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 and get customers out of the deal is significant.  The long-term effort it takes for you to keep a lid on competitors’ cheating also adds up.  Once you add all the monitoring you need to do to make sure nobody’s sabotaged you on the Google Map or in your Google reviews, it all seems like too much.

But it’s more doable if you know exactly what your vulnerabilities are.  The Google Maps results are the Wild West partly because of all the ways competitors can spam their way to the top with their Google My Business pages, and partly because of all the ways they can try to hurt your visibility or reputation.

Below are all the ways (I know of) that disgruntled customers, bitter employees, and unethical competitors can mess up your program.  All are areas you should check on routinely, and contact Google about if necessary.

Google Maps / My Business vulnerabilities

Uploading inappropriate or unflattering photos.  Anyone can upload a photo to your Google My Business page, either unaccompanied or in a review.

Answering customers’ Google My Business “questions” falsely or deceptively.  You may get a notification when someone posts a question or an answer, but a Google bug, or an email filter, or inattention may allow a bad answer to slither past you undetected.  You can’t remove bad questions (or answers).  All you can do is flag them.

Asking unflattering Google My Business “questions.”  Same deal as above.

Messing with your “opening date.”  Apparently Google fixed the nasty bug (great find by Tim Colling) that caused Google My Business pages with future dates of opening to fall off the Google Map altogether.  Still, an incorrect opening date that sticks may confuse would-be customers.

Taking a spray-n’-pray approach to submitting erroneous Google Maps “suggest an edit” edits.  If competitors or other antagonists fire enough rounds (possibly from multiple Google accounts), some may graze you.

 

 

Providing incorrect “Know this place?” answers.  Google may ask whether you have dedicated parking and a wheelchair-accessible entrance.  You do.  Your nemesis says you don’t.  Google shows him an ugly photo and a nice one, and asks which is “more helpful” in characterizing your business.  He picks the ugly one.  Google asks your competitor (or fuming customer or ex-employee) 37 other questions.  None of the answers clearly hurts your visibility or reputation, so maybe the potshots aren’t a big deal.  On the other hand, given that Google hasn’t boarded up off the “Know this place?” mineshaft of crowdsourced data, you can be pretty confident Google finds it useful somehow.

Moving your map pin to an incorrect spot.  I haven’t run into that problem much (that I can remember), but I have it on good authority that an incorrectly placed marker can mess up your rankings.

Google review vulnerabilities

Re-posting bad reviews or ratings.  Even if you get an illegitimate review removed – a big “if” – little to nothing stops the perp from posting the same review again, under the same name or a different name.

Updating or adding to bad reviews.  Even if you get that illegitimate review removed, the foul brigand can always write a differently-nasty review or a review that’s dialed down just enough.

Posting 4-star reviews.  If your average rating is closer to 5 stars – let’s say 4.8 stars – a 4-star average rating is a big step down for you.  Because a 4-star review by nature isn’t extreme, it’s less likely to get filtered by Google, and you’re less likely to suspect that it’s the work of a crooked competitor.

Posting reviews under the name of another competitor.  That probably breaks a law or two, but if you blame the wrong competitor for the smear, who will ever know the real culprit?  Pretty devilish trick.

 

Putting “thumbs up” on negative reviews repeatedly.  There seems to be no limit to how many times you can do a thumbs-up.  Thumbs-upped negative reviews may make some people think twice before calling you, and for no good reason.  Worse, those reviews may rise to the top when your Google reviews are shown by “Most Helpful” at the top, which is how they show by default.

Flagging positive, valid reviews.  I’m speculating here, because I have no way to know whether a perfectly good review gets removed because someone flagged it and not because Google filtered it automatically.  What I do know is you usually get Google’s attention if enough people flag a review.

Writing bad reviews on unpoliced non-Google review sites, so a bad “average” rating shows up in your knowledge panel.  I’m talking about the “Reviews from the web” section.  As badly policed as Google Maps reviews are, other sites are even worse.  Often Google scrapes those reviews and shows your average rating in the right-hand sidebar, which people see whenever they click on you in the 3-pack or Maps results, or whenever they search for you by name.

What are other ways people can mess up your Google My Business page?

Any you’ve experienced first-hand?

Leave a comment!

When Should You Do Your Own Local SEO?

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You know the good reasons and bad reasons to hire a local SEO person or company.  The pros and cons of doing it yourself are clear, too.  What you’re less sure of is: when has the do-it-yourself option piled up enough pros that it’s clearly the better choice for you?

It’s a sliding scale.  You don’t need to be a whiz at anything to handle your business’s local SEO to great effect, but you need to have or develop certain qualities.  The more of those boxes you can check, the better.

Below are the factors that – in my opinion – determine whether doing your own local SEO is a good idea.  The more of these questions you say “yes” to, the more likely it’ll go the way you want it to.

1. Do you assume local SEO will take long-term effort? Local SEO is not a one-time process. If you do it right, you’ll get to the point where you don’t spend much time on it day-to-day, but you constantly inch it forward.  It’s great if you can do some basic fix-ups and get results, but often it takes more grinding.

2. Do you assume you’ll take some wrong turns? That’s inevitable. Google is a slippery surface, your competitors change over time, and you’ll know more next year than you will this year.  Keep learning and keep working and you’ll do fine.

 

3. Will you get your hands dirty on your website? You don’t need to be a developer, you don’t need to know much about sites other than your site, and it’s OK if your site is far from “perfect.” If you’re able and willing to make some changes to your site in-house, you create some options.  Those options include paying an SEO person only for his/her advice on your site (and not also for implementation), hiring a developer only for the toughest tasks, and maybe not hiring anyone at all.

4. Will you do more than work on your site? Though crucial, the site is one moving part of several that sway your visibility in the local results. The other big moving parts are your local listings, reviews, and links.  You will have to work on all those things sooner or later, particularly on links and reviews long-term.  (Your visibility also may depend on how clean the local map is.)

Even if you did not or do not need many or any good links to outrank your competitors, you’ll probably want to knock in some insurance runs.  If your competitors rank well but only have so-so reviews, you’ll want to get ahead by having better reviews.  If they rank well AND have great reviews, then you’ll have no choice but to try to match or surpass them.

5. Will you put in work your competitors won’t? Only if you do what they won’t do can you achieve what they can’t achieve. The main areas where sustained hard work pay off are (1) in earning links, (2) in earning reviews, and (3) in the amount and quality of info on your site about exactly what you do and exactly what makes it the best choice for customers / clients / patients.

6. Have you been frustrated by the third parties you’ve hired? Maybe they were the problem. Maybe you were the problem.  I can’t say.  What I do know is you’re not good at picking out SEO companies if you’ve had 9 of them.

7. Are you willing to get help piecemeal? Trying to find a company to “handle it all” often isn’t realistic, so you should be willing to delegate part of the implementation, if necessary. Maybe you want a stunt pen, or help on your site, or help on your local listings.  That doesn’t mean you no longer “do your own SEO,” or that you’ve entrusting someone else to plan or execute your whole strategy.  You’re still the captain of the ship even if you enlist an extra swabbie or two.

 

8. Will you study? Both up-front and long-term? Get your sea legs if possible, but don’t try to get “comfortable” with all the concepts of local SEO, because that won’t happen (for a variety of reasons).  Don’t try to understand everything before you do anything.  Nobody has all the answers anyway.  Learn a little, work a lot, and repeat.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/christoph_straessler/10142017736/
 

9. Do you know you can’t measure everything? Many things you can track.  Many more you can’t.

You won’t be able to find out how many people discovered you in the Google Maps results, rather than heard about you some other way and pulled up your Google My Business page. If you get a great link, you won’t be able to attribute a bump in rankings (let alone ROI) to it.  If you get a review on a site that shows up when someone Googles your business by name, the referrer traffic you see in Google Analytics won’t tell you how many would-be customers saw that review in the search results.  If your site is full of keyword-stuffed gibberish, and you clean it up, and your rankings go down a little, but you get more or better leads, was the clean-up a good choice?  Don’t hire a third party just because you assume it can answer questions like those, because it can’t.

10. Can you weigh lots of conflicting suggestions? It’s great to learn about local SEO from people who do it.  But you’ll still get conflicting advice on all kinds of questions.  What constitutes spam?  Which page should be your Google My Business landing page?  Is that link opportunity worth the trouble?  When should you create a microsite?  How much citation work is enough?

I assume you’re the kind who likes to balance out what you hear with a little skepticism, with common sense, with what you know about your customers, and with non-rankings concerns (like branding and conversion-rate optimization).  If so, you probably don’t need a local SEO person or company to make most or all of the calls for you.

11. Is your business on the newer side? You might argue that because you have so many other things to do, you don’t have time to do your own local SEO. That may be.  But does that also mean you have time to pay someone else to do it wrong and set you back (in terms of money, time, and missed-opportunity costs)?  I say better to strike while the iron’s hot – to see what you can do while you’re still gung-ho.  Later on, if and when you’re even busier, you may see even more reasons not to try DIY.  Don’t expect to make easy progress at any stage, but at least in the earlier stages of your local SEO effort the next steps probably are clearer.

12. Will you be as cautious online as you are offline? Most SEO companies aren’t. Most have cocooned themselves away from the consequences of what they do and say.  One result is they suggest some crazy stuff for your business, in the name of rankings.

Would you tell employees to answer customers’ questions with a 10% keyword-density?  Then don’t put keyword-stuffed gibberish on your site.

Would you commission a Banksy-type mural of your business on the side of a building, in the hopes that people pass by it and call you before the mural is scrubbed off?  Then don’t create fake Google My Business pages.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/malinki/2464171421/

Would you pay for a shoebox of leads – and you can’t peek in the box?  Then don’t buy links.

Also, what you do online will follow you around.  Do something unethical and you can get sued, scare away your customer base, or worse.

If you think hard about your local SEO, but not to the point of analysis paralysis, sooner or later you’ll make the right choices and get good results.

What was the factor that tipped you toward (or away from) doing your own local SEO?

Any points I missed?

Leave a comment!

10 Types of Ninja Pages You Can Sneak up the Local Search Results

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People who do local SEO are pretty resourceful at rubbing keywords all over pages they want to rank. They’re less creative with the types of pages they try to get to rank. Often those pages are limited to the homepage, a few “service” pages, and maybe some doughy “city” pages.  Those types of pages matter […]

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How Can You Tell a Competitor Does Effective Local SEO?

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It’s trickier than you think. You can monitor competitors’ rankings and links until you’re cross-eyed.  You can study them with SEMRush, Moz, Alexa , and other tools until hens grow teeth.  The insights you get from those activities can have value, and may be a good use of your time, but trying to dissect a […]

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Should You Bother Using That New Google My Business Feature?

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Google adds, changes, and kills off features at a puke-inducing pace.  With the possible exception of AdWords, nowhere is the pace of change faster than in Google My Business. For local SEOs and others who (try to) keep up with this stuff, one school of thought says you should use every new Google My Business […]

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Which Local Citation Sources Let You Specify a Service Area?

Just because you set your sights on a region doesn’t mean you’ll rank well there.  That’s always been true of the service area you pick for your Google My Business page, so why should you care about the service-area settings on local-search sites much smaller than Google? A few reasons: 1. You might improve your […]

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Google My Business Shakes up Service-Area Businesses: What Has Changed and What to Do

Using Google My Business long has been a murky matter for owners of service-area businesses.  Most people have wondered what kinds of addresses are eligible, how many GMB pages they can have, whether to “hide” their addresses from showing publicly, and how big of a “service area” to specify (or whether to specify one at […]

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The Lowdown on Local Falcon, a New and Different Local Search Rank-Tracking Tool

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Tracking local rankings is a tricky matter if you’re a business owner or professional SEO, and even more so if you’re a maker of rank-tracking software.  Yet a local-rankings tracker called Local Falcon came out recently and already has carved out a niche. Local Falcon does one thing: It shows and tracks Google Maps rankings […]

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Google+ Autopsy for People Who Do Local SEO: What to Know and What to Do

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Google constantly tweaks the local search results, but every now and then makes a change that at least seems big.  I’m here to tell you the official shuttering of Google+ is not consequential for local SEO, and that your strategy shouldn’t change one whisker. Still, the end of Google+ (hastened by the breach and cover-up) […]

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Google My Business Posts Shelf-Life Hack: How to Keep Your Posts from Expiring Soon

The jury’s out on how useful Google My Business posts are, but they have promise.  I like ‘em so far.  They’re quick and easy to create, and they show up in one of the very few areas of the brand-name search results that you can control. The annoying thing is you have to keep adding […]

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