Google Map Spam? What in the world could I be talking about? I’m sharing this with you because in doing some SEO work for a client I discovered this shameful practice of cheating Google Local / Google Maps listings. Very shameful and unethical. If you find a company that’s spamming Google Maps, use this private form to report it.
First, a quick lesson in Google Maps. In order to get your small business listed in Google Maps, which is an excellent thing to do, you have to register your business and enter things like an address, a phone number, and a website address, as well as other information about your business. It is a directory of local businesses, linked to regular Google searches. When someone does a search for something, like “website design seattle” in Google, you will often see a section at the top of the organic listings that shows a map and a list of businesses. These businesses are from Google Maps.
Now, I often look at “website design seattle” because those are my keywords. I’ve watched my own position in the Google Maps listing move around. For a time, I was ranked #1, and was happy.
One day, I was doing some research for a client, and discovered that a competing company had developed multiple websites with duplicate content (this is called “doorway” pages). Someone then registered all these “fake” companies in Google Maps. I looked up the web design company to see who does this sort of thing because I was curious. I refer people to other website design companies, and if another company is trying to cheat the search engines, I don’t refer folks to them. I made a mental note of the company name.
Later, when I Googled “website design seattle”, as I am prone to do, the name of this very company came up, one once, but TWICE in the Google Local listings. Here’s what it looks like:
See the listings for A. and B. ? See how the phone number is identical? I’ve blurred out the company name and all but the last two digits of the phone to protect their privacy, but the domain and phone are identical. In order to add a duplicate listing, they’ve created a subdomain, “website.theirdomain.com”, and added it as if it were another unique business to Google Maps. Also notice the generic names of the business “Seattle Website Design Firm” and “Seattle Website Design” – note, this is not the name of the company, but rather the keywords. It’s interesting to note that this seems to be a common practice as C. has “Website Design and Web Design Company” as the name of the business, when it’s clearly not. Is it the reason they’re ranked ahead of me? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Now, I like Google Maps, and often use it with my iPhone. I wanted to find out what the official rules were regarding how businesses got ranked. Admittedly I was much happier when I was number one, and wanted to know how to get back there, but I also wanted to know why and how other companies were cheating the system. Remember I used to be a Quality Director for Motorola – and I think it’s important to follow good rules that are set up to benefit everyone.
Here’s the official answer to “How does Google Maps rank business listings?“. Here’s what it says:
All Google search results are based primarily on relevance, and Google Maps listings are no different. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors. Sometimes our search technology decides that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer.
Google Maps and the Local Business Center are a free service, so there’s no way to request or pay for a better ranking. We also can’t provide additional details about our ranking algorithm. We do our best to keep the details of the algorithm confidential in order to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.
“…as fair as possible”…that sounds good. So Google wants it to be a fair system, that’s great. Fairness is their product, after all – we use Google because it represents the most relevant search results, which money can’t buy and cheating can’t get. In theory.
Next I went in search of help. I found the “Google Maps Help Group for Business Owners To Report Spam on Google Maps“. The instructions say that if you’ve found Google Maps Spam, to reply to the thread with the relevant information and they’ll address it. (UPDATE, I do NOT recommend using this forum because your reporting is public – and in the end, I got harassed. Use this new private form instead to report Google Map Spam)
So I did. I subscribed to the thread and posted a message about what I’d found. And I waited. And I started getting other folks complaints – around 3 a day were coming in – after a few days I unsubscribed. There are tons of folks complaining about Google Map Spam and honestly I have no idea whether these complaints are ever resolved. So far, mine hasn’t been, but I’ll keep Googling “website design seattle” and see if the duplicate listings for the same company disappear or not. It will also be interesting to see if the business names get changed from keywords, to the actual business names. I believe in Google’s desire for fairness – let’s see what happens over time.
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.