Google Places, Where Crooked Businesses Take Over
For years I’ve worked on local search with my efforts on Google Places usually spearheading the campaigns. It would seem that my listing for Van Nuys Bail Bonds would be solid, if not, completely immovable since the office has been there since 1948. The address hasn’t changed and I think even the phone number hasn’t changed since then, but I’d have to check. One would think that this listing in Google Places would be ranked #1 in this day and age mostly due to its longevity at said location. But since the reformation of Google Business Listings, Google Local Listings, and now Google Places, the listing’s rankings and actual existence has been all over the road.
Google Places has, just recently, been in a lot of reports and articles published in newspapers ranging from the New York Times to Mike Blumenthal’s excellent blog. The New York Times and Blumenthal’s articles go on to speak about businesses showing up on Google Places as “Permanently Closed” even though they are still open and thriving. To me, this is a sad occurrence that has been going on since Google brought the business listings in to fruition on their site.
Apparently these businesses that have been reported in the said articles have only had one person “report” the business being closed and then subsequently the business shows up on Google Places as “permanently closed.” Blumenthal even goes on to report his own business, and yes, within a few hours or days, the business now shows up as “permanently closed.” Google has said that they are taking measures to fix this problem and that some early steps are in place to alleviate this problem.
One of those is that the business owner is supposed to receive an email that their listing has been reported as closed and then have a chance to report otherwise. As reported by Blumenthal, this did not happen and has not happened.
Our Local Search efforts regarding our Van Nuys Bail Bonds listing completely backs up Blumenthal’s comments and the article reported in the NY Times. For years we optimized this listing for local search and the hardest items we had to work on, were when there was something amiss with our listing on Google. The age of our Google Business Listing goes back since before I was hired in as the SEO Director and the business has been next to the Van Nuys Fire Station since before I was born. There are actually times when I check my listing’s existence and ranking (daily) that I one, see that it has disappeared, or two, find that it has suddenly fallen to 6th place in the seven box.
Why is this happening to my Local Business listing? I can not confirm the things that you will read here next, but in my years of experience doing SEO and Local SEO, my very good educated guess is this; Your competitors are the ones creating havoc on Google Places. Without a doubt in my mind, if the input of data in to Google Places was completely “white hat”, authentic, and trustworthy, there would be no problems with Google Places’ listing output.
In my industry there are currently more than five immoral and unethical businesses practicing black hat techniques. Their listings are just ridiculous, similar to the Locksmith era. The crazy thing is, one person can go to my client’s Google Listing for Van Nuys Bail Bonds and report it as closed, and I’m closed down until I call Google twenty times and send a thousand emails, BUT, if I report these unethical businesses who have fake addresses stating that they are just that, “address does not exist”, I get this email from Google.
Thanks again for sharing your local expertise with other Google users! We have reviewed Bail Bonds Direct ® because of your report.
You should know, however, that Bail Bonds Direct ® is an owner verified listing and some updates require the approval of the business owner before they can take effect.
To see the current information about Bail Bonds Direct ®, you can see its Place Page on Google Maps: http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=15382224157260078730
Thanks for your help,
The Google Maps team
This just makes me laugh to no end. The part that says, “You should know, however, that Bail Bonds Direct is an owner verified listing and some updates require the approval of the owner…” is amazing. This caused me so much grief that this is what I did. This bail bonds company has over 100 fake listings and reporting them all (which I have tyried) would take forever. So I stuck with the listings that had the most search volume and of course the listing that was a direct competitor to me for my client, Van Nuys Bail Bonds.
I went to the address that they have on Google Places, took pictures, also tried to “check in” to the site and reported a problem stating, “I’m directly in front of the address of the listing that you (google) state is supposed to have a bail bonds company and its a vacant office with absolutely no one in there, no phones, no desks, no nothing!” I did this on my smart phone hoping that Google would see the longitude and latitude of my phone when I reported this problem. I also had my wife do the same thing on her smart phone (droid).
What did Google do in response to my VERY thorough report of this non-existent listing? See the previously quoted email!!!
As I moved forward in my local SEO campaign for this company, I constantly fight the existence and ranking for my listing. My Client has four LEGITIMATE offices. All of which have come under fire with threats of delisting and ranking problems. All listings have been verified by a postcard. And would you know it? Just this morning, my Inglewood listing has disappeared. That office has been in existence, at that address, for over 30 years! How did this happen???
Let’s take a look at something I call EASY SEO and HARD SEO. Hard SEO is pure white hat. Some local SEO white hat strategies are paying for your company to be listed in DMOZ, yahoo business directory, adding your company to a slew of other directories especially the BBB, and all the other fine SEO techniques for local search including local content on your website. This is the hard road because it takes so much time to do and it costs money for some of the prominent directories.
Now, the EASY SEO. Eliminate the competition. It’s that simple. Go and get 100 gmail accounts, bing accounts, yahoo accounts, and start filing reports on Google Places on all of your competitor’s in your niche and your listing will rise quickly to the top because of attrition. And this can all be done within a week.
ONLY when the rest of the legitimate businesses rise up and yell at the top of their lungs for months, does the ultimate distributor of leads and business (Google) decide to do something about the corrupt, unethical, businesses out there in this landscape. To this day my client’s bail bonds agents visit jails to post bonds. I ask them before they leave to drive by addresses of listings in Google Places and to let me know if something actually exists there or not. I continuously get reports back from my client stating, “Again, as reported by my employees and according to the photos they have brought back to me, there is no bail bonds company, nor any business at all at the location you have requested for verification.”
It’s interesting to see that the internet is alive with businesses blogging, writing, and pointing the finger at Google for their incompetance of legitimizing Google Places when every wrong occurrence could decisively be tracked back to an unethical business taking the shortcut to Google’s preferred ranking.
Here’s another great example of the wonder of Google Places and Google’s dealings with Local Search. Type in Google, “Santa Clarita Bail Bonds.” (this example could be done for many other keywords if you care to try) You will see in the number one spot in AdWords a listing that has the address, 23740 Magic Mountain Pkwy. This address is actually the Santa Clarita Jail. Anyone on the internet can find out that this is the jail address in about three clicks but Google can’t?
So I called my Google Adwords representative and told her about this. After an exchange on the phone and several “confirm” emails, you can see the listing is still there, representing an address that they not only don’t reside at, but are also misrepresenting the Jail as their bail bonds office. While I was on the phone with my AdWords representative, I said, “can you do me a favor, can you type in, Santa Clarita Bail Bonds, and see the first listing in the AdWords, next, in another window, type in Santa Clarita Sheriff Station. Do you notice that are using the official jail as their address?” The AdWords rep responded, “oh, that’s not supposed to happen.” Really? This was more than six months ago and today, 9-14-11, nothing has changed.
I have 100’s of examples similar to all of these that I could probably write a book about, but as my article reaches 1600 words I feel I should rap things up and start proofreading.
What do we get from this article?
- Unethical companies are working the Google Places with what I call, EASY SEO and taking advantage of Google’s sloth-like way of responding.
- Ethical companies are going to war every day and not getting any support by the very company (Google) that could and should be helping them.
- Google Places places an enormous amount of precedence on the values that create the rankings for the listings thereby creating a lot of work for ethical companies which in turn can all be taken away by ONE “report a problem” act by an evil competitor.
- Google Places is actually indirectly SUPPORTING the EASY SEO (black hat, unethical) businesses.
- Google Places black hat SEO (EASY SEO) is winning and the ethical companies are now thinking about fighting fire with fire.
- The Google Places model subsidizes, advocates, rewards, and ultimately supports a propensity for companies to perform black hat techniques.
Article written by Daryl Osswald, SEO Director.
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