It's a question we are asked every single day. And the answer, fortunately for the business involved, is 'yes'.
Or rather it is 'yes' if it fits a pretty stringent set of criteria.
But first, before we all expend a deal of time and effort and even hard-earned cash, let's look at the context.
Categories of review that harm businesses
We have all met the 'man down the pub' who is blase about reviews. He or she is unlikely to be in a position of responsibility in any business and they will come out with 'brave' comments such as...
'All reviews are written by idiots'
'I don't believe reviews anyway (because of the above)'
'Who on earth is stupid/ignorant/naive enough to believe reviews?'
...and so on. Ringing bells? Yes, we thought so. Unfortunately (or fortunately - read on), he or she is so wrong as to be dangerous. Dangerous to anyone who pays heed to their wild and almost wholly unsubstantiated assertions and dangerous to their own and their loved one's health, wealth, and general wellbeing.
Unfortunately, the fact that the overwhelming majority of the billions of reviews of businesses - we're not really concerned with product reviews here - that have been written in the last two decades are the subjective but genuine opinions of those who have experienced the business or service under review at first-hand does not make headlines in the media. On the other hand, businesses that play fast and loose with reviews in order to look good do. It is this coverage that has played to our friend's cynicism.
But there is, nevertheless, an important grain of truth in what they are saying: and that is based on the obvious fact that many people are not all that well qualified to judge whether or not their doctor/lawyer/financial adviser/estate agent has performed well or not.
- do they know for certain that their recovery/continued health issue is the fault of their doctor?
- can they be sure that their lawyer achieved the very best outcome possible?
- have they made as good a return as they could reasonably expect from their pension arrangements?
- did they sell/let their property for the maximum given the current market conditions?
All they can do is write that they, personally, were - or were not - satisfied.
So does this help? If you put yourself in the position of someone who needs...
- an oncologist
- a family lawyer
- an investment adviser
- an estate agent
Same location, the same line of business. But chalk and cheese when it comes to creating the right impression in search, especially when those that have been impressed by the Google score and reviews click through to the business's website and see this:
But now we move closer to answering the question posed at the top of this article; given that reviews scores are crucial for the business that wants to continue to attract custom what can business No 2 do? Well, the first - and most obvious - thing would be to do what the first business does: invite its customers to post reviews to Google.
The second would be to analyse the negative reviews the business has had to see if any contravene Google's terms of service, and, in so doing, render themselves appealable and thus liable to removal from Google altogether.
Let's take a look at the actual reviews posted about this business in the context of Google's terms of service.
Here are the criteria under which Google will judge a flagged review:
In the UK any 'derogatory comment' published about a business is considered in law as prima facie libel. That, though, does not mean that Google will automatically remove reviews critical of a business; far from it.
In our extensive experience the business that recieves such a review will need to prove at least one of the following (not just provide Google with one-sided assumptions or suspicions):
- the reviewer has no personal experience of the business they have reviewed - incredibly difficult to prove
- the reviewer has written the review with malicious intent - can be corroborated by providing evidence in the form of emails/texts
- the reviewer has written statements that they know to be factually incorrect - easier to prove providing the business can supply copies of contracts/invoices etc.
- the reviewer has malicious intent - they work for a competitor, for example
- the business has no record of dealings with the reviewer (reviewers are allowed to use 'usernames' to protect their anonymity)
- the review is a case of 'the business's word against the reviewer' (Google will not intervene in business disputes)
Recommended action: appeal
By now you will be getting an idea of the kind of review that is appealable and the circumstances in which you should consider appealing. We would add one rider: in our extensive experience there are no completely hard and fast rules; some reviews we consider fulfil the criteria for removal are not taken down, some that are borderline are removed. A good rule of thumb is if the review in question is causing you sleepless nights or, as can happen, has stopped the phones ringing, appeal. That way at least you will have the comfort of knowing you have done everything possible to address the situation.
The Google appeal
First, watch this video and listen to Google's advice:
You now have three options:
- Do it yourself, by following Google's guidelines to the letter
- Employ a specialist new media lawyer to conduct the appeal on your behalf
- Employ HelpHound to draft and manage your appeal
Consult your own legal adviser or a specialist new media legal adviser, provide them with all the factual background that you can and ask them to draft your appeal.
Consult HelpHound. The advantage of doing this?
- We will give you a very good idea of the likelihood of succeeding with your appeal, based on our extensive and wide-ranging experience
- We will advise you on other strategies to minimise the impact of the review in question pending the outcome of your appeal - by carefully drafting a rsponse that will not only be seen by potential customers but also by Google's moderators when they come to assess your appeal
- We will advise you on key aspects of the drafting of your appeal, should you decide to take Route 1
- We will draft the appeal on your behalf, if you consider that would be helpful
- We will advise on the correct way to a) identify competent legal advice and b) introduce you to such an adviser, if necessary
Here are a couple of real-life examples of Google's response to appeals to two of the many successful appeals we have drafted for clients; just put yourself in the position of the business that had these reviews heading their Google reviews listings...
These are both the kind of review that seriously deflects custom away from businesses - we call them 'killer reviews' (see more about them here); fair enough if their contents are correct and justified, but capable of unfairly impacting business flows if - as Google adjudicated here - they are not.
The next steps
Our first advice to any business that contacts us is to implement a proper review management strategy (so many don't have one until they are hurt by a negative review). We will then advise on the specific review in question. The initial consultation will be free of charge. After that, we will provide a firm quotation for our services. Unless the review raises exceptionally complex issues and requires lengthy research (which is rare) our fee will not exceed three figures.