Google My Business can be a major lifeline to all kinds of businesses serving their local community. With localised search results you can get to the top of Google (in the maps listing section) and show your products/services to those most likely to want them. Unless you’re very lucky you will still need to apply some Google Maps SEO Techniques, but you won’t need to compete with big business and large budgets because your local business will be shown only to local people (or people searching for that area).
But there is a problem. That problem is spam!
We tend to think of spam as an email ‘thing’ but it’s actually prevalent in many areas in the online world.
Wherever there is an easy way to get targeted website traffic, there will be people who exploit it. ‘Google my Business’ can be exploited in a number of ways from fake reviews and fake locations through to entirely fake businesses.
Imagine you’re a plumber for you local town but you’d like to get your business in front of people in the next town along. There are ways of doing this. There is nothing illegal in it and in some cases it may well be worth the effort (depending on type of business and your point of view). If you could spend a few hundred pounds per month and gain a long-term stream of additional customers that could be extremely beneficial. However, these ‘grey and black hat’ methods are against Google’s Terms of Service. As I hope you can tell from the tone of this article that we’re not here to discuss the ethics of Google Maps spam but you do need to consider the flip-side of potential benefits as you could also become a target or victim of Google My Business spamming.
In this article, Brightlocal offer some insights and research into the issue to determine how much of a threat it really is…
Spam in Google My Business comes in many forms. While we know spam is a big concern of the local SEO elite, we wanted to know how the local marketers using BrightLocal were dealing with spammy GMB listings.
Ahead of our webinar, ‘How to Fight Spam and Influence Rankings‘, we asked BrightLocal users a series of questions around Google spam. Thank you to the 560 marketers who shared their insights.
Note: In February 2019 Google announced they were retiring the Spam & Policy forum, and releasing a new way to report GMB spam.
Spam is common in local search results, and can risk pushing rule-abiding local businesses out of the 3-pack.
Yet, only 46% of the marketers in this study see spam often or very often.
Just 9% never see spam in local results. While marketers may not be seeing spam frequently, it’s definitely out there. Could those employing spammy tactics be getting more clever about hiding their tactics? Without doing your research into a business, it’s hard to know if they are gaming the system.
Which types of spam have you seen?
The above question was only shown to those who have seen Google My Business spam.
Fake reviews are the most commonly seen type of spam, closely followed by keyword stuffed business names, and multiple listings for the same business.
Fake businesses (businesses that don’t exist, and those created for lead-generation purposes) are also prevalent.
Ineligible listings are also frequently seen, including businesses that aren’t currently in operation, and false addresses that make the business appear in a different location than it really is. While just 27% of marketers reported seeing these, it can be very hard to spot an ineligible business without the facts.
Our Local Citations Trust Report found that 22% of consumers visited the wrong location for a business because the address was incorrect online. And, 80% of consumers lose trust in local businesses if they see incorrect or inconsistent contact details or business names online – making it all the more necessary for businesses to provide accurate information.
The majority of marketers believe spam is making it more difficult for local businesses to achieve the top rankings. 77% say Google My Business spam makes their job harder, with 32% from these saying it is much harder.
Interestingly, 6% say spam makes it easier to achieve good rankings. This could be due to the relative simplicity of spam fighting compared to some other more arduous local SEO tactics.
Alternatively, some businesses could be intentionally benefiting from using spammy techniques – after all, the latest Local Search Ranking Factors study found product, service, and location keywords in names to be major rankings factors. [To note, we always recommend following Google’s guidelines!]
Sterling Sky’s great case study on keyword stuffing found that keyword stuffing led to a suspension from Google in 40% of cases – so it’s definitely worth following the rules!
How has listings spam grown over the past 12 months?
Spam in Google My Business listings has grown over the last year, with 59% of marketers saying they’ve seen an increase. A further 33% believe it has stayed the same.
Yet, 9% believe spam has decreased. Could this be due to the efforts of spam fighters? Or, could spammers be getting better at hiding fake information in listings and reviews? Read full article at Brightlocal to find out.
Is It Really A Problem?
The WDM stance on this is neutral to some degree. From our point of view it’s all about the customer. We’d never perform any practice that misleads or impacts the customer in a negative way. As far as Google T.O.S is concerned, there are so many grey areas that it would be hard to see on a cloudy day. From Googles point of view – Anything that is aimed at manipulating search results is not a good thing. Surely that’s exactly what SEO is about? Anyway, that’s a topic for another time.
The fact is, there are others out there that will exploit things like this to their full extent and take it way beyond any definition of ethical. I have personally seen an operator in the U.S that generates over £4 Million per year purely from Google My Business spam.
Reporting this spam to Google has (until recently) been a little tricky and cumbersome but Google are cracking down. One of the ways in which they’ve done this is to provide a much simpler way of reporting any spam you find. So if your business has fallen victim to maps spammers then this will be great news for you. It does have a rather corporate sounding title – the ‘Business Redressal Complaint Form‘ but this is Google after all.
To find out a little more we took a peak at a piece by Jamie Pitman (also from Brightlocal – Full Article here):
I’ve been working with Google Gold Product Experts (formerly Google Top Contributors) for a year and a half now, and in this time one particular issue has come up probably more than anything else: spam on Google My Business.
Until this week, one of the best recourses to report GMB spam that hurt your local business rankings (alongside contacting the GMB team on Twitter and Facebook, which you can still do) was to post details about it on the official Google My Business forum and hope that one of the many Sheriffs of Spamland would heed your call.
Well, no more!
This week Google finally took a big step towards acknowledging the damage GMB spam does to consumers and businesses alike by announcing a new way to report GMB spam (apart from fake reviews) that gets reviewed by a human at Google:
Introducing the ‘Business Redressal Complaint Form’
*sound of fireworks*
Well, it’s certainly not the sexiest name, but what it does will make things so much easier for local marketers tired of submitting the same spam reports again and again that I’m willing to forgive Google for such a lexical travesty.
If you’ve come across “misleading information or fraudulent activity on Google Maps related to the name, phone number, or URL of a business”, follow the below steps to alert Google to it.
Here’s how to submit a Google My Business spam complaint:
- Click here to head to the form (you’ll want to bookmark it as it’ll soon become your best friend)
- Read the guidelines linked to in the form’s introduction carefully. This is what the Google staffer reading your form will judge your complaint against, so you need to make sure what you’re claiming is misleading or fraudulent is specifically at odds with something in these guidelines.
- Enter your information. Even if you’re a local marketing consultant or agency representing another business, you’ll need to enter your name and email address.
- Select the fraudulent content in question (Title, Address, Phone number, or Website) and add the public GMB URL in the field below. (More than one type of content to complain about? Sorry to say this, but it appears that you’ll have to submit multiple forms).
- You might want to build a stronger case using multiple URLs. If you have a few (2-10), you can use the ‘Add additional info’ link to add new fields. If you have more than ten (up to 100), you can use the CSV upload feature to submit a spreadsheet.
- Now for the fun part: write, in detail, why the content is malicious or fraudulent. I can’t stress enough how important the level of detail is. Google Gold Product Expert Ben Fisher championed those who gave great amounts of detail when submitting spam to the GMB forum in a recent webinar, and we can only assume that Google’s own team require a similar level of detail. Write clearly, professionally and respectfully, and be make sure to refer to how the subject of your complaint is contravening the aforementioned Google guidelines where possible, to make the Google staffer’s job a little easier. If you’re reporting multiple incidents of spam, it makes sense to have those exhibiting the same bogus characteristics (e.g. keyword stuffing in business name) grouped together in one complaint to save you having to submit multiple reports.
- Take one last look through the completed form.
- Rub a lucky rabbit’s foot.
- Click ‘Submit’.
Regardless of whether you feel that gaming Google maps for extra customers is acceptable or not, it’s a practice that will be difficult to stamp out because it’s so profitable. It’s also difficult to define what is really spam. Fake reviews are obviously a massive No!
But what if you’re a plumber who lives in a village 10 miles from your local town. You don’t serve people at your own home because you travel to them.
In many cases, other plumbers who live in your town will beat you in the search results even if they their service isn’t as good (many factors are involved to rank your Google My Business Listing.
So would it be wrong to register an address in your town (using a virtual office address for example) and use that as your listed business address on Google, especially when this is an accepted practice for businesses across the UK (many business use virtual addresses and it’s often a service provided by accountants)?