Serving Up Local Spam

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If you run a business that primarily focuses on a local or regional market, you may be aware of the importance of claiming your business listing in the major search engines even if you are not heavily involved in search marketing. After all, if you don’t claim your listing, someone who does not have your best interests at heart may do so, post a lot of erroneous information about your business, and cause you a great deal of financial harm before you find out and do what is needed to remedy the situation. Getting info fixed in your business listing is not always an easy task, especially if an unscrupulous spammer has totally muddied the waters.

Spammers are an ingenious lot. In some categories of businesses which see a lot of business originating from local search, some pretty complex means of tricking the search engines and bypassing requirements are proliferating. One particularly interesting scheme was highlighted this week by Local Search Hound at Convert Offline in their post “Dominating Google Maps: The Most Effective Spam Ever and What You Can Learn From It.”

Detailing a specific example of a business involved in garage doors in CT, the post shows how in this particular case, someone has gamed the Google business listing procedure in order to show up in the Local 7-Pack multiple times. Here’s how Local Search Hound describes the situation:

“If you take a look at the image above at a Google Maps result you will find listings for 4 companies that don’t really exist, at least not with that name or at the address listed. I called and asked if they were licensed, they said no. All 4 phone numbers were answered by a person whose voice sounded remarkably similar to the others. The address doesn’t exist; And they dominate the search result for Garage Doors Danbury CT.”

Using a combination of made-up addresses, doctored business names, and clever manipulation of site content, the person(s) responsible have managed to dominate the local search arena for their service category.

How is this accomplished and why hasn’t Google banned such activity? As the post details, the method skirts the acceptable rules of engagement with a little deceit here and a little deceit there. In essence, the process involves setting up fictitious locations for your business, so that it appears that you have a physical location in any city or town you wish to show up for local search, complete with a phone number, and a website or page. Add in some fake reviews of your business (full of praise obviously) and voila! You can instantly turn your one location shop into a location in every city you wish to take the time to set up in.

There are some limitations on how far you can take this, of course, and I’m also certain that Google and others are trying hard to limit the spread of this particular type of spam and identifying those who have already played the system. For example, to succeed with this, you need to have your business listing confirmation come via phone, not mail, so that you can have the phone number you have supplied to Google ring in your office (even if it is located hundreds of miles away from the “address” you supplied as your business location). Otherwise, the postcard for verification that Google sends is not likely to be delivered to the fictitious address you supply.

Also, you need to be in a business where people are more likely to phone for more information, rather than visit your location. After all, if you have a fake business address and a potential customer shows up there, you won’t build much trust or gain new customers. But if you offer a service that typically is provided at the customer’s location, busy consumers are more likely to call to find out more than to drive in.

I like to think that if/when Google tracks down people gaming the system in this fashion that they are banned for life from future use of services. But those who would go to such lengths to evade the normal rules of the game are likely to move on to the next unscrupulous tactic as soon as they work out how to do so. Makes you wonder what kind of success they might have in legitimate business pursuits if they applied their efforts toward using, not abusing, the system. Just my two cents …

About the Author

Frances Krug has worked in market research since graduating from UCLA with an MA and CPhil in Latin American history. As an editor and online content provider for the last 7 years, she currently is Associate Editor at iNET Interactive, where she also directs Search Marketing Standard's email marketing program.

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