Can a business sue you for leaving a negative Google review?
Google reviews are crucial to effective online marketing. Statistics show that 93% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase. Naturally, positive reviews are more likely to influence consumers to buy from a business, but negative or false reviews can have disastrous consequences—for the business and the reviewer.
What are false reviews?
A good business should accept criticism and take a negative review as an opportunity to improve. But not all negative reviews are legitimate.
A false review is one left by someone who has not used a service or purchased a product from the business they’re reviewing. Some people leave bad false reviews with the intention of harming a competitor’s business.
How can bad reviews harm a business?
Bad reviews, if not handled correctly, can undermine the reputation of a business and drive customers away.
Additionally, bad reviews can lower a business’s ranking in Google search results. Google wants to recommend quality businesses to users, so when a company receives repeated bad reviews, Google is less likely to place that business in top-ranking search results.
All of this ultimately leads to a loss of revenue and profit for a business, and can even force a business to close permanently. This is why false bad reviews are an extremely serious issue.
Can a business sue you for leaving a negative Google review?
Yes, a business can sue you for leaving a negative Google review. In Canada, we have the freedom to post online reviews under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the freedom to post whatever you want in an online review is limited to words that don’t break any other laws.
Businesses in Canada have successfully sued people for leaving bad reviews based on the laws surrounding defamation. Defamation is a criminal act under Section 298 of the Criminal Code of Canada, and is defined as any published false statement “that is likely to injure the reputation of any person”. Slander and libel fall under the definition of defamation.
Most recently, a business in B.C. received a judge’s permission to proceed with a lawsuit against a customer who left an allegedly defamatory Google review. Earlier last year, another customer of a different B.C. business was ordered by the Supreme Court to pay $90,000 in damages for a defamatory online review.
It’s never a good idea to leave a false Google review. It is illegal, and it can be costly if the business takes the matter to court. Before you leave a legitimate negative review, contact the business directly to give them an opportunity to make things right before you post something publicly.
How should my business respond to a false review?
If your business receives a negative review, you have an opportunity to demonstrate exceptional customer service. Don’t ignore the review, and don’t make excuses. Instead, sincerely apologize for the customer’s experience and commit to addressing the issue. Ask them to contact you directly so you can make things right—possibly offer a refund.
After responding to the review, follow through. Evaluate where you can make improvements and how you can prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.
However, if the negative review seems fake, we recommend a different strategy.
How to Remove Fake Google Reviews
If you’ve noticed a Google review of your business that seems fake:
- Confirm that the review is a violation of Google’s policies.
- Log into your Google My Business account.
- Click “Reviews” from the menu.
- Click the 3-dot menu for the fake review.
- Flag the review as inappropriate.
It typically takes Google a few days to process a flagged review. While you wait, write a response to the suspicious review, stating that the reviewer is not identified as a customer of your business, and request that the reviewer remove the review if they’ve mistakenly placed it on the wrong business.
If the fake review is actually illegal, as in the case of defamation or copyright infringement, you can try Google’s legal removal request process. If that still doesn’t resolve the issue, your last resort is to hire a lawyer to pursue the case. If a judge rules in your favour, your lawyer can help you communicate with Google. In situations like this, Google typically responds quickly.
Because Google doesn’t always remove fake reviews, the best course of action is to outweigh the fake review(s) with real ones.
How to Get Real Google Reviews to Boost Your Business
Getting real Google reviews requires strategy and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes intentionality. Here are a few ways to increase the positive Google reviews your business receives.
- Ask—When you have a positive interaction with a customer, ask them to leave a Google review. People are more likely to leave a review when they’re personally invited to. When a customer interaction doesn’t go well, you don’t have to ask for a review if there’s a risk it could be a negative one.
- Repeated requests—Ask for reviews regularly and often. Find creative ways to request reviews beyond a face-to-face interaction. For example, on your receipts, in marketing emails, on social media posts, etc.
- Follow up—If someone said they’d leave a review, follow up with them after a few days. Check in at least two more times. Don’t worry about being a nag. Most people are grateful for the reminders because leaving a review is one of those simple tasks that doesn’t take long but easily gets bumped down the priority list.
- Make it easy—Automate the process of requesting reviews, if possible. This might include an automated email campaign or setting up automated task generation in your CRM when a lead becomes a customer. Also make leaving a review easy for your customers by creating a super simple tutorial they can follow, if necessary.
Legal Help for Bad Google Reviews
Does your business have fake Google reviews you can’t remove? Are you dealing with defamatory online reviews? Are some reviews violating copyright? The business lawyers at Osuji & Smith can help! Contact us today.