An Overlooked Way to Report a Crooked Local Competitor

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A recent conversation with my buddy, Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca, led me to wonder: what is the best way to report a business that’s using a fake address or fake DBA to get ahead in the Google+ Local results?

The question came up because of a comment I made in this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors study, about how you’re doing the right thing if you report a competitor who’s using questionable means to eat your lunch in the local results.

(If you want to check out my original comment, it’s the third-from-last one – and my last comment – in the LSRF, down near the bottom of the page.)

Google would have you believe that the only way to report a competitor is to use the “Report a problem” feature.  My experience never has been that “Report a problem” is particularly effective.  But what’s made me lose faith recently is that the competitor of a client of mine has been using a UPS store as his address – and you can clearly see the UPS signage from Street View.  The boneheads at  Google have done nothing.

Which made me think: is Google’s “Report a problem” the only way you can even try to level the playing field?

No: you could also report the offending business on MapMaker.  If your edit comes to the attention of a good Regional Expert Reviewer (RER), you may be in luck.  But MapMaker is still a roll of the dice.

Then it occurred to me: what if you flag down the business at other important sites in the local-search “ecosystem”?

I’m talking about alerting sites like Yelp and YP to the fact that your competitor is using fake info.  That’s the stone I forget to turn over – and that other people probably also forget to turn over.  (If you frequently report crooked competitors this way, I tip my hat to you.)

Which sites should you go to?  By my count, the only important local-search sites with some semblance of a “report inaccurate info” feature are Yelp, YP, SuperPages, InsiderPages, ExpressUpdate, and Yahoo.

 

As for ExpressUpdate.com, I think you just have to contact them personally (from the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of the site).  No idea how helpful they are, though.

What should you put in your reports?

  • You competitor’s real business info;
  • The inaccurate or fake business that your competitor is using instead;
  • How you know the fake info is fake, and how you know the real info is real, and
  • Your contact info, if possible.

I wish I could say exactly how well this type of reporting works.  I don’t know yet.  For whatever reason, unethical competitors usually aren’t a problem for my clients, so I don’t have too many occasions to flag them down.

As far as I can see, there are 3 possible outcomes of flagging down dishonest competitors on sites like the above:

1.  Nothing happens – in which case I suggest trying again in a couple of weeks, and maybe asking other people to flag them down.  I can’t guarantee that grinding will do the trick, but don’t assume it won’t.

2.  One or more of the sites corrects or removes the offending listing, which could hurt not only your competitor’s visibility on that site, but also his/her NAP consistency and possibly Google+ Local rankings.

3.  Enough of the sites start displaying the real info that Google finally realizes the info on your competitor’s Places/Plus page is fake.  As Bill Slawski has written, Google’s patents describe that this is one anti-spam method that Google uses to police Maps.

Don’t confine your efforts to level the playing field.  Keep flagging down those competitors on Google, but also try it on other sites.  Something’s gotta give.

What methods have you tried to report competitors using fake info?  What seems to have worked – or not worked – so far?  Leave a comment!

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Comments

  1. I never considered reporting them on 3rd party sites. Smart Phil!

  2. avatar Crooked Google Places Locations says:

    I challenge others to find a business that has greater mastery of manipulating Google Places than Advance Plumbing & Heating. They have but one location, yet they own the rankings for a long list of towns in CT for the search term “Plumber [City] CT” http://advanceplumbingheating.com/coverage.php.

    Their false storefronts are UPS locations, empty buildings, or residential homes that Google has been notified of on multiple occasions – but this company somehow miraculously resurrects the local rankings after a few months time. While Yelp shows only one location (different from the only actual location in Newington) BBB lists multiple locations, (I believe a new development) and that may offer NAP authority. Google manipulation at its best? Any suggestions?

    • Looks like they have a bunch of exact-match domains coupled with “mini-sites.” In that sense, they’re not breaking any rules.

      They’re not all over the map in Google Places, as far as I can see. But if they have fake addresses, and you’ve been trying to report them to Google, then I suggest following the approach I described right here in this post.

  3. avatar Dan Austin says:

    I can say, from personal experience, that the Report a problem mechanism on Maps is broken. For starters, the Google Listing Editors that are responsible for looking at these reports are poorly trained and increasingly incompetent. Since Google makes heavy use of contractors, they seemingly exercise little to no control over the quality of their work, and are only interested in the quantity of their work, which is oriented toward processing the reports as quickly as possible. They have no cognitive filters to determine what is or isn’t spam. On the Map Maker side, the Google Reviewers and RERs (volunteer mappers) have better filters and can usually quickly determine what is or isn’t spam. However, if the listing is claimed on Places, Google Listing Editors (the same team that is seemingly incapable of determining what is or isn’t spam, even if it’s fairly obvious) are responsible for reviewing Map Maker edits as well, and all too frequently, they either outright deny the edit or ‘Accept’ the edit without actually approving the removal of the POI. This really isn’t the fault of the GLEs, so much as the incompetence of Google quality assurance for not adequately training the GLEs as to what is or isn’t spam. It would take less than 30 min., using a YouTube video, to train the GLEs in determining what is or isn’t spam, and by the time they got up to speed, it would take less than 1 minute for them to analyze the POIs (points of interest) and make a solid judgement.

    That Google hasn’t done this is really baffling. They have all the tools and information they could need (I made them aware of the ‘how-to’ years ago, and was responsible, in part, for raising the quality of spam checking by GRs and RERs on MM). They seem more interested in relying on algorithms, but of course, the algorithms don’t really work, and Google doesn’t want to admit that their magical incantations haven’t fixed the problem. However, they could automate many of the fact checking mechanisms so that GLEs could arrive at better decision at a faster pace, but again, Google is seemingly uninterested in doing that, as well. For example, they could automate the removal of POIs that are associated with UPS Store addresses, but they’ve never bothered to do that, even though they have the addresses for all the UPS Stores, and could easily flag all the businesses associated with them. Perhaps they’re afraid that it will cost manpower (money) to fix the problem, and that they will have to spend more money on people rather than on something that doesn’t work?

    • Thanks for stopping by, Dan, and for your great first-hand insights as an RER. You’ve summed up my frustrations pretty well; in cases like when someone’s using a UPS store address that’s clearly identifiable from Street View, I always wonder “What does it take?”

      I knew GLEs either sucked at their job or were completely overrun, but I didn’t know it’s as bad as you say it is.

      • avatar Dan Austin says:

        There’s two groups that I can identify within the GLEs, the stateside GLEs and the ones in India. The ones in India are fairly script-driven: if the listing is claimed, then no changes can take place, no matter how much common sense you employ or what guidelines you follow (for example, by adding Local language tags to the name, in order to improve searches), no matter what medium you use (Maps or MM). They have a policy that claimed listings (because they received the PIN card) are legit, no matter what. As for the stateside team, they’re just as numbers driven, and will correct the details in a spammy listing (such as the keyword spammy name) long before removing the spammy listing itself, because, again, the unspoken assumption is that if it’s claimed, it’s good. The level of evidence required to remove spammy listings is ridiculous, and their easily subverted check (calling the business in question and asking if they’re spam) is their only means of determining if spam is spam, and, of course, it’s ridiculous. I’ve gotten into an argument with a stateside GLE and had to provide a preponderance of evidence before their supervisor agreed that, yes, that listing I identified is spam, and this was through MM. Google will never drill down into the weeds to look at SV (street view), call neighboring businesses, or check the business documentation via the easily accessible online licensing databases, because the overwhelming emphasis is on resolving issues like spam as quickly as possible, and checking to see if a business is spam can be slightly time consuming. The backlog on reports was so huge at one point that I received email reports from months ago all at once (indicating they were clearing out a backlog), and no action was taken on any of the spammy listings that I reported (they cleared it by hitting the next button).

        Google only cares about adding information. They have no concern about the quality of information, and they’re wholly reliant on algos to sort it out, which again, don’t work. If something doesn’t work, why keep using it? That’s faith-based ideology, not a data-driven approach that Google supposedly emphasizes. If Google’s bent is to retain information, no matter how illegal/bad/misleading the data is, then they’re going to naturally resist removing any spammy listings.

        I’ve largely given up on trying to address spam through Google’s reporting mechanisms, because of this undocumented policy of ‘hanging on’, apparently in direct violation of Google’s TOS regarding false and illegal listings.

        I suppose when Googlers live in the bubble they do, get only the kinds of input they feel comfortable with, are about as shady as the spammers they host, and are willing to look the other way in order to marginally increase their profits, this is what you get. It’s really sloppy on their part. They make constant obsessive tweaks to the UI of their products (what I call fear- or boredom-driven fritterware) while ignoring the structural problems that make their products worse than the competition. If you can’t trust the product, why use it?

        • Interesting stuff, Dan – in a sad way. I have a little faith that the spam situation will get better over time, but probably not before it gets worse.

          One thing that pisses me off about Google’s new “City Experts” reviews program – and this didn’t occur to me when I ranted about it a couple weeks ago – is that Google seems to make no such effort to recruit/reward MapMaker RERs.

          • avatar Dan Austin says:

            Well that was an interesting article. GMM does “award” its RERs and top mappers with points and badges and maybe, if you’re lucky, a chance to occasionally talk to a GR, along with once a year swag (nothing that would make you remotely excited, like tablets or chromebooks–just bags and other odds and ends). It’s been “gamified” without any of the fun or human interest, so that Google can get free data. They basically make every effort to suck in the data without having to interact with people (unless the people happen to live within the Google bubble)–and not let anything out (hence the weird NSA-like secrecy). It’s kind of sad how they gradually cut off all contact with mappers through the forums and emails over a period of about a year and a half, with the exception of a a few high level volunteer RERs that are responsible for managing Google’s own CS interactions. Even the GRs in India were basically instructed to be quiet, and their communication became more heavily monitored to the point of making them paranoid about anything outside of official channels. Part of the big push at Google to seal themselves inside the bubble.

            And I agree with your thoughts that the City Experts program is doomed to fail. Google has this fantasy that they’re going to crush Yelp. Sorry, it’s never going to happen, Google.

          • You sure make me want to put in the time to become an RER, Dan :)

          • avatar Dan Austin says:

            It’s great to be an RER if you get paid by someone to map! Otherwise, not so much…

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