How Can Local Businesses Fight Spam in Local Results?

How Can Local Businesses Fight Spam in Local Results?
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Sick of seeing spammy Google My Business listings from your competitors in the local 3-pack? You’re not alone. With just three results available in the local pack, it’s even more grating to see them taken up by fake or inaccurate listings. Well, there is something you can do about it! Here, Joy Hawkins shares her pro tips on identifying and reporting spam listings so you can join The Fight Against Spam.

As a small business owner it can be super-frustrating when you’re being outranked by businesses that are not playing by the rules. After all, we expect Google to penalize websites and listings that violate their guidelines but often we see the opposite happening. If you’re in that situation, here is what you should do about it.

First, figure out what type of spam it is. I break spam down into 3 categories.

The Three Types of Google My Business Spam

Type 1: Fake Listings

This is when you see a listing for a business that either doesn’t exist at that location or isn’t a real business. The most common types of violations in this category that I see are:

  1. Listings using mailboxes for their address.
  2. Listings using virtual offices. In order to qualify for a listing, the address would need to be staffed (by your staff, not the staff of the virtual office business) during the hours you list yourself as open in Google My Business.
  3. Multiple listings using employees’ home addresses. A home-based business that meets their customers in person would be entitled to one listing but often we see them attempt to set up several.
  4. Listings for lead-generating companies that sell the leads to real businesses.

Type 2: Keyword-Stuffing

This is the concept of a business adding several descriptive words to their business name in Google My Business that are not a part of their real-world business name. People do it because it has a shockingly high impact on ranking.

In 2016, Local SEO Guide published a study that looked at over 100 factors for 30,000 businesses to see which factors appear to influence ranking in the 3-pack. They found that having the keyword in the business name causes you to rank about 1.5 spots higher.

Type 3: Fake or Biased Reviews

The most common types of review violations I see are:

  1. Businesses that are review-gating or basically “cherry-picking” who they ask for reviews. Google updated their guidelines in April of this year to clarify that this is against guidelines.
  2. Businesses that have reviews from employees. This is also against the review guidelines.
  3. Businesses that are review swapping. This is the concept of going to another business that you haven’t actually been a customer of and saying “I’ll review you if you review me”.
  4. Businesses that offer incentives for reviews. This could be in the form of a discount, prize, or a service you add on for free. Google clarifies that this is against the guidelines in their help article here.
  5. Peer-to-peer reviews. I see this the most with attorneys where a law firm will have reviews from other attorneys in the area. Google reviews are supposed to be about the customer experience, so if you didn’t intend to hire a business, you shouldn’t be leaving them a review.

Similarly, there are a lot of things that people think constitute as “fake reviews” which Google does not remove based on a lack of evidence. Jason Brown does a fantastic job of giving an overview of those in this article.

What Should You do About It?

Fix it Yourself

If the listing is not owner-verified, you can try making a public edit on the listing. This will only really work for spam types 1 and 2 since fake reviews aren’t something you can really report successfully. I’ve found that publicly flagging reviews is a giant waste of time. To get a detailed look on how to edit a listing, check out this guide I wrote.

Report it on the Google My Business Forum

The pro to posting on the Google My Business forum is that it’s the only place where you can report spam that will result in you will getting an answer back after Google has looked at the case. The con is that the forum is run by a group of volunteers called Top Contributors, who mostly have full-time jobs so there are are limited hours that they can spend helping the users on the forum. Consequently, there are lots of threads that don’t get answers.

Before posting a thread on the forum, please read this guide to see what information we need from you before we can pass along the spam report to Google.

Report it on Twitter or Facebook

You can direct-message Google My Business on Twitter or Facebook if you want to report a competitor that is breaking the guidelines. The pro to using this option is that the message will be private so you don’t have to worry about a public record of the report. The con is that they won’t tell you when they’ve reviewed the case. For this reason, I suggest setting yourself a reminder to check the listing in about a month to see if anything has changed.

It’s also important to note that you cannot report spam by contacting GMB by either phone or chat. These channels will only talk to you about issues related to your own business listing.

If you are an agency or small business owner that is regularly impacted by spam, I strongly suggest adding “monitoring spam” to your task list. It’s something my agency does regularly for clients and we’ve seen some great success in industries like garage door repair, glass repair, plumbing, and attorneys where spam is rampant.

Have a question about spam that I didn’t address? Feel free to ask me in the comments.

Joy Hawkins has been working in the Local SEO industry since 2006 and loves being a Google Top Contributor. She also loves spending time managing Google AdWords accounts and has been certified in both Google Search & Display. She is also a speaker at various search engine marketing conferences such as SMX & LocalU, as well as the founder and owner of agency Sterling Sky.

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8 thoughts on “How Can Local Businesses Fight Spam in Local Results?”

  1. I have been following these steps and they do work.
    I have been noticing some new tactics lately, like leaving a bunch of bad reviews at one time. That is something else we are now going to have to monitor.

    Thank you Joy!

  2. The Google My Business Forum has been amazingly helpful for resolving issues with maps listings over the last year or so. Thanks for your help their Joy.

    But this…

    “Having the keyword in the business name causes you to rank about 1.5 spots higher.”

    This has been going on for far too long, when will Google change their algorithm up and put a stop to this???

    1. Given how long this has been a ranking factor, I’m not really holding my breath. It would be nice if Google found a way to not include it in the algorithm.

  3. Thanks very much, Joy! You inspired me today to take on correcting a number of keyword stuffed listings. Hopefully, they will stick.

    I also physically went to a location of one that I thought was a virtual office and it was (photos to prove it) and so I submitted a spam report on the GMB forum. I hope someone will take a look and make the needed adjustments.

    https://www.en.advertisercommunity.com/t5/Spam-Policy/SEO-Company-with-Virtual-Office-Pictures-to-prove/td-p/1750876

    Thanks for your excellent work in the community.

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