There’s a new & improved form of Google Map spam that’s targeting car accident lawyers nationwide. Since February 2019, we’ve noticed a drastic increase in the volume of Google Map “Places” that are blatant spam for direct keyphrase matches targeting car accident searches throughout numerous US cities. If you’ve noticed it too, there’s something you can do about it but no guarantee of solving the problem.
Update: June 24, 2019
As of today, Google has removed all of our reported map spam submissions. However, it took months for it to happen and we are still seeing new spam populate that follows the methodology described below. Our thoughts are that Google is getting better about removing spam once its reported, but they’re still not so great about identifying it or preventing it from occurring. This has turned into a whack-a-mole operation where the real world consequences are small businesses (and law firms) suffering while potential customers/clients get funneled into a spam listing. Our original question posed below remains unanswered: “how is it possible that these listings often make it into the top “3 Pack” of Google local results, displacing legitimate law firms who’ve been around for decades…”
Not Your Everyday Google Spam
One of our clients approached us about a spam “car accident attorney” listing in his local area. Initially we thought it was run-of-the-mill spam, a marketing company trying to infiltrate local listings with a lead generation website or something similar. However, upon closer inspection we noticed dozens of listings in one city, all with a laughably fake name and no website address. As we started to do more research, we saw that the spam was strategic, pervasive and incredibly effective.
Here’s the Methodology to the Spam:
- All the Same Business Name Format: Fake Name and/or fake “Firm Name” + city + “Auto” or “Car” + “Accident Lawyers”. This is known as “exact match” keyword spam, but many listings look something like “Jacob’s Auto Accident Attorneys of Glendora” or a close variation of that pattern.
- No Website: Each of the listings I’ve seen in this spam effort have no website address, making it more difficult to identify the offending party.
- Voicemail Phone: We tried dialing a half a dozen of the phone numbers and got nothing but voicemail at the time of call.
This begs the questions: How has this spam so blatantly slipped through Google’s detection, and why are they seemingly doing nothing about it? As an SEO firm, we are absolutely perplexed as to how these fake listings can stay published, even after being reported, with no images, no descriptions, and no website. Furthermore, how is it possible that these listings often make it into the top “3 Pack” of Google local results, displacing legitimate law firms who’ve been around for decades, have authoritative websites, numerous reviews, photos and follow Google My Business best practices and guidelines flawlessly?
Our guess? It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that either a law firm or marketing company has figured out the “secret sauce” and cracked the code to local domination. Admittedly, that is the most likely answer. However, knowing many professionals in this space, and having talked to many, we have our doubts about this. Our conspiracy theory is that there could be an insider, or a group of insiders, at Google who is assisting in the proliferation and ensuring the success of these listings, and/or failing to act on spam reports. Think that’s crazy? It might be, but the two alternative scenarios are 1) Google is so wholly incompetent that they can’t recognize widespread spam or 2) Google doesn’t care about widespread spam. Google has it’s problems, but can the most dominant search engine in the world, with virtually unlimited resources be that bad at something so obvious that’s at the core of their business? Which of the potential answers is more likely?
Google Says They Want You to Report Spam – But do They Care?
Google has set up a “Business Redressal Complaint Form” that allows a User to enter in the Map address of suspected spam listings. This means that you must get the exact address URL on Google Maps and submit it using this form. This means YOU have to click on hundreds of listings and report each unique address individually. We thought they had algorithms for this type of thing. Since the beginning of March, 2019 we’ve reported hundreds of blatantly spammed listings and get the following automated response:
Thank you for contacting Google My Business team about misleading information on Google Maps! Based on the information provided your complaint will be reviewed in accordance with our guidelines for representing businesses on Google Maps. Please note that completing and submitting this form does not guarantee that any action will be taken on your request. Note-Replies to this email will not be monitored.
Google My Business Support
To date we’ve received only 1 successful “Published” update to Google Maps that a listing was removed, and confirmed that it was removed.
What Can You Do?
If we thought it would help, we’d say report as many fake listings as possible. However, it doesn’t appear at the moment that Google is manning the steering wheel on this one. Maybe if you share this article and tag Google they might take notice. The best thing you can do at the moment is to make sure that your website is well optimized for Organic listings in addition to Local Maps, or start a paid ad campaign on Google (which is likely their preferred solution). If you have questions regarding how to naturally rank in the organic results, contact us today.