An Overlooked Way to Report a Crooked Local Competitor

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!

The Real Character Limit of Your Google Places Business Name

How long your Google Places "title" can/should beReady for your daily Google Places pop-quiz?

1st question: do you know the maximum number of characters you’re allowed to use in the “business name” of your Google Places page?

80 characters, you say?  Bingo!  The business name (AKA the “Company/Organization” field) can contain up to 80 characters.

2nd question: does that mean it’s OK to use up to 80 characters to name your Google Places listing?

The answer is NO.

According to Google’s official guidelines, your business name simply should be your DBA and should not include extra search terms (“keywords”).  I’m guessing that your official business name by itself is nowhere near 80 characters long.

Therefore, if you’re even approaching the 80-character limit, you’re probably trying to cram search terms into the business name—which also means you’re flirting with a suspended listing.

Google Places business name--aka title, aka Company/Organization field

Now for the $64,000 question:

Under what circumstances should you NOT use your official business name for your Google Places listing?

The answer: if your official business name is more than 40 characters long, you should abbreviate it to 40 characters or less before you use it as the “business name” of your Google Places page.

Why 40 characters or less?  You may know that a BIG factor in your Google Places ranking is whether or not your basic business info—name, address, phone number—appears uniformly on every business-directory site your business is listed on.

This means if Google Places.com has you listed as “Acme Dynamite Co.”, you’d better not be listed on Yelp, CitySearch, AngiesList, etc. as “Acme Dynamite & Booby-traps,” or “Acme Dynamite, INC.”  Your name needs to appear consistently, everywhere it appears on the Web, right down to the punctuation.  If it’s not consistent, you lose credibility in the eyes of Google, because there’s a little uncertainty about what your business is actually called.

It can be tough to get all your info listed consistently, because different sites have different rules regarding the name of your business listing.

But here’s the kicker: you can’t be selective about which sites list your business and which don’t.  These websites that list local businesses are like a huge gossip mill: whatever info one of them has about your business eventually gets spread around to all the other directory sites.

Therefore, you have to make sure your business name complies with ALL of these sites’ pesky little rules, or else inconsistent info about your business will float around in cyberspace.  This can hurt your Google Places ranking.

In terms of the maximum character length of your “business name,” you’ll be fine as long as you work within the rules of two sites in particular: AngiesList.com and Kudzu.com.  AngiesList.com has a 50-character limit for your business name, and Kudzu.com lets you use only 40 characters.

AngiesList = 50-char. limit on business name; Kudzu = 40-char. limit

Even if you never list your business on these sites, what can happen is they’ll receive data on your business from other websites, and will chop off the end of your business name if it exceeds 40 or 50 characters.

This is open for debate, but I’ve found that AngiesList.com seems to have more influence over Google Places rankings than most other sites do—including Kudzu.com.  That’s why you need to make certain the business name you use is less than 50 characters, so that you’re compliant with AngiesList.  And to the extent you’re dead-serious about getting as visible as possible, you should make sure your business name is less than 40 characters.

Keeping your business name 40 characters or less is easy, especially if you’re following the rules of Google Places and not trying to throw keywords in there.  But it’s also easy to miscount—so I suggest that you do a quick count just to double-check.

The other thing to keep in mind is this: even though Google says you must use your DBA as the name of your Google Places listing, that’s not quite the end of the story.  If your official business name for some reason happens to be more than 40 characters long, you’ll run into difficulty on other sites.

Cut characters off your business name until you're down to 40 or fewer

My advice is if your DBA is longer than 40 characters—even though it may be fine by Google’s standards—try to cut it down and get a 40-or-fewer character name to use in your Google Places listing and elsewhere.  It still needs to reflect your DBA as closely as possible; just make sure it’s also short enough that it won’t bring you heartache from other sites.  Pretty easy, but also easy to mess up.

Have I bored you to sleep yet?  Did you get the idea after the first couple of paragraphs, and found my subsequent rambling totally unnecessary?

Good.  Character-length limits are boring subject matter.  Half of getting visible in Google Places involves taking care of nagging “housekeeping” items like this one.

In a way, local visibility in Google SHOULD be boring: You should take a little time to plow through material like this, do all this local-visibility stuff correctly the first time around, not have to mess with it again, and spend your time elsewhere while your highly visible Google Places listing hums along quietly in the background and delivers you local customers.