Are Google Reviews Reliable?

Reviews are incredibly important to businesses. They help to provide feedback to the company so they know where they excel or where they can improve as well as offering customers the chance to tell other potential customers about their experience.

Sadly, over time, businesses have found instances where they have been given fake reviews. This can have a detrimental effect on businesses, particularly smaller businesses who not only rely on reviews but sometimes have an emotional connection with any feedback they receive.

This begs the question, are Google reviews reliable?

Removing Old Google Reviews - Google Branding
Source: Old Google Reviews branding

Why are there fake Google reviews?

The truth is, there isn’t just one reason why fake reviews exist. Some reasons for these fake reviews include:

Competitors: Sometimes, fake reviews are written by competitors looking to discredit work by others. This is an unfortunate example of bad marketing which says a lot about their integrity and ways of working.

Internal reviews: It’s not completely unknown that there are some companies that will set up multiple Google accounts to leave themselves 5 star reviews to make them look better. There are also some instances where they have asked friends and family to leave reviews too. Again, this is unreliable information as these are biased and often not based on real experiences.

Local guide option gone rogue: A number years ago, Google unveiled ‘Local Guides’. This is where Google award points to people who interact with local Google My Business profiles. Points are awarded for reviews, answering questions about a place, uploading photos, responding to Q&As and a number of other things. These points can then be rewarded with cinema tickets and other perks from Google. The sad fact is that anything that can be used for personal gain often gets overused and abused. With this, there has been a sharp increase in fake reviews left by people looking to increase their points.

There are a number of other reasons as to why people leave bad reviews, such as a friend or family member having a bad experience and encouraging others to leave bad reviews or people who simply don’t like an upgrade or change to products that they haven’t bought yet.

How to spot fake reviews

Some fake Google reviews are more obvious than others, however, here are some ways to spot the fake reviews:

  1. Fake names: Names that sound obviously fake can be a good place to start. Whilst it’s not 100% reliable as there are some surprising names out there, it’s certainly a hint. For example, if you have a review from Homer Simpson and the information in the review just isn’t adding up, it could well be phony.
  2. Impersonal avatar: This is a little harder to judge by as there aren’t a huge number of people using an avatar (or profile picture) on Google. This is certainly one to look out for on other platforms such as Facebook. With fake reviews, it’s less likely that someone will take the time to upload a fake avatar too.
  3. The information just isn’t adding up: If you’ve checked through your database to find John Smith who’s left you a review and you just cannot find him, this could be because it’s not a real review.
  4. Incorrect information: If what the “customer” is saying doesn’t really make sense, there is always a chance that they meant to leave the review for someone else. They could also have simply made it all up.
  5. Vague information: Fake reviews often come with lack of further information or evidence. The review is purposely kept vague simply because they just don’t know the ins and outs of the business.

How to respond to fake Google reviews

If you’ve received a fake Google review, the first thing you ought to do is respond to it. It’s the opportunity to reassure other potential customers as well as providing answers to the points or complaints raised.

It can be tempting to hurl a number of rude sentences at these people, but please, avoid this at all costs. It can make you sound unapproachable as a business and unprofessional. Instead, be polite and courteous and explain that you do not believe this to be a real review. Try something like this:

“Thank you for your review. We appreciate the opportunity to learn more about how we can improve. Unfortunately, upon checking our database, we have not been able to find any matching customer details for you. We would like to find out more and how we can make things right for you. Please contact our customer service on [insert phone number or email address]”

This gives the customer the opportunity to provide more information if it is a genuine complaint as well as you the chance to put things right. It also shows others that you take reviews seriously.

How to remove fake Google reviews

You’ve received a fake review, you’ve replied to it, now what?  The next step is to flag it to Google. To do this, you will need to do the following:

  1. Go to Google My Business
  2. Find the reviews section
  3. On the review, click on the 3 dots on the right hand side and ‘flag as inappropriate’

You should then hear back after 2 working days. In some cases, you may be asked for more information, although this is rare.

Unfortunately, this does not guarantee the removal of a review – but it’s still worth doing.

What should Google be doing?

Many business owners and marketers have argued that Google is not doing enough to banish fake or unreliable reviews. With that in mind, there are a number of suggestions that have been voiced that may help Google improve the user experience such as:

  • Providing a verification option. For example, Amazon reviews will state if the user has purchased the item. Although this could be seen as a bad comparison given that Amazon started suing fake reviewers.
  • Requiring more identifiable information.

Should we rely on Google Reviews?

Ultimately, Google reviews are great for getting an overview of a company. It provides an indicative idea about the way they operate and what they do. However, with the number of fake reviews out there, it’s worthwhile remembering that Google reviews do not guarantee you will have the same experience should you use the company you are reading the reviews of.

As a business owner, it is still worthwhile working on building up the good reviews and thus your company’s reputation, to show the positive service or products you provide. In the case of bad reviews, ensure you reply to them politely  – fake or not.

As with many things on the internet, give it some thought before taking someone else’s opinion as gospel.

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