| Jan 30, 2023 | | 12 min read

How to spot and remove fake Google reviews with ease


The power of reviews is tough to deny. Almost 95 percent of customers say they read reviews before making a buying decision (Globe Newswire). Many say they’ll read up to 10 reviews before deciding whether to buy. Forty-three percent want to see 100 or more reviews before they believe a product is trustworthy (Search Engine Journal). It’s clear that reviews matter, and it’s little wonder that people are tempted to buy fake Google reviews.

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You and your agency team may even have thought about it at times. It can be tough to get customers to leave reviews, even though reviews are such a powerful tool. Yet, buying reviews is one of the worst steps you can take for your clients.

Why do reviews matter so much that people are willing to take the risks that come with fake Google reviews? What consequences will your clients face if you buy or post fake reviews? Finally, how can you remove a fake Google review for your clients?

This comprehensive guide has all the answers you’re looking for. Plus, it offers some ideas about what you can do instead.

Can Google detect fake reviews?

Yes, Google developed automated systems that are designed to detect and remove fake reviews. These systems use a variety of signals, including patterns of behavior and other irregularities, to identify and remove reviews that violate Google's policies.

However, it's important to note that these systems are not perfect and some fake reviews may still slip through. While some fake reviews manage to bypass Google's system, most customers can spot fake reviews and easily flag them.

Why do reviews matter so much for your clients?

To understand why some people feel they need to buy fake Google reviews, you only need to look at review statistics. We already noted most people look at several reviews before making a buying decision.

It’s no secret that reviews can and do boost sales. They also improve customer confidence and trust in your clients’ brands.

Quantity and quality of reviews both matter to customers. Positive reviews convince people to buy. Negative reviews make them less likely to buy. Most customers also expressed that there was a threshold where a business became more trustworthy. Average rating and number of reviews both play into customer trust levels.

Customers are also picky about how fresh reviews are. In one study, customers felt reviews older than three months were no longer relevant. Forty percent of customers said reviews older than a few weeks weren’t relevant any longer (Search Engine Land).

The long and short of all this is your clients need quite a few reviews. They also need to be getting positive reviews on a regular basis.

Reviews boost SEO

Reviews also help SEO efforts. If you’re implementing SEO for your clients, then reviews are important to you in this way as well.

SEO results take into account social proof, which includes reviews. Number of reviews, average star rating, and the age of reviews are all weighed as part of social proof. The more positive reviews your client has, the bigger the boost to their SEO results. Reviews and ratings can also impact visibility on Google Maps, in the local 3-pack, and more.

Why do businesses buy fake Google reviews?

It’s not hard to see that reviews can make a difference to local businesses. This is especially true if they’re just starting out. Business owners need a steady stream of positive reviews to increase visibility and trust.

If they don’t have enough reviews online, it might be tough to win over new clients. Fake reviews can seem like a quick fix.

With Google reviews “fake it ‘til you make it” doesn’t work

It can be tempting to buy reviews, but on Google reviews, fake ones almost never work out for the business posting them. Even if they do slip by Google’s spam detectors, false reviews don't make it past customers. Individuals can flag reviews they think are fake.

Using fake reviews also has a range of negative consequences, which we’ll go over next.

Consequences of fake Google reviews

Google takes the use of false reviews seriously. As a result, your clients will face consequences if they use false reviews. These include:

  1. Removal of the fake Google reviews
  2. Suspension of Google Business Profile

There are two ways Google will remove fake reviews. The first is through its own spam detection filters. Google uses these to weed out overly positive reviews, which are likely to be fake. Other platforms, like Apple and Amazon, have similar detection systems.

Customers are often even more discerning than Google's spam filters. Most customers are already skeptical of reviews. If they see a business with nothing but 5-star ratings or positive reviews, they’re likely to suspect the reviews are fake.

What percentage of Google reviews are fake? Some estimates say over 30 percent of online reviews are fake (PR Newswire). That means customers are often right, and plenty of Google reviews are fake.

Users can flag and report reviews they suspect are false. Google will then look at the reports and determine whether the review needs to be removed.

What happens if the client’s Google Business Profile is suspended?

Google says they will suspend profiles that violate their guidelines about how to represent the business. Specifically, the Google guidelines ban fraudulent and illegal activities (Google).

To have a profile reinstated, you must submit a reinstatement form (Google). Before you do that, you’ll need to ensure the profile follows the guidelines. If Google suspends your client's profile over fake reviews, removing them is the first step to getting the profile reinstated.

What happens if Google denies the reinstatement request? Google will allow you to appeal their decision. Before you do that, make sure you’ve brought the profile back in line with the guidelines by removing fake reviews.

Are fake Google reviews illegal?

Google says they will suspend profiles over “fraudulent and illegal activity.” Since profiles can also be suspended over false reviews, you might ask, “Are fake Google reviews illegal?”

The short answer is yes. In the US, fake reviews are against the Federal Trade Commission’s advertising policies. The FTC considers this a form of misleading customers. Fake reviews violate its “truth in advertising” policies.

The FTC has successfully pursued legal action against businesses using fake reviews. In 2022, the FTC reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with a fashion brand. The FTC alleged the company had been falsifying star ratings of its products on its website (FTC). Earlier, in 2019, the FTC brought a suit against a weight-loss supplement company. They alleged that the company paid for fake reviews on Amazon. The case was later settled out of court (Ars Technica).

How to spot fake reviews

As noted, customers are pretty good at spotting fake reviews. If you’re worried that some of your clients have fake reviews, you can use some of these tips to identify them (CNBC):

  1. Check out the reviewer. Fake reviewers often create new accounts to leave a single review. If an account has left the same review for many products, it’s probably fake.
  2. Look for “red flags” in the writing. Fake reviews tend to be short, hastily written, and vague.
  3. Check for a burst of reviews in a short span of time. Your client might have started a new strategy for getting reviews or run a contest. They might also have bought the reviews.

In most cases, Google will remove fake reviews or users will flag them. You shouldn't need to do much cleanup for your clients, unless the campaign was a very recent one.

Removing false Google reviews

Since reviews are powerful tools, businesses sometimes buy fake negative reviews. Instead of bumping up their own star rating, they drag competitors down by spamming them with bad reviews.

You can use the same indicators to spot fake negative reviews. If a competitor is trying to damage your client’s rating, you’ll likely see the same sorts of issues:

  • A flurry of reviews in a short window of time
  • Short, poorly written reviews that are light on details
  • Reviewers who copy-and-paste their reviews or have only posted one review

The good news is you can get fake reviews, both negative and positive, removed. Go through and flag the reviews you suspect are false. Google will review them and, if they agree, remove them.

Remove a fake Google review with caution

Removing false Google reviews is a good idea. If the reviews you’re removing are positive, then you can usually proceed without much worry. Simply flag the review and have Google check it.

Removing false Google reviews that are negative is a little bit harder. You’ll want to proceed with caution here. One of the companies the FTC sued was accused of suppressing negative reviews.

If you flag all the negative reviews on your client’s Google Business Profile, chances are Google will ignore you. Even if you did succeed in getting them all removed, you might run afoul of the FTC’s policy about suppressing negative reviews.

You can still dispute and try to remove a fake Google review, even if it’s negative. Just be sure to flag only negative reviews you suspect of being fake.

Why do fake negative reviews get through?

If Google has spam filters to detect fake reviews, you might wonder why bad reviews stay up longer than good ones.

Generally, spam detection systems look for fake positive reviews. The systems are built on the idea that it’s more likely for a business to try and boost its own rating with fake reviews. It's less likely that other people will spend time and money trying to drag a business down.

Of course, the latter situation can and does happen. It is still less common than a company buying fake positive reviews for itself. As such, the spam filtering system is less likely to catch fake negative reviews.

The good news is that most of your clients are unlikely to experience “review bombing” campaigns. Most of their negative reviews are probably real ones. Even better news? There are several constructive ways to deal with negative reviews.

What to do instead of buying fake Google reviews

By now, you should realize that buying fake reviews for clients is one of the worst strategies to adopt. That doesn’t change the fact you need to get your clients a steady stream of positive reviews.

What can you do?

Give one (or more) of these strategies a whirl to boost SEO, get more Google reviews, and build more trust between your clients and their customers.

Use the “ask and you shall receive” principle

Sometimes, the reason it’s tough to get reviews is that you’re not asking for them. An email, a text message, or a post on Facebook might be all it takes to nudge happy customers into reviewing.

There are plenty of review request methods out there. They include follow-up emails, texting, and even asking in person, on the phone, or in a video call.

You can also find templates to help structure your ask. The following principles make it more likely a customer will fulfill your request:

  • Keep it simple by providing a review template
  • Explain why reviews are important to your client and other customers
  • Follow up, but don’t spam
  • Ask at the right time

Service providers can ask as soon as they've delivered the service. For companies selling products, wait one to two weeks. This gives the customer a chance to test out the product.

Try a social media or direct mailing campaign

If you want to get more reviews for your clients, consider undertaking a review campaign. This might mean posting to various social media platforms. It could even mean sending out postcards with handwritten notes to ask customers for a review.

Run a contest or offer an incentive

Sometimes, all customers need is the right incentive to take up the initiative and post a review. Running a contest or creating another incentive can provide that motivation.

Remember that Google’s guidelines say any kind of promotion or contest must have its terms and conditions clearly linked. Also bear in mind that the FTC might consider some “incentives” as payment for reviews.

This is why contests, such as monthly draws for a gift card or another prize, work so well. If you simply give the customer a gift card, the FTC considers that a form of “payment” for the review. With the monthly contest, you’re offering an entry in a draw for a chance to win. The prize (payment) isn’t guaranteed.

Respond to reviews

Another step you can take is responding to reviews on your clients’ behalf.

Responding to reviews actually has some of the same benefits that getting new reviews does.

Responding to reviews, for example, can improve SEO and impact the client’s visibility. Remember that reviews are part of “social proof.” If the client engages with their customers, that’s also noteworthy for search engine algorithms.

More than that, responding to reviews has a positive impact on your client’s reputation. Customers have more positive opinions about businesses that reply to reviews.

That makes some degree of sense. If you spent time reviewing only for the business to ignore you, you might feel as though they didn’t care much about their customers.

This is especially important when it comes to negative reviews. Studies show that responding to negative reviews impacts customer opinions of a business. Around 45 percent of customers say that their opinion of the business improves (Oberlo).

Responding to a negative review also gives you a chance to make things right for the customer. If they’re satisfied with the resolution, they might even change their rating.

Get a helping hand with review management

If asking for reviews and responding to them on behalf of your clients sounds like it could be a full-time job, that’s because it is.

You can stay on top of these tasks with the right supports in place. Technological tools make it easier to send out those review requests. Some review management platforms can help you automate requests and follow ups.

Monitoring reviews and managing responses is another time-intensive task. Again, technology can help you keep any eye on reviews as they roll in. A review management platform can also keep track of when you need to respond and follow up. The right platform can even help you get more customer feedback.

If managing review responses seems like the most challenging task, then it could be time to enlist the help of a team. Reputation management experts can help you respond to your clients’ reviews in a timely manner to increase customer satisfaction—and client visibility.

Summing up: Real reviews win over fake Google reviews

The pressure to have a steady stream of good reviews rolling in for your clients can be intense. Fake reviews can seem like a “quick fix,” but they have some severe consequences. Using them could end with a profile suspension or a lawsuit from the FTC. It’s best to steer clear and engage with real customers to get real reviews.

About the Author

Solange Messier is the Content Strategy Manager at Vendasta. Solange has spent the majority of her career in content marketing helping companies improve how they connect with their prospects and customers. Her diverse background includes magazine publishing, book publishing, marketing agencies, payment processing, and tech. When she's not working, Solange can be found spending time with her family, running, and volunteering.

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