Review bombing on Google Maps: Protect your business

A business’s online reputation can influence its bottom line, and one of the most important determinants of online reputation is Google reviews. Since so many purchases begin with a Google search, it’s in every business’s best interest to have a Google Business Profile and to encourage customers to leave reviews. However, a review bomb on Google Maps can dramatically and rapidly impact how a business profile looks to customers.

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Review bombing can generate a large number of negative reviews so that these appear at the top of a business’s Google profile. If the review bomb is significant enough, it can even drag down their average star rating.

Google maps review bombs happen, so it’s important for businesses and marketing agencies to understand what steps can be taken to prevent them. That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this article.

What is review bombing?

Review bombing is a technique that can be used by a person or group of people to inundate rating sites, in this case, Google Maps, with negative reviews. The purpose is to lower the overall ratings of a business and damage its online reputation.

The reviews that are produced by Google review bombing are often deliberately false or misleading to consumers. They can be written by disgruntled employees, upset customers, or even competitors seeking to sink their competition in an unethical way. Often, review bombers may not even have direct experience with the business they are review bombing. They may be acting based on third-party information or participating in an online pile-on, for example.

There are a few characteristics that review bombs tend to share in common:

  • They usually occur over a brief period of time, such as a day or two
  • They are typically negative
  • They are made by people who aren’t verified customers

Since Google Maps review bombs are the product of insincere actors who are setting out to deliberately damage a business’s reputation, they are in violation of Google’s terms and conditions. However, just because they aren’t allowed doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally slip through the algorithm’s filters. When they do, they can present a real problem for the business that has to deal with the pile of negative, misleading reviews.

What are the risks of a review bomb?

There’s no escaping the reality that Google reviews play a role in shaping consumer perceptions and influencing their buying decisions. A Google Maps review bomb can dramatically hurt a business's Google ratings, which will hurt customer perceptions regardless of whether the reviews are true.

Online reputation doesn’t exist in a vacuum: It ultimately influences a prospect’s decision to buy. A review attack can impact a business’s bottom line over the period of time during which the reviews are visible.

What can you do if you experience Google review bombing?

Unfortunately, no business is completely immune from review bombing. There will always be bad actors out there who may want to use malicious tactics to hurt your clients.

However, this doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Follow these steps to manage the situation if you find yourself, or your clients, on the receiving end of an attack.

Check if the reviews are meant for your business

Given that many businesses have similar names, it is possible for a review bomb to take place that isn’t even meant for the business being attacked. For example, if a review bomb is a result of trolls being upset with someone who works at Tito’s Hairstyling, they may have the location or name of the business wrong. They may target Titan’s Hairstyling, for example. Reading through the reviews and looking for patterns is usually enough for most business owners to confirm whether the review bombing is meant for their business or not.

This information will be helpful later if you have to make a case with Google.

Identify the cause of the review bomb

If you have determined that the attacks are indeed meant for your business, try to figure out what the possible cause is. Sometimes, this won’t be obvious, but in other cases, business owners or marketers may be able to spot clues that hint at which individual or group may be behind a review bombing attack.

For example, businesses may be able to identify complaints that suggest a disgruntled former employee or an unethical competitor may have initiated the attack. In the case of review bombs that are the product of a public pile-on, reviewers may even state their purpose in the body of the review.

Make a statement

While it can take some time to deal with a review bomb, in some cases it can be beneficial to issue a public statement explaining what the business is experiencing. This can provide some help and context for customers who are concerned about the wave of negative reviews. This can be written directly in Google Business Profile where Maps users are more likely to see it.

This step isn’t an absolute must, but some businesses may like the opportunity to have some control over the narrative.

Gather intel

In order to explain the situation to Google, it helps to gather as many facts about the Google Maps review bomb episode as possible. This can help bolster the case that it is in fact a review bomb and not just a regular instance of several bad reviews coming in at once.

So, what kind of information should you collect to prove your case?

Take note of when exactly the review bomb started. Assess which reviews are likely to be part of the Google review bombing attack and roughly how many there are in total. Note anything the reviews have in common, such as the language or nature of the complaint. Finally, note when the last review came in (if the episode looks like it has ended).

Flag the offending reviews

If you’re on the receiving end of a Google review bombing, you likely won’t start by contacting Google’s customer support. Instead, you should go through and flag the reviews that appear to be part of the attack.

Unfortunately, there is no way currently to mass-dispute Google reviews. This means that you have to go through the potentially painstaking process of flagging them one by one. If you have multiple people working on this, the process can go faster.

Contact Google

Using Google’s support form, you can get in touch with the platform and report your issue. You may first be prompted to flag individual reviews that you are concerned about, which you already started doing in the previous step. Eventually, you should be able to connect with a Google support staff person via email or phone.

By this stage, you may even find that the reviews you started flagging have already been removed. They may not all be reviewed at once, so keep checking to see if progress is being made on your account.

Respond to reviews

Another way to address review bombing is to respond to the reviews that you’re concerned about, indicating your belief that they are fake. Doing this can help a business’s online reputation, since prospective customers who see the negative review bomb will have some indication that the reviews may, in fact, not be genuine.

Use this review bomb response template.

Hi [Name],

We have no record of your name in our customer database, and it looks like this account was recently created just to leave this review. If we are mistaken, please get in touch so we can help you with [concern].

Thank you

[Business Name] Team

Focus on building positive reviews

When a business experiences a Google review bombing, it’s easy to lose sight of other important reputation management tasks and to get consumed by the attack at hand. However, business owners should keep working on getting more authentic, positive reviews even during a review bomb. This means continuing to use review management tools like Vendasta’s Customer Voice to generate more reviews from customers, and monitoring reviews on different platforms to ensure all are seen and get a response.

What does Google do about review bombs?

It’s worth noting that many review bombs never actually see the light of day, thanks to Google’s AI-powered moderation systems. These can identify the characteristics of a review bomb and remove those reviews before they even go live.

In addition to Google’s machine learning tools, they also have a team of real people evaluating those reviews that you flagged, ensuring that anything that is missed by AI can still be dealt with appropriately.

Google can remove the reviews that are the result of review bombing and suspend any accounts engaged in review bombs.

Frequently asked questions

What is an example of review bomb?

An example of a review bomb is a competitor creating a large number of fake accounts to leave negative reviews on a business’s Google Business Profile in hopes that they’ll be able to damage their online reputation.

Is review-bombing legal?

Review-bombing can lead to legal action being taken against the perpetrator depending on the situation and jurisdiction. For example, review bombing could potentially constitute libel.

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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