Spam has been prevalent in the local search landscape for a long time.
Why? Because everyone is looking for ways to cut corners.
Many businesses unfairly employ spammy tactics like keyword stuffing, multiple Google My Business listings, lead generation websites, and falsified reviews to manipulate local search results and get ahead of their competitors.
It’s not something that just affects local SEOs, too. The wider world has caught wind of these scammy tactics:
The degree to which commercial services like locksmithing, window cleaning and general handyman work have been dominated by scammy referral businesses that use SEO to crowd out actual businesses is extraordinary.
— Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) June 16, 2021
GMB spam isn’t just unfair, it risks damaging the reputation of Google My Business as a trustworthy source of information, as well as the reputations of the legal, health, and home service industries in which it seems to be most prevalent.
Update: In December 2021, Google updated the local search algorithm to place more prominence than ever before on proximity as a ranking factor. Aptly nicknamed the Vicinity Update, this algorithm change also decreased the value of adding keywords into the business name within Google Business Profile.
What is Google My Business name spam?
Google My Business name spam is when the business name on a GMB listing doesn’t match the business’s registered name.
Sometimes this can be accidental. Maybe the person who set up the GMB listing wasn’t aware that they had to use the registered business name? Maybe they’ve seen other spammy listing names and just think it’s what everyone does and so it’s okay?
But it also can be intentional, where the person stuffs different keywords into the GMB listing name on purpose, in order to boost rankings for those keywords in both SERPs and Google Maps.
“Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. … Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted and could result in your listing being suspended.” – Google
One of the reasons that name spam is such a problem is that updating the business name in a GMB listing is quick and easy. All you need to do is log in to your GMB listing, go to ‘Info’ in the menu on the left and click the pencil icon next to the business name.
Types of Google My Business name spam
Stuffing synonyms into the business name
There are lots of ways of saying the same thing in order to spam Google Maps and local search results. This is what makes rankings so tricky in the first place and why adding synonyms to a business name is a really popular form of name spam. Some people even take it to the extreme, like this example from Josh Loewen:
I found it. I found the worst GMB listing. pic.twitter.com/o7fIVOXD17
— Josh Loewen (@joshtastic) January 27, 2021
Inserting a location into the business name
Adding the location of the business to the business name in order to try and outrank competitors is another obvious and popular tactic, just like the business in the fourth position has done in the image below (not the second and third, though—they’re legitimate business names).
Using emojis or special characters in the business name to make it stand out
Some might argue that using emojis and special characters is simply a great branding exercise. But if, for example, a business added five star emojis to their business name, it’s not harmless branding anymore but making a claim that can influence searchers. This is unfair to the other businesses and that’s why this tactic is seen as search and Google Maps spam—and gets a big thumbs down from the local SEO community and Google.
Using subjective adjectives in the business name
It’s not just the use of emojis that can turn a branding exercise into a claim. Adding words like ‘Best’ and ‘No 1 Rated’ to the business name has the same impact and is another unfair way to influence users.
Accidental name spam
We all know accidents can happen and the world of GMB spam is no exception. We’ve seen multi-location franchises using numbers in GMB listing names. This is not them spamming intentionally because using a number isn’t going to benefit rankings or convince users to use them. They’ve done this simply to help them manage the sheer volume of their businesses in one location.
What can we do about Google My Business name spam?
Unfortunately, Google’s algorithms aren’t always great at spotting spam, and their limited measures to keep business owners and SEOs honest aren’t always effective. This is why Google relies on consumers, business owners, and marketers to try and identify spam and get it removed.
In the most recent Local Search Ranking Factors survey, experts declared spam-fighting as the most important activity you can perform to increase rankings. So rather than simply trying to outperform spammers using the same tactics, it’s a good idea to focus your attention on getting spam eradicated.
How to find and remove Google My Business name spam
The first step to removing Google SERPs and Google Maps spam is identifying it in the first place, and BrightLocal’s Local Search Grid makes it super easy to see which of your competitors are using name spam.
For each keyword used to set up a Local Search Grid report, there’s a table that outlines the top ten competitors for that keyword. This table makes it easy for you to spot names that seem a little off.
In the example below, looking at the name of the business ranking in the top spot, alarm bells should be ringing. This is potentially name spam, because it looks like they’re keyword stuffing.
We can find out for sure by clicking on the competitor name in the table, which takes us to their Google My Business listing.
From there we’d be able to click through to their website to see whether the GMB business name matches up with the actual name of the business, which should be displayed prominently and consistently across things like homepage page title, in their logo, in the footer—none of these are likely to say ‘Best Dental Practice in Tampa | Tampa Dentist’, but it’s good practice to check it out!
If the GMB name doesn’t match the name they use across their website, then we have two options:
- ‘Suggest an edit’ on their Google My Business listing and hope that Google’s algorithms do the right thing and accept it.
- Escalate it as an official spam report by heading back to Local Search Grid and using the flag spam button.
This will take you directly to Google’s Business Redressal Form, which doesn’t just leave it to an algorithm to decide. Everything that gets submitted through this form is looked at by someone on Google’s spam team who will review it and decide whether to take action against the spammer.
Spam is something that can easily pass you by, but with Local Search Grid you’ll have a better way to quickly identify name spam and take the steps to get it removed.
We know that our customers have plenty of innovative ways to tackle spam. If you’d like to share your own tips and hints, head to the comments and tell us how you’re doing it, or email us if you’ve got a particularly compelling story to share.
Want to start stopping spammers with Local Search Grid? Grab a 14-day free trial and see what’s possible.