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Can a Business Owner Delete Bad Yelp and Google Reviews?

If you are a business owner or simply care about what your customer’s are saying about your brand online, you have probably come to the realization by now that online review sites can (and will) make a dent on your revenue if left unchecked. With the upcoming release of “Billion Dollar Bully” the Kickstarter-funded documentary about Yelp’s questionable business practices, people may be wondering why there is any problem for business owners at all, and how much of an impact customer reviews generate online.

“Some studies show that a half-star increase in online ratings may mean up to 19 percent increased reservations for restaurants.”

Other service-oriented businesses, such as dry cleaners, plumbers, electricians, carpet cleaning companies, and others experience similar changes in customer engagement as their online business reputation rises or drops. When a business receives a bad review on a website such as Yelp, the very first question that arises is usually, “Can I delete a Yelp review?

The answer is… yes, sometimes. Most likely, no. There are some cases that warrant a review removing request, such as profanity or a clear-cut case of maliciousness by a competitor. Yelp and the other major review websites have actively been working to improve their standards, after a Harvard Business School study found that nearly 16% of Yelp reviews are fake. Undeterred, customers are relying on online reviews more than ever, and a recent study has found up to 68% of people use online reviews regularly. Of those 68 percent, 93% are likely to make a purchase decision based on the customer feedback they found in the process.

Online Reviews are protected under the First Amendment

More important than ever in the ever-changing era of digital communication, Freedom of Speech can be a double edge sword. We guarantee everyone a voice, but sometimes it is not in the best interest of a capitalist endeavor to showcase an opposing point of view. But this is the truest case of the First Amendment, as common as sharing with your community an experience at a restaurant, doctor, or bank. Because of the human nature of customer voice, not all online reviews can be counted as reliable. The United States Government has ruled that reviews that are strictly opinion or hyperbole are protected by the First Amendment, but unsupported comments based on facts can be considered libelous.

A good example is calling a restaurant’s bathroom “dirty” or “disgusting,” which would be considered opinion. But an online review saying the restaurant is breaking health codes or lacking licensure is patently false, and can be pushed to deletion by the business owner.

As a business owner or marketing manager for a business, you might feel inclined to contest the validity of an online review. If you feel the review is false or not reflective of your business, you may feel inclined to contact the website displaying the negative review and request a removal. However, before you pull the trigger and submit a ticket to review websites such as Yelp or Google, it is important that you consider other avenues to handle the negative review. The fact is, unless the review is profane and you can prove with very strong evidence that it is false, the negative review is likely to remain published.

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Many businesses have gone as far as taking legal measures to have reviews removed due to libelous content. Some of these cases have gone as far as the Supreme Court, only to be dismissed, providing reviewers and review websites significant protection under Freedom of Speech.

Instances when you can control, alter, or delete your online reviews can be confusing, so we put together a handy guide (with flowchart!) to help

What about removing a review that is both bad and false?

In the case of reviews that are patently false, you may have a little bit more leeway to have it removed from your online profile on review websites. Both Google and Yelp offer the option to flag reviews and include an explanation to support the flagging action. Valid reasons to flag a review as false or even malicious include the following:

Conflict of interest: If you suspect someone was paid or wrote a false negative review to damage your business, you may escalate using a flag. Provide as much evidence as possible, particularly if it has become a spam-like pattern aimed at drowning your business with a highly negative reputation.

Sexually explicit, offensive or racist or hate speech: If the review contains verbiage that could be construed as hate speech, or is sexually explicit, you may be able to have it removed via a flag. An example would be a review that negatively highlights the ethnicity of the business owner, or employees of a business, with the intent of damaging their business reputation. If the review contains any language that is negative or seeks to degrade an individual or group of individuals based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, you may flag the review for removal.

Reviews with illegal content, pointing to illegal activities, or with illegal links: If your business receives a malicious review aimed at promoting anything that is illegal, you may request a flag. For example, someone might indicate that illegal substances may be obtained at your establishment. This would qualify both as false and as promoting illegal activities, and it can be flagged.

Previous examples aside, there are very few instances that allow for the removal of a negative review. The best way to handle a negative review is to become well versed in proper review responses and customer-centric reputation management. If a negative review receives a kind, caring, and resolution-oriented response, it may well turn the tables and result in a customer that is willing to give you another chance. A well-drafted response to a negative review is valuable beyond customer retention; it also serves to persuade potential customers to give you a try.

When a review is patently false, malicious, or hateful, move forward with a removal request. On the other hand, if a review is negative, and perhaps includes inflated and angry commentary, do not remove it. Respond, engage, and work with your customer toward a happy resolution.

Responding to all your online reviews can be a time-suck. There are professional services out there who specialize in this type of work, so we’ve put together a list of the best reputation management companies out there. 

In addition to responding to negative reviews, work on securing a high volume of positive reviews. Review velocity will result in drowning the negative reviews by positioning the bulk of your positive reviews in more prominent locations when sorted chronologically or by popularity.
Review removal is just one way to manage and grow your online reputation.

Effective and smart business owners use the whole gamut of review management tools and techniques at their disposal to ensure top rankings on Yelp, Google, and other major review websites.

What techniques do you use? Let us know in the comments below!

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Crystal Shuller

Crystal is the Director of Customer Happiness for ReviewTrackers. She's known around the office for E-mails that make everyone smile, and she has a bag of tricks and tips to help businesses solve their problems and delight their customers.

Discussion

  1. Jenna D

    They’ve gotten a lot better about letting you contest bad reviews. I’ve heard several stories about businesses that were able to prove that reviews were from fake customers and Yelp removed the review.

    Reply
  2. w3Police

    Nice post and it’s almost impossible to remove a negative review once it’s got live and also some times responding to negative reviews proves lethal as it paves way for destructive thread where more negative comments get lined in. So before you start responding to negative reviews, take your time and planned well.

    Reply
  3. Partyplus

    We had a costumer write some bad reviews about us on google that was not true!We do not appreciate the negative comments we would like to see if google could remove the reviews!Please help I have talked to several people at google and e-mailed also and have not had any success yet…Please direct me to the right person…Thanks

    Reply
    • socialanim00

      I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there is a really low chance to delete that kind of review. Even if you consider it false and it is false, it is still someone’s subjective opinion of your business and that is what reviews are about. Your best bet would be to gather more positive reviews to push down the negative one out of sight.

      Reply
    • Fiona Wong

      You’ve got a negative review on Google?! There may be a possibility to convince them to remove it if you manage to prove that the person who left the comment was just a spammer and that the review was a fake. Otherwise, you can forget it.

      After all, users’ reviews are subjective and quite legitimate as such.

      Reply
    • Jay Bird

      It is unfortunate that someone would do that, but if Google let you delete the bad reviews then all business owners would delete bad reviews that are true to make their business look good and that would delete the purpose of reviews

      Reply
  4. Marnie Sho

    How come those review sites don’t have stuff who would brows through comments and delete sexual, offensive and similar reviews?

    Reply
  5. spameater

    Removing a review should not be an agenda, rather a good response from the businesses can help. A bad review is always good – let may fake or real. And its a subjective call again, to respond the review and shut the comment (if it looks so obvious a fake).

    Reply
  6. Brian Siu

    review with or without flag is already read so I always wish to remove bad comment so nobody else will read that

    Reply
  7. Arnoldi

    I don’t like when my comment is removed. They wanted my opinion so I said what I wanted.

    Reply
  8. Curtis Q

    We, like many businesses have countless great reviews on Yelp that have been flagged as “Not recommended” by Yelp’s algorithms. Almost all are from users who have many reviews of other businesses and full vibrant profiles. Yet, several 1 star reviews remain on our page even though the user has no picture, has never rated any other businesses and has absolutely noting on their profile. Whenever we receive a 1star review on Yelp that we know is not legitimate which is most, we respond in the same way. Something to the effect of;

    This
    is a fraudulent review from a competitor. We’ve reached out to
    Yelp about these on several occasions. Their generic email reply indicates
    there is not actually anyone at the wheel at Yelp. What anyone will
    notice about any of these reviews is that the reviewers have never
    reviewed any other businesses, have no picture, no friends, and no
    legitimate activity what so ever.
    I wish we could review Yelp… ZERO Stars!

    We will continue to use this technique till, as we expect, Yelp removes our responses.

    Reply
  9. James Barker

    I just cannot believe, that Yelp – makes money off ensuring that business, especially small business, gets an unfair deal by exposing them to the internet without permission to use the business on your website.

    Oh, just push it down you reckon? oh sweet bro okay.

    Google is much worse, but Yelp is catching up.

    Reviews are rubbish. Unless they are two way, and the business is allowed to know ‘exactly’ who made the review, then they are false, fabricated, and can in no way be substantiated.

    What gives anyone the right to crap on a business, but for the business to not know who they really are, or have any real right of reply.

    People can just simply have a gripe, and go and 1 star you for any reason. It’s not even funny what you review sites are doing by enabling this type of thing.

    Reviews on Yelp & Google are the same. Generally fake profiles, and keyboard warriors having a go.

    Make Yelp & Google reviewers have to confirm identity by phone, address, and a drivers tax number, and make the identity of the abusing ranter available to the victim business owner and you’d have my blessing.

    Otherwise, you simply facilitate the ability for people to say what they want. Not what is true. And rarely from a ‘real’ profile from what I’ve seen.

    Maybe one day we will be able to review – review sites, like Yelp.

    Shame on you, for destroying hard working peoples hard work. And I pity those who may have their own thing one day that have created fake profiles and ranted rubbish about me, when I finally sell up shop, get out of business, and am free to say what I need too about them.

    Boy will I be going on a fire mission alright tapping 1 star left right and center. Contradictory I know, but I can’t wait for that day.

    Bad reviews never get removed false or not. Nobody cares, Yelps cashing in.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Hans

    Hey, Did anyone consider that some of these companies DESERVE a bad review because they actually cheated/ ripped-off someone? Think about it.

    Reply
    • Heather

      Yeah. I just had a bad business (that I hope goes out of business) in time, delete a review I made after dealing with their horrible customer service. They didn’t even know how to explain what was behind the problem to me. I got a better response from a FaceBook friend who’s had experience with these types of e-commerce problems.

      A business that runs their social media pages like Soviet Russia deserves to go under.

      Reply

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