[2019] The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam on Google Maps - Sterling Sky Inc

[2019] The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam on Google Maps

Updated April 26, 2019 – Updated to include the Redressal Form, updated screenshots, what to do when your Redressal Form is not acted on by Google. Plus we share our spam fighting sheet template for your swiping pleasure. 

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 2019 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.

  1. Keyword Stuffing in Business Names
  2. Businesses that are not eligible to be on Google Maps
  3. Businesses with multiple listings for the same business
  4. Listings for businesses at locations where they don’t physically exist

The Research

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.

Business Name:

  • 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
  • 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.

Address:

  • 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 your self a copy.

 

Spam Networks

  • 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. 
  • fake reviewsCheck 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.

 

Reporting Spam

Redressal Form

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.

Until the Redressal Form came along the best way to report spam was escalating to GMB support via Twitter or Facebook. As of today, you can only use Twitter and Facebook for review spam escalations. Everything else needs to be submitted using the Redressal Form.

Submitting Edits

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”.

  1. Depending on the type of spam select:
    1. “Change name or other details” or
    2. “Remove this place”
  2. If it’s the business name that is wrong, select the “Change name or other details” and submit an edit to remove keyword stuffing.

  3. 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.

Additional Information

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.

35 replies on "[2019] The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam on Google Maps"

  1. Hey Joy,

    Great article and interesting insights.

    While I agree the way Walmart was listed above isn’t technically ‘within their guidelines’ I don’t believe it’s actual keyword stuffing. I can speak from personal experience, that 2 – 3 years ago, this type of naming convention was pretty much required as it was useful from a user experience standpoint, especially when a business had multiple locations and it was difficult to manage in the old back end. I’ve only noticed recently that people in the Map Maker community have made a fuss out of this sort of naming convention.

    I’m not talking about keyword stuffing (i.e putting additional services in the name) but the use of the GEO is quite helpful (e.g north, south, east, west etc.) in separating individual locations.

    1. I am sure there are a lot of people who break the guidelines who don’t do it intentionally. I am sure Walmart falls into that group. However, the fact is that inserting additional words (geo, category, address info) is currently against guidelines and has been now since the fall of 2014 when Google updated them. I think a year and a half is enough time for people to be familiar with the new guidelines 🙂 Fixing business names is important because the business name is a ranking factor so those who are breaking the guidelines are reaping a benefit that those who are following the rules cannot have.

  2. Joy,
    Phenomenal guide. I nominate this as one of the best pieces the industry will be treated to in 2016. Thanks for all of the hard work and experience you’ve put into this. I know I’ll be sharing it!

  3. Great article Joy, I am currently editing the Equinox fitness clubs in NYC. They add the location GEO for each location, e.g. Equinox SoHo, Equinox Flatiron, etc. I updated to just “Equinox” however their local SEO Specialist must think otherwise and has reverted them back to Name + GEO. How do you make changes permanently stick as this is becoming a fun game as I change them back.

    1. Good question Andy. I’m not sure there is a way to make it permanently stick. It’s one of the most irritating things about all this. I’m going to send this to Google to see if they’ll comment.

    1. James,

      You can still report these in Google Maps. Just follow the instructions I have on this post for how to report via Google Maps.

  4. This article warms my heart Joy. I’ve been spiraling down into the spam that is negatively impacting legitimate clients and it really grates on me how lead gen sites are able to skirt the rules with SAB listings or locations using mailbox services. I feel like the burden of proof should be on the business owner who has an office in the same building as a mailbox service rather than the burden being on the community to police every offender who abuses this. We have even seen the more sophisticated networks using personal condos registered as SAB’s, which makes it hard to prove to Google moderators.

    One trick we have used if you find categories that are being heavily abused (Garage Door Repair, Locksmiths, etc.) is to log all your research in a Google Spreadsheet. If it comes to reporting via the GMB forum this makes it far easier on the moderators and we have seen quicker results.

    Fingers crossed the Googs is able to make some quick advances here as it’s hurting legitimate clients and they’re pressing to use the same spammy tactics if we can’t eliminate it.

    1. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting on Google to fix it 😉 For now I would say the burden is on SEO companies to do this for their clients. The recent algorithm update has helped though!

  5. Great guide, but I still wish there was an even more direct way to notify Google of businesses using spam tactics. As a small business owner, it’s tough to win a football game when the opponent is so obviously playing by rugby rules– and not being penalized for it.

  6. Hi Joy,

    Thanks for your work, advice, and insight in this area.

    I have one question around geographic place names and Google Earth. In speaking with the official BC Geographic Names Office, they also say this is a big problem.

    There is mountain in Northern BC that has for many years been called one thing by the locals, and then a few years ago, a BC hiking association renamed it (and some other local peaks) after a nearby pass. It now shows on Google Earth to what they named it. Despite repeated requests to remove the name, and their assurances that they would, it still remains years later.

    We feel this is not right that armchair geographers can simply click a mouse to change something like this, and which by default, over time, becomes the new name as more people use Google Earth.

    Is there any assistance within the Google Earth community or the somewhere else that could be of assistance with this specific issue?

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    1. Jeff,

      Honestly when it comes to listings to do with landmarks or features on the map unrelated to businesses, I would defer you to the Maps or MapMaker Forum. If you ask your question there and clarify which mountain you are referring to, I’m sure they can get you the answer.

  7. Hi Joy. Very interesting. I just checked out some spam from my local competitors and submitted an edit to a business name which was very clearly spam. I received an email from Google Maps within 10 minutes informing me that my edit had been made. The corrected name also appeared in Google’s local pack, the local finder and on maps immediately. Not only that, their ranking was adjusted downwards for the query they were clearly spamming for (= SEO + Location).

    1. Ewan,

      Keep an eye on it. They will most likely add the keywords back via GMB once they realize you edited it 🙁

  8. Great update. I just bought a design company, dallas website design inc.com with the website dallas websitedesign.com

    The site had zero seo so I hop in to start last week… what do you know, 7 other people in dallas called Dallas website design…..

  9. Hi Joy,

    Does this method work for listings claimed by Yext? I know they boast that no one can manually override the information they have.

    – Julie

    1. Hey Julie,

      All these tactics are related to listings on Google Maps so yes, they work for any listing regardless of who created it. I believe Yext’s claim is more for other Yellowpages types of listings that they have the ability to “lock” due to their partnership with that directory. Google has no such partnership with anyone so it doesn’t apply to Google listings.

  10. Hi Joy, this topic seems totally new for me and trust me…I really enjoyed reading it. I’ll also enjoy fixing the spam on Google Maps.
    Many times I had come across duplicate listing with keywords been used instead of actual business listing, but never thought of reporting or editing them.
    Now your this post has added a new task on my local SEO task list.
    Thanks for this interesting, helpful post. I hope it works for many of my clients.

  11. Hi Joy,

    Great article! I’ve personally found this helpful while dealing with such cases as I’m not from the US, or Canada and wouldn’t know where to start.

    Just a small suggestion, to report unverified listings it is acceptable to post on the Google Maps and Earth Help Forum as well.

    This might be the preferred option, as not all users are Local Guides and one needs to join the Local Guides program to be able to post on the Local Guides Connect forum.

    Thank you.

  12. Joy, is it your position that Lead Gen sites should be banned or do you see any legitimate path for Lead Gen sites to exist? Thank you.

    1. Dave – my opinion on this doesn’t matter 🙂 Google’s, however, does and they do not allow those types of listings. When caught, they are removed.

    1. Hey Denis,

      They should work everywhere. A few of the resources mentioned (such as the Secretary of State) are only in the USA so you’d want to use your country’s equivalent instead.

  13. What should you answer on the Redress Form question, “Name of the entity or organization that is getting impacted *” (* meaning a required field). Should it be the name of the business I’m reporting or the name of the business I’m working for?

    Thanks!

  14. Good Morning Joy,
    Unfortunately, reporting map spam has been a huge issue for us. There are over 200 fake map listings on google that are really just lead providers. I report them over and over and no results. Their address shows empty homes and all the same phone numbers.

  15. This is a great article to say the least. There is so much for us to wrap our heads around when dealing with the Goog monster. And it’s been this way for years. Legitimate businesses who are honest, and do what is right, always seem to win out in the end.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend