What to Do with Negative Online Reviews

Unfortunately, no matter how well you run your small business, no matter how outstanding of a job your staff does at providing quality customer service, the day will likely come when you receive a negative online review.

While it is tempting to ignore these reviews, particularly if they are infrequent or seemingly unfounded, addressing your online reputation is critical to your long-term success. In fact, data shows that nearly 80% of internet users in the U.S. check out online reviews before purchasing or deciding to visit a business.

While you can’t stop customers from leaving a negative review, you can take back control of the narrative when it happens. Let’s look at what to do with negative online reviews, including tips on disputing false reviews, handling your response, and, ultimately, gleaning important data from these reviews.

Disputing Negative Online Reviews

When a bad review rolls in, your first instinct might be to figure out how to delete it. Unfortunately, getting rid of it isn’t as easy as simply clicking delete. If a customer has a complaint about your business, no matter how unfair their angle might be, they have the right to express it through online platforms.

However, in some cases, you might discover that the review is unfounded, unrelated to your business, or in violation of the platform’s standards. In this case, there are methods for disputing.

Different platforms abide by different guidelines, so we’ll take a look at the top two review platforms that most small businesses are concerned with — Google and Yelp.


Before you go down the path of disputing a negative review via Google, make sure you understand which are viable for removal. According to Google, you should only report reviews that violate their policies. Don’t report a review that you disagree with or dislike. Google will not get involved in a dispute of facts and takes the stance that they have no reliable way of telling who is in the right when it comes to a customer experience.

The following are all considered content violations and might give you grounds for having a review removed:

  • Harassment
  • Hate speech
  • Offensive content
  • Fake engagement
  • Impersonation
  • Misinformation
  • Misrepresentation
  • Obscenity and profanity
  • Adult-themed content
  • Violence and gore
  • Dangerous content
  • Illegal content
  • Terrorist content
  • Off-topic
  • Advertising and solicitation
  • Gibberish and repetitive content

You can see a full list of what content is prohibited by Google and a detailed breakdown of what might fall into these categories here.

If you believe a negative review falls into one of these situations, you use the following steps to flag the review.

To flag a review in Google Maps

  1. Open Google Maps.
  2. Locate your Business Profile.
  3. Find the review you wish to report.
  4. Click More the three dots and select “Flag as inappropriate.”

To flag a review in Google Search

  1. Go to Google.
  2. Locate your Business Profile.
  3. Click on Google Reviews.
  4. Search for the review you wish to report.
  5. Click on the three dots and select “Report review.” From here, you’ll need to select the type of violation you wish to report.

After that, you’ll need to wait for the Google customer service team to review the report and determine whether or not to pull down the review in question.


Similar to Google, when you receive a negative review on Yelp, you can’t simply delete the review, even if you disagree with a customer’s perspective. According to Yelp, there are three main reasons why they might consider removing a review.

  1. A conflict of interest: If the reviewer appears to be a competitor, former employee, affiliated with your business, receiving payments or incentives for the review, or is actively promoting the business of a competitor, Yelp might consider the review for removal.
  2. Doesn’t reflect a true experience: If the review isn’t focused on the reviewer’s own experience or is about someone else’s experience, Yelp might remove it. Additionally, if it is focused primarily on disputing another Yelp review or is about a different business, it could be eligible for removal.
  3. Contains inappropriate material: Hate speech, lewd commentary, threatening language, and private information about employees or patrons is not allowed in Yelp reviews. Any violation of these guidelines can be grounds for removal.

If you find a review that you believe violates Yelp’s guidelines, you can report the review. Make sure first that you have claimed your business via Yelp.

  1. If you own your Yelp page listing, locate the review in question via the Reviews section of your business account.
  2. Once there, you’ll find more options under the three dots where you can click on Report Review.

Once you have reported the review, the Yelp content moderator team will evaluate the review and determine whether or not it violates their content guidelines.

After you report a review, you can check on the status of your report by hovering your cursor over the small flag symbol located next to the review. Here, you can determine if the report is still being reviewed or if it has been denied.

Responding to Negative Reviews

In most situations, you will probably not be able to remove the bad reviews your business receives. Even if you feel that the review is misguided or an unfair reflection of an interaction that took place, your best bet is to respond to each review personally.

However, when responding to negative reviews, keep the following tips in mind to ensure that you don’t make the situation worse:

List of Don’ts:

  • Ignore it: Many business owners decide that responding to a negative review is not worth their time. However, ignoring a negative review is one of the worst courses of action to take. For starters, in most situations, a customer simply wants to be heard and acknowledged. Ignoring the issue will only continue to make that customer more upset. Secondly, potential new customers will see your lack of response and have concerns about your customer service. By responding, you help establish a better reputation as a company that listens to its customers.
  • Become defensive: When a negative review hits your Google business listing or Yelp page, it can be easy to get angry and defensive. This is particularly true when you are a small business owner who is passionate about what you do. While it’s natural to become upset, take the time to calm down before you respond. Firing back with an angry or defensive response can cause more damage than good.
  • Engage in an ongoing battle: In some cases, no matter how professionally you address a situation, some internet users will continue to try to engage with you in an online battle of words. If you have done your part to remedy the situation and someone keeps persisting, leave it be and don’t engage further.

List of Dos:

  • Address the issue: The first thing your response should do is address the issue at hand. This is not the time for “he said, she said.” Instead, acknowledge the customer’s complaint, establishing that you have heard what they are saying.
  • Apologize: Next, you should add a sincere apology for their negative experience. This doesn’t mean you need to agree with their take on the situation, but it does mean that you need to at least express that your business never wants to see a customer leave unhappy. For example, rather than saying, “I’m sorry that our receptionist was rude to you,” you could instead state, “I’m sorry you had a negative experience during check-in. We always strive for a positive and efficient check-in process.”
  • Take it offline: Rather than getting into the nitty-gritty details of what went wrong, ask to speak with your customer offline. After apologizing, use a simple statement, such as “As the manager of ABC industries, I’d like to personally speak with you about your experience to resolve the situation. Please contact me at (Phone number) at your earliest convenience.” By taking the situation offline, you can prevent a digital battle of words and can clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Keep it short: There’s no need to write out a novel when responding to a negative review. If a customer is upset, they don’t want to hear your long-winded response about how you were short-staffed that day or any other explanation that will sound like an excuse. Instead, keep things short and to the point and speak with them one-on-one.
  • Be sincere: No one wants to talk to a computer bot. When you respond, be sure to be personal and sincere. Don’t simply copy and paste a templated response. Instead, take the time to address the person by name, dig into what their complaint is, and engage with them human-to-human.

Gleaning Data from Your Negative Reviews

Negative reviews don’t have to be an adversity for your business. In fact, there is a lot you can learn from negative online reviews. But to do so, you have to be willing to accept responsibility when your team may have dropped the ball or provided poor customer service. If you can do that, you can actually turn negative reviews into valuable lessons for your company.

Start by filtering through all your business reviews, sorting them from worst to best. Take your lowest ratings and look for key trends. Perhaps you see a pattern in these reviews. These patterns can quickly tell you an important story.

For example, if most bad reviews revolve around your online scheduling tool, you have a quick takeaway: improve your online experience! Or, if the complaints are primarily about service technicians showing up late to an appointment, you know you need to improve upon your scheduling and time estimates.

By focusing on what you can take away from negative reviews, you can flip the script, using even the worst customer complaints to improve your business. Not only that, but you can let customers know that you not only heard them initially and addressed the complaint, but that now you are taking further action.

The businesses that succeed in building a quality online reputation are the ones that are willing to publicly own their mistakes and showcase how they are making a change. Customers love authenticity, and they will quickly give a company a second chance if they see a valid response to a poor experience.

Improving Your Online Reputation with J&L Marketing

Customer reviews are critical to your online success. Over 84% of customers say that they trust an online review just as much as personal recommendations. Online reviews are truly today’s word of mouth. For small businesses, these reviews are incredibly important to increasing digital conversions and improving sales.

At J&L Marketing, we understand how difficult it can be to manage your online reputation. With customers free to leave reviews across platforms, it is hard to keep up and ensure that you’re standing out from the competition.

If you are interested in learning more about how to manage your online reputation and build an informed strategy around your digital efforts, our team is ready to help. Reach out today to learn more about how we can put our experience to work for you.

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