When you are looking for information on a business, you almost always see what Google wants you to see first.
When you’re looking for a new hairdresser, plumber, or babysitter, the first thing you do is search for one in Google, which presents you with a list of choices. For most people, this includes results near their location. Google, in its infinite wisdom, also provides convenient links to Google map destinations, phone numbers, Q&As, popular times, and more. But what you want to see most is whether the business in question will get you what you want. After all, no one wants a bad haircut, a sink that won’t get unclogged, or a babysitter who plays on their phone the whole time.
If Google reviews are that important to you, imagine how important they are to your own customers. Indeed, studies have found that 90 percent of consumers check online reviews before making a purchase. That means that if your business’s Google reviews raise any red flags, you could be losing business.
“But I can’t change any negative reviews, right?” You say. “So what does it matter?”
How you respond to Google Reviews actually does matter — quite a bit. Here’s what to know about them, and how your approach can make or break your business.
Why Google Reviews Matter
More than 90 percent of consumers check online reviews before making a purchase, and Google is the most popular source of reviews — likely because it shows them as soon as someone searches for relevant keywords. As you might have guessed, good reviews boost your search rankings and are a key ingredient of your local SEO: how your business shows up in location-based searches.
That said, bad reviews won’t necessarily hold you down if you respond to them. As we’ll discuss below, not only will prompt, professional replies elevate your brand’s authenticity and transparency, but they also provide an opportunity to turn angry customers into happy ones. It’s entirely possible for someone to update their review once their complaint is resolved — and that will boost your rankings.
Google reviews are also an excellent source of social proof. Unlike the testimonials you publish on your website, consumers are more likely to perceive Google reviews as authentic. Unfortunately, fake reviews do happen, as we’ll elaborate on, but again, how you respond is what consumers really want to see. Social proof doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Most people know that even the best businesses can make mistakes and that some folks are just impossible to please. What they want to know is if their interaction with you will solve their problems. Constructive responses to feedback compose an important part of marketing your business.
Benefits of Responding to Google Reviews
If you saw a business with nothing but 5-star reviews, you’d probably be impressed. However, let’s say you start to read those reviews and notice that they are all terribly similar. You might raise an eyebrow or two.
By the same token, if you see nothing but 1- and 2-star reviews, you’d probably steer clear of the business. But if you read the reviews and see that the business has responded constructively to each one, you might start to change your mind. Perhaps the bad reviews were placed more than a year ago, and there is now new management. Perhaps some people left 1-star ratings because they didn’t get a discount or had to wait more than 30 seconds for service. It happens.
Staying engaged with your reviews makes the difference between whether you come off as a business who could not care less about customer service and one who is actively trying to improve. Be honest: if you see that a 1-star review is dubious at best, but the business replies trying to make it right, you’re much more likely to give them a chance than if you see a 1-star review with legitimate complaints and zero response from the business. Indeed, consumers are 45 percent more likely to patronize a business that replies to its feedback.
Moreover, consumers expect businesses to respond to their reviews, especially if they had a complaint. Some people don’t see another way to get a business’s attention. The best part is that customers can update their reviews, and indeed, many of them will do so if you resolve the issue. Let’s say that someone leaves a negative review because they were attempting to book services or purchase products but couldn’t complete the process. You can turn a lost opportunity into a paying customer if you reach out, acknowledge their complaint, and convince them to give you a second chance.
In short, you might be able to turn a 1-star review into a 5-star review if you successfully engage the customer and address their concerns. That’s why it’s important to reply in a timely manner and offer a path toward resolution (more on that below). We recommend logging on to Google My Business every day and checking your reviews.
Developing Your Google Reviews Strategy
So, what is Google My Business? You can find it at business.google.com. If you haven’t yet claimed your business on Google, you need only search for it in Google Maps, then click the “Own this Business?” link. Google will then start your claim process, and once you’ve finished, you can manage the listing information (phone number, products, etc.) and respond to reviews.
Before you start responding, get with your team and establish your messaging strategy. You should always write in your brand voice, but keep it conversational. Identify the core values that you want to express in your reviews. For example, if your business philosophy emphasizes fast service, but a customer leaves a review complaining about their wait, you’ll need to respond in a way that affirms your values without being defensive.
Next, develop a procedure for addressing complaints in Google reviews. Determine who will initially respond to reviews. Will different types of complaints be handled by different members of your team? Or will you have a chain of command depending on the severity of the complaint? A clear action plan will help avoid confusion and ensure that your business provides a coherent, informed response to the review.
Finally, draft some go-to copy and scripts for replying to reviews. These should be taken as guidelines rather than generic copy-and-paste responses. Here are the four main scenarios you’ll encounter.
- You receive a vague yet negative review. Your response should request more information and encourage the reviewer to reach out for resolution.
- You receive a detailed negative review. You’ll need to do some fact-finding, then provide an objective, constructive response.
- You receive a positive review. You should thank the customer and encourage them to visit your business again.
- You receive a fake review. You may need a generic response while you get the review removed, or you can provide a fact-based rebuttal of the false feedback.
Should the reviewer call or email you to follow up, you’ll need script guidance so that you can respond professionally and constructively. Plan ahead so that you know which customer service tactics you’ll use, e.g. a discount for their troubles. If you resolve a customer’s complaint, be sure you ask them to update their review.
The Truth About Google Reviews
Google reviews are an excellent form of social proof, with 85 percent of consumers trusting them as much as word-of-mouth recommendations. For the most part, they are written by consumers who can easily leave a review via their Google account. As with Yelp, businesses usually cannot remove or alter reviews (more on that in a moment). All they can do is respond.
That said, some Google reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. Unscrupulous marketers weaponize this feature by having their team leave negative reviews of their competitors. You can usually identify these reviews because they conclude with a subtle mention of their business, e.g. “Hated this salon. They ruined my hair! So I went to Hair by Jane and they fixed it.” In these situations, business owners should avoid replying in kind, e.g. “Hair by Jane sucks!” Rather, they should leave a professional response that addresses the complaint. Some business owners also call out obviously fake reviews, but be sure that you can prove the review is fake before attempting this tactic.
Sometimes, aspiring creative writers will draft an elaborate review in which they heavily embellish a negative experience — or invent one altogether. This isn’t the place to ponder their motives, but it’s important for business owners to provide their side of the story. Respond with facts only, and encourage the consumer to reach out to management. This tactic can soften the sting of embellished negative reviews and lessen their likelihood of swaying other consumers.
Most negative reviews, though, touch on relatively small issues. The painful truth is that customers may be having a bad day, or something that slipped your staff’s notice deeply bothered them. Many people avoid conflict, which is why they take to the Internet to air their grievances. That’s why it’s important to not only expect negative reviews, but also avoid taking them personally.
How to Respond to Negative Google Reviews
No matter whether a review is legitimate or not, embellished or not, it’s crucial to respond the same way: with utmost professionalism and a clear path to conflict resolution. Here’s your 5-step checklist for drafting your response.
- Take a breath. It’s normal to be upset by angry reviews, especially if you doubt their authenticity. But this is a chance for you to come off as authentic and caring. So, allow yourself to calm down and take this as a chance to show why your business matters.
- Acknowledge any mistakes. No one is perfect, and every business has slip-ups. Whether your staff behaved poorly, or you missed an opportunity to resolve a conflict, lead with an apology and express your remorse. This shows that you’re human and willing to learn and improve.
- Stick with the facts. Anyone who’s worked in customer service knows that some customers will embellish their tale, omit key information, or outright lie. By presenting only the facts of the matter, you avoid escalating the conflict and show other consumers that you’re professional.
- Offer a means of reconciliation. Think of a negative review as a chance to recover a customer as well as convince skeptical consumers that you’re worth considering. Remember, bad reviews are often based on small complaints that could be easily addressed. Invite the reviewer to call or email you personally to discuss the situation so that you can make it right.
- Include your name. Don’t drop your generic customer service email address and go about your way. Introduce yourself or give customers a name to mention if and when they do call. This goes a long way toward appearing human and relatable, rather than aloof.
Should You Respond to Positive Reviews?
Let’s say you’re lucky enough to have all or mostly positive reviews. You should still engage with them, especially if they offer suggestions for improvement. Allowing 5-star reviews to pile up without responding to them can make it appear as though you only care about getting customers’ money — not a good look. Plus, consumers know that many businesses ask their staff, family, and friends to leave fake positive reviews, so a line of 5-star reviews might come off as inauthentic.
When you respond to positive reviews, do more than a simple “Thanks.” Use the reviewer’s name, acknowledge any specific details they mentioned, and reiterate your business’s core values. It can’t hurt to throw in some keywords to further boost your SEO. Be sure to invite the customer back to your business.
Can You Remove Negative Reviews?
In some cases, you might want to get negative reviews removed. Perhaps you know that they’re fake, or they contain malicious lies or content that puts you and your staff at risk. Google lists fake reviews among its prohibited and restricted content guidelines, so if you know that someone is completely falsifying a review, you can flag it, and Google will review. Some signs that a review is fake include:
- a name that doesn’t match any of your customer or client records
- details about their experience that don’t match your business’s operations (e.g. they claim to have visited on a Sunday, but you’re closed Sundays)
- vague yet extremely negative comments (e.g. the entire review reads “[Your Business] is the worst!”)
- clear bias toward one of your competitors
Taken separately, none of these is definitive proof of falsification, but if these characteristics coincide, you’re probably looking at a fake review.
You should always flag content that threatens violence against your business, makes hateful, discriminatory comments, or incites hatred of people involved with your business. With the current sociopolitical climate, some people may leave negative reviews simply because you employ people of particular backgrounds or ethnicities. Do not attempt to engage with these “reviews.”
That said, the removal process can take some time, and you don’t want a negative review hanging around without a response. Choose a generic response until you have more information, e.g. “We’re investigating this issue and will update later.”
Encouraging Customers to Write Google Reviews
Throughout this article, we’ve discussed how to manage reviews that already exist. But let’s say you’ve just started your business, or you’ve been operating for a while but you haven’t gotten many Google reviews. If your competitors have more positive reviews, they’ll appear higher in search results. To get ahead of the crowd, you need to encourage customers to leave reviews.
It should go without saying that you must never coerce customers into leaving good reviews or request that they don’t leave bad reviews. As we mentioned above, some businesses ask friends and family to leave positive reviews, but this goes against Google’s guidelines, and savvy consumers can usually sniff out fake reviews. The best strategy, then, is to simply ask people to leave reviews — good or bad.
You can offer incentives for leaving reviews, such as a nominal discount or freebie when they return to your business. This encourages customers to both leave a review and become a repeat customer. It’s crucial that you don’t request a good review in exchange for the incentive; it’s unethical and against Google’s policies. By the same token, you can’t deny or withdraw the incentive if the customer leaves a bad review. Be willing to take a risk that someone may take the freebie and give negative feedback. Remember, you can always respond constructively to boost your business’s reputation.
Make it easy for customers to leave reviews by posting a QR code to your business’s Google Maps destination or including a link at the bottom of a receipt. Include verbiage such as “We’d love your feedback!” or something else that makes the customer feel like they have something valuable to contribute.
This guide will be here when you need it to help you through your initial understanding of Google Reviews. Take it slow, and you’ll be an expert in no time. Happy Advertising! ☺
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