How to Fight Google My Business Listings Spam

Legitimate competition already makes it a challenge to rank high in online search results, so it can be frustrating to see spam serve as an additional hurdle. Here’s what you can do about it.

How to Fight Google My Business Listings Spam

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We’ve written before about how tough it can be to stand out and rank at the top of online search results in a competitive industry like septic pumping. It’s one reason why those companies typically have bigger Google Ads budgets than other home services industries.

What makes things even harder is all of the Google My Business listings and review spam that plague this industry. What is GMB spam, how does it impact businesses, why is it so common in the septic pumping vertical, why hasn’t Google done anything to control it and what can you do about it? Let’s dig in.

What is GMB spam?

In a recent BrightLocal webinar, Jason Brown, a GMB product expert, defined GMB spam as:

“ … any business that is adding their keywords into their business name, or using a fictitious address or inflating their listing with fake reviews. Spam is anything that goes against Google’s Terms of Service to influence rankings and dominate over your competitors.”

To recap, GMB spam can be:

  • Keyword stuffing in the GMB business name
  • An inaccurate/false address in the GMB listing
  • Fake reviews.

And the purpose of GMB spam is to either inflate the rankings of one business or harm the rankings of a competitor.

Why are some industries more spammy than others?

Some industries do have more GMB listing and review spam than others. Super competitive industries — especially service area businesses like septic pumping — are typically more spammy because the accuracy of the location of the company doesn’t matter in terms of business, because customers aren’t coming to that location. In theory, there’s no harm in using a fake address.

However, Google has made it perfectly clear that location does matter when it comes to ranking in search results for service area businesses. For example, it’s easier to rank for “Septic Pumper + Houston, TX” if your business is located in Houston than it is to rank for that search query if you’re located in a suburb of Houston. In that sense, there’s a very real benefit to using a fake address that’s located in the area you’d like to rank for.

“It all depends on whether the user has to show up,” says Joy Hawkins, a GMB product expert. “I couldn’t make a fake restaurant and actually conduct business, because people would have to show up. If I’m an insurance company, I can go to the user or do transactions over the phone or meet people. Those are the industries where you see the spam because the location doesn’t really matter; they only want to rank to get the lead.”

Why is GMB spam such a big problem?

Clearly GMB listing and review spam is a big problem, especially for service area businesses. But why is it so out of control? Brown argues that it’s because there’s nobody policing it, it’s very easy to do and it’s effective.

Businesses and black hat search-engine-optimization companies have always looked for ways to cut corners and game Google, and Google’s always several steps behind. When Google finally does put a stop to certain tactics, like spammy links, people just start looking for new ways to move the needle.

“It’s so easy to create a fake listing, keyword stuff it and then buy a bunch of fake reviews,” Brown says.

Ben Fisher, another GMB product expert, agrees and says that it’s seen as a low-risk, high-reward tactic. Yes, you can get your listing shutdown or suspended (there are hard and soft suspensions), but it’s not a given. With clear, quick benefits and without actual guaranteed penalties, many companies see no disadvantage to GMB listing and review spam, so they keep doing it.

Why doesn’t Google do something about it?

You could argue that a lack of resources is to blame for Google’s seeming disinterest in fixing the spam problem in GMB. That would explain why it expects consumers and volunteers to do the policing. But there’s also the argument that Google doesn’t really see it as a problem that impacts consumers and their decision to keep using Google as their preferred search engine.

“I think Google is tackling stuff that hurts consumers directly,” Hawkins says. “While I do argue that this hurts consumers, it’s not as bad as having a criminal come into your house because you hired them as a locksmith from Google. They’re cracking down in certain industries, but I don’t feel like they care as much about cases where it’s harming businesses rather than consumers. At the end of the day, if I call a lawyer because I found a fake lead gen listing that eventually got me to a lawyer, I still got what I was looking for as a consumer, so it’s not as big of an issue to Google.”

It’s no surprise that Google doesn’t care too much about how its platform hurts local businesses, service area businesses in particular. But maybe it actually feels like the problem is too big. Maybe that’s why it has introduced Google Local Service ads and rolled them out in multiple industries and areas. If it has total control over the interaction and transaction, maybe it can prevent this kind of spam altogether and create an environment for service area businesses where the only option is to pay to play? Just a theory.

What can you do if you spot GMB listing or review spam?

When fighting review spam, it’s best to flag the review, wait three days and contact Google support via Facebook or Twitter. If you still haven’t heard anything, you can head to the GMB forum and try to get your problem escalated by a GMB product expert.

That said, Hawkins warns us to keep our expectations low when it comes to review spam. In fact, she says that she only bothers to report review spam when it will impact the majority of the reviews for that listing (i.e., if 95% of the reviews are fake and it’s obvious).

In the past, there wasn’t much you could do for location spam and keyword stuffing spam other than report it in the GMB forum or through Facebook or Twitter and pray someone would help. But Google finally revealed just recently a new way to report GMB listing and review spam: the Business Redressal Complaint Form.

What do you need to do once you’re on the complaint form page?

  • Check out the guidelines to make sure your complaint is legitimate.
  • Provide your name and email address.
  • Select the category of spam you’re reporting (title, address, phone number or website), and add the GMB URL in the provided field.
  • Provide as much detail as possible as to why the information is “malicious or fraudulent.” Make sure it’s clear how the content you’re reporting as spam is against Google's guidelines, and provide as much relevant information as possible for the person reviewing the complaint.

This way of reporting is so new that we can’t say how quick Google will be to review and remove the spam, but we can all hope for the best.

What about the “suggest an edit” feature? Is that an effective way to report spam?

In short, no. Google’s turnaround with spam reported through the “suggest an edit” feature is about three to four months. And a lot of times, the change will just revert back, which means you’ll have wasted your time. It’s better to go ahead and try the new Business Redressal Complaint Form.

How much does spam fighting impact search results and rankings? Is it worth it?

For a highly competitive industry like septic pumping, fighting spam is absolutely worth it because there’s so much of it. Getting rid of illegitimate businesses in search results can instantly move your legitimate business up in search results. And if you’re doing things right, playing by Google’s rules and providing the best service to your customers, that’s where you deserve to be anyway.


About the Authors: Carter Harkins and Taylor Hill are the co-founders of Spark Marketer, a Nashville, Tennessee-based digital marketing company that works primarily with service businesses. They’re also the co-hosts of the "Blue Collar Proud (BCP) Show," a podcast that’s all about having and living the blue-collar dream, and the co-authors of the book, Blue Collar Proud: 10 Principles for Building a Kickass Business You Love. Both regularly speak at service industry trade shows and conferences across the nation. Visit www.facebook.com/sparkmarketer, www.facebook.com/bcpshow or www.facebook.com/groups/bluecollarproudnation.



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