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How Fake Negative Reviews Are Affecting Restaurants’ SEO


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“My restaurant is getting fake negative reviews on Google!” “Who would do such a thing?” “How can I fix this?”

Consumers and Online Reviews

Before we get into how these reviews affect restaurants’ SEO, it is important to consider how consumers use online reviews when making purchasing decisions. According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Survey, 85% of consumers trust online reviews as if they were personal recommendations from friends or family. Luckily, based on the following graph retrieved from BrightLocal, 68% of consumers will read more than four reviews before trusting a business.

Fake negative reviews | Sydney SEO Agency Online Reviews to conversion

This means that receiving fake negative reviews is a major concern for every small business, particularly for restaurants. With the rise of restaurant databases such as Yelp and Zomato that provide search and discovery services, it is becoming too easy to publish a (fake) review based on the food and experience you had in a restaurant. Even Google Maps has a feature where you can rate or review your food.

Importance of Online Reviews on Google Maps

You may not think much of the ratings on Google Maps when you look up a particular restaurant. Below is a screenshot from Google Maps for the keywords ‘Chinese food Melbourne’. Which restaurant are customers likely to try? Grand BBQ Chinese Food with a 4.1 rating or Chime On Paramount Chinese Restaurant with a 2.9 rating? Despite having the 2nd least number of reviews, Grand BBQ Chinese Food is the top rated restaurant for Chinese food out of the 3 restaurants. This goes to show that Google Maps prioritises the ratings over the reviews.

fake negative reviews chinese restaurant Sydney SEO Agency

Fundamentally, search engines are in the business of delivering value to its customers with the greatest accuracy and cost-effectiveness, just like any other business in its given industry – but particularly for a site like Google, who have seen the explosion of user-generated content and platformisation of individuals in a way that has vastly saturated the market with surface-level, potentially malicious websites.

It was because of this that in 2018, the core algorithm rollout dubbed the ‘Medic Update‘ was launched, focusing on signals of expertise, authority and trustworthiness (otherwise known as E-A-T) as discerning factors separating what Google perceived to be ‘high quality’ sites from their low quality counterparts – attributes which ultimately contribute to your overall profile to rank in relevant keyphrases.

So, where do Google reviews play into the conversation? Owing to their composition as forms of social proof, reviews stand as a signal of endorsement of the brand, collectively coalesced to inform the general online sentiment of a business’s digital profile.

Who is Behind the Fake Negative Reviews?

Now that you know the importance of online reviews to your restaurant, SEO Sydney will go into who may be behind the fake negative reviews. These reviews are created for a variety of reasons and we will explore them:

  1. Trolls looking for entertainment: These reviews often provoke social sharing and are unrelated to the quality of the food or customer service. An example would be a cheesecake factory in the US receiving the review below.fake negative reviews trolls Sydney SEO Agency
  2. Competitors: Your restaurant’s competitors will most likely look for ways to steal your customers. Their goal is to take business from you. Here is an example of a competitor attempting to take business from a dentist.fake negative reviews competitors Sydney SEO Agency
  3. Former or disgruntled employees: Employees come and go in every business and once they leave, they are no longer under your supervision and are free to post any reviews about your business.
  4. Bots: Unfortunately, not everyone who is behind fake negative reviews is a human being. According to Business Insider, scientists in the US have trained a network to write online reviews as if they were real reviews from humans. Here is an example from a restaurant in New York:
    “I had the grilled veggie burger with fries!!!! Ohhhh and taste. Omgggg! Very flavorful! It was so delicious that I didn’t spell it!!”

How to Recognise Fake Negative Reviews

There are a few ways to determine the legitimacy of a review. Your goal is to ensure that the review is fake and not just negative. If you see any of the following in a review, it is most likely fake.

  1. Insulting or abusive content in the review. Defamatory reviews against you or your employees may be fake, as it most likely has nothing to do with the quality of food or customer service.
  2. A low star rating without a review to back it up. It may be difficult to recognise fake reviews that only have a star rating. You can take a look at the username of the review and if possible, check if they have actually dined at your restaurant. Here is an example of a fake review of a SEO company in Canada. Notice how the username has no display picture. Users who leave fake reviews put in minimal effort to disrupt your business.low rating fake negative reviews Sydney SEO Agency
  3. Multiple misspelled words and wrong capitalisation. Study the language and tone used in the review. Identify the specific patterns in the writing as fake reviews may have misspelled words like this example. Notice the lack of full stops?fake negative reviews misspelled words Sydney SEO Agency
  4. Other restaurants in the same location being affected by fake negative reviews. Recognise patterns across your competitors and look out for negative reviews within a specific timeline. If multiple businesses are affected, it is more likely that the fake reviews will be taken down.

Process for Responding to Reviews on Google Maps

You first need to check if you have a Google My Business account in order to respond to reviews. If you do not, sign up for one to increase your SEO and you can also update your restaurant details.

Follow these steps to respond to a review:

  1. Verify your business.
  2. Sign in to Google My Business.
  3. If you have restaurants in multiple locations, open the location you would like to manage.
  4. Click on the review in the menu you would like to respond to.
  5. Write a response.
  6. Submit your response and customers will now be able to see your response when they look up your restaurant on Google Maps.

Tips for Responding to Fake Negative Reviews on Google Maps

Remember that every response you write to a review online, it is public and can be viewed by anyone. Here are some ways to respond to fake negative reviews:

  1. Manage the reviews from Day 1 of your business. By keeping track of your reputation from the start of your business, you are able to have a stronger brand image. In 2015, Devorise Dixon posted that a chicken tender he purchased from a local KFC in the US was in the shape of a rat with a tail. KFC immediately conducted an investigation and Dixon refused to cooperate with them. Eventually, the chicken tender was found to be just white meat chicken.Sydney SEO Agencyfake negative reviews kfc rat
  2. Identify the severity of the reviews. Count the number of fake negative reviews you are receiving in a specific timeframe. Identify who may be behind it. Is it a former employee or a disgruntled customer?
  3. Respond to the reviews. There are two ways to respond to reviews. You can either do it politely or in a more assertive approach. Apologise for the situation and promise to correct your action by offering compensation or discounts. Include contact details in your response like the following example. fake negative reviews polite response Sydney SEO AgencyIf you are certain that a review is fake, you can choose to confront the user and it may even go viral which gains publicity for your restaurant. Charter Oak Winery in the US is suing Google after receiving a few negative reviews. By promoting the negative reviews in a positive light, more positive genuine reviews from fans or customers of your restaurant may start to come in.Sydney SEO Agency fake negative reviews confront
  4. Get more positive reviews. Ask your customers before they leave to perhaps leave a genuine review about their experiences in your restaurant. Remember positive reviews will raise your restaurant’s search ranking and more potential customers will be able to find your restaurant online.
  5. Remove the negative reviews as a last option. Ensure that the review violates with the Google policies of prohibited and restricted content. If you want to report a fake review on Google Maps, you can flag it for removal by clicking on the three dot icon where it will be assessed. Just make sure to have evidence of how you are tracking the reviews and explain why you think the reviews are fake.

Remember you cannot use these methods for legitimate reviews, even if they are negative. You should instead focus on improving the customer service and/or the quality of your food.

If you are interested in help regarding fake reviews or would like to explore more similar topics, check out SEO Sydney – the experts in providing professional and proven SEO services and resources.

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