Handling negative content online

No matter how well you run your business, there will always be someone – an unhappy customer, disgruntled colleague, devious competitor, malicious blogger or scoop-seeking journalist - who’s keen to try and discredit it in some way.

Although press articles, social media and review sites such as Google Reviews, TrustPilot, Glassdoor, Checkatrade and Tripadvisor are a great way to spread a positive word about your business, they also provide the perfect platform for people to publicly air their grievances.

Such criticism can feel like a punch in the stomach. It can also ruin the reputation of your company if not handled properly.

Most business owners who contact us for help ask us to remove a negative post, article or review. This is not a simple request.

Removing content from the Google Search Results Pages

Many ‘online reputation management’ companies claim they can remove negative online content virtually overnight. Some even guarantee their results but be wary. If they request upfront payment, be even more cautious.

It is extremely difficult to have items completely removed from Google, especially with the existence of aggregator sites that simply gather and distribute existing content using an automated process. Anyone who claims they can obliterate such content completely might be using black hat techniques that will come back to bite you in the future.

It may surprise you to learn that Google is not obliged to remove content unless it contains highly personal/sensitive information such as:

  • Bank account details
  • Confidential medical records
  • Explicit images

Only in these circumstances, does Google have a duty of care to act. If any of the above instances are relevant to you, you will need to fill in Google’s personal information removal request form to begin the removal process.

What about removing other damaging content?

It is generally easier to have something removed when you are dealing with a small website or an individual blogger/writer. Biggers publishers, such as national newspaper, are much harder to deal with.

In either situation, contact the author or publisher directly. Understandably, you will probably feel emotional but do your utmost to remain polite, measured and rational. You could make the situation worse by being bullish or threatening with legal action.

If they refuse to remove the content, let it lie unless it is blatantly inaccurate or libellous – in which case, seek legal advice. We can recommend a number of legal advisers with expertise in this area.  Further on you will also find our advice for dealing with content that can’t be removed.

Cached content - a word of warning

Even if you’ve succeeded in getting an offending post removed – and this could be a newspaper article, a review or personal blog – it might still show up when people conduct a Google search. 

Without getting too technical, this is because of the way Google’s search results pages work. The piece will only disappear when Google next crawls the web pages in question and this could be months down the road.

All is not lost. If you can evidence the fact that the item has been removed, you can contact Google directly to request they update their index as a matter of urgency.

Spotting and removing fake reviews

It is estimated that nearly 60% of businesses have been the victim of a negative or fake online review.

There are a number of things you can do to identify a fake review, including:

  • Checking if the reviewer is in your customer database
  • Seeing if they made any calls to customer service

Clusters of bad reviews within a short timeframe; reviews with very little detail; or ones that recommend a competitor are all tell-tale signs that a review is probably fake.

If you can prove foul play by a competitor, contact the owner of the business directly. Be polite and measured but say you are considering taking legal advice. Remember, they might be oblivious to the activity which might have been created by their marketing team.

If you are keen to remove a negative Google review, start by finding your business listing on Google Maps and click on ‘reviews’. Next, identify any false reviews using the tips we shared above. Finally, click the three vertical dots on the right side of the Google business review and select ‘flag as inappropriate’.

What if the negative review is fair?

Most businesses fail to deliver exemplary customer service 100% of the time. Face the fact that your customer might have had a genuinely bad experience of your company.

If this is the case, suck it up and learn from it.  Here are some tips:

  • Take it offline. Quickly find an alternative way to communicate with your customer. Ask if you could message or email them privately or, better still, contact them by phone.
  • Thank them. For taking the time to highlight the issue.
  • Apologise. Don’t make excuses, don’t get defensive. Be polite and professional. Apologise for any shortcomings relating to your product or service, then set out what you have done to rectify matters.
  • Fix the problem. Offer your customer a replacement product or whatever is appropriate.  Make sure you avoid future issues by picking the matter up with your team.
  • Request removal. Once you’ve resolved the issue to your customer’s satisfaction, you might politely ask them to remove the review. You will have to make a judgement call about the type of person they are and whether they will be receptive to this request.

If the criticism is unfair, tactfully intimate that you are sorry they feel this way, that you have hundreds of satisfied customers, but you appreciate their comments. The key here is not to inflame the situation. Take the wind out of their sails by retaining your composure and being professional.

Most consumers are now savvy to the fact that malicious comments are often posted out of a personal grudge or general feeling of dissatisfaction with life in general.  Choose your battles carefully.

Remember to monitor your pages every day and respond quickly to negative reviews or complaints.  Failure to do so can hint at inefficient processes and poor customer service.  Delays might also give your complainer more ammunition.

A practical guide to handling negative comments on review sites

If you are intent on trying to remove online content, follow our tips and download our practical guide to handling negative comments on review sites below.

Download our practical guide 'Negative Comments on Review Sites'

If you feel our tried, tested and trusted approach is more appealing, fill in our contact form or give us a call on 07881772960.


My business was facing a torrent of unfair criticism on Facebook.  It stemmed from one negative post by an ex-employee and escalated like wild fire. Your level-headed, practical advice helped get the negative comments removed.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I thought the problem would go away if I ignored it. It didn’t. I was reluctant to use you but can honestly say, your support and advice helped pull me back from the brink. Your patience, clarity of thought and advice were just what I needed to get me through the emotional roller coaster.

One of my co-directors was found guilty of drink driving.  I was concerned that if it got out, we’d suffer from negative press and loss of business.  As it happened, there was no backlash but being able to contact you and have some pre-prepared statements and letters ready was reassuring.

Your calm and steady approach was everything I needed when my business was being unfairly criticised in the national press. You stopped me from responding in haste, which I realise now, was the worst thing I could have done! Thank you, thank you, thank you.