For your business to be successful, you’ll need the best possible ranking on the search engine results page (SERP). A high SEO ranking helps your business get discovered by potential customers, and helps legitimise your brand image to the public.
Unfortunately, your competitors understand that, and a lot of competing businesses choose to use dishonest tactics to bring down your ranking. One of these tactics is local review or local search attacks.
What are local search attacks?
Local search attacks are illegitimate activities a competitor or cyber criminal uses to bring down your ranking on a search engine results page. Typically, this means that they’ll spam your reviews on Google with fake negative reviews to deter customers from using your business or visiting your website, and to impact your ranking.
How do bad reviews affect your ranking on the SERP?
Even if you don’t take bad reviews personally, bad reviews on Google can affect how you rank on the SERP. There are two main ways bad reviews can ruin your ranking:
1. Negative reviews can make you seem untrustworthy
While your content and online presence are both important ranking factors on the SERP, the fact remains that Google trusts what other people say about you more than it trusts what you say about yourself.
Even if a business brands itself as “the #1 Salon in the city,” if the reviews don’t agree, Google won’t trust how much that business compliments itself. Google’s algorithm places a lot of value on what others are saying about you on your page, and if it contradicts what you label your brand as, you’ll rank lower.
2. Bad reviews reduce your traffic
In a survey by Bright Local, 57% of customers said they’d only use a business if it has a ranking of 4 stars at the very least.
If your rating is low or if your reviews are negative, your potential visitors are less likely to click on your website, which in turns causes your traffic to decline. Google’s algorithm calculates how often your website is visited and how long these visitors stay, and if that traffic declines, Google’s search engine will determine that your website has little authority in your niche, making your website rank lower.
How to handle a bad review
Now that you know how important reviews are for your business and ranking, you’ll want to know how to handle bad reviews:
1.Identify if It’s Spam
Search attacks are not genuine reviews. Depending on who the attacker is, it may be very easy to tell that the review is ingenuine. For example, if they refer to services you don’t provide, or refer to names or titles that don’t exist among your team, you’ll immediately know the review is not genuine. Other times however, it may be a little trickier to identify the fake reviews from the real ones.
While there’s almost no way to know for sure, there are a few signs you should always identify as red flags and a sign that the negative reviews you’re getting are fake.
The first sign you should look for is if the negative reviews were published together as a group around the same time, especially if you don’t normally get negative reviews. It’s very unlikely that different customers experienced the same negative service within the span of a few minutes, and it’s more likely that a dishonest competitor’s team decided to launch a search attack collectively and asked their team to review your business.
Another telling sign that the review is fake is if it’s too general and has no specific grievance with your service.
Angry customers rant. They get specific, and you can feel the anger through their review. If the wording of the review is too vague and only says something along the lines of “bad service,” there’s a good chance it’s a fake review.
2. Respond to the review
If you’re able to, try to respond to each and every review whether it’s positive or negative. If you run your business on your own or with a small team, responding to every single review may not be possible. Instead, you should prioritise the negative reviews first.
Google recently confirmed that responding to a review increases your ranking on the SERP, and besides the direct impact it has on your SEO, responding to reviews helps your SEO indirectly.
When potential customers are looking through your reviews before clicking on your business’s website, negative reviews with helpful responses from you have a positive effect on your brand image as a responsible business that cares about its customers, and gives potential visitors a sense of reassurance that their complaints won’t go unnoticed.
This makes potential customers more likely to click on your business which gets you more traffic, and in turn increases your SEO.
3. Try to get it removed
Besides responding, you’ll also want to know how to remove a bad review. If the review is fraudulent, you can remove it by reporting it to Google.
Google requires you flag the reviews and wait three days before contacting support. Flagging a review may not get it removed since Google would only review the way the review was written and its wording to determine if it’s fraudulent.
If flagging the review doesn’t get it removed, contact Google My Business directly on their Twitter or Facebook pages. Before doing so, make sure you have sheets ready with the profiles the reviews were posted from, the usernames, and any evidence or notes as to why you think said review is illegitimate or malicious.
It’s important to stay calm when you’re the victim of a local search attack, and understand that this has nothing to do with your business, and everything to do with the attacker. Keep an eye on your reviews and always remember to look for signs that a review is fake. If you find that a review is fake, make sure you choose the proper way to handle it, reply to it and report it to the support team of Google My Business.