This Small Business in Leeds is Going Out of Business Because of Google, is not clickbait, its not sensationalist, it is the very scary truth of how Google’s inability to manage negative review attacks on a Google Business Listing is leading to the closure of a small business in Leeds.
For those of you that don’t know me, I am a Google Top Contributor in the Google My Business Help Forum, which is where I came across this business looking for help after being systematically targeted with negative reviews by a competitor in the area.
Since March I have escalated 530 negative and malicious reviews to Google, the business owner himself has reported over 2000 negative reviews over the past two years which involves spending a couple of hours every day phoning Google my Business support. Can you imagine as a small business setting aside a couple of hours every day to spend on the phone trying to have malicious reviews removed?
Establishing a Pattern
As millions of business owners have realised, its near impossible to have a negative review removed, or what the business feels may be a malicious / fake review unless you can prove that it is malicious or fake, and this requires establishing a pattern of the reviewers account and what they have reviewed before.
Yes the burden of proof lies with the business and this in most instances will be impossible to prove, and Google makes this clear in their review reporting page.
“Don’t flag a review just because you disagree with it or don’t like it. Google doesn’t get involved when merchants and customers disagree about facts, since there’s no reliable way to discern who’s right about a particular customer experience”
The pattern involves a negative review on (The Targets) listing.
12 Commercial Rd, Leeds LS5 3AQ
★ a week ago
And a positive review that included one or all of (The Perpetrators) listings
iPad Repair Leeds
2 Rose Terrace, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 4QA
★★★★★ a week ago
iPhone Repair Leeds
122 New Rd Side, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 4QB
★★★★★ 2 weeks ago
UGP – United Gas & Power
16 Otley Rd, Guiseley, Leeds LS20 8AH
★★★★★ a week ago
Pretty easy to spot right!
Although easy to spot, it takes hours on the phone each day to report these, and once escalated direct to Google by myself, it can take days / weeks to be removed, in which time the businesses average ratings would plummet.
Whilst Google is looking at reviews left the previous week, the Perpetrators are piling on two to five new negative reviews each day, leading to a modern day version of Sisyphus.
Removal of Fake Listing
In trying to reduce the amount of accounts that could be used to leave reviews, my next step was to report iPad Repair Leeds as a fake business, because this did not actually exist at the location, sounds simple, but as this whole case was proving nothing was going to be simple.
Ordinarily we send and escalation to the Spam Team who check the evidence and if deemed to be fake they remove the listing. Another Top Contributor had also previously escalated this listing had been rejected.
So Google was not allowing for photographic evidence of the location to prove that it did not exist, what next. I contacted Leeds County Council and found that the address was not listed for business rates, but domestic rates. Under Google My Business Guidelines a business that operates out of a residential address, should have clear signage if they wish to have their address listed, if not, then they should be listed as a Service Area Business (Hidden Address).
Brilliant, we know that it does not have signage from previous photographic evidence, we should be able to get this fake listing suspended. Oh how wrong I was, it was again denied.
Its worth mentioning that in between all of this I also presented the team with evidence that both website domains were owned by the same person, as well as the actual main address being registered with Companies House, showing they were both owned by the same person but at one main address, not the address of the fake listing around the corner.
So the question is what would it now take for Google to believe that this other business listing was fake? Real time video evidence should do it, but I could not ask the victim to walk into the lions den, so a private investigator was hired. Stop for a second to think about this, we had to hire a PI to undertake video surveillance to prove a business listing was fake on Google Maps. Hats off to the PI because he even got the video evidence and captured the moment when the Perpetrator admitted that the other business listed did not exist “na its for Google innit”.
Video evidence was sent back to the spam team and it was finally accepted that this was a fake listing and removed. This instantly removed around 90 malicious reviews from the overall total but it still left hundreds of reviews, with the one single listing removed from reviews on an account.
Back to Review Insanity
By this time the Perpetrator had realised what was going on after his fake listing was removed, did this deter them, heck NO, they doubled down and started adding more malicious reviews only this time they started throwing in racial slurs.
These include racial origin and height “this Paki Chap is a conman” and “he’s only a 4ft tall of Pakistani descent”, they also started using slurs against the Target in the account names they were creating to leave the reviews.
UK readers should understand some of this slang, for US readers, sorry I am not going to spell them out.
So Google is now slowly starting to remove reviews, however they are not removing the account which leaves them free to use the account again without having to go through the trouble of creating new fake Google accounts.
This account that left a review 5 days ago has been used four times before to leave a negative review on the same business before. Each time Google removes the review but leaves the account open and free to leave another review.
It will be added to the current escalation and removed again, but the fact that it sat there for two weeks, the damage is done, all while adding more each day.
In fact just double checking the business listing, this account which had the review removed 6 weeks ago was just used again 19 hours ago to leave another negative review.
Business is Going Under
I have written about negative attacks online many times before, but this is has been sustained over two years, that this business has reached breaking point. I am not a lawyer or prosecutor but to me this is criminal. It has been reported to the CMA but coming late to the party they may not be able to establish patterns with the current reviews being created.
This business is going under, after two years of sustained attack and the time spent in trying to have them removed, their business has suffered a 50% drop in custom. Before I got involved their average review rating which Google puts front and centre in front of searchers was 3.5 and has risen back to 4.1 (thank God for small mercies) but the damage has been done and still being done on a daily basis.
“When the phone stops ringing, I know they have added a new batch of negative reviews”
This business has suffered, the Targets health and marriage has suffered and the mental strain must be insufferable, logging on each day must be like swallowing broken glass.
This has also affected me in quite a profound way, once a champion of Google My Business, I have seen just how toxic a Google business listing can be for a business. Logging on and helping businesses in the Google My business Help Forum has steadily dropped since the beginning of March and I avoid review issues like the plague now.
I fear that this business will not trading in the next 6 months and the reason for this is not the economy, certainly not the service or expertise of the business (Repair Lab is the only Tech repair company in Leeds that is endorsed by Which) it is down to Google’s inability to have an effective policy in place to tackle malicious and fake negative reviews.
Update: 4th June
60 reviews removed
8 reviews added back
1 account has been used before.
Update: 6th June
11 new added
1 account used before
Super Duper Update 11th June
Wow what a super duper result.
Today Google removed another 16 fake reviews and it would seem they have suspended adding reviews via Google Maps to the business listing.
This is fabulous, however at some point they will need to release this, so customers can begin to leave reviews and looking at this guys 2.5 year pattern of abuse, he will more than likely kick off his campaign again.
But for now, I take my hat off to Google My Business for finally being proactive rather then reactive.
One little niggle that I have at the moment is that the fake reviews left for their own business page are still live on their site.