Is Google Places Still Easy To Scam?


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I just got off the phone with a business owner who wants my help to get a few of his Google Places listings ranked #1 or #2. As the conversation moved along he proceeded to tell me he had 12 listings. I immediately asked him if he had multiple business locations. He responded "no" (with a smirk). He only has one business location but he just uses fake addresses or home addresses of friends and family in the various cities he targets. He has 2 alone for one city and they both rank on the first page!

I asked him if he's ever had a suspended listing or any issues with Google. Without hesitation he said, "no." Although his latest "fake address" listing was under review but he poked it and it came out of review and everything is fine now.

As a professional SEO consultant that is always striving to tow the Google line and crossing the T's and dotting the I's that when scammers like this come along it makes me wonder if we're all trying too hard. Google likes to scare us into believing that they will eventually catch on but here's a guy that's been scamming the system for a couple years now without any issues. Now I know sooner or later Google will catch on to his scam, but he clearly doesn't care. He's enjoying the "free ride" while it lasts.

Needless to say, I turned down the business. I just thought I'd share the story as I found the conversation a little entertaining:)


Travis Van Slooten
 

Linda Buquet

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Thanks Travis, great story and it DOES make you wonder, when you see someone gaming Google like this and getting away with it.

However, I can't help but think some day when he's suspended, even his main real location and has no listing at all if he won't think "those extra rankings for a few months weren't worth losing it all and all the extra hassle I'm having to got through now to try to get things back on track."

I feel I know you pretty well and if you took him on, you'd be laying awake nights worrying about when he was going to get whacked.

I think you'll be able to sleep better at night knowing you took the high road!
 

BCLocal

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Thanks for sharing! Back in the day I managed the local efforts of a large national company with hundreds of actual locations nationwide. Before becoming my client, they used this same "gaming the system" tactic and were caught red handed. Google removed all of their listings, even their actual owned locations. They came to me to help pick up the pieces and start over again from ground zero. They lost all of their reviews, ranks etc. We eventually got them back up but it took a year and a lot of work proving that we were following the Quality guidelines and only using actual, owned locations.

This type of gaming happens a LOT and I hope Google increases their ability to clamp down on it.

Brandon
 

Colan Nielsen

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Thanks Travis!

A great example of Google "catching-on" to a scam occurred at the beginning of this year. I started noticing that a marketing company was moving all of their clients map markers to the centroid.

They were getting away with it for several months, maybe even longer before I started catching on.

Within a few months of people pointing it out to Google it stopped and Google even added a blurb to their quality guidelines.

So, if a business decides to scam Google, they not only have to worry about Google catching, but also worry about other businesses and consultants who keep an eye out for these things and will report them to Google.
 
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I hear about stories like this all the time as well. I've also been approached by businesses wanting to do the "virtual location" or regus suite thing, and I've had to tell them either we play the game my way (within the guidelines), or they can go to another company. The biggest thing I bring up is that eventually they will be caught and will get suspended. Once suspended it may be months before the listing will get to the top again. Would it really be worth losing local-based leads for months just to get a #1 ranking for 2 weeks? That usually turns their perspective around.

The biggest question I have is what Google is doing to combat this type of behavior. I get frustrated when I see legit companies with listings in "pending" or "under review" states - which to me are like suspension since they're not being indexed - while at the same time seeing clear examples of spam from others being rewarded with a live listing. Does it really depend mostly on their competitors/other consultants sending in "report a problem" tickets in large quantities before they start to act on something like that?
 
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Which begs the question...should I report this guy's listings? He sent them all to me to "review." Part of me says yes I should but I don't know if I can do it. Ya, he's scamming the system but to me it's like tattling on someone...and my mom and dad always told me not to tattle:)

Do you guys ever report scammers...especially if they are competing against your clients? I'll bet there are consultants out there that do this very thing. They report any competitors of their clients that are scamming the system. I've never done it but maybe I should...

Travis Van Slooten

Thanks Travis!


So, if a business decides to scam Google, they not only have to worry about Google catching, but also worry about other businesses and consultants who keep an eye out for these things and will report them to Google.
 

Colan Nielsen

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Travis, I just about spit my tea all over my computer screen picturing you getting off the phone with this guy and immediately reporting his listings. :p (not that you did or would ever do that)

I think each situation requires a different approach. My feelings are that the reaction to the violation should be based on several factors.

I'm sure some will argue and feel strongly one way or the other, but I feel a thoughtful approach is always best.
 
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Exactly...lol. I would never do it - although I would be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind. This guy was so smug about what he was doing. I'm a big believer in karma so I'm confident his scamming ways will catch up to him sooner or later without my interference;)

Travis Van Slooten

Travis, I just about spit my tea all over my computer screen picturing you getting off the phone with this guy and immediately reporting his listings. :p
 
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My take on reporting listings is that it's up to the business owner to do it. I mean I really don't have time in my day to spend hitting that "report a problem" button every time I think I see something that is possibly spam. I've had an owner come to me and say "this guy has multiple pages, and they definitely don't have offices there." I respond with "okay, here's the steps to report them to Google." and give them a step by step on how to do it. Probably good to have that saved on the computer somewhere so you can expedite that process :)

I have been asked why I (or consultants like everyone here) don't actively report businesses, and it always comes back to the time issue and local knowledge about the area. Tell the owner "you know the area better than me, so you can help Google with your knowledge of your community."

Like Travis said, eventually Karma will catch up to them. lol
 
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Travis, this is a really good topic. Now, I've never worked with a scammer, nor do I have the 'black hat' skills to attempt scamming Google, but this is what I see: there is so much inexplicable stuff outranking better stuff in Local that, even without intent or attempting to scam, poor quality stuff frequently gets high rankings. This is mind boggling, but I see it all the time. So, if it's easy to get undeserved/accidental good rankings because of the way the system works, I expect it's still pretty easy to get them intentionally.
 
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I guess I'm the opposite, as a mapper I've personally deleted many a scammer; it's part of making a proper map. And I don't feel guilty at all, nor should you. Local is all about supporting the local businesses. The majority struggle to survive. Getting rid of a scammer increases the chances of a legit operator surviving.

To address the issue overall, they are constantly improving their scam detection, and that leads to the scammers trying new techniques. When you have a legit client get caught in spam filters, don't get upset at Google; get upset at the scammers that made the necessity for more and more complex filters that have a greater chance of false positives. And realize that whenever you turn in spammers, you decrease the need for more complex algorithms that might give you trouble in the future.
 
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You make some really good points. I don't think I would hesitate to call out a scammer that was hurting my own clients but in this specific case, I just don't feel right turning him in. It's amazing, though, he's literally ranking in the A or B slot for 5 of his fake address listings. How the heck was he even able to verify the listings when the addresses were fake??

Travis Van Slooten

I guess I'm the opposite, as a mapper I've personally deleted many a scammer; it's part of making a proper map. And I don't feel guilty at all, nor should you. Local is all about supporting the local businesses. The majority struggle to survive. Getting rid of a scammer increases the chances of a legit operator surviving.

To address the issue overall, they are constantly improving their scam detection, and that leads to the scammers trying new techniques. When you have a legit client get caught in spam filters, don't get upset at Google; get upset at the scammers that made the necessity for more and more complex filters that have a greater chance of false positives. And realize that whenever you turn in spammers, you decrease the need for more complex algorithms that might give you trouble in the future.
 
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Which begs the question...should I report this guy's listings? He sent them all to me to "review." Part of me says yes I should but I don't know if I can do it. Ya, he's scamming the system but to me it's like tattling on someone...and my mom and dad always told me not to tattle:)
Well, he lied to you after you gave him the chance to come clean. In my book if someone tries to deceive me in a manner that would implicate me then they have what is coming to them.

It's amazing, though, he's literally ranking in the A or B slot for 5 of his fake address listings. How the heck was he even able to verify the listings when the addresses were fake??
Impressive. Not sure how he's doing it, but if you share the links maybe we can find out.
 

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