How small businesses can recover from fake bad reviews

By Jonas Sickler

Small business owners wear a lot of hats. It’s easy to overlook things like online reviews when you’re focused on payroll, billing, order fulfillment, advertising and generally running your business. After all, how much harm can one bad review do to your reputation, right?

Unfortunately negative reviews are actually more damaging than you may think — and could even put you into crisis management mode. More consumers are reading (and trusting) online reviews than ever before. In fact, just one highly visible poor review can cause a 22% drop in revenue for small businesses – which certainly qualifies as a crisis by definition.

Fortunately, there are ways you can sniff out a false complaint and take action before it’s too late.

[amazon_link asins=’B01MSXU56L’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’24d3c14a-e1ce-11e8-9f0c-81ee02d0c9c0′]Finding fake reviews

If the review was written on a social network like Facebook, check out their friends list to verify if they’re connected with your competition. You should also read their other reviews to see if they’ve been bashing others in your industry while lavishing praise on one specific competitor. Do these reviews seem a little too good to be true? If so, you may have found the culprit.

You can also spot fakes by looking for an extensive negative review that doesn’t match your sales database. Perhaps the individual lives in a state that you’ve never shipped to, or claimed to have ordered several items that you haven’t recently sold together. One final red flag might be if a customer recommends a competitor after criticizing you.

However, be careful not to jump to conclusions. If the customer is listed in your recent transactions, or they name employees specifically in their complaints, you’re probably dealing with a legitimate customer. In this case, lashing out can cause more damage than the original review.

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Once you’re certain that you’re dealing with a fake review, the next step is to respond appropriately. You should clarify to readers that the complaint is fabricated, but do so by providing facts. The more evidence and detail you share, the more likely readers will side with you.

After responding, you’ll need to take a few extra steps when dealing with a competitor.

Inform the Better Business Bureau of your competitor’s shady actions. You may also want to contact the local Chamber of Commerce or a regulatory authorities depending upon your industry.

Contact the business owner directly to let them know you won’t let them damage your reputation. Explain the actions you’ve taken, and include a simple, polite request that they stop the practice immediately. If the problem persists, it may be a good idea to consult a lawyer to see if these reviews fall under the definition of online defamation.

In some cases, it may not be possible to remove fake bad reviews from Google, and your only course of action is to push them down with authentic positive ones. A good rule of thumb is to earn 10 positive reviews for each negative one.

[amazon_link asins=’B06XJ9MZVQ’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4707dc32-e1ce-11e8-881b-9184ba58c479′]How to earn positive reviews

Make sure your customers know that you appreciate great reviews, and where to find you online. Use flyers, business cards, and printouts to make it easy for customers to review your business. Try adding notes on purchase receipts and invoices that prompt customers to provide feedback, and maybe offer a discount for doing so—just make sure the incentive applies to all reviews, not just positive ones.

Once you’ve received a few positive reviews, display them in your store and on your website to show off your customer love, and encourage more compliments.

What else can you do?

Don’t let fake negative reviews ruin your business’s good reputation. Follow this advice to stay on top of what others are saying about you.

-Monitor for fake reviews: You can’t stop fake reviews if you don’t know they exist. Set up Google alerts (which are free), and regularly check in with review sites to make sure you’re responding appropriately.

-Attempt to remove false complaints: Many review websites have policies that will allow you to remove fake reviews as long as you can back up your claim.

-Respond to the review: If removal is not an option, you should definitely defend your business (professionally). Avoid being argumentative or engaging with the reviewer in a negative way, as this will reflect poorly on you. Instead, explain that you have no record of working with the reviewer and encourage them to contact you directly to resolve whatever troubling situation they have.

-Develop a strong reputation that can’t be shaken: Businesses with a long history of great reviews and other positive press will continue to stand out as trustworthy, and customers can typically see straight through fake reviews if 95% of your other ones are praiseworthy.

Fake negative reviews can certainly damage your online reputation. However, if you’re able to cast doubt on their validity, your customers may overlook them—especially if you’ve built a trusted business based on customer satisfaction.


Jonas Sickler is an expert in crisis communications and online reputation management. He has written countless columns to help businesses recover from crises and repair their online images. You can find him on Twitter @JonasSickler

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