Who knows why fake reviews happen. Sometimes they're written by competitors hoping to one up you, or even customers who have mistaken your business for someone else's! What's important is that you know how to spot and get rid of them in order to keep your online reputation as authentic as possible. Today we're going to show you how.

What counts as a 'fake' review?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's first clarify what exactly is meant by the term 'fake'. Fake reviews, unfortunately, don't mean a review you believe to be unfair or unjust. However negative, customers are entitled to their opinion.

Fake reviews are classified as feedback given by people who haven't actually experienced the products or services they're reviewing. Sometimes they are done in vengeance, sometimes by accident, and sometimes the business itself will orchestrate the writing of positive reviews by friends, employees and family to benefit their business. These too are fake as the bias is too high for them to be considered as authentic.

6 ways to spot a fake Google review (& what to do about it)

It's really easy to leave a customer review on Google - all you need is a Gmail account. Whilst this is great for getting more Google reviews, it also means the system can be taken advantage of by fraudsters, as no additional evidence is required to prove the authenticity of customer feedback.

Think you've been victim of a fake review on Google? Check it against some of the following tell-tale signs to know for sure.

1. Your customer database doesn't match up

One of the most reliable things to do when identifying a fake reviewer is to check their name against your customer database.

Whilst it's possible that someone else bought the product for them, or someone else paid when they ordered with you, it's normally a relatively easy and concrete way to check whether or not the person reviewing ever actually shopped with you.

This one does become slightly trickier if you operate on multiple online platforms, though!

What to do:

In this instance, if the review is negative, we'd recommend you reply to it. You could ask for the order number or customer name, which will enable you to either bring the reviewer's details up on your database or identify them as a non-customer.

2. Impersonal avatar?

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Another good gauge of lack of authenticity is an impersonal avatar. Whilst it's not compulsory to upload an avatar, many keen reviewers do. Failing that, Google will use a blank photo for them.

However, it's been noticed that fake reviewers seem to be fond of using an uploaded photo of a cartoon or emoji, perhaps to make the review look more personalised, without giving away their true identity.

What to do:

Whilst the appearance of a reviewer's avatar may provide additionaly evidence for reviews you already suspect may be fake, they should not be relied on. Follow some of the other steps first before making assumptions.

3. Generic comments

Although it's not clear cut, reviewers who leave feedback that could've been written by anyone are more likely to be fake than those that go into details.

Companies that pay people to review usually provide some kind of template for reviewers to use, and it's usually pretty easy to spot. They usually contain lot's of keywords, often repeating the company name multiple times, and often end with sign off such as 'thanks!'.

If the review is quite obviously a copy and paste, and really doesn't seem authentic, it probably isn't.

What to do:

If the cause for concern is a lack of detail, you can reply to the reviewer and ask for these. Prompting them to provide you with specifics about their order or experience will make it much easier to identify them as a real customer.

4. Other suspicious reviews

Another great tactic when trying to spot fake Google reviews is to look at the profile of the reviewer in question. It's possible to look at every reviewer's profile by clicking on their avatar. From here, you'll get a list of all the places they've reviewed, shown on a map.

This is extremely useful.

Why? Well, a quick glance over the reviews and location of the establishment will identify suspicious habits. If they've reviewed a plumber in one city, a carpenter across the country and a painter somewhere in between, things start to look a little fishy.

What to do:

With this information, you can contact other businesses the reviewer has left feedback for directly to find out if they have any record of the customer, before taking matters further.

5. Review timeline

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If someone is being paid to leave reviews, it's unlikely to be a career they've had for life.

People who are writing fake reviews in exchange for money usually complete a large number over a short period of time. Another quick glance over the reviewer's profile page will show you how long ago reviews have beem left. If all of the feedback given is over the space of a week, it should ring alarm bells.

After all, how many of us have room for 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 2 dinners, 3 trips to the salon and 2 hotel stays in a week? Not us, at least.

What to do:

As before, providing the reviews left are for businesses that will have customer details, you can contact them to find out if the reviewer is also missing from their records.

6. False information

If the review contains information that makes no sense to you, it could have been left for the wrong business by mistake. There are hundreds of businesses in the world, and those less confident at using the internet can easily get businesses with similar names or in similar locations mixed up.

If the review mentions products, services or even names that you don't recognise, the review has likely been misplaced.

What to do:

If the reviewer has mistakenly left your business a review, they should be very willing to remove it. Reply to the reviewer politely informing them you don't offer the services/product mentioned and ask them if they're sure they have the right business, or can provide an order number.

How to remove a fake Google review

If you have solid evidence that a review is fake, you can flag it to Google. This will alert Google to the review and get them to consider removing it. In order for a review to be flagged, it should meet Google's guidelines.

Google considers the following review characteristics to be 'inappropriate':

  • Contains offensive language or profanity.
  • Is written by someone with a conflict of interest, such as a current or previous employer, friend or competitor.
  • Is written by someone who has never experienced the service or product provided.

How to flag a fake Google review

  1. Hover over the review then click the flag symbol. If in Google Maps view, click the three dots to the right of the review, then 'flag as inappropriate'.

  2. Enter your email in the box provided and use the checkboxes to select the applicable violation type from the list.

  3. Be patient. Google can take some time to look over flagged reviews. If the process takes more than a week, you may wish to report the review to Google Small Business Support.

How to report a fake review to Google Small Business Support

If the fake review remains, you can also try contacting Google Small Business Support, who should get back to you within a couple of days. Here's how to do it:

  1. Log into your Google My Business Account using this link: https://www.google.com/business/.
  2. Go to the reviews section.
  3. Click the home menu then navigate to 'support'.
  4. Choose whether you'd like to make contact by phone or email.
  5. Next, you'll be asked to provide some information. Include a screenshot of the fake review including any research you've done as further evidence.
  6. Review the information you've provided then click 'Submit'.
  7. Wait for Google to get in touch and provide them with any further information they require.

What to do if Google doesn't remove a fake review

In some cases, there will be insufficient evidence for Google to remove a review you deem fake. In these instances, it's best not to panic, but to take matters into your own hands. Here are two helpful things to try.

  1. Reply to the review asking the reviewer to get in touch. This will open up a dialogue and - hopefully - help you to get to the bottom of the review.
  2. Collect more, positive Google reviews to outnumber the fake, negative review. You can do this by encouraging your customers to leave you a review on Google, either by email, in person or with a link from your social media. If you use a Review Platform, such as Reviews.io, you may be able to get customers sent to Google directly to leave their review. We offer this service as part of our Reputation Management.

In Summary

Once you've seen a few, fake reviews on Google are pretty easy to spot. Having said that, businesses should never accuse reviewers of being ingenuine - this could really come back to bite you. Instead, follow the guidelines above, go through the flagging process, and reply politely to negative reviews to find a solution to the problem.

Want advice about fake Google reviews? Give one our friendly team a call, or head over to our website to jump on live chat with one of our advisors and we'll be more than happy to help in any way that we can.