Updated September 4, 2016 – Added points to check reviews on the listing & MapMaker history
This is my official guide to help other users know how to get better at fighting spam that appears on Google Maps, Google MapMaker and within the 3-pack on Google search. It is no secret that spam is a HUGE problem with Google and frankly appears to be getting worse, not better. My goal with this guide is to help you get better at reporting spam so that you can keep Google’s search results cleaner and better. This guide also is using the Google My Business guidelines as an indicator of what is not allowed.
What is Spam?
It’s important to define the 4 main things you’ll be trying to eliminate.
- Keyword Stuffing in Business Names
- Businesses that are not eligible to be on Google Maps
- Businesses with multiple listings for the same business
- Listings for businesses at locations where they don’t physically exist
Before you submit an edit you need to collect sufficient research to make sure you are certain about the information you’re submitting.
- Does the business name on the listing match what’s on their sign in Street View?
- Does the business name on the listing match what is listed on their business license? You can look at how a business is registered by searching for them on their state’s Secretary of State website.
- Call the phone number. How do they answer the phone? When you’re making these calls, call from Gmail so that your number is anonymous and they can’t call you back. Many spammers who create tons of fake listings answer their phone with something generic like “Hello, locksmith” or “Hello, service”. Normal businesses generally answer with their business name. If they answer as just “hello” you can always ask “Hi, I’m trying to make sure I got the right number, what business is this?”
- Other government documents can be used to verify a business name
- Lawyers: State Bar
- Medical Industry: https://npiregistry.cms.hhs.gov/
- What name is listed on their website? Often these people will list their name as “keyword 1, 2, 3” on Google yet their About us page on their website lists their real name.
- Go take a picture of the actual location. Photos can be used as proof.
- Look through the edit history on MapMaker. Often the real name was on the listing at some point before the business decided to keyword-stuff.
- Does Street View confirm they are at this address?
- Search for variations of their address + “site:plus.google.com” on Google to see how many other businesses are using the same address.
- Do a Google search for the address. Does it return a UPS store website or mail service? (Neither of these are allowed).
- Look in MapMaker and use Select a Place to find other listings using the same address.
- Drive by the location. Take pictures. Is the business actually there?
- Call the business and ask for directions to their office and see how they respond.
- Does the address on the listing match what is listed on their website?
- If you come across tons of listings using the same address/phone number you may have fallen across a spam network. I would advise investigating and reporting as many as you can (some of these networks contain thousands of listings)
- Run some of the websites through http://domainbigdata.com/ and check what other sites are on that same IP address. Search google for site:plus.google.com + “domain.com” to see if there is a listing for those other domains.
- Check the reviews on the listing. Often people who leave fake reviews leave them for tons of fake listings. If you see something like this where the user has left a review for 2 different garage door companies from 2 different states, it’s a sign that it’s probably a marketing company writing them and can lead you to discover more fake business listings.
Once you do the research you are ready to submit your edit.
Where to Edit
If the listing is verified, do your edit through Google Maps > Suggest an Edit (note: this only appears in Google Maps not the Local Finder on Google search. Edits in Google Maps tend to get approved faster by Google and they also send you an email when the edit has been reviewed.
If the listing is unverified, submit your edit through Google MapMaker. A lot of these edits won’t need Google’s approval and can be approved by a MapMaker Regional Lead.
What to Use as Proof
If you are editing via Google Maps, there is no place for comments. This is very stupid but it’s still important to save your proof and notes in case your edit gets denied and you need it appealed. I would suggest appealing edits to verified listings on the Google My Business forum.
In MapMaker, you can make comments and you would always want to do that with an edit made there. Here are acceptable things to put in comments:
- Always quote MapMaker guidelines, not Google My Business guidelines. Here are MapMaker’s guidelines for business types that cannot be added. If the business doesn’t exist at the address listed there should be no issues getting it removed if you have sufficient proof from the research part.
- For sources, only use government sources (like the business license search referenced above), the business website (or the website of the business that really owns that address, like UPS), images you’ve taken & shared online of the business (Ex: I drove by, here is what’s really there), or images on Street View.
- You can always reference other listings on Maps/MapMaker as proof that this listing shouldn’t be there (Ex: this business already has a listing here…)
- Long links shouldn’t be used in the comments section of MapMaker. Use Google’s URL shortener or the amazing Chrome extension. Listing long URLs (even to Google properties) can cause the comment to give an error.
- Never use 3rd party sites as sources (ex: The business is listed this way on Facebook or Yelp)
- Using Street View is helpful and recommended. List a specific link to the zoomed-in version of Street View that shows the particular sign/building.
How to Edit
Through Google Maps:
- Go to Google Maps, pull up the listing
- Press “Suggest an Edit”
- If it’s the business name that is wrong, submit an edit to correct it to remove keyword stuffing.
- If it’s a location that doesn’t exist, press “Yes” at the top for the listing being closed, then select “Spam”
- If the listing is a duplicate, press “Yes” at the top for the listing being closed, then select “Duplicate”
Through Google MapMaker
- Go to Google MapMaker, pull up the listing
- If the business name is wrong, click the pencil icon > “edit this listing” > Delete the current name that’s there and add a new name (make sure you select the exact same name types)
- If the location doesn’t exist, click the pencil icon > Delete This > Feature Does Not Exist .
- Note: if a listing is currently marked “permanently closed”, you first have to submit an edit to open it before it can be removed. Be very clear in your comments that you are submitting an edit to open the listing so it can completely be removed.
- If the listing is a Service Area Business, you can remove it as “Does Not Exist” if the listing is unverified. MapMaker doesn’t allow Service Area Businesses but Google My Business does.
- If the listing is a duplicate, click the pencil icon > Report This > Duplicate Exists
- Always use the notes/comments section for submitting any edit on MapMaker with the sufficient evidence/details to support your edit.
The Waiting Game
So how long does it take for an edit to be reviewed? Currently I’m seeing a turn-around time of about 2-6 weeks.
If it’s been over that time frame and you still have not seen the edit be reviewed, post on the MapMaker forum for edits to non-verified listings (that you did via MapMaker) and on the Google My Business forum for verified listings.
Just because your edit got approved, your task is not over. If it was a verified listing, be prepared for someone at Google My Business (GMB) to incorrectly reinstate the listing. It happens all the time. Don’t believe me, check out the history on this listing. When this type of thing happens, definitely bring it up over at the GMB forum. Be very sure to be polite in your posts. Ranting at Google or the volunteers at the forum won’t help the situation at all. For those of you reading this thinking “This is Google’s problems, they should fix it”, I agree. However, we don’t live in a perfect world so it’s best to try and correct the problem yourself if you have the ability to do so. After all, if Google did everything perfectly for every business would you have a job in Local SEO?