How to Handle Negative Google Reviews for Your Business

How to Handle Negative Google Reviews for Your Business

Not all negative Google reviews are alike. Some bad reviews are spam or written by a malicious competitor, some are due to a misunderstanding or unfortunate mistake, and some are the result of a serious failure on the part of a business. 

Google will remove certain types of negative reviews, but only those categorised as prohibited content. Since it’s often difficult to get Google to remove a review, it’s smart to learn how to properly respond to bad reviews in a way that doesn’t escalate the situation. But first, let’s discuss why you should take the time to cultivate the reviews section of your Google Business Profile.

Why It’s Important to Pay Attention to Google Reviews

Whether good or bad, Google reviews matter to your business and can have a direct effect on your website traffic and whether people choose to patronise your business. Here’s why.

  • Google reviews matter to customers. At the most basic level, Google reviews are important because people read them–and care about them. A BrightLocal survey found that 77% of those surveyed in 2021 said they “always” or “regularly” read Google reviews when looking up local businesses online. 
  • Google reviews matter to Google. Your potential customers are not the only ones who care about Google reviews. Reviews affect local SEO because Google actually takes your business’ average rating and your number of reviews into consideration when choosing which businesses to list first in search results. Since Google wants to serve up the most relevant results to searchers, it chooses the businesses that appear most trustworthy, which usually means the ones with a significant number of good reviews.
  • Google reviews are one of the first things people see about your business online. Google is by far the most-used search engine (at around 92% of the market share), and when searchers bring up search results for a specific business, the business’ Google Business Profile listing pops up. This box usually contains pictures of the business, a snippet of a Google map showing the business’ location, and an average star rating based on Google reviews. This average rating is one of the first things searchers see, making it important that it reflects well on your business. 

So we’ve determined that Google reviews are critical for your business and that cultivating good reviews is an SEO best practice. But this doesn’t mean your business’ average star rating needs to be five stars. In fact, a study by the Spiegel Research Center determined that shoppers were most likely to purchase a product with a rating between 4.2 and 4.5. The study found that some negative reviews help establish authenticity. In other words, people understand that businesses aren’t perfect and that miscommunications happen. They also know that other customers can sometimes be unreasonable or might be writing the review after having a bad day. A perfect or close-to-perfect average rating, on the other hand, may seem too good to be true and runs the risk of being seen as falsely inflated.

This sweet spot of 4.2-4.5 is not only a good range for businesses to aim for, it’s also very achievable, especially when you know how to deal with any negative reviews you may receive.

Can You Remove Negative Reviews on Google?

The short answer to the question of whether you can remove negative reviews on Google is yes. The long answer is that it depends on the type of negative review. You can’t remove negative reviews for your business from Google yourself, of course, so whether or not you can get a review removed depends on Google’s assessment of the review once you’ve flagged it for removal. You can flag a review for removal here.

Google will only remove reviews that fall into the category of “prohibited and restricted content”. This includes content that is clearly advertising or spam, obscene, offensive, harassing, or misrepresentative. In a situation in which a customer and business disagree on facts, Google does not try to determine which side is giving an accurate account. 

If Google refuses to remove a bad review, in extreme cases, there may be other options. In 2020, a Melbourne dental surgeon won the right to force Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous bad review that he said had damaged his livelihood and reputation. While Google did not comply with requests to remove the review, the court decision allowed the dental surgeon to demand the reviewer’s information from Google. After discovering the reviewer’s identity, the dentist filed a defamation suit against the reviewer, who he determined had never been a client of the business.

When to Reply to Negative Reviews

If a bad review is real, and doesn’t contain anything that is prohibited by Google, the best way to handle a negative Google review is to reply to it. BrightLocal found that more than half of those they surveyed would be “not very” or “not at all” likely to patronise a business that never responded to reviews, and that almost 90% of those surveyed were “highly” or “fairly” likely to patronise a business that responds to all of its reviews. Businesses that respond to reviews also make an average of 35% more revenue.

In other words, people appreciate when a business takes the time to respond to both positive and negative Google reviews. However, it’s especially important to respond to negative reviews. Offering an explanation of what happened can give the reviewer–and those who read the review–more context, and apologising for an error or mishandled situation shows that your business is willing to take responsibility for mistakes.


How to Reply to Negative Reviews

Publically replying to negative Google reviews is good for your business, but can be tricky. Responding in the wrong way may escalate the situation and cast your business in a bad light. Here are some best practices for responding to negative reviews:

  1. Apologise. Even if there were extenuating circumstances (like being short-staffed), always offer your sincere apologies to the customer and show empathy for their negative experience.
  2. Thank the customer. Even if they had a bad experience, a reviewer is (most likely) someone who patronised your business and then pointed out an issue. Thank them for being a customer and for bringing the problem to your attention so that you can ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
  3. Use names. Everyone likes seeing their own name. Responding to a review with the reviewer’s name feels more personal and will help make the customer feel heard and validated. Signing the reply with your own name also fosters a feeling of open, person-to-person communication.
  4. Be professional. When you’ve built and work hard at your business, it can be hard to see reviews that disparage your business or employees. However, don’t give in to the temptation to get defensive or be rude. Stay calm and polite and avoid pettiness. If the review doesn’t give the whole story or gets things wrong, state the facts plainly but don’t start an argument. 
  5. Offer a solution or explain that you’re working to resolve the situation. If possible, make things right with the customer. This might mean offering a replacement product or discount, or following up with a private message or phone call to find a solution. If this isn’t possible, tell the customer in your reply that you’re actively making changes to your processes that will ensure the issue doesn’t happen again.

When you respond to a bad review with thoughtfulness and understanding, your business comes across as reasonable and professional. Even better, if you’re able to resolve the problem, the reviewer may remove their bad review altogether. For examples of good responses to negative reviews, take a look at Google’s own suggestions and templates.

How to Avoid Getting Bad Google Reviews

The reality of running a business is that no matter how amazing your product or well-run your business is, you will get bad reviews. However, there are some ways to reduce the number of negative Google reviews you get and make sure you have plenty of great ones to balance out the bad. 

  1. Head off potential bad reviews before they’re written. Keep your finger on the pulse of your customers’ experiences. If you know your company is having growing pains, make sure employees are empowered to keep customers happy and to deal with problems as they arise. 
  2. Encourage customers to write reviews. When you or your employees interact with customers in person or by phone or email, ask them to write a review. Chances are, they’ll be happy to write your business a great review. If they’re unhappy with your product or service, they may tell you right away, which will give you a chance to resolve the problem before a review is written.
  3. Learn from bad reviews. Some bad reviews just can’t be anticipated, but think of these as learning opportunities that allow you to anticipate future problems and improve processes to ensure fewer negative reviews in the future.

If you need help optimising your Google Business Profile listing and managing Google reviews, SEO Assassin can help. Contact us online to speak to an Australian SEO expert.

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