How can I remove bad or inaccurate reviews online?

Negative reviews can be devastating for businesses

Businesses can be haunted by a few inaccurate or negative reviews. Without taking action, these "bad" reviews can turn customers away and lower your search ranking. While you may not always be able to remove them outright, there are several steps you can take that will greatly improve the situation.

Getting the reviews removed

Google, Facebook, Yelp and Avvo all have policies and procedures for the "flagging" of bad reviews. Once flagged the reviews are looked at by the site, and if determined to fall outside of the site's rules, they may be removed. Here's the catch: the rules are very specific, and unless the post falls exactly within prohibited content rules, it will likely NOT be removed.

Some examples from Google's policy here: Reviews that contain advertising, spam, sexually explicit material or hate speech may be flagged for removal. Notice that mean spirited or angry reviews are NOT included on this list. It does, however, provide for the flagging "off topic" reviews. If you received a review from someone you did not do business with or get a review for someone else's business, by all means report it to Google.

Google's review flagging instructions are here.

Facebook's rules are little less black and white. Facebook reviews can be flagged for removal if they do not meet the "Facebook Community Standards." Those standards indicate that Facebook will consider removal of a review when: They believe there is a "genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety," "Certain kinds of sensitive content" has been revealed, private personal information is included, or copyrights and "other legal rights" are violated. They do also allow for the flagging of reviews that, "don't focus on the product or service offered by the Page."

Facebook's review flagging instructions are here.

According to Yelp, "We generally allow users to stand behind the content they post, and will only remove user-posted content if we believe it violates our Content Guidelines." Those guidelines are very similar to Google's, but it can be very difficult or impossible to get a review removed.

Yelp's review flagging instructions are here.

In Avvo's case, they claim to "read every review before we allow it to be posted." Basically if it gets posted, with very few exceptions, it cannot be removed. If you believe the review did not come from an "actual or potential client" you can dispute it with Avvo. They will reach out to the reviewer and attempt to ascertain whether the review is legitimate or not. While in this dispute process the review is not visible on your public profile. The reviewer is also given the option to edit or delete the review. If the review passes the dispute it will be reposted on your Avvo profile along with any edits made by the reviewer in the dispute process.

Avvo's review dispute process instructions are here.

Responding to negative or inaccurate reviews

Even if you plan to flag a review for violating the site's policies, it is still critical to respond to the review. The effect these negative reviews have on your business can be lessened with a concise and polite reply. For posts from reviewers that were never your customer you could post something like, "This review is for a different business or mistakenly left, we have not done business with this customer." While this won't impact your review score, it will help potential customers that read the review know you care enough to respond and that the review may be inaccurate.

If the review is from a legitimate customer, no matter how angry or wrong you believe they are, it is vital that you set aside your anger and respond in a civil tone. Remember, these reviews and your responses to them will live online long after the dispute is over. The best approach is to attempt to alleviate whatever issue the reviewer had. If that can't be done it should at least be obvious that you tried. If your replies to the post are sympathetic and your attempt to resolve the issue is real, it will be apparent to people reading the review and your responses.

Here are the instructions for responding to reviews from Google, Facebook, Yelp and Avvo.

Adding lots of positive reviews

In the end, the most important step to fix negative reviews is to drown them out with as many positive reviews as you can get. Your overall review score is the first thing potential clients see on most searches, and the most recent or most relevant reviews are usually at the top of the list. Getting great reviews for your business will not only undo the harm from the negative reviews, it will usually raise your search ranking and expose you to many more potential clients.

The challenge, of course, is actually getting your happy customers to post a review. Businesses usually begin by simply asking clients to rate them. While you SHOULD ask customers to rate you, it is very slow going, as most people don't actually follow through with a public post. Utilizing Repsight to manage this process for you and can dramatically increase the speed and amount of positive reviews you receive, as well as notify you of you any new reviews and score changes.