Hardest Truths of Google Maps Spam

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It’s hard enough to keep a lid on competitors’ Google Maps / Google My Business spam.  That’s even harder if you don’t know what to expect, or or if you give up because you assume you’re doing it wrong. It’s easy to get your spirits crushed.

As with Google reviews, you know Google isn’t too concerned about Maps-spam in general.  You probably also know at least the basics of what I call spam patrol: You identify competitors who have violated the Google My Business “quality guidelines,” and you submit edits in Google Maps, in the hope that Google will correct or remove those competitors’ spammy listings.  (As I always say, if competitors are to outrank you, might as well make them work for it.)  The post I linked to describes the basic process, as does this great guide.

You’re probably less clear on what to expect if you start or continue an anti-spam effort.  How long will you need to do it?  How often?  Will it get easier?  When will Google approve your edits? What will Google tell you?  When are you wasting your time?  And so on.

Here, in no particular order, are a few things I’ve observed about Google Maps spam and the kind of anti-spam effort you might undertake:

1. Google has crowdsourced pretty much all of its quality-control to you, me, and any oaf who can set up a Google account.  Anyone can lay a hand on anyone else’s page.  We’re all prisoners in gen pop.

2. To the extent rules ever are enforced, Google also has crowdsourced most of its enforcement to Top Contributors / Product Experts at the Google My Business forum.  Those people are volunteers, with the patience of oysters.  I suspect more people have set foot on the moon than are paid to keep Google Maps clean.

3. Google will never approve all of your edits, no matter how right you are. You’re lucky to get a third of your edits approved.

4. Google never seems to take leaps of faith on edits submitted by users who have consistently submitted edits that Google ends up agreeing with.  The spammer gets the benefit of the doubt.

5. Google won’t tell you when your edit is rejected.

6. Google won’t tell you why your edit was rejected.

7. Google won’t tell you when to expect a decision on your edits.  Sometimes it takes 30 seconds.  Sometimes it takes 2 months.

8. Google doesn’t automatically or instantly approve edits it had already approved before being counteracted by a spammer.  If I keyword-stuff the name of my business, and you get the keywords removed, and I add the keywords back, you may have to wait again for Google to approve your edit (assuming Google approves it again).

9. There’s no discernible penalty for repeated offenses on the same Google My Business page.

10. Nothing prevents the same offender from putting up the same spammy page in a different Google account.

11. Google doesn’t give you a way to dispute a rejected edit.  You can plead on the GMB forum, but again, that’s staffed mostly by volunteers, and competitors can crank out spam faster than those volunteers can review that and possibly take action on it.

12. Google doesn’t give you a “comments” field or another way to provide evidence to back up your edits.  Google does give you the option to upload photos as evidence, but those photos will be publicly visible under whatever name you use on your Google account.  Also, maybe you just want to provide a link to the business’s state Secretary of State filing, for example.  No can do.  (There is this new-ish form, but I have not seen or heard that it helps at all.)

13. Google doesn’t tell business owners and other spam patrollers that their edits are anonymous. Because of that, many business owners don’t send in edits that they’re right to submit, for fear of reprisals.

14. By the same token, if you’re NOT spamming and competitors submit malicious edits on your Google My Business page, you won’t know who’s done it.

15. You don’t have much or any extra sway if you use AdWords to advertise on a phrase that’s being spammed by competitors. Determined spammers often can get for free what you have to pay for.  Whether they get any customers out of the deal is another question.  The spam often doesn’t pay off.  Just the same, Google lets them step on your Capezios.

16. In my limited and imperfect testing, advertisers are more likely to get away with Maps-spamming.

17. If you fix a keyword-stuffed or fake name of a business, the performance-enhancing effect will linger. The page will still rank – at least for a while, if not long-term.  My hunch is that if a Google My Business page with a spammy name ranks for long enough, it gets enough clicks from searchers that Google concludes it must be a relevant result.  There’s a fake-it-’til-you-make-it effect here.

18. The less info is on or associated with a GMB page, the harder it is for Google to determine whether your edit is correct, so Google is even less likely to fix the page . That’s especially the case when the “website” field is blank.  Google’s bots or staff can’t look at the site to confirm or falsify what’s on the GMB page, so you’ll usually end up with a hung jury.

19. Google seems not to know or care what kind of address a given address is.  To Google, nothing is inherently odd about a personal-injury law firm that shares an address with an Arby’s, or an excavation company with a fleet of 12 Komatsus in a high-rise apartment building.

20. In your Google My Business dashboard, you can’t reject edits definitively or easily. When you log in, you may see Google’s “suggestions.” Often those are from other users’ (probably competitors’) edits on your listing. You can reject one at a time, but they keep popping up. That’s a royal pain, especially if you manage many GMB pages. (Thanks to Justin Mosebach of Improve & Grow for mentioning this one in his comment.)

21. Review spam is the least-monitored of all types of spam, and often the most damaging.  Spammy Google My Business pages may outrank you, but they can’t tell lies about you.  Unpoliced Google reviews can do that and much more.

22. You’ll need to patrol the map and make edits for as long as you’re in business.

Any first-hand experience you’d like to share?

What are other hard truths you’ve observed about Google Maps spam? (I know I forgot something.)

Leave a comment!

10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

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There’s no shortage of info on the “ultimate” local SEO audit, and on all the checklist items big and small that people insist should be in your audit.  But there are two intertwined problems:

a. Good SEOs aren’t necessarily good at doing audits.  Most audits are overblown and disorganized.

b. Their audits often are tough for clients to act on, mostly because of how the recommendations are presented.

Whether you do your own local SEO and want to check everything out for yourself, or you’re in-house, or you’re a full-time professional SEO, your first concern should be whether you’re looking at all the moving parts.  An excruciating checklist for the website is fine, but not if you skip (or skimp on) the other parts that matter.

If you want to bake a pie, the place to start is not necessarily with granny’s super-secret recipe that took 50 years for her to perfect, if only because it’ll probably take you 30 years to get it right (if you ever do).  You’d probably prefer just a solid, straightforward recipe that you can make well today and tweak until it becomes your secret recipe.

I’ve done a lot of local SEO audits, and more often than not my clients act on the recommendations and get results.  In either case, they always understand my recommendations, partly because I structure my audits in a simple way.

Here are the 10 basic sections I usually put in a local SEO audit:

1. General comments.  Exactly how it sounds.  Any commentary you have that isn’t an action item should probably go here.  My “general comments” section is maybe half a page long.  In it, I also specify any quick wins, to the effect of, “If you do nothing else today, here are the 5 most-urgent suggestions to do.”

2. Google My Business.  Where you give your recommendations on your client’s GMB page(s), and maybe on features you think he or she should use (e.g. “Posts“).  Here’s also where you should identify any duplicate GMB pages and tell your client what to do about them.

3. Other listings (AKA citations).  I put the citation audit in a separate spreadsheet, separate from the main write-up, so this section is pretty lean.  I include any color commentary here.

4. Anti-spam.  I identify specific competitors who are spamming the local map, I explain what they’re doing, and I offer general suggestions on “spam patrol.”

5. Reviews.  In a separate spreadsheet I’ve got a “review audit,” which shows the top 8-12 review sites that matter to the specific client.  The spreadsheet also outlines my suggestions on where to focus on getting more reviews and on how to prioritize.

6. Link opportunities & strategy.  My audits include research into specific link opportunities that are realistic for the client (based on his/her answers in a questionnaire I send), and I include those link-opps recommendations in a separate spreadsheet.

7. Website: site-wide and technical.  This is where I put my suggestions on internal linking, standardizing title tags, site structure, how to improve page speed, and much more.  My audit includes several sections of website recommendations, and this the first section.

8. Homepage.  I’ve found that the homepage is important enough to call for a whole section of the audit, partly because I tend to have a lot of suggestions on the homepage.

9. Other pages.  Here’s where I put any recommendations on existing pages other than the homepage: “Services,” “Products,” “Locations,” “Service Area,” etc.  I also weigh in on concerns like whether the site has blog posts that would be better off as pages.

10. Pages to create.  This tends to be a long section, because most businesses’ sites don’t have nearly all the pages they should have, so I end up recommending many specific new pages.

Most audits I do consist of those 10 sections – give or take one or two, depending on the business.  As you can see, I didn’t tell you all the things I suggest go into each bucket, but rather the main buckets I suggest.  What you put in each bucket depends on what works for you.

Also, I always include a follow-up call to discuss any recommendations my client may want to discuss more.  I don’t consider that a section of the audit itself, but it’s an important part of the service.

Any sections I missed?

How do you structure your local SEO audits (either for a client or when reviewing your own SEO campaign)?

Leave a comment!

Your Bunker Plan in Case Google My Business Pushes the Pay-to-Play Button

It may not happen soon – or suddenly or permanently – but the chances are good that sooner or later Google will monetize more of the Map.  Maybe all of it will become ad space, or maybe certain features of your Google My Business page will require you to load quarters into them.  Probably a […]

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Does Google Look the Other Way When a Local Pack Advertiser Spams the Google Maps Results?

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For better or for worse, you can “buy” your way to the top of Google’s local 3-pack if you have a Google My Business page that already ranks OK, and if you use AdWords, enable location extensions, and meet a few other criteria. It appears that’s also how you can buy wiggle room to spam […]

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Google Expands “Suggested Review” Google My Business Posts

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I always like when Google drops a subtle hint about what it wants you to do. If you haven’t done a Google My Business post recently, and if you have a good-sized pile of Google reviews, there’s a good chance Google will auto-generate a “Suggested Post” that quotes one of your Google reviews.  (As of […]

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One Good Reason to Offer Google My Business Post Offers

Two problems with Google My Business posts are (1) they’re not too visible anymore unless someone searches for your business by name, and (2) people without itchy mouse-fingers only see a tiny preview of the post in the sidebar. Those are valid concerns.  Though you can use my hack to keep Google My Business posts […]

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The Easiest Way to Get a Google Maps One-Box Result – without Spamming

I’m talking about a local search result like this (click to enlarge): Local “one-box” results (as they’re called) show only one Google My Business page, alongside some organic results.  It’s good for your business to have a one-box result any time you can nab one, because of how visible you are on the page: You’re […]

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Google My Business vs. Bing Places in a Nutshell

This example is from one of my clients, who’s got a seasonal business and had a great winter. Two screenshots up the difference between Google visibility and Bing visibility.  The screenshots are of those two search engines’ “dashboard” stats.  I doubt either source of intel is Swiss-watch accurate, but each can give you a rough […]

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Google Maps Spam Patrol: Why You Need to Do It, and 10 Tips to Make It Doable

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Why not make your local competitors work to outrank you?  They won’t have to work too hard if you assume Google keeps the Google Maps results clean, because that doesn’t happen much. “Spam patrol” is my name for the process of identifying Google My Business pages that violate any of Google’s guidelines and that, as […]

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How Many Ways Can Someone Troll Your Google My Business Page?

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What’s the difference between the Google Maps business results and middle school?  Well, at one you get lunch and the possibility that the heckling and hounding ends for the day once the bell rings. It’s easy to get worn down in local SEO.  The work it takes for you to get visible and stay visible […]

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