Hermit Crab SEO: a Google Maps Ranking Tactic That Should Not Work

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usinterior/9103130620/

“Hermit crab SEO” is my name for the local SEO tactic of moving to a new place of business, creating a Google My Business page at the new address, and leaving up your old Google My Business page (which still uses the old address) until Google removes it or your body assumes room temperature, whichever comes first.

The idea is to get both (or several or many) Google My Business pages ranking, or at least to keep one ranking while you do what you can to float up the other(s).   Like the hermit crab, you move to a new shell.  But unlike those scrappy little guys, you still benefit from the old shell, and you don’t have that vulnerable period when you’re between shells and a bigger critter can eat you.  To use old addresses as empty shells is safe.

It probably shouldn’t be safe, though.  Hermit crab SEO is against the Google My Business guidelines in multiple ways, particularly in the guidelines that say your address should represent your “actual, real-world location,” and that service-area businesses should have “one page for the central office or location and a designated service area.”  Whether your business is bricks-and-mortar or service-area, you’re not supposed to dot the local map with GMB pages that use addresses where someone else now works or lives.

Still, I know for a fact that it’s possible to maintain Google My Business page at an address you haven’t been at in years.  (Don’t ask exactly how I know.)  Unless maybe you’ve got overlapping service areas or use the same phone number, it’s unlikely your new page or your old page automatically will run into problems.

But Google still does the rounds to make sure everyone’s GMB address is inhabited, right?  Wrong.  At least I’ve never seen anyone comb the beach and tap on the shells.

 

That’s the task of people who do what I call “spam patrol”: do-gooders and business owners (or their SEOs) who want to make competitors work for any Google Maps rankings they get.  As I’ve written, Google has crowdsourced most of its Maps / 3-pack quality-control to you and me, giving us little besides the “suggest an edit” button.

The trouble is Google often can’t tell the good “suggest an edit” edits from the bad, so most legit edits aren’t accepted, or take too long to get accepted, or get accepted and are immediately undone by the business owner.  It doesn’t help that Google now allows anyone to “hide” his or her GMB address simply by removing the address after the page has been verified, so often there’s no way to tell what the real or current address is.  Because you can’t get the address changed, you need to try to get the page removed.

Which “Remove this place” option do you select?  I’d go with “Spam, fake, or offensive,” because in my experience Google’s most likely to approve that option.

But is it a “fake” address?  If you’re Google, that depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.  A business once did exist there – and apparently still does if you’re Google and you take into account the address listed on the other sites in the local search ecosystem, and perhaps on the business’s website.  The business itself still exists, of course.  Perhaps it even runs PPC ads for that location and gets a steady stream of customers who write 5-star reviews.  You and I know the old GMB page shouldn’t stay put, but Google sees all the right signs of life.

What can you do about hermit crabs?  Pretty much only the aforementioned spam patrol and maybe asking for volunteer beachcombers.  Even then, the tactic is hard to detect, especially if 5 of your competitors slip in 1 extra “location” apiece, rather than 50 no-longer-inhabited GMB pages.  I wish I had some surefire suggestions.  You’ll probably get some of the shells tossed into the water, but not all.

To what extent is “hermit crab SEO” a problem in your local market?

What have you tried that’s worked – or hasn’t worked?

Leave a comment!

How to Move Google Reviews between Google My Business Pages Far Apart

https://www.flickr.com/photos/heyahsan/4116910830/

Believe it or not, Google’s pretty good about transferring Google Maps reviews from one GMB page to another.  It’s hard to tell that from Google’s guidelines, which have a dash of Justice Stewart:

“If you’ve made changes to your business, your existing reviews may be kept, moved, or removed from your listing, depending on the situation. Business reviews are useful only when they’re relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. If there are significant changes to your business, reviews may be removed if they’re no longer relevant to your business.”

(Emphasis added.)

As usual, the rules seem broad on purpose, so Google can decide when reviews are relevant to the new location.  Google reserves the right to say that a bricks-and-mortar business moving from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon can’t take its reviews on the chuckwagon ride, because too much about the business will have changed.  If you own a bricks-and-mortar business and want to transfer your reviews to a new GMB page, you can assume Google at least takes into account how far your new location is from the old one.  That makes your transfer request a leap of faith.

But distance doesn’t seem to matter if you run a service-area business and want to move your reviews.  If you ask Google to “merge” the old GMB page into the new one, you can send your reviews to Timbuktu.  (The term “merge” isn’t used in Google’s guidelines, but that’s how the GMB support team refers to what you want in this case, which is for people to be redirected to your new GMB page when they search for a term that used to pull up your old GMB page.)

I know that because a client of mine moved from Miami to Los Angeles a while ago, taking his home-based business with him.  He kept the old GMB page up for a while, while he got settled into the new habitat.  Once it was clear he no longer needed the Miami GMB page for any reason, he wanted to get his Miami reviews transferred to his LA GMB page before closing down his Miami page.  That’s where we had to contact Google My Business support.

There was some back-and-forth, but because my client runs a service-area business (so there wasn’t a change of physical office or storefront), and because we wanted to remove the old GMB page, Google moved every single review over to the new GMB page.  It didn’t matter that the reviews flew 2500 miles in the process.

To me, it makes sense that distance doesn’t matter much or at all if you want to move reviews from one service-area Google My Business page to another.  The office or store or other physical location itself usually is a factor in people’s reviews of bricks-and-mortar businesses: it’s hard to park at, or it’s overheated, or it’s overrun by cockroaches, etc.  Factors like those aren’t applicable to a service-area business, so they don’t change even if the business owner moves far away.  The old customers’ experiences are relevant to what customers in the new area can expect.

It also makes intuitive sense to me that you’d need to get the old page merged into the new one.  Otherwise, some business owners would try to shuffle reviews back and forth between GMB, which could get confusing for customers.  Also, the alternative is for Google not to let the old Google reviews see the light of day, which isn’t ideal for you or for customers in the new area (who want more info on your business rather than less).

Thanks to Russ Hartstein of Fun Paw Care for his first-hand intel.

What’s been your experience in trying to get reviews moved from one GMB page to another?  Leave a comment!

10 Better Ways to Do Keyword Research for Local SEO

https://www.flickr.com/photos/14737074@N03/42061535221/

3 main problems with most keyword research methods, especially for local search: They tell you what searchers search for, but not what customers search for They rely too much on third-party tools They give you analysis paralysis Most people’s keyword-research strategy is this (more or less): Use the “Keyword Planner” in Google Ads Use a […]

[Continue reading…]

Google Maps Reviews Now Include “What Do You Like About This Place?” Prompts

In what is at least a test, Google now asks Google Maps reviewers to select attributes they like about the business they’re reviewing.  When I went to post a review yesterday, Google asked how I liked the “Quality,” “Value,” “Responsiveness,” and “Punctuality” of the business. I haven’t been able to replicate that for other businesses, […]

[Continue reading…]

The Local SEO Data Jackpot You Missed: Google Analytics – Search Console Integration

If you’ve never done so, log into Google Analytics, then go to “Acquisition,” “Search Console,” and “Landing pages.”  There you’ll find a mashup of (1) Google Analytics data on landing pages and (2) Google Search Console data on how specific pages perform in the search results.  Whether you do local SEO yourself or you do […]

[Continue reading…]

Hardest Truths of Google Maps Spam

https://www.flickr.com/photos/memekiller/3498879395/in/photostream/

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 […]

[Continue reading…]

10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

https://www.flickr.com/photos/housingworksauctions/2847845751/in/photostream/

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 […]

[Continue reading…]

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 […]

[Continue reading…]

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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/m00by/2980859986/

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 […]

[Continue reading…]

Google Expands “Suggested Review” Google My Business Posts

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/18981094996/

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 […]

[Continue reading…]