For many years, I’ve said that if you have an issue with local results spammers, just wait it out. If Google was irked by spam and gave a hoot about eradicating it by landing heavy penalties on regular spammers, they would remove local results spam fast and often, right?
While there are cases where Google has removed spam, it seems, and rightly so, these are not very common, fast or even permanent fixes. Actually, they seem scarce and far between. In view of the aforementioned, I’m changing my tune to call for increased attention to spam tactics that violate Google My Business terms and yet win big in the rankings.
The problems are blatant and rampant. I’ve seen and heard many cases of legitimate brands changing their business names in order to rank faster and better for their target keywords.
The additional issue is that at the end of March, Google is shutting down MapMaker. To make edits, you will have to go through Google Maps.
That brings me to conclude that if Google is hell bent to reward legitimate brands in local search, their number one option is to encourage them through local search algorithms.
For some businesses, it’s gotten to a point where they are suing Google. A group of 14 locksmiths, on 13th January, 2017 sued Bing, Yahoo and Google over fake listings.
While some changes e.g. the Possum update, seemed to herald the death of local results spam, teething problems (e.g. multiple business listings) and other problems still exist in local search.
What’s more? There are other non-spammy ways that businesses are manipulating Google results. I will give a few examples
Consider an example of a personal injury attorney in Denver. A colleague at WebStreet Strategies came across these results when doing SEO for a law firm in Denver.
Look at the second listing, “Denver Trial Lawyers.” When he brought it to my attention, my mind immediately labeled it as spam. My fellow SEO felt he needed to report it, but I advised him to allow me some time to do an audit before he reported it.
I started by looking at the listing’s official business name to verify that it was actually spam. To my surprise, the business name in their website logo is actually “Denver trial lawyers.”
This fascinated me, I couldn’t believe it. I decided to find out if they were using a deceptive logo or that was their actual business name.
I asked my friend to check out Colorado’s secretary of state’s site and do a further digging around. He sent me an email that he had found their legally registered trade name through an online search portal. The date of entry for that information was 31st July, 2008. They were smart enough to have anticipated that one day they shall use that name.
With that info, I decided to review their MapMaker history to find out when they made this change and if it featured the trade name registration. Imagine what I found? On 10th October, 2016 they updated the MapMaker listing for the business to feature the new business name.
I wasn’t yet content, so I called the business and the auto-attendant answer was, “Thanks for calling Denver Trial Lawyers.” That was indeed the furthest I could go, I called my friend and broke the news, “Theirs is a legitimate business name.”
A few days later, I thought of analyzing the Google My Business Guidelines, to figure out if for sure there was any violations I missed. My conclusion was that their name can be considered Ok as per the guidelines.
Google My Business Guidelines states:
What does that mean for SEOs?
Have you come across Gyi Tsakalakis twitter post with a screenshot of three businesses using keywords in their business name?
The practice of using a keyword as a business name is gaining prominence because entrepreneurs have realized it works and it doesn’t violate GMB guidelines.
I want to be the devil’s advocate and state that there are business whose names are less than creative, so where do we draw the line? (I’ve followed some businesses for many years and I can confirm that they have recently changed their business names to feature their keywords)
Let me support my case with another example
If you are keen, you will come across many keyword + location stuffed business names coming up daily.
Look at this example of a business that to the best of my knowledge was trying to rank for Google’s Near Me searches. Matt Lacuesta just brought it to our attention via a tweet.
What’s your take? Was the business trying to take advantage of Near Me searches? Could it be a coincidence? Isn’t it funny?
There are so many ways businesses are manipulating Google My Business results. I want to focus on the most common tactics used and propose the steps a legit business should take to fight local results spam back.
I think, and I stand to be corrected, that the biggest undoing in Google’s ability to fight spammy business names is the weight their algorithms puts into a business name. Suffice it to say, that it makes sense to treat business names with authority, at a high level. After all, users are looking for brand names and they want to find specific brands when doing search.
Over time, entrepreneurs and marketers promptly figured out that king Google puts massive weight to businesses whose names feature a keyword + location.
I searched for “Fresno Personal Injury Lawyers” and Google gave me an exact keyword match result. Look at the 2nd position in the example below.
Unfortunately, when I clicked through, the site was for a law firm with a different name. The law firm in question, unflinchingly spammed their listing and it earned them a good ranking for a good period of time.
I didn’t stop there, I reported their listing, not once but severally and Google did nothing until I escalated this through influential SEOs. The problem was that the Google account I used to report the listing had little authority. As soon as an authoritative account escalated the issue, changes went live.
In the example below, the spam listing therein has the keyword + location in their business name.
I reported this spammy listing, but unfortunately the business owner noticed and changed it in the shortest time possible.
How can legitimate businesses fight back spammy business names?
One of your tasks as an SEO is figuring out how to fight back against guys manipulating results. Some of us in the industry have given “SEO” a bad name as a result of manipulative practices. It’s thus the job of genuine SEOs to give the industry a better name by policing spammy and manipulative practices.
With the disappearance of Google MapMaker, you have to make edits in Google Maps directly. Can you notice the challenge therein? There will be no room to leave any comments for evidence.
Correct steps to report a listing with manipulative information
I need to prepare you in advance, don’t expect the changes to happen instantly. It may take time for changes to appear depending on the authority and trust level of your Google account. If you can get an influential account with a high trust level, it will make your edits go live quickly.
I’d recommend that you check out Joy Hawkins’ Ultimate Guide for Fighting Spam on Google Maps.
The 2nd common problem with maps spam is fake listings that are completely false business build by black hat SEOs merely for ranking and leads generation.
Typically I see a lot of these fake listings in the locksmith industry. As a result, Google is now doing an advanced verification for plumbers and locksmiths. Read more on that on Mike Blumenthal’s blog.
Joy Hawkings came up with a useful tip for identifying fake listings on her blog. She says”
“Spamers who create dozens of fake listings answer phone calls with some generic answers like ‘Hello, service’ or ‘Hello, locksmith’.”
I searched for a plumber in Denver and I found a listing with an exact keyword match business name. I used the aforementioned Joy’s tip and unfortunately the telephone number was disconnected. Right there, the business looked so illegitimate to me.
Fortunately, in this case, it wasn’t ranking among the top 10 in search results.
As a legitimate SEO, you will come across so many fake listings, take a similar approach and report it.
There are many different forms of review spam. What’s clear is that Google is putting a lot of effort into fighting review spam by making stars a lot more prominent and adding sorting features. Google is quite aware that they can do a better job on fighting review spam, and I look forward to them taking it a notch higher.
Every business worth its name knows they need reviews, unfortunately, most have trouble getting them. The easiest way to get a review is to leave it on your own business.
The worst case I’ve come across is one where someone left a five star review for his law firm and went further to leave a one star review for all his competitors. Here’s that example:
In spite of the fact that it is very unethical for such reviews to show up, it is an everyday thing. According to Google’s photo and review policies:
Though, I may say that the example cited above violates the above policy, cracking the nut on which rule applies best is hard. Look at the Google’s review guideline below:
In our case, I reached out to Google to see if they could help remove the review spam.
Unfortunately, Google was quite categorical that since the one star reviews do not feature words, they couldn’t help. They couldn’t at least edit the one star reviews or remove them altogether.
This isn’t an isolated case, out of similar frustrations, Tim Capper wrote an article in which he identified review spam yet, despite reporting them, nothing was done. I’d advise you to read more on his article questioning the effectiveness of GMB Spam Algos.
How to fight against review spam
Although there will still be rampant cases where Google ignores some review spam until it really improves its spam algos, all is not lost, there is something you can do to try and remove spammy reviews. To make it easier, Google published the steps to follow here:
To flag a review for removal, use the method below:
If you have spotted a local results spam listing, reported it and nothing seems to change, what are your options?
I know that edits could take up to 6 weeks to go live. If they never do, you need to go more public about the problem. For you to succeed, you have to document each and every step. Keep a file for each problem you are fighting against, record dates, and take screenshots. It’s these records that will help you seize the bull by its horns when you finally attract the attention of an influencer and earn an appropriate exposure.
Strive to post your concerns in different forums regardless of whether the listing is verified.
If the spammy listing that’s giving you sleepless nights is verified, go public about it in the GMB community forum. Be sure to give all the corresponding evidence, dates, screenshots etc. to support your case and give it the attention of moderators. At the forum, there is a “spam and policy” to ventilate the issue at hand.
What if the spam listing isn’t verified? I recommend you engaging with the Local Guides Connect Forum here.
Besides reporting local results spam listings, there’s not much that we can do. However, we hope that by making more noise and being proactive, we will put Google on its toes to come up with effective measures to fight spam.
I look forward to a future where Google will put in place algorithms for fighting spammy listings and review spam. I also hope they will up their game in how they monitor reviews and rank local results. The day local penalties compare to manual penalties in seriousness, shall be a day of great celebration.
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