go through the website’s official reporting channels. While awaiting a verdict, decide how to proceed if the review stays up.

To report a review on Yelp:

  1. Locate the review in the Reviews section of your Yelp for Business Owners account.
  2. Click the button with the three dots, then click Report Review.
  3. Submit your report.

To report a review on Facebook:

  1. Locate the review in the Reviews section of your Page.
  2. Click the button with the three dots, then click Report Post.
  3. Submit your report.

To report a Google review:

  1. Locate the review on your Google My Business page.
  2. Move your cursor over the review and click the flag icon that appears.
  3. Submit your review.

4. Should You Respond to a Fake Review?

It’s never a good idea to ignore fake negative reviews.

51% of customers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within seven days. Posting a response gives you an opportunity to demonstrate you’re responsive to customers, even if they have nothing nice to say.

How best to respond to negative fake reviews can be tricky. It’s not smart to accuse the person outright, because it makes the business owner look petty and defensive.

A better tactic? Take the high ground. Write a courteous, professional response. The most important thing is for customers to see that the business is willing to acknowledge negativity and do something about it.

If there’s a clear sign the review is fake (talking about products or services you don’t have, or an experience that couldn’t have happened), there are subtle ways to address the discrepancy.

Don’t say, “We don’t sell ice cream, liar.” Say, “We’re sorry to hear you had a bad experience, but you may be confusing us with another restaurant, as we don’t have ice cream on our menu.”

Don’t say, “You never once used our service and we know it.” Say, “We’d like to investigate, but have no record of a client with your name. Please provide more information about your experience.”

Bad reviews hurt; fake reviews can hurt even more. But don’t give into frustration. The worst thing you can do is fight fire with fire, responding inappropriately or threateningly to someone who’s trying to bring you down.

Dealing with Fake Reviews

We’ve helped various clients navigate the process of dealing with fake reviews, and it’s never fun. But with a solid plan and a clear head, you can minimize the damage.

As always, the best way to overcome negative reviews is to surround them with positive ones. Don’t forget to let your happy customers know how much you appreciate their feedback.

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Reputation Management SEO: Why Branded Keywords Should Be On Your Radar

Online reputation management involves more than establishing a website and social media profiles. Conversations about brands are happening at various channels around the web, and the loudest of these discussions converge at one important place: the search engine results page. This post covers the basics of reputation management SEO, including the relationship between reputation and search engines, branded keywords, and strategies to dominate page one.

Branded Keywords

What is Reputation Management SEO?

Have you ever Googled yourself?

Not everyone might admit to it, but it’s doubtful anyone could resist Googling their name at least once or twice.

For most people, the results are typical: a few social media profiles, a company “About Us” page, maybe a quote in a local newspaper. Depending on your name’s popularity, the top results might be about an entirely different person; someone you’ve never met, but with whom you share a search engine results page.

You might’ve Googled yourself out of curiosity, or boredom, or because we put the thought in your mind just now. But there could be a time in your life where someone makes that inquiry with more significant intentions: a manager thinking of hiring you, a college weighing your application, or a potential partner scoping you out before a date.

In that case, the search engine results could have very real and lasting impact on your reputation.

The same goes for brands.

What shows up on page one of the results for branded keywords (searches that include the name of the brand) has a measurable effect on that brand’s reputation. That’s the importance of reputation management SEO, which is search engine optimization strategies and tactics to influence the results for branded search inquiries in order to preserve and improve a brand’s reputation online.

How the Search Engine Results Effect a Brand’s Reputation

It’s Friday night, and you’re decidedly too exhausted to make dinner. But you’re not feeling like any of your go-to restaurants, either. So, you pull out your phone and Google the name of that new place in town.

The first result is the restaurant’s homepage; the second is a link to their menu. Perfect. But there, in place three, is a preview of their Yelp rating:

Rating: 2.5 – 63 reviews – Price range: $40-$60

 In an instant, your opinion has turned; there’s no way you’re paying 5-Star prices for a 2-Star meal.

Review sites like Yelp can have an enormous impact on a brand’s reputation online. So can Google reviews, news stories, blog posts, forum discussions, directory pages, career sites, and all the other third party websites that rank for branded search inquires.

The problem is that brands can’t control the content on these sites as they rule their own domains. A well-optimized homepage will usually outrank third party sites for branded inquiries, but customers aren’t as likely to click through if it’s surrounded by negativity on the SERP.

You can ask the authors to remove negative pages, but that can easily backfire and result in an even worse reputation.

So, what can be done about it?

Reputation Management SEO Strategies

Rarely do brands have the power to remove negative search engine results outright. However, it is possible to:

  • Use search engine optimization (SEO) to influence the results for branded search inquiries
  • Influence the content of third-party review sites
  • Publish new types of content to claim more above the fold space on the results page

The goal is to enhance the ranking of positive items in favour of negative ones, either by displacing the negative content or improving it. There are several ways to go about this; we’ll briefly cover three strategies in the sections below.

1. Encourage Positive Reviews

Third party review sites like Yelp (along with industry-specific sites like G2Crowd for B2B software, or HomeStars for trade contractors) are crucial when it comes to reputation management SEO for local service industries.

These sites tend to rank well because they provide relevant information consumers want to see. Authentic customer reviews tend to carry more weight than curated testimonials on a brand’s own website.

It might not always be possible to outrank them, but it is possible to turn these sites into an asset:

  • Most third-party review sites allow brands to “claim” and modify their profiles. Take this step and fill out the profile completely, using it as a platform to speak to potential customers.
  • Upload enticing, high-quality photos that put products and services in the best possible light.
  • Encourage happy customers to leave positive reviews on the site to bolster the score. Great reviews are the most effective way to diminish the weight of negative ones.

2. Publish New Content

With proper placement and optimization, quality blog posts, videos, and images that utilize branded keywords can rise in the rankings to displace negative pages.

YouTube videos are especially powerful in this way, since they can even claim the coveted position zero ranking, claiming valuable above-the-fold real estate.

It’s worth utilizing off-site publishing platforms as well as those on the brand’s domain. Industry-specific news sites, as well as pop news sites like The Huffington Post, can be valuable both for back-linking and reputation management.

3. Get Others to Write About the Brand

Journalists, bloggers, editors, and video creators are always on the hunt for great content. Pitching positive stories about the brand helps to seed the web with a variety of content relevant to branded search inquiries.

Over time, these stories can gain enough traction to rise in rank and claim a spot previously occupied by negativity.

Managing Your Reputation Online

Reputation management SEO takes time. Positive stories cannot displace negative ones overnight; high-quality links need to be developed over time; and legitimate customer reviews don’t always come easy.

But at this day and age, reputation management SEO is absolutely worth the time and effort.

The search engine results page serves as a brand’s first impression to many, many people. Negative results can stop potential customers in their tracks.

It’s like the old saying about planting a tree. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. Change takes time, so there’s no better time than the present to work on your brand’s online reputation.

Get in touch with us if you’d like to chat about where your brand stands in the digital marketplace.

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Blog Optimization Checklist: 10 Clear-Cut Ways to Boost SEO

When you’ve poured time and energy into a great blog post, you want it to reach as much of your audience as possible. Small changes matter when it comes to boosting blog SEO. Take a run through this blog optimization checklist before you post — it won’t take long, and it’ll help your blog get seen by the right people.

Blog Checklist

1. Keywords

Keywords are words or short phrases that encompass what the blog post is about (see our blog: What Are Keywords and Why Do They Matter?). When you use them well, keywords can help the post rank for search queries that include those words.

Why Blog Keywords Matter for SEO

Search engine algorithms use repeated words and phrases as clues to what a webpage is about. Placing relevant, natural-sounding keywords in the blog content, title, meta description, and URL can contribute to a blog post’s search engine ranking.

How to Optimize for Keywords

Incorporate your chosen keywords into the blog:

  • Title
  • Headings (one or more)
  • First paragraph
  • Meta description
  • URL

2. Length

There’s no perfect word count for SEO, but the length of a blog can factor into its ranking.

Why Blog Length Matters for SEO

Search engine algorithms often deem pages with less than 300 words inadequate to rank in the search engine results. However, longer isn’t necessarily better; a 3,000-word post stuffed with irrelevant content will fare just as poorly as a short one.

Optimizing Length for SEO

Aim to write at least 500 words per blog post. Beyond that, the ideal blog length will depend on your audience. Pay attention to how your blogs perform and look for trends related to page length.

3. Readability

It’s in the writer’s interest to make a blog post as easy to read as possible. Spacing, formatting, and writing style all weigh on a blog’s readability.

Why Readability Matters for SEO

Making your content easy to digest will increase the time people spend reading it and encourage them to share it with others. It can also increase the likelihood the content will rank in Featured Snippets, which is a huge boost to blog SEO.

How to Optimize Blog Readability

  • Add informative headings and subheadings to make the post easier to skim.
  • Format lists or step-by-step instructions as numbered or bulleted lists.
  • Break large paragraphs into shorter chunks. Single-sentence paragraphs are common in the blog world.

4. Title

The title is your chance to convince the reader to click in 50-60 characters or less. A good title:

  1. Is short (search engines cut off titles longer than 60 characters);
  2. Is compelling (but not clickbait); and
  3. Promises readers something of value if they click.

Why Blog Titles Matter for SEO

A great title will drive more traffic to the blog, which significantly impacts its rankings. As mentioned above, the title should also include relevant keywords.

How to Optimize Blog Titles

Craft your title around keywords and the value readers receive from the blog. Shorten it 50 characters or less and add compelling adjectives to make it pop.

5. Call to Action

The title succeeds in persuading readers to click on your blog post. What do you want them to do once they’re there? Whatever the goal, readers are more likely to do it if you guide them in the right direction with a clear call to action.

Why a Call to Action Matters for SEO

An effective call to action keeps people on your site and discourages them from bouncing back to the search engine results page (see our blog: Understanding Bounce Rate, Long Clicks and Pogo-Sticking).

How to Optimize Call to Action

Place the call to action prominently on the blog post (the best spot will vary audience-to-audience, so consider testing different placements). It should be relevant to the subject matter of the article and the user’s pain points.

6. Internal and External Links

Internal links are links to content that is within the same domain as your content: other blog posts, product pages, contact pages, and so on. External links are the opposite: they point to other websites.

Why Internal and External Linking Matters for SEO

Interlinking helps search engine algorithms to understand the website’s structure. Links to credible, authoritative external sources help build your site’s credibility within the eyes of the all-seeing search algorithm. Both are an important part of boosting blog SEO.

How to Optimize Links

Be picky about the links you include! Credible external sites will bolster your blog’s credibility, but poor sites will do the opposite. Insert internal links should in a logical way that benefits the reader.

7. Anchor Text

Anchor text refers to the clickable text of an internal or external link. On most sites, anchor text is underlined and highlighted in blue.

Why Anchor Text Matters for SEO

Search engine algorithms use anchor text another clue to what a web page is about, both regarding your blog and the page you’re linking to.

How to Optimize Anchor Text

Good anchor text is succinct, informative, and relevant to the target page. Incorporate keywords where it sounds natural to do so.

8. Images

Images are a necessity in any blog post, no matter the length or the topic. Along with their visual appeal, original images can help boost your blog’s SEO.

Why Images Are Good for SEO

Images make the blog easier to read, increasing the chance people will share it and explore the rest of your site. Keywords in image titles and file names can help give the algorithm context on your blog’s topic. Images also allow the site to rank in image searches.

Optimizing Images for SEO

Upload high-quality images with keyword-rich titles and file names. Avoid adding overly-large images, as they can bog down your site’s loading speed (see our blog: Why Page Speed Matters.

9. Meta Description

The meta description is a 160-character summary of the blog that can display below the headline on the search engine results page.

Why Meta Descriptions Matter for SEO

The meta description can be a huge factor in a reader’s decision to click through to your blog from the search engine results page. Like blog titles, meta descriptions are a chance to pique the reader’s curiosity and promise something worth clicking for.

How to Optimize Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions that exceed 160 words will be cut off, so be sure to include the good stuff in the first 160.

10. Proofreading

Spelling and grammar checkers have come a long way, but they’re still not perfect! Take time to proofread your blog before posting it.

Why Spelling and Grammar Matters for SEO

Poor spelling and grammar will stop some readers in their tracks. Few people will share an error-ridden blog with their friends, let alone peruse the rest of the site. Proofreading keeps readers on the page and preserves your credibility.First, give the blog a once-over yourself. Then, pass it to a colleague for a second look. If no one’s available to help, a free proofreading tool like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor beats no proofreading at all.

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