Updated April 11, 2017 – Updated strategies to remove references to MapMaker, how to check the status of an edit in Maps, how to report duplicates, how to get edits reviewed, and how to appeal a wrongful denial.
This is my official guide to help other users know how to get better at fighting spam that appears on Google Maps 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.
- Does Street View confirm they are at this address?
- Do a Google search for the address. Does it return a UPS store website or mail service? (Neither of these are allowed).
- Zoom in on Google Maps to identify other listings that are also using this 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.
- 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
You can edit listings for businesses via Google Maps > Suggest an Edit (note: this only appears in Google Maps not the Local Finder on Google search. When you’ve submitted your edit, you will get an email when it is approved. If it doesn’t get approved, you do not get an email telling you this. Thus, it’s important to check your contributions tab on Google Maps to see if the status is pending, approved, or denied (it will say “Not Applied”).
How to Edit
Through Google Maps:
Go to Google Maps, pull up the listing and press “Suggest an Edit”.
- If it’s the business name that is wrong, submit an edit to correct it to remove keyword stuffing. Do not report the listing as spam. Your edits will most likely get denied (unless it incorrectly auto-approves) and it will hurt your trust level on your profile.
- 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:
- First edit the duplicate so it’s identical to the other one. If one is “Best Personal Injury Lawyer Denver” and the other is “ABC Law Firm”, edit the title of the first one, wait for that edit to go live and then report it as a duplicate. This should help your success rate
- If you are looking at 2 listings and 1 is verified and the other is unverified, always report the unverified listing.
- Go to Suggest an Edit in Maps and press “Yes” at the top for the listing being closed, then select “Duplicate”.
The Waiting Game
So how long does it take for an edit to be reviewed? It really depends on your profile and how much trust you have. You can help increase this by regularly editing and reviewing on Google Maps. Currently, only Level 5 Local Guides can review edits that are pending on desktop. The rest of Google users can review edits on mobile unless it is an edit to remove the listing. So if you reported the listing as spam (#2 above), you need to wait for Google to review it or you can ask a Level 5 Local Guide to review it and it should help speed it along.
Just because your edit got approved, your task is not over.
If you reported it as spam and 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 examples in this article. 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.
If you edited the business name and it was a verified listing, be prepared for the business owner to just change it back the next day through the Google My Business dashboard. If this keeps happening, post over on the GMB forum and clarify how many times you’ve edited the business name and how quickly it reverted back. This should help the volunteers to make a case to Google for why the listing should get a soft suspension (the listing becomes unverified). Google does not currently penalize or remove listings for businesses that keyword stuff in their business name but that doesn’t mean they won’t at some point.
Appealing Edits that Got Denied
If you notice an edit of yours got denied that shouldn’t have been, you can post about it on either the Local Guides forum (for unverified listings) or Google My Business forum (for verified listings) to get some guidance as to what to do next. When you post, give some evidence to prove your edit was legit (since Maps doesn’t allow you to submit comments):
- 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 as proof that this listing shouldn’t be there (Ex: this business already has a listing here…)
- 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.
If you enjoy fixing spam on Google Maps and use Twitter, feel free to use the hashtag #StopCrapOnTheMap to get the attention of some of the GMB Top Contributors.
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?
If you enjoyed this guide and want more information like it, consider buying my advanced guide on Local SEO which took me months to write and is over 140+ pages of tips just like this.