Scraping Gray SEO Barnacles off the Local Spam Flotilla

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“Barnacle” SEO, or the process of getting a page other than a page on your site to rank well in Google’s local organic search results, can be a great way to grab extra local visibility.  If your competitors get barnacle SEO to work for them, more power to ‘em – if they do it in a fair and square way.  If they don’t, you shouldn’t let it stand.

Yelp is the great-granddaddy barnacle site.  Your competitors may use it in a gray-hat way, though.  If your competitors use a fake or keyword-stuffed name in Yelp, and appear to have that page ranking well in Google as a result of that name, the chances are good you can scrape off some of that visibility.  You probably know the real name of their business (or you can find out easily), and you can be pretty confident that the name has propped up their Yelp rankings artificially if they’re outranking businesses with many more or much-better reviews.

I dealt with that recently for a client of mine.  One of his competitors had a Yelp page named simply “iPhone Repair.”  That was not the real name of the business, but that didn’t stop the Yelp page from ranking #1 in the local organic results for “iPhone repair.”  Well, I submitted an edit on that Yelp page.  In the optional “comments” you can include in your edit I mentioned what the real name was and how I knew (it was on their site).

Yelp fixed the name a couple days later, and the page ranked #1 for a while longer: It took Google probably 10 days to re-index the Yelp page, at which time it dropped from #1 to #6 in the organic results, and fell off of page 1 completely a few days after that.

Sure felt good to scrape that barnacle off.

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For all of Yelp’s MANY flaws big and small, it is better at policing spam than Google is.  Plenty of spam still gets by Yelp, of course, but at least your anti-spam edits are less likely to be ignored.  As SEOs and business owners, our first impulse is to go after spammy Google My Business pages.  Which is fine and smart to do – as long as you also try to clean up spammy competitors’ Yelp pages.  May not work in your case, but your chances are better.

A few other, less-obvious upshots of trying to fix spammy Yelp pages:

1. Unlike in Google My Business, it’s harder for spammy competitors simply to change back to their fake or keyword-stuffed names. Yelp can and perhaps will lock the “name” field of their page, even if it’s been owner-verified. Less potential for whac-a-mole.

2. Those competitors are less likely to rank well IN Yelp’s search results.

3. Those competitors probably benefit from the same fake-o name in Google My Business. If you can get Yelp to fix the name, Google may be more likely to fix the Google My Business name, too.

4. Because Yelp is the main data-provider for Apple Maps and Bing Places, getting a competitor’s name fixed on Yelp may undo any ill-gotten rankings they’ve gotten in Apple or Bing. (For what that’s worth.)

Local SEO barnacles grow easily, but that also means they’re low on the food chain.

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What’s been your experience with anti-spam edits in Yelp – particularly of competitors’ names?

Any non-Yelp sites where you’ve been able to clean up competitors’ spam?

Any other war stories?

Leave a comment!

What Kinds of “Contacts at Google” Can Local SEO Companies Have?

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Some local SEO companies tout “contacts” at Google who can straighten out problems (like competitors’ spam or a penalty you think you’ve received).  Sometimes that suggestion is plain untrue, other times it’s an exaggeration, and most times it’s irrelevant and won’t help you.

Knowing the specific type of “contact” your company has (or claims to have) at $GOOG can help you avoid wasting time, and it can help you determine how aboveboard your company or consultant is.

If your local SEO people (current or prospective) hint they’ve got any kind of “in” at Google, ask for specifics, like what department that person is in, and how your company or consultant knows him or her.  Your local SEO-er may be referring to one of several kinds of Google connections:

1. Google Analytics or AdWords Certified Partner status.  Based on the number of mangled local SEO campaigns I’ve seen run by “Certified Partners,” I can say with confidence that any benefits of working with a “Partner” company don’t translate into a better-policed Google Map.

2. Dedicated AdWords rep (unlikely).  If your SEO people do AdWords, and if they have enough ad-spend in the accounts they manage, they may have what resembles a relationship with an AdWords rep.  How’s that relevant to Google Maps and your plight there?  Well, you may have spent a chunk of dough on ads for keywords for which your competitors rank well as a result of obvious Maps-spam.  In that case, an AdWords rep might escalate the issue with the Google My Business department more quickly than you (or your SEO company) could through the usual channels.  But that may happen even without a dedicated rep (see next point).

3. Random AdWords rep.  If your SEO company doesn’t manage Rubenesque accounts, they (and you) probably will probably get a different AdWords rep every time you’ve got a problem.  So your ability to contact a rep doesn’t mean your SEO-ers have what I’d call a “contact” at Google.  Still, that Googler’s limited usefulness for Google Maps concerns is the same as what I described in my “Dedicated AdWords rep” point (above). 

4. Google My Business support rep du jourMaybe your SEO people have tweeted at Google My Business support, or posted at the forum – maybe more than once – and perhaps got some issues resolved.  That doesn’t mean they’ve got a special “in” at Google, or that he or she can or will help you now or in the future. 

5. “Top Contributor” at the Google My Business forum.  For the most part, TCs are extremely generous with their time and provide a valuable service.  But they are volunteers, and not Google employees.  TCs interact with Googlers semi -regularly, but those Googlers have very limited power to work on Maps issues big or small, partly because the Maps department sees high turnover.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenpisano/17255430203/

6. Googler acquaintance.  Does your SEO person play squash with a Google employee?  Did they go to high school together?  Did they have a 5-minute conversation at a conference?  That’s nice, but it’s not an “in” that will help you.  Google handles (or neglects) damn near every problem algorithmically, on a scale that can squash whole industries and local economies.  One lowly, Google-bus-riding employee can lob only so many thunderbolts from the skies.

7. No “contact,” but a good track record of getting Google Maps edits approved.  Even in full-on embellishment mode, your SEO people probably wouldn’t characterize a good edit-history as a “contact,” but rather as “having sway” or as “Google listens to us,” or some such thing.  Perhaps the SEO people don’t have that track record, but know someone who does.  In any case, though that kind of puffery would concern me, a good spam-fighter may be the most-useful “contact” you can have in this age of shrinking Google employees and planet-eating algorithms.

Is there a type of contact at Google I forgot to mention?

Any war stories about a Googler who was surprisingly helpful (or useless)?

Leave a comment!

5 Types of Google My Business Descriptions That Go Boom

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Few business owners have used the Google My Business “description” field, now that it’s returned.  Even fewer make their description do any work. Google wiped out businesses’ descriptions when it retired GMB descriptions a couple of years ago.  Most ranged from spam to clutter.  Given the cyclical nature of everything in Google Maps, I’m sure […]

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Google My Business Description Gets the Catbird Seat

Google appears to have moved the new-ish “description” field to the top of the right-hand sidebar (AKA the knowledge panel). For the few weeks since Google reintroduced Google My Business descriptions, the description had showed up near the bottom of the sidebar.  Now it’s above even the most-basic business info, like the address and phone […]

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4 Ways to Read Google’s No-Cherry-Picking Policy on Google Reviews

Google recently added the following to their seldom-enforced list of preferences policies on Google Maps reviews: “Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.” The basic meaning seems clear enough: Google doesn’t want you to cherry-pick reviews.  Fine.  Got it. But what’s Google’s definition of “discouraging or prohibiting” a negative […]

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Google My Business Now Lets You Specify a List of Services

This is the first I’ve seen of the “Services” area in Google My Business. (Update 4/6/18: A few people saw this first a few days ago (h/t Nyagoslav Zhekov), but the rollout seems to have been tiny until now.) The input is pretty structured, as you can see. Only the “name” field appears to be required.  […]

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How Should You Ask for Online Reviews? The Pros and Cons of Each Approach

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There are no “solutions” – only trade-offs.  Your task is to pick the trade-off – or the combination of them – that works best for you.  That applies to most areas of local SEO and marketing (and life), and it applies to your effort to get more good reviews from customers / clients / patients […]

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Dumbest Terms and Concepts in Local SEO

You’re more likely to get the results you want out of your local SEO effort if you don’t waste time on steps that won’t help, if the work doesn’t drive you crazy and make you stop because it’s not what you expected, and if you don’t hire a company to do the wrong kind of […]

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Using a Shortened URL to Ask for Google Reviews? Goo.gl May Cut You Down

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A good way to make it easier for customers / clients / patients to review you on Google Maps is to send them a link straight to the “Write a review” popup. You probably send a shortened URL (like https://goo.gl/qQgbjT), because it’s tidier than the full URL. That is most likely to be a problem […]

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Photos Now Allowed in Google Maps Spam-Reporting Feature

Pull up a Google My Business page that shouldn’t be on the map, click the “Suggest an edit” link, and you’ll see a new feature: the ability to upload a photo as evidence to back up your request. You don’t have to include a photo, but it should help tilt the scales in your favor.  […]

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