Maybe you didn’t “do anything” to your competitor. Maybe your competitor is struggling and simply wants more customers. Maybe your competitor thinks your success online means less profit for him or her.
I don’t know what your competitors think—and you probably don’t know, either.
But I do know one thing: you don’t want your business, livelihood, and your family’s finances to depend on whether or not your competitors are ethical people.
Just as people can hurt each other in real life, they can hurt each other where it really counts online: Google Places.
Your competitors are probably honest people. But there are always the bad apples. Even the bad ones most likely can’t hurt you intentionally in Google Places right now—unless they’ve been studying up on it. Some people are clever and knowledgeable but also dishonest and unethical.
There are specific tactics they can use to deprive you of local customers in Google Places and take a chunk out of your business and profits. For any competitors to use any of these against you, they’d have to fall somewhere between savvy and ingeniously cunning.
Some of these tactics I’ve seen used, whereas others I haven’t seen anyone use. But each one is a vulnerability that you should know about.
Disclaimer: I can’t control who reads this, or what that person does with the info I provide. I’m telling you about these tactics so you can prevent them from being used against your business in the first place, and so you have an idea of how to counteract them in case you do encounter them.
Here are the 9 nastiest ways an unethical competitor could sabotage you—ranked in order of least to most sinister:
9. They upload malicious or unflattering photos to your Places page. They don’t even have to be untrue or libelous; they could just be really ugly or irrelevant photos that turn customers off to you. Sure, you could get them removed, but it will be a real nuisance for you—and some potential customers will inevitably see the photos in the meantime.
8. They relentlessly use the “Report a problem” feature in Google Places to try to convince Google that you’re doing something wrong.
7. They pepper your Google reviews with flags and reports of being “inappropriate”—and then get their henchmen to do the same. If they succeed, your legitimate reviews might go the way of the dodo bird.
6. They could get several people to write you a bunch of positive reviews. Google may suspect you’re buying positive reviews (which some people do), and may pull your reviews or even suspend your account. Your competitors could take it a step further by making the reviews sound really fake (though still positive), which could cause legitimate people who visit your Places page to flag the reviews as “inappropriate” or “unhelpful” and get you into trouble.
5. They write nasty reviews of you on third-party sites and/or or on sites like PissedConsumer.com. These are especially tough to combat because (1) it’s harder for you to keep tabs on a bunch of different sites, because (2) one person can easily create a bunch of different user accounts on these sites and write you a nasty review on each, and because (3) some third-party sites don’t give you much recourse even if your business is getting slammed unjustly.
4. They write fake negative reviews, get their friends and family to do the same, and pay even more people to do it. They’d get a bunch of people to write not only negative Google reviews, but also nasty reviews on third-party sites. Most customers would know the reviews are cooked-up, but some would be convinced, and your Google Places ranking would most likely still take a hit. You could counteract their efforts if you took enough time away from running your business, but don’t expect Google to step in and do anything.
3. They set up fake Google Places listings for your address, using a different phone number from the one you use. Long story short, Google views your phone number as the unique “ID” of your business. If Google doesn’t have confidence that it knows what your real phone number is, your ranking will take a big hit.
2. Alternatively, they could set up fake Google Places listings using the name of your business but with a different phone number and a different address from the ones you use. Again, this would be an attempt to spread inconsistent info about your business and create “uncertainty” about your business in the eyes of Google. Having duplicate listings in general isn’t good for your Google Places ranking, and it’s far worse if there is a bunch of inconsistent information about your business floating around on the duplicate Places listings. The worst part is if your competitor lists an address that isn’t your real one, he potentially could receive the verification PIN from Google in the mail and actually “owner-verify” the fake listing. Google likely would eventually conclude that it isn’t the right address, but your competitor still will have thrown a wrench into the system.
1. Probably the worst thing a competitor could do to you is to use Tactic #2 against you and go to numerous third-party sites and create a bunch of fake listings for your business, all slightly different from each other. Not only does your Google ranking suffer when you have a ton of duplicate listings floating around cyberspace, but it’s infinitely worse when the info in those listings (phone numbers, addresses, name of business) is inconsistent. It would be extremely tough to manage the information that the most important third-party sites have about you—especially if an unethical competitor keeps peppering them with false info and maybe even claiming some of the listings. Especially if this tactic is used in combination with any of the others, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands.
So how can you avoid or counteract any sabotage? A few suggestions:
- Watch your Google Places listing like a hawk. This means not only checking the Place page itself for anything suspicious or malicious, but also logging into the “Dashboard” area to make sure you don’t have any notifications/warnings from Google.
- Keep an eye on third-party listings and data providers—including Yelp, SuperPages, CitySearch, and ExpressUpdateUSA. Look out for duplicate listings and see if the info they contain is accurate. If not, get the duplicates removed.
- Set up Google Alerts for your business name and website name. Doing the same for your competitors’ names is a good measure, too.
- Read all your reviews—first and foremost on your Places page, but also occasionally on major third-party sites, like Yelp and InsiderPages. If you see a suspicious-looking review, click on the username of the person who wrote it. You’ll be able to see what other reviews that person has written. If there’s a scathing 1-star for you but a glowing 5-star for your competitor, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.
If prevention doesn’t work, contact the business owner. First just mention what is going on, and ask in a non-accusatory way whether they might know anything about it. If they’re dodgy, explain your reasons for thinking they’re up to something, and then ask them to explain what’s really going on. Obviously, be as polite as possible and don’t lead off with finger-pointing—but also be firm and keep your BS detector cranked up.
Meanwhile (maybe before you even contact the business owner), use Google’s feeble but occasionally handy “Report a problem” feature to let the powers-that-be at Google Places know something’s awry.
(By the way, if you still encounter trouble even after all of that, feel free to contact me; I may be able to give you some suggestions.)
To a peaceful, fair, prosperous local market.