Updated February 13, 2020
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. And this is truer than ever in 2020 with the Law Firm and Drug Rehab spam that is out of control. 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 or escalate spam to Google 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?
From our experience, organization is one of the most important parts of effective spam fighting. Here’s a copy of the spam fighting sheet that we use to keep organized at Sterling Sky. Feel free to make yourself a copy.
- 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.
On February 27, 2019 Marrissa Nordahl from Google posted an announcement that there is a new way for users to report offenders that are spamming on Google Maps/Google My Business.
You can now do so by filling in this form which will submit a report to the Google My Business team. Another huge announcement attached to this is that the Google Product Experts will no longer be able to assist with spam reports since they are retiring the spam section the forum.
Submitting your own edits to spam listings has become a far less effective way of dealing with spam over the last year. Editing listings manually has become a major pain point for spam fighters as edits to very obvious spam more often than not get denied by Google.
With that said, we still think it’s a good practice to submit edits this way. It can help build your editing profile authority when they do get approved. And yes, sometimes they still do get approved.
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”.
- Depending on the type of spam select:
- “Change name or other details” or
- “Remove this place”
- If it’s the business name that is wrong, select the “Change name or other details” and submit an edit to remove keyword stuffing.
- If it’s a location that doesn’t exist, select “Remove this place” and then select “Doesn’t Exist” or “Spam, fake, or offensive” from the drop-down list.
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. Note that Having a higher Local Guide level does not mean you’ll get more edits published.
The current turnaround time on the Redressal Form is about two weeks.
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 and one of the Product Experts might be able to help you. 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, make sure to use the Redressal Form and clarify how many times you’ve edited the business name and how quickly it reverted back. This should help make a case to Google for why the listing should get a soft suspension (the listing becomes unverified). Google has also recently started giving hard penalties for repeat offender keyword stuffers.
When you use the Redressal Form give some evidence to prove your case:
- 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 Product Experts.
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 300+ pages of tips just like this.
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- The State of Spam Fighting: What We Learned From Analyzing 5,306 Listings in 16 Industries - April 11, 2022