Your small business likely relies on customer reviews to build and promote your reputation.
After all, 97% of customers say that reviews impact their buying decisions.
But what happens when you get a negative review that is absolutely crazy?
Negative reviews are unavoidable for many small businesses. But every now and then, you might get a review that has you scratching your head.
Maybe it’s fake, or maybe it’s just outlandish.
In this article, I’ll go over the Google policy on reviews and provide examples from real businesses to help illustrate types of reviews that break the rules.
Lastly, I’ll summarize how you can report a Google review whenever your business might get whacko feedback from customers—and sometimes non-customers too!
Google’s reviews policy outlines what types of content are considered “prohibited or restricted.”
Reviews with content that falls into any of these categories violate Google’s terms and are eligible to be deleted from your Google My Business listing.
Let’s go over some types of “prohibited or restricted content” with examples of real reviews to better understand the Google review policy.
Let’s look at the types of reviews that break Google’s review policy so you can detect fake or inappropriate negative reviews of your business.
If a review contains “obscene, profane or offensive language,” Google will remove it, even if it is an otherwise legitimate review.
That means if the language is offensive, it doesn’t matter if the negative review is fake or real—it’s a violation.
Google employees use their discretion to decide what crosses the line. Often, they let mild insults slide if the vocabulary isn’t overly offensive and the rest of the review is relevant.
But if common sense tells you that certain language is indefensible, you might have a case.
In this below example, a customer reviewed a restaurant but didn’t mention anything about the food, the drinks, the service, the prices, wait times or even the interior decor.
Instead, the review is an insult to the staff and other patrons with arguably offensive language that I’ve blacked out.
According to Google, online reviews must be about actual, relevant customer experiences with the company.
Personal rants, political or social commentary and other content of that nature could be flagged for removal.
If you get a negative review that is off topic and not reflective of a customer’s genuine experience, then it might violate Google’s review policy.
In the below example, a friend or family member of a local company’s former employee wrote a negative review about the employee’s firing.
Clearly the reviewer isn’t even a customer of the company and is not leaving a review about a customer experience.
Reviews that are spammy or fake do not meet Google’s policy on reviews.
Google’s definition of spammy or fake content is any content that isn’t about a “genuine experience” with the specific company being reviewed.
Content designed to manipulate a company’s star rating is also part of this definition.
Lastly, duplicate reviews from the same customer, from either the same or different Google user accounts—even if the reviews are real—also meet this definition.
Typical examples include negative reviews about made-up experiences or which promote content that’s not about a customer experience at all. But not all examples are so obvious.
In this below example, a legitimate review was posted for the wrong company.
Technically, this review qualifies as an inflation for the other company’s star rating because it’s not about an actual experience with the company being reviewed.
Google prohibits reviews written by company owners, current employees, former employees or competitors.
And it’s irrelevant whether the reviewer attempts to hide or misrepresent their authorship.
That means competitors or former employees also can’t provide a negative rating anonymously or under an alias.
It’s within Google’s discretion on a case-by-case basis to decide who and what is a conflict of interest.
In this example, a disgruntled former employee of a local housecleaning company clearly has something to say.
Writing a negative review about a company because you had a bad employment experience doesn't count.
Google’s policy against “impersonation” boils down to whether the reviewer is speaking as someone else.
Pretending to be a customer to talk about someone else’s experience is against the rules.
Even those transparent about reviewing second- or third-hand customer experiences might still be breaching Google’s policy.
Of course, Google employees grant leeway depending on the circumstances.
For example, they likely won’t delete a review by someone writing for an elderly grandparent, especially if the grandchild was privy to the grandparent’s customer experience.
But reviews by friends or acquaintances where specific details of the customer experience are sparse or missing, as in the below example, might not cut it.
Any review of a business that attempts to promote or sell what Google calls “restricted content” is not allowed.
Restricted content “includes, but is not limited to, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, guns, health & medical devices, regulated pharmaceuticals, adult services and financial services.”
This type of content might be obvious but Google mentions it in their review policy for the sake of technicality.
Reviews that advocate illegal or terrorist activity are clear abuses of the Google review policy.
These types of reviews are like “offensive content,” mentioned above with an example.
But to prevent ambiguity, Google lists “sexually explicit content” separately in their reviews policy.
Google reviews that threaten harm, express harassment, intimidation or bullying or incite hatred are prohibited.
First off, when your business gets a negative review, try not to panic.
Nobody likes to receive negative feedback. But if the reviewer is an actual customer discussing a real experience without being offensive or spammy, their review might be valid.
And a reviewer misrepresenting specific details about their otherwise real experience isn’t necessarily against the rules. Google isn’t in the habit of ruling on a “he said vs. she said.”
In such situations, the best course of action is to reply to the review to either apologize to make things right or, if necessary, respectively and tactfully tell your side of things.
Check out our guide for tips and examples for responding to a negative review!
But what about reviews that do violate Google’s review policy?
If you get a bad review that violates the Google reviews policy, here’s how to report the Google review:
The process for reporting Google reviews is outlined in this short instructional video.
Google will follow up with you if they need more information or if they have an update.
If Google rejects your request to remove a review and you still feel it violates their policy, you have a couple of options.
First, from your Google My Business account, click on “Support” to submit a post in their Help Community or contact Google.
In a new Help Community post, publish a copy of the review and explain the circumstances.
If a Google Product Expert sees your post and agrees with you, they could escalate the situation.
Contacting Google many only work if there is new info to share or if there was a misunderstanding about your initial removal request. But it’s worth a shot as a last resort.
It’s important to get customer reviews because with positive Google reviews, you can start using reputation marketing to grow your business.
What is reputation marketing? Reputation marketing is the strategy of using reviews in your own marketing materials to grow your business.
Negative reviews will weigh down these marketing efforts. The best way to avoid bad reviews is of course to provide amazing customer experiences at every opportunity.
But when you get a completely bogus review or a negative review that looks fishy, now you know how you can flag it for removal to help keep your reputation strong.