Recently two of our clients have been given multiple one star reviews from user accounts whose sole purpose is to down-vote competitors while giving glowing reviews to one company in particular. While I think that consumers can recognize that a one star review with no comment is probably junk, search engines add them to the overall mix that can affect a site’s position since reviews are used as a ranking factor. If you have been the target of a down-voting campaign, here are some suggestions for finding and removing baseless reviews.
The first step is to actively monitor your profile on sites where users can submit reviews. This seems pretty simple, but many businesses often discover poor reviews weeks after they are published. It only takes a few minutes to visit various review properties and if you claim your business, you can often get notifications when new reviews are posted.
The second step is determining if it was an actual review or a down-voting campaign. When someone leaves a one-star review, look at the level of detail in the review and the reviewer’s history. If someone has a legitimate complaint against your company, they won’t be shy to alert consumers about what happened, and in many instances, small business owners can probably remember that particular customer or incident.
A fake review will leave a sentence or less, and most of the time, if someone is in a hurry to down vote as many sites as possible, they just leave one star and move on. This is where you check the reviewer’s history to see what else they have reviewed and whether you can find a pattern. In the following picture we have reviews of law firms in Austin by a single Google user and you can see a clear pattern emerge in this user’s behavior:
This is pretty cut and dry. The user has left a five-star review for one firm and one star reviews for competing firms, and all of these reviews were posted on the same day, April 11. We can’t make allegations about who is behind this, because it could be an over zealous client, a friend/relative, a black hat SEO company etc … but it might be a good idea to have a conversation with someone at the firm who received the 5-star review to see if they can shed any light on the issue.
Last month we had the same problem with a medical practice, and when confronted they discovered an associate had been leaving negative feedback about competitors without their knowledge. In that example, the reviews were removed rather quickly after the account was deleted. This situation, however, is an exception, because few companies will admit to this activity because of the possible legal consequences. While there aren’t any cases that I know of, one could potentially sue over a down-voting campaign, claiming that the reviews hurt their ability to do business.
For Google reviews, mark these reviews as unhelpful and then flag them as inappropriate. When you flag a review, you can include an explanation which is where you can ask them to look at the reviewer’s history, the review dates, and that they didn’t actually write a review. For other review services, they have their own mechanisms for dealing with poor reviews, and we strongly recommend businesses claim their listing on sites like Yelp, Citysearch, etc. so that they have better control over responding and notifying services of suspicious reviews.
The bottom line is that this is toxic behavior that encourages affected firms to retaliate by leaving poor reviews, and ultimately this is mutually assured destruction. Furthermore it takes away the ability of the consumer to get the best picture of a company’s activity and could have unintended legal consequences.