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What Happens When Google Removes 98% of Your Reviews [Case Study]

Google has a long way to go to solve the problem with fake reviews but every now and then we see a business that loses a huge chunk of reviews because they did something to violate Google’s policies.  In this case, I tracked a dentist that lost 98% of their reviews because they were caught review gating.
In this case, losing most of their reviews didn’t even impact their overall star rating which supports the finding from Mike Blumethal’s study that showed review gating didn’t really have a large impact on the overall rating of a business.

After they lost the reviews, I monitored the rankings of the business for several months and was surprised to see that their ranking remained the same for several months before they finally declined one position.

It made me wonder why the business didn’t lose ranking originally.  After all, if reviews are a ranking factor, shouldn’t losing a ton of them result in a ranking drop?  When this question was asked at a LocalU event, a very smart individual (who used to work at Google) clarified that reviews that are removed for policy violations aren’t actually deleted, they are just hidden from public view.  This potentially means that the ranking “power” that the reviews gave the listing originally would still be there.  My theory is that over time, as their listing stood out less compared to their competitors, their click-through-rate would drop and thus their ranking would finally drop as we saw in June of 2019.  Of course, this is just a theory.  I decided to check back over a year later and found that they were still sitting in the 3rd position.  As of February 2021, they actually have fewer reviews (62) than they did in July 2019 (77) so Google must have removed more after I stopped tracking it.


  • Losing reviews on Google likely won’t result in a ranking drop
  • Unlike Yelp, Google appears to have no long-term penalty for businesses with review violations

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Joy Hawkins

Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006, writes for publications such as Search Engine Land, and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Very interesting. While the decrease in rank numbers might affect viewers selecting a business, it seems this will not deter others from continuing their various tactics. It seems Google will have to start impacting rankings, or reviews will become less believable over time.

    1. That is exactly what I was thinking. What’s to deter a business from buying a bunch of fake reviews? If they can keep their high ranking- They win either way. One would think getting caught with 600+ fake reviews would be cause for acct. shutdown, I’ve seen people violate for MUCH less.

      1. Google is cracking down on reviews this month. I am monitoring one business that had 1221 reviews, Google removed 656 reviews, and they went out and bought 350 new fake reviews. Today they have 597 reviews. If businesses want to waste money buying fake reviews, they won’t be happy after Google removes them.

    2. Reviews don’t have the impact on rankings that people think it does. Mike Blumenthal said he saw a ranking increase with the initial set of reviews and once that threshold was met, there were no more ranking increases. I agree, I see a ranking boost from 5 to 15 reviews, then nothing after that. I see people complain that they are not ranking when they have more reviews than their competitors. There is a lot more to local rankings than reviews.

    1. In my experience, reviews have a moderate impact on ranking. It’s not one of those things though where the more reviews you have, the higher you rank.

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