Google has worked hard to provide users with valid results in the search engines. One of the main priorities of these results has been in Google Maps. Machine learning has helped to reduce fictitious business listings from showing and remaining in the results. Google understands the value of a top 3 maps listings, and if you are local business, you obviously do as well. If you rank in the top three, you get leads.
For the past several years, getting businesses verified has become slightly more challenging. Interior and exterior photos have become required. The search engine giant is obviously stepping up their game for local search. Here is an image of the abstract just released.
In this paper, we investigate a new form of blackhat search engine optimization that targets local listing services like Google Maps. Miscreants register abusive business listings in an attempt to siphon search traffic away from legitimate businesses and funnel it to deceptive service industries—such as unaccredited locksmiths—or to traffic-referral scams, often for the restaurant and hotel industry. In order to understand the prevalence and scope of this threat, we obtain access to over a hundred-thousand business listings on Google Maps that were suspended for abuse. We categorize the types of abuse affecting Google Maps; analyze how miscreants circumvented the protections against fraudulent business registration such as postcard mail verification; identify the volume of search queries affected; and ultimately explore how miscreants generated a profit from traffic that necessitates physical proximity to the victim. This physical requirement leads to unique abusive behaviors that are distinct from other online fraud such as pharmaceutical and luxury product scams.
Google believes that less than .5 % of the listings online are actual fake listings, but that number is still very high for Google’s standards. Google’s goal is to have no fake businesses show up on Google Maps. The new measures put into place, which includes machine learning, have prevented 85% of fake listings to never get verified in the first place. Now that this information has been shared, it does shed some light on a few Google Maps optimizations that we have done recently that have raised some eyebrows.
Google Wants To Do A Video Chat With The Business Owner
We were recently speaking with another SEO agency and they had informed us that a representative from Google requested a video chat with the business owner on a mobile device. The representative at Google was obviously skeptical about the business, and wanted the owner to walk around his place of business and show offices, entry doors, street scenes, etc. to prove the business was real.
Google Calls To Place An Order
We have a client that we optimized about 9 months ago, and we had several issues getting their listings validated. It is a strange situation as the business owner does have a brick and mortar location, but they provide services to home owners at their address. We requested a postcard, waited two to three weeks, and still had not received.
We requested another postcard, and called the Google verification line to speak with a representative. While we waited for validation, our client received a phone call from an unknown number a few days later. The person on the phone was interested in meeting with our client at his place of business. He made up a story stating he needed to meet him there, asked questions about the company, and our client finally agreed to meet with him at his place of business.
A few hours later, the listing was verified in Google!
This was a bit surprising at first, but then over time we started to see more and more fake listings showing up everywhere online. Businesses changing their names in order to take advantage of Maps which we discussed in this previous post. We have seen industries such as law where competitors intentionally make changes to listings in order to see them fall from the top results. We have seen listings in vacant buildings rank in the #1 spot for particular searches. Obviously, something needs to be done to provide searchers with valid results.
Google has recently published some information online about issues and challenges they face with Google maps in an abstract titled “Pinning Down Abuse On Google Maps”. They will be presenting this information at conference this upcoming weekend. If you have been impacted by Google Maps in one way or another, this is definitely worth the ready.