Encore: Originally published Dec 6, 2018. Updated March 14, 2021
We’ve had lots to say already about the importance of responding to Google reviews of all kinds, while maintaining HIPAA compliance. Positive reviews should be responded to appreciatively, while negative reviews need a generalized and caring response.
But sometimes you’ll see a review posted to your Google My Business listing that makes your blood boil with the injustice. These reviews are more than negative. They are downright libelous or disingenuous, fake, or otherwise illegitimate and unfair. It’s one thing to feel like you had a negative experience. But these are another thing entirely. These reviews cross the line. Particularly, when someone is in breach of the Google Terms of Service, it’s not enough to reply. It is important to do everything you can to try and get that review removed.
Your protection against unfair and illegitimate reviews is the Google Terms of Service (TOS). Reviews that Google forbids are ones that are:
- Fake or spammy;
- Contain content which is Illegal, profane, abusive, or derogatory;
- Based on impersonation;
- Sexually explicit;
- Multiple entries from the same person, even under a different profile;
- A conflict of interest, defined as a review by the owner, by a former employee, or by a competitor.
To put it simply, if a negative review reflects the opinion of a genuine patient or customer who received services from you then it’s fair game, and you can't do much to remove it, even if you don’t like it. Even being on hold too long is likely to be considered legit. Reviews are a platform for people to share their experience with your business. However, if a review is in violation of the TOS, then you have a reasonable chance to have it removed, if you take the right steps. Google has automated systems which screen for some of this content in their reviews. However, while it’s easy to screen for sexual or profane keywords, there is no clear way to screen for reviews that may appear legitimate to an algorithm but are absolutely in violation of these terms of service. For instance those left by people who never interacted with your practice, or competitors leaving false reviews to harm your ratings on Google My Business may be hard for the algorithm to pick up, even though they are clearly in violation of Googles terms.
How Does This Affect How I Respond to Negative Google Reviews?
At EyeCarePro, we have seen the gamut of negative reviews which have crossed that line. The angry former employee—and even unsuccessful job applicants!— bad mouthing the practice. A prankster claiming to be legally blind and therefore “affronted” that the doctor “recommended glasses”. Bogus reviews left by competitors (sad but true). Even accusations of criminality that defy the limits of believability and are completely out of place on a Google review.
Here are some examples of reviews that require more than a simple response:
- Reviews clearly intended for a different business;
- A review written on behalf of someone else, e.g. “I went with my mother to the eye doctor and he really ruined her prescription. He got it all wrong. She's never coming back here again”;
- Baseless or inappropriate accusations of criminality;
- Leaving multiple negative reviews using multiple accounts;
- Nasty reviews left by angry ex-employees out for revenge
- False reviews left by unscrupulous competitors
- Prankster nonsense
We’ve put together steps you can take to properly take action against reviews like the ones on the list. Ultimately, you are likely going to have to take it up with a Google Rep. Before we get there, though, you are going to want to follow these steps in order to maximize your chances.
Flagging Bad Reviews...A Start But Usually Doesn’t Work
For a review which is blatantly and obviously in violation of the Google TOS (e.g. profane, abusive, off-topic), you can flag the review and give the reason. In the screenshot shown here, the reviewer is giving negative feedback about the doctor from when he was at a different practice. It is therefore off-topic. However, when it comes to flagging a review, you will find that the options for choosing the reason are very limited. There is no feedback from raising a flag, and no way to know if the review was reviewed or not.
In our experience with our clients, flagging almost never works. This is likely due to the fact that the review isn’t obviously illegitimate at a glance. For example, it's impossible for whoever is reviewing the flag to know if someone is a former employee or a competitor. Keep in mind that the “reviewer” is, in fact, likely just an automated algorithm and context clues don’t get picked up on.
Remember: Mistaken Reviews Do Happen
On our recent download for the Best of the Best Google Review Responses, we already showed a few great examples of how you can respond to a review intended for a different practice. Usually, this occurs because of a similar sounding name and is completely accidental on the part of the poster. Sometimes this can happen in bizarre ways, such as the poster living three states away and intending to post a review on a practice equally distant from yours.
If you think the review is a mistake, post a response. State that you think it might be a mistake and ask the poster to remove the review or get in touch with you right away to resolve it. This may or may not work to get the review removed, but it shows others that you care about feedback and gives the poster the opportunity to do the right thing. It’s your due diligence that helps your case if you need to take this further.
If The Review Seems Wrong: Do Some Digging
A little sleuthing takes just a few minutes and can provide you with the ammunition you need to declare to a Google rep that the poster is in violation of the Google Terms of Service. Click on the profile of the person who posted the review. Do they leave a lot of reviews? Or none? What kind of ratings and reviews do they give? Do they appear to live in your community or are they far away.
Here are some pointers:
- If someone has no other reviews on their profile it’s a point of suspicion, and can help back you up if you claim it’s a former employee;
- If they have reviewed dozens of eye clinics and every single review (except maybe one) is negative, it’s a fair bet that this is a competitor;
- If the reviews are largely in a completely different place, it’s evidence that the negative review you got was a mistake;
- If all the reviews left are nonsensical one-stars, it helps support your claim that this is a prankster.
Trigger a Call with Google
Once you have done your homework, it’s time for the phone call. In our experience, this is often the only way to get a pernicious review removed. If you follow this link, you can fill out a form through GoogleMyBusiness support, which triggers a call from Google.
Please note: Google frequently makes changes to this process and the link may change.
You can use this to discuss the review and argue for its removal. Usually, you will be called back within a few minutes.
We suggest you list "other" on the "Describe your Issue" question field.
Make your case as best you can. Point out odd demographic or review patterns you see to back up your claim. Articulate in no uncertain terms WHY the review is a violation of the Google Terms of Service and you’ve got a decent chance of getting the review removed. Eventually.
Again, your mileage may vary. The outcome may depend entirely on who you get on the phone. Be patient and try multiple times if necessary. The process leaves much to be desired but it often does work in the end. It's no picnic, but ugly reviews like the ones we are discussing have no place on your GMB.
Be Proactive About Reviews!
We've said it before: to protect your ranking average and drown out negative voices with positive ones, you have to proactively seek to generate new positive reviews all the time!
At EyeCarePro, we designed a convenient app for our clients, which sends a text to your patients and asks them to follow the link to your practice’s Google listing, leading them right to the place to leave a review. Having them do that on the spot, while still in the office, vastly improves the follow through, helping our practices quickly get more reviews and more new patients.
Fill out the form on the right and schedule a demo of our Google Review App!