How to Use Google’s Spam Redressal Form to Level the Local Playing Field
For many SMBs, and even local SEOs, the Google My Business Redressal Form is a thing of mystery. Here, Platinum Product Expert Ben Fisher shares his top tips for reporting spam through the form and outlines some of the latest updates.
At Steady Demand, we deal with a metric ton of spam on a monthly basis – spanning a ton of categories and covering almost every major city in the USA. On average, we see about a 96% success rate in spam removal, so I guess you could say we know a thing or two about the use of this form…
What is the Google My Business Redressal Form?
First, let’s cover a little history about the Redressal Form. In February 2019, the Google My Business Redressal Form was launched as a way to replace the spam reporting area of the GMB community forum. There were various reasons for this, but one of the most important was to create a scalable way of allowing users to report harmful or fraudulent listings directly to Google (versus only having the option to suggest an edit).
How has the Redressal Form evolved?
In January of 2020, the form was updated to be a little more specific about what you should not submit. Specifically, Google added this language:
If your complaint is not related to fraudulent activity on the name, phone number, or URL of the business, we will not be able to review your complaint. Please use these steps to report problems for all other Google Maps features. If you simply need to correct an incorrect business name, phone number, or URL, do not use this form. Use these steps to correct the information instead.
Fast forward to today: as of May 1st, 2020, the Google My Business Product Expert group was informed that you could use the Redressal for title spam, but to please use ‘Suggest an edit’ first on the GMB listing itself beforehand.
— Ben Fisher (@TheSocialDude) May 1, 2020
What’s the difference between the Redressal Form and suggesting an edit?
An important distinction that most are not aware of is that ‘Suggest an edit’ (see screenshot below) is, for the most part, an automated, machine learning mechanism to teach Google what users feel should be removed from Google Maps.
The Redressal Form, on the other hand, ends up directly in a human being’s hands. Yes, that’s right — usually, the Redressal Form submissions are reviewed by a spam team at Google.
That’s why you’ll see on the form itself that Google suggests uploading a spreadsheet if you’re reporting more than 10 listings at a time. Since a human is going to evaluate the submission, it is easier for them to handle bulk submissions this way.
I must also add that if you are submitting images as proof in the file upload option (pictured above), and wonder why you are not getting any good results, it is because you are not supposed to upload images here. If you want to share images as evidence, I’ll explain how to do that successfully later on.
Once spam has been evaluated (for better or worse) the data is then recorded and the machine learns from the input. This can lead to micro-changes in the listing environment where the algorithm sees patterns emerge and then small proactive incremental updates are pushed out to a broader set of listings.
And by the way, we should be thankful that this is how it operates. Remember June of 2019 — right when the Wall Street Journal article came out about spam? Well, a massive spam sweep occurred and lots of valid listings were suspended in the process. Small incremental changes are much better than reactive sweeps!
So, even though you are only submitting a small batch of listings, the impact these edits can have down the line is much greater than you might imagine. 100 listings submitted could lead to 1,000 being removed — I see this happen all the time. If we do large batch submissions in a certain vertical and in a specific market for a few months in a row, we’ll then notice the overall spam in that area decreases dramatically.
There are some real listings that get swept up in some cases, but those cases are usually pretty small. (Word to the wise: if you are doing massive cleanups in markets, make sure your clients are prepared for a suspension — it can happen, but then you can get them right back online).
How should I fill out the Redressal Form to get the best results possible?
Whether you are submitting the Redressal Form for one or for multiple businesses, it really does not change what information should be included. So here is how I suggest filling it out:
- Name: Either your name or the email account’s name that you are signed in with.
- Email: Again, either your email or the one you are submitting with. (This is where your caseID will be delivered to).
- Name of Entity: I always put “NA” for one listing or “Multiple” if submitting more than one.
- Content-type: Title (aka name spam), Address (virtual offices, UPS stores, or using another business’s location), Phone Number (for listings that are lead gen schemes, since they usually use the same number), or Website (again, this is usually for lead gen or malware types of sites). For a look into the different types of spam on GMB, take a look at Sterling Sky’s guide.
- Public URL: This is the Google Maps URL for each listing that you are reporting. If you’re reporting more than 10, then submit one in this field and upload a spreadsheet for the rest. I always choose to submit the CID (otherwise known as the Ludocid) of a listing, as well. There are a handful of tools you can use to generate a business’s CID, including BrightLocal’s Review Link & Place ID Generator, or a Chrome extension from Tom Waddington, and one from GatherUp. Either way, the link ends up looking like this: https://www.google.com/maps?cid=XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
The last step (pictured above) is very important. This is where you are pleading your case. This is where you are explaining the impact that the submitted listing(s) are having on other merchants and consumers. This is not the place to cry about how it is impacting your rankings or how unfair it is that they are outranking others. It is about the real-world implications of fraudulent or misleading information.
If you are submitting one Maps listing, then this is where you provide all your evidence. If you submit multiple listings, then this is a summary of what is in the attached spreadsheet.
One thing to point out here is that it’s worth clustering submissions into different groups. So, submit all title spam as one submission, address spam as another submission, and so on. This takes more work but will increase your chances of succeeding.
Another mistake I often see is that people think Google cares about your screenshots. Well, they do… but not the way you are probably submitting them. If you are going to include an image as proof, use something like Snagit to make a short URL or upload it to Google Drive. I repeat, do not paste the image directly into an Excel file or Google Sheet. It is unreadable and a waste of your time.
Speaking of spreadsheets, for all you professional spam hunters, make sure you include the name, address, Maps URL, phone, and any other proof you are using to make a case in your sheet.
Some other useful things you can provide include:
- Government sources like the Secretary of State or a licensing site: Include the URL to the source if you cannot show the search query.
- Google Streetview: Share a screenshot if, for instance, the business is operating out of a residential home, or if the address matches a different business.
- Link to the location: If the address matches another business, include a link to that location. For example, “This address is actually a Regus virtual office” and then link to Regus.
- And finally, do not use 3rd party sites like Facebook or Yelp, (although LinkedIn can work sometimes).
What happens after I submit the Google My Business Redressal Form?
The first thing that happens once you submit the Redressal Form is that you will get an email. It will look something like what you see below. The number in the subject is your caseID, but other than that it is pretty useless. You cannot reply to it, or follow up on it. Since you do not own the listings in question, Google will not communicate about them with you.
At this point, most spam I see is actioned in a two-week timeframe. Smaller batches are actioned sometime in the same week. If you are submitting upward of 50 listings, expect the timeframe to be more like 3+ weeks.
At this point, it is a black box, you wait… and wait… and click links… and wait…
At Steady Demand, we actually built a system that checks all submitted links (yay, no more clicking!) for removal from Google and keeps track of the success or failure of spam reporting. If this is something that interests you, feel free to connect with me.
What do I do if I’m not successful?
Well, the first thing to do is give it some time. Then, check all your facts — did you miss something? Sometimes, there are small clues that prove a listing is actually real. Or, maybe you just did not provide a crucial piece of evidence.
Personally, I have even gone as far as to hire a private investigator or, where legal, record conversations with a building owner asking if a company is leasing space or not.
If you must submit the form again, then do so, but remember that a human being is looking at your submission and they keep a database of evaluated spam.
Finally, I know you feel it is Google’s job to do all of this work, and yup, it is infuriating that some spam gets ignored. But remember, it is Google’s platform, and they are bound by their own rules and they strive to seek a balance between you, the merchant, and the consumer. It is not perfect, it is also not worth getting upset about.
Use the tools you have at your disposal and even that playing field!