Google My Business is a useful tool for local businesses and their customers alike. However, it becomes a lot less useful for everyone when it is taken over by spam. In the long term, this includes the spammers themselves.
Why is Google My Business Spam so Much of a Problem?
As GMB grows, so does the spam problem.
Google My Business is free and easy to use. Because of the sheer volume of listings, most new listings are reviewed and approved only by a machine learning algorithm that often seems to be asleep on the job.
The algorithms let past many obvious spam and fake listings. Meanwhile, genuine businesses get reported and have to fight to get their listing reinstated.
What Techniques do the Spammers Use?
The spammers, which range from full-blown scammers to businesses who don’t understand the rules and/or are getting bad SEO advice, use a number of techniques to push their listings ahead of those who play by the rules:
Completely Fake Listings
This is a scam used to collect your leads and outsource the work. Or, they sell the leads back to you (hint, never give these people money). Fake listings may use the address of legitimate businesses, and thus can often be spotted by people who are actually local and know what signs are there (GMB locations require obvious signage to be validated).
Often, this is done to further localize SEO, with a business claiming to have locations in multiple towns to attract local customers. It may also be done to increase exposure and push other businesses off the list.
Generally, they will use slightly different versions of their name. (This may also happen when one person at a company isn’t talking to another.
Always make sure that you only have one Google My Business listing.) These listings harm the business concerned when they use fake contact information and customers then look for them in the right place.
Keywords in Names
This might include setting the business name to something like “Car Accident Lawyer Trenton” or adding keywords to the end of the name. In most cases, this is just plain bad SEO. The business thinks it will work, but it looks stupid, is against GMB’s policies, and will hurt them in the long run.
These spam listings are often the easiest to find and report; a simple search on common keywords will locate most of them.
Some people like to put their competitors down, and they will post reviews pretending to be dissatisfied customers.
In other cases, businesses may engage in review swapping to get their ratings up, with somebody who is not a direct competitor.
How to Fight Google My Business Spam
Google My Business spam is bad for everyone. In some industries, it has become so rampant that customers have stopped relying on Google My Business altogether.
Nobody wants to find that the business they called didn’t exist and legitimate business owners are getting frustrated. In some cases, suggested edits to obvious spam listings are denied.
So, what can you do? Fortunately, Google has improved the tools for fighting spam lately.
Here are five essential things you can do to fight Google My Business spam.
This form is for content that might lead to fraudulent activity or is “malicious to be on Google Maps.” (Their grammar.) Make sure to fill out the form completely, or it will not be processed.
You should report any Googly My Business spam listings you find, and can sometimes find more by searching for obvious spam phrases such as ‘car accident lawyer’ or ‘your plumber.’
Unfortunately, you will need to fill out one form for each part of the entry that is wrong. Make sure to explain exactly what is wrong with it, in detail. These forms are reviewed by a human. You will need to provide your actual contact details, which are governed by Google’s privacy policies.
Submit Public Edits to the Spam Listings
For this, you use the “Suggest an edit” button below each listing. Using this tool you can, for example, suggest that keywords be removed from the name. You can also say that the place doesn’t exist. If you do this, taking a photo of what is actually at the address they claim can be powerful ammunition.
Pro tip: Note that the more you edit and review, the more seriously your suggestions will be taken.
Ask for Help on the Google My Business forum
Please only do this if the first two options don’t work, as the Product Experts are volunteers. Be polite. Also, Google is retiring the Spam & Policy section of the forum soon (possibly already, depending on when you read this).
Make Noise on Social Media
Some people have had success in getting fake listings removed by getting Google’s attention on Twitter. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
For fake reviews, you can report reviews that violate Google’s policies. The policies prohibit posting fake content to manipulate ratings.
You can also report “reviews” that have nothing to do with your business, which contains profanity, or which purport to be from somebody else. Oh, and you can report reviews that look like they were posted by the other business themselves, although this can be hard to detect.
If the review does not obviously violate policies, you may want to leave a polite response explaining that the person is not a customer. This is not for the spammer, but for everyone else reading it.
Fighting Google My Business spam is something business owners and marketers need to stay on top of.
Until the algorithms improve dramatically, spam is going to continue to slip through and it is simply not possible for Google to provide a human review for every listing posted without bogging the system down such that nobody could actually post their listings.
So, while this remains true, we all have a bit of a responsibility to get spam listings off the map.
We can help remove the offending spam listings holding you down from ranking and optimize your GMB profile in a way that won’t get it suspended.
Our local SEO experts are here to help with this or any of your other digital marketing needs. Give us a call today!