25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ikewinski/7172214803/Google reviews can help your business for obvious reasons: They’re mighty visible in the Google Maps search results, and searchers pay attention to the reviews (and sometimes believe them).  The big problem is just as obvious: Google does an awful job of policing reviews, causing all sorts of mischief and mayhem.

You’d like more and better reviews than your competitors have.  But you’ll have a harder time accomplishing that if you know as little about Google reviews as they know.  It helps to know some “inside baseball.”

Here are some hard truths of Google reviews.  Some will be old news to you.  Others will be news.  Those will help you approach Google reviews with fewer blind spots.

1. Google exercises little oversight.  The sheriff is out of town.

 

2. Google doesn’t care whether a reviewer is a real customer, or about what happens to your business as a result of bogus reviews.  You, customers, and Google all care about Google reviews for different reasons.  For Google, reviews are a way to crowdsource info about local businesses and to keep searchers’ attention on Google’s local search results as they get larded with ads.

3. Reporting a bogus review just once doesn’t work.  Sometimes flagging it down multiple times over a period of weeks or months will work.  More often, you’ll need to go to greater lengths (and Google still may not remove the review).

4. Ratings-only reviews stick more than they should.  Ratings left by Google users who’ve only rated one business are especially stubborn, because Google can’t detect fishy patterns of behavior (like that a “customer” hired 10 moving companies in 6 different states in the span of a month).

5. Google filters policy-violating reviews rarely, and they’re tough to get removed manually (if you can get them removed at all).

6. You do not own and cannot control the Google Maps reviews of your business.  Google owns them, and Google controls them – for better or for worse.

7. Google fixates on quantity.  “Local Guides” are minted and promoted on the basis of how many reviews they’ve written.  Even if those reviews are bogus, unfair, unhelpful, or paid-for (or some combination thereof).

8. There’s a black market of people who want to buy Google reviews.  One way I know that is because probably twice a week some idiot emails me to ask how many reviews I can write for him.  (Yes, it’s almost always a he.)

9. You can’t control what’s in the review snippets – the ones you see in the right-hand sidebar (the knowledge panel), or the ones in the Google Maps 3-pack.  The best you can do is encourage happy customers to speak up, often and in large numbers.

10. Photos accompanying Google reviews are just as badly policed as the reviews are.  Photos never seem to get filtered automatically.  Often they’re not removed even once you report them.

11. Reviews don’t seem to drive rankings in the way you might think.  A pile of great Google reviews doesn’t  mean you’ll rank well.  You may get a little bump from getting a few reviews on the board, but after that it seems to be a question of how your reviews encourage more searchers to click on your listing and show other signs that suggest you’re a more-relevant search result than the next business is.  The rankings benefits of Google reviews seem to be indirect.

12. Pseudonyms and initials are OK, apparently.  Google suggests reviewers use their real names, but does nothing to enforce that.

13. Reviews can get filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered multiple times.  A good review is never “safe.”  A review doesn’t go away if you close down your Google My Business page.

14. Unethical reviewers can keep coming back with new reviews, possibly under different names or in different Google accounts.  The worst Google will do – all they can do – is remove the reviews, and even that rarely happens without your prodding.

15. There’s no simple way to embed Google reviews on your site.  But I suspect Google will eventually offer a way, similar to Yelp’s.

16. Reviewers must use their own Google accounts.  Even it’s a hassle for them and for you.  They can’t log into an account you own and use a “pen name,” nor can you post reviews on their behalf.

17. Your “star rating” may not make sense.  If you have nine 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, your average rating may not be 4.9 stars.

18. Local Guides are not held to higher standards than are less-active Google reviewers.  Their reviews don’t have to be any truer or more helpful.

19. There’s no guarantee you can keep your reviews if your address changes much.  Google’s pretty good about letting you keep your reviews if you rebrand, or if you move to a new address that’s within the same town or within a few miles of the old address.  But Google reserves the right to nuke your reviews after a farther-away move.

20. There’s no penalty on businesses that buy reviews or engage in similar crookedness.  Yelp does it all wrong, and I don’t claim that for Google to do it fairly would be an easy matter.  The trouble is Google’s lack of oversight adds to a “why not?” outlook in some business owners.  Though that usually comes back to bite those business owners when enough customers discover the good reviews were fake, first too many customers find out the hard way that those businesses are no good.

21. The rules change, and the strictness of Google’s filter changes.  Google plays with the dials often.

22. Google reviews are near-impossible to avoid, and only become more visible over time.  That’s great if you’re dialed-in on Google reviews, but not if you’ve taken a drubbing.

23. Google reviews live in the search results.  No longer can people see your reviews on your Google My Business page, which itself is a Sea-Monkey floating in the fragile little tank we call Google Maps.

24. You can’t find much information about reviewers.  You (and would-be customers) can’t get any or many facts to determine which reviews are more credible.  You can’t even see where the reviewers are from.

25. Businesses in the 3-pack are not ranked strictly by their average ratings.  A 2-star business may outrank a 5-star.  Generally the higher-rated businesses outrank the lower-rated ones, but exceptions abound.  It’s complicated.

Can you think of any other “hard truths” of Google reviews?

Any good war stories?

Any silver linings?

Leave a comment!

Interview with Bryan Seely: Google Maps Spam Fighter and Ethical Hacker for the Little Guy

Try to guess which one of these things isn’t true of Bryan Seely:

  • Created fake Google Places pages for the FBI and Secret Service, listed phone numbers he controlled, intercepted their phone calls, and then turned himself in to the FBI to show them the security hole that Google left. (And he didn’t get shipped off to Guantanamo Bay!)
  • Spoke at TEDx about how easy it is to spam Google Maps, and how that hurts honest business owners and consumers.
  • Found a weak spot in LinkedIn that allowed him to get Mark Cuban’s personal email address – and then let Mark know, and helped LinkedIn fix the problem. (Mark was happy, too: he asked if Bryan could help with his Cyberdust)
  • Grew up in Japan and speaks Japanese.
  • Is a United States Marine.
  • Wants to be buried in a KISS Kasket.

Bryan’s crusade for Maps sanity and better cybersecurity has brought him some press.  He’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, Bloomberg, and elsewhere.

 

He’s the kind of guy who might just bring about the kind of change that’s bad for spammers but good for honest business owners.

As a concerned local-search geek myself, I’ve been following Bryan for a little over a year now – since he first started really poking Google in the eye.  We had a good phone call recently, and decided to expand it into a full-blown interview.

Enjoy!

How did you go from being a decent guy mixed up with with spammers to being a champion of “the little guy”?

I had lost my job while in Southern California and with a young family, it was a bit difficult to be unemployed suddenly. The company I was working for decided to close their California branch and without warning, income was zero.

I ended up working for a company that engaged in the “map spamming” yet when I joined that was not immediately clear.  Over time, it became apparent that I could not work in that industry anymore, and found myself working as a network engineer and systems engineer for a variety of companies up in Seattle.  I moved my family to get away from all of that and start a new life up in Washington.

Fast forward a couple of years, I decided I wanted to see how the local search world was coming along and started to poke around to see if the same Google Maps vulnerabilities were as prevalent.  I was kind of surprised to see that it was much worse than it was before.

The path at that point as not exactly clear, but I knew that I had to do something about it. I ended up writing up a variety of methods for building fake businesses online and sent them to Google. Their response, if you could call it that, was basic dismissal.  I created some funny maps listings to poke at Google a little bit, some of which were pretty funny in my opinion.  I contacted a local news station, Komo, and they ran a story about the entire spam problem.

Google still resisted the entire premise of the problem, and even after the whole “Wiretapping the Secret Service” incident, Google didn’t fix the underlying problems.

I translated the frustration of them refusing to acknowledge and fix the problem into what I have been working on for a year now. The recent TEDx talk, a book that is getting ready to come out, and as much attention as I can bring to this issue.

 

What’s some “ethical hacking” you’re doing now (and are at liberty to discuss)?

Currently, I have a few private clients that range from celebrities to corporations that value their privacy.  There have been a few stories that I can talk about that happened over the last year or two.

The one I enjoy the most was also fairly simple. Brian Krebs wrote about it in an article, where I was able to use Linkedin.com to validate the email addresses of individuals who use the Linkedin.com system.  I was able to get confirmation of the email address that Mark Cuban uses to login, and then I was able to get in touch with him to inform him of the vulnerability.

Mark’s immediate reaction was “what else can you do?” and he asked if I would be willing to work on his Cyberdust app. Since then, there have been a variety of projects in which disclosure would violate agreements, but if you would like to learn more about what I can disclose, visit seelysecurity.com.

 

You’ve been on Google’s radar (not to mention the Feds’) for about a year now.  How much progress would you say they’ve made?

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have said 0.  When they shut down MapMaker, it was a huge victory for small business owners and consumers, being that MapMaker was a huge source of maps spam.

Hopefully, with the momentum that we have generated, we can get to the bottom of the problem and have Google see how big the problem is and decided to fix it.

 

Why hasn’t Google done more?

I think that they have an overall approach to technology and product development that involves using code, process and reduced overhead governing its development. Another main factor is that Google likes to “crowd-source” their information requirements, which require the public to contribute.

Google makes money in a variety of ways. Providing an amazing search engine, free email and other services that many people use, allows them to sell the end-users eyeballs to advertisers which generates huge money. MapMaker is failed crowd-sourcing experiment that was plagued by bad data and ultimately bad security restrictions to prevent bad data.

Google doesn’t want to have manual oversight over things, they want to implement code, algorithms, processes and procedures to govern their systems which I completely understand. The problem is that they did not do enough, and they didn’t seem to take suggestions from anyone outside of the organization.

 

What has to happen for Google to get serious about mapspam?

Google would have to find a way to verify the data that they are getting and ensure that it is actually legitimate, instead of trusting 100% of the users that are contributing to their system.

I identified many more solutions in my book, Exposing Maps Fraud, which comes out in the fall of 2015.

 

Could an algorithmic solution help?  Or does Google just need to require the type of owner-verification you’ve suggested?

I don’t think that it will be the right solution for this problem.  If Google is not comparing the data to local or federal business data, how will there ever be accountability?  The whole point of registering a business and getting a business license is for accountability and to protect consumers. When people bypass this process and register with Google, there is no way of holding them accountable, as Google doesn’t police or perform enforcement of any kind. Criminals are registering businesses on Google with no risk of being prosecuted, and Google’s stance has been “head in the sand.”

 

When you and I spoke the other day, you said the spam problem on Yelp isn’t nearly as bad as on Google (and I agree).  Why is that, and do you think Google needs to be more like Yelp in some way?

Yelp seems to have more people involved in the verification process right from the start, plus they don’t seem to partner with other directory services like Google does.  Google gets business information from a ton of other sources that have the same “bad data” and maps spam problems.  When they all end up sharing this data, the problem compounds.

Yelp doesn’t seem to just accept data from these other websites blindly, and I think that is a big reason why their service by comparison is virtually spam free.

 

What is the absolute lowest thing you’ve seen a mapspammer do?

I have heard of a few guys that would make keys for unsuspecting homeowners and then rob them when the homeowners weren’t home weeks or months later.

There are so many different “lowest” things, but the harshest thing I can think of is that these criminals organizations are so good at manipulating Google’s ranking system that they put small business owners out of business to where they can’t even support their family.  The American dream of working hard, building up a client base and providing for your family is being taken from thousands of small business owners all over the country.  I think that is easily the lowest thing I can think of.

 

What’s an industry that’s way spammier than most people realize?  (We all know about the infamous trouble areas, like the locksmith space, plumbing, bail bonds, etc.)

Garage door repair is one that was surprising, but the one that didn’t make sense at first was Drug and Alcohol treatment centers. The ones that you end up seeing on Google Maps are not actually real call centers or clinics, but sell the calls to larger organizations who don’t care where they get the calls from.

 

How many of the hardcore spammers are behind businesses that basically do a good job for customers – and aren’t really offline thieves?

I would say that 95% of the spammers build these fake listings, and sell the calls to legitimate business owners or provide a decent service.  When violent crime starts happening, the lifespam of the spammers go way down.  It’s easier to not draw any attention to their fake network by performing a good service. If the consumer gets the service with no hiccups, then no one suspects anything is wrong. That’s how most of these organizations have stayed under the radar for so long.

 

How much of the really bad mapspam seems to be from for-hire SEO companies?

I think that these for-hire SEO companies make up 50% or so of the players at the lower levels. The largest organizations are not running a legitimate SEO operations at all.

Like I said before, map spammers try to stay covert and under the radar otherwise they risk losing their fake listings or getting prosecuted.

 

Besides Google, who has really dropped the ball?

WhitePages, SuperPages and Dex Media are practically all spam. Those directories are more spam than actual businesses.

As to what the government and other organizations can do, I detailed a lot of that in the book.

 

I’ve always found that businesses outside the US are a little less likely to spam, but if they do, Google doesn’t crack down on them as much.  How would you describe the mapspam problem outside of ‘Murica?

Its very similar, but not as prevalent. Other countries have different regulations and business processes so trying to evaluate and learn all the laws of 200+ countries becomes very time prohibitive.

 

What are a couple of specific businesses you admire that are kicking spammy competitors’ butts from the high road?

One of the people that has been in this fight for a long time is Dan Austin. The problem with fighting spam is that there isn’t any money in fighting the spam. There are plenty of locksmiths that have been fighting against the spammers, Mark Baldino being one, but overall, it’s hard to beat these guys with Google taking their own side and doing virtually nothing.

 

You’ve talked about how spammers would buy fake Google reviews by the thousands.  Has that situation improved at all, and what should Google do to clean up its reviews?

Most spammers are posting their own reviews using the same infrastructure they have for building the fake businesses. Some of them hire people overseas for a much cheaper hourly rate, or just pay local people to do the work. Most of the time, spammers realize they can get away with writing very lazy and sloppy reviews because the amount of time it takes to put effort into real looking reviews is quite high.  It’s not that hard to write a 4 word review that says “Service was great, thanks!” vs a paragraph with sincere words.

 

Are those “reviews” obvious fakes, or are they pretty believable to the untrained eye?

Most of the time, fake reviews are very easy to spot. The easiest way to spot fakes is by looking at all the reviews on a specific business. If you see 10 five star reviews that are very vague or similar, and then several 1 star reviews that are much more detailed, you have probably found a map spammer. Real consumers will feel lied to and will often times leave a 1 star review to show that they are dissatisfied with the service.  When the fake business performs well, there won’t be many bad reviews at all, so that makes them harder to spot.

(Phil note: read this great old post by Nyagoslav on how to sniff out fake reviews.)

 

What’s your reviews-strategy advice?

Make a point of asking politely for a positive review at a specific point once the service has been rendered. Provide a great service, and tell them that you value their reviews and it will help fight against the fake spammers.

Telling consumers that this problem exists and that you are fighting against it helps to get the appropriate willingness to help.

There are many rules when it comes to asking for reviews / offering discounts in exchange for them. I would encourage business owners to understand them and follow them.

 

What’s your advice to business owners who are up against spammers?  What steps should they take?

Get organized, and find time every single day to flag the spammers, but only after you have determined that they are not legitimate. Checking with local / state directories to make sure that you are flagging illegal businesses is critical.

You wouldn’t want to flag a real business just because you think they might be spam.

I will be launching a service that helps business owners with this process, and saves them the time of flagging and checking whether or not the business is legitimate.

 

How about your advice to local SEOs?’

Don’t fall for the temptation of resorting to black hat or grey hat techniques to get ahead.  The stress on me built and built and nearly cost me everything.

Do good work, beat the streets and deliver results. Read more about the products you are working with, learn the techniques you need and apply them without taking shortcuts.  Eventually “karma” catches up to everyone, and I would encourage everyone to abide by the rules.

I was a part of the problem in one industry and now I get to fight against it in all of them. I will not turn a blind eye when I see someone being taken advantage of.

 

What kind of simple due-diligence should consumers do every time they’re researching local businesses?

You should be able to look up the business name, DBA name, and key business information in a state business license search when trying to ascertain the legitimacy of a business.  This is the first place to look.

Check to see if the business actually exists at the location it proclaims to be at.

Remember, sometimes there are typos or a business has a trade name or other things that might look fraudulent, but it could just be a mistake. You don’t want to take down a real business owner’s livelihood because you are angry. The cycle has to end.

 

How can someone reading this join the fight against mapspam?

Join my mailing list at seelysecurity.com to receive information about how you can fight against map spam, and follow me on Twitter @bryanthemapsguy

 

What are some posts / books / other resources that anyone concerned about mapspam should read?

My TEDx talk “Wiretapping The Secret Service Can Be Easy & Fun”

The first Komo story I was part of (link).

Stay tuned for the only book on the subject, coming out soon.

 

I know you do do a lot of cybersecurity consulting that has nothing to do with mapspam.  What’s some cybersecurity advice you have for anyone reading this?

Passwords!  You don’t have to make them hard to remember, just make them as long as possible. For example:  P@ssw0rd!%123     that is a hard to type password, and hard to remember. This one is harder to break, but easier to remember:  Mydogcannotplaytheharmonicaworthadamn!123   You can use phrases instead of keywords, and computers are trained to substitute numbers and symbols for letters when cracking passwords. The longer the password is, the harder it is to crack.

Use 2-factor authentication on Gmail, Dropbox, or whatever services that you use online. Period.

Don’t shop online or do banking on public wi-fi, like at Starbucks. Just don’t.

Change passwords on your home devices like you would change your oil, regularly.

Update your antivirus software and don’t download stuff from people you don’t know. That’s the 2015 version of “don’t take candy from strangers.”

Most of the places you are getting malware and spyware come from websites that are the result of searching for pirated software, pornography, or “earning money working from home,” etc. These websites try to lure you into downloading their “coupon printer” or money saving toolbar which ends up being a virus or something.  Word to the wise: stick to the main road.

 

You’ve mentioned that you’re concerned about people’s online privacy (or lack thereof) in general.  What battles are you fighting on that front?

Right now, a couple of startups that are in the early stages of product development that will be hyper focused on consumer privacy and advocacy.

 

Tell me about the book you’ve got coming out.

The book details the entire ecosystem of fraud and scamming that is happening in the online maps world. Google Maps, Bing, Yelp, and the various other websites that you use to find local businesses are not the convenience and safe havens for innovation that most people see them as.

Spammers have found numerous ways to game the system and make a ton of money in the process. They are taking advantage of consumers, business owners and no one is really doing anything about it. I talked about it in the TEDx talk back in April, and the book will address all of the various pieces, how it works, and even detail HOW the scammers are doing it.

The hope is that Google and other websites will have to take action to fix this once and for all, and consumers and business owners will stop losing money, time, and their livelihoods.

 

As a Devil Dog, you support your fellow Marines and veterans.  What’s the best way for someone reading this to help out?

To help with Marines and other veterans, There are a number of places I would suggest donating your time and/or money:

The Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org)

Donate your time to the VA (volunteer.va.gov)

(Phil note: there’s also my Visibility for Veterans program.)

 

Can someone reading this hire you to help in any way?

I am available to be contacted via email (bryan@seelysecurity.com) or you can fill out a contact form on seelysecurity.com.

My main business focus is cyber-security consulting, which involves “ethical hacking”, PCI and compliance auditing, as well as doing infrastructure and project based work as well.  I have been a high end voice over IP (VoIP) guy for a while, as well as a network engineer and consultant for a while, so whether its deploying something new, upgrades, or troubleshooting, I am pretty comfortable with just about anything you can throw at me.

Lately I have been getting a wide variety of work, especially “I have been hacked, can you help” type stories.  People see me on TMZ or other outlets and reach out with questions, and I am more than happy to answer.

By the way, on June 24th I will be teaching a cyber-security workshop at the Global Fund Forum in Bermuda. Feel free to connect with me there, if you’re planning some shore leave in Bermuda 🙂

Thanks to Bryan for a great interview.  I suggest checking out his site, getting on his email list, and following him on Twitter.

He can even make you a snazzy “Edward’s Snow Den” t-shirt.

Any questions?  Got a painful mapspam story?  Leave a comment!

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!

7 Ways to Kill Your Local Search Rankings without Touching a Computer

There are a million online misadventures that can snuff out your business’s rankings in local search – in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results and everywhere else.

Attempts to spam or deceive Google usually backfire.  You can also destroy your rankings through sheer laziness – like if you never update any of your business information or never bother to understand Google’s quality guidelines.

You may be aware of what online actions can hurt your local rankings.  Maybe you’ve learned the hard way.

But there also are offline ways you can kill your local rankings.  Simply not doing anything stupid or naughty in your local SEO campaign isn’t enough.  You can lose local visibility and local customers without ever touching your computer (or smartphone or iPad).  To be more precise, I can think of 7 ways:

 

Offline Way to Die Online #1:  Relocate, rename, or use a new phone number without updating your Google+Local page or other business listings to reflect the change(s).

By “update” I mean you must do two things: (1) update all your business listings with the new info, and (2) scour the web for listings (AKA citations) that list your old info.  (By the way, doing a free GetListed.org scan can be a huge help when you get to this step.)

If you fail to do the above, you may be OK…for a little while.  After some months a major third-party data source (most likely InfoGroup) will catch wind of the change and create new listings for your business with the new info.

This will cause your business to have inconsistent info spread all over the web – which itself is a rankings-killer – and may cause Google to create unwanted and inaccurate Google+Local pages for your business (another rankings-killer).

 

Offline Way to Die Online #2:  Get a phony address, like a PO box, UPS box, or virtual office.  Eventually your fake-o address will enter the local-search “ecosystem” (in the way I described above) and you’ll end up with inconsistent business info all over the web, penalties from Google, or both.

(It’s likely that the only reason you’d want a phony address in the first place is so you can try to game Google – so it’s likely your rankings won’t die as a result of your offline actions alone.  More likely, you’ll try to update your business listing(s) with the fake address and end up getting flagged by a competitor or good citizen.)

 

Offline Way to Die Online #3:  Mistreat your customers and get slammed with bad reviews.  This probably won’t have a direct effect on your rankings unless you have dozens or hundreds of scathing reviews, BUT it may affect your rankings indirectly.

For instance, nobody knows for sure whether click-through rate (i.e. the percentage of people who see your business listed in Google and click on it) is a factor that Google takes into account when sorting out the local rankings.  But Google does “know” a bunch of user-engagement stats.  If people simply don’t click on your listing because they see a 10/30 average Google rating, or if nobody clicks your link from (say) your Yelp listing because you have a 1-star average, Google may very well take your rankings down a peg.

Bad service = bad reviews = fewer clicks = low rankings / fewer customers

Also, although “social signals” like Facebook shares, tweets, and Google +1s don’t seem to affect your local rankings much or at all as of this writing, they most likely will become a stronger ranking factor in the future.  If potential customers are scared off by bad reviews, you’ve got fewer opportunities to get social shares.

Most of all, at the end of the day, it’s about getting people to pick up the phone.  You can’t do that very well if nobody clicks on your Google+Local page or website because your reviews reek.

By the way, you get bonus idiot points if you get hammered with bad reviews but don’t write thoughtful “replies from the owner.”  Yes, you can do this: Google+Local and Yelp (and probably other sites that aren’t coming to mind now) let you respond to reviews.  It’s easy to write a reply and takes you maybe 90 seconds.  It’s even easier never to check up on the sites where you’re listed or  simply to live in ignorant bliss, oblivious to the public criticism.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #4:  Hire and fire an unethical SEO.  He or she has access to your Google+Local page or other listings (and maybe even your website), and may do something nefarious or simply not hand over your command codes when you need them.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #5:  Let your domain name or hosting expire (thanks to Chris Silver Smith for this one).  True, technically you don’t need a website to rank in the Google+Local or other search results.  But if you don’t have one, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, because many local-search ranking factors depend on your website.  If you’re in a competitive local market, forget it: Without a site you’ll fare about as well as Lance Armstrong in a polygraph test.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #6:  Never grow your site.  No, I’m not talking about updating the copyright at the bottom of your website so that it no longer reads “© 2002.”  I’m talking about keeping a “static” website to which you rarely or never add useful, non-promotional info that might cause a potential customer to think “Hey, that was handy!”  A static website is a lost opportunity.

Google knows when a website is an online paperweight, and may very well reflect that fact in your rankings.  Worse, if your site is devoid of fresh, helpful info, nobody will link to you, share your site, or give you a juicy unstructured citation or review – all of which are factors that otherwise could boost your rankings.

If you’re going to rank well, your site needs to show signs of life.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #7:  Never check your Google+Local page and other listings.  They say a watched pot never boils.  The corollary is that an unwatched pot can eventually boil over or boil until there’s no water left.

Things will happen to your online local presence, whether you know it or not – and probably not all of those things will be good.  Sometimes you’ll need to fix or remove inaccurate info on your listings, respond to reviews, or double-check your Google+Local page or website is compliant with the Google update du jour.

But you can’t fix problems if you never know about them.

By the way, there’s no offline way to fix most of the above problems.  The solutions involve getting with the times, getting on the computer (or tablet), getting a little bit of local SEO know-how (as you’re doing now!), and getting your hands a little dirty.  That will help you become or stay visible to local customers, and it will help keep the phone ringing.

Any other offline “ways to die” you can think of?  Any questions or general suggestions?  Leave a comment!