Googles finds more than 25 billion spam-filled pages every day. Last year, Google users submitted more than 230,000 reports of spam, 82% of which resulted in pages being taken down. Very simply, spam is part of the experience when it comes to internet staples like Google Maps and Google My Business (GMB)—but some suffer its effects more than others.
Business cannot afford to ignore spam in local listings. In certain business categories, such as locksmiths, lawyers, and insurance agents, the issue is so severe that all of the most prominent search results on Google Maps are taken up by fake business listings. Competing against these fraudulent listings for visibility is a thankless task. But that doesn’t mean that businesses are powerless to fight back.
How did spam listings become such a pervasive problem?
In theory, following proper SEO practices should see the best listings float to the top while the worst sink to the bottom. Yet it seems that spam listings are exempt from the fundamental rules of search. They deploy what is known as “black hat SEO”, using dishonest and sometimes illegal methods to rank their listings. These subversive tactics make it even more challenging to report them and remove such listings.
Some spam listings act as uninvited middlemen between customers and businesses. For example, users searching for “emergency glass repair” are often in need of the service immediately. They unwittingly contact spam listings that don’t provide emergency glass repair at all. Instead, these “businesses” obtain customer details and resell leads to the actual service provider—usually businesses found lower down the search results. In other words, spam listings not only push legitimate businesses further down rankings but also act as a tax by selling back the very leads they stole.
How to remove spam listings in GMB
With the issue of spam listings becoming increasingly severe for some industries, businesses want to know what can be done. The short answer is that Google provides a convenient reporting tool. The longer answer is that you will need to invest time and expertise to monitor, detect, and then report these spam listings for removal. It’s a relatively straightforward ask for small business owners, but a completely different challenge for multi-location brands that need to fight spam on a much larger scale.
Search in your category
In the example below, the top three results are all spam. Depending on the device, a user searching for “car insurance Seattle” may only see these three fake listings, leaving no room for a legitimate insurer in the local 3-pack.
Every relevant, legitimate business has been demoted by the keyword-stuffed names of these fake listings—and none will suffer more than Spangler Insurance, whose listing should rank at the very top.
Investigate the suspects
Reporting these listings as spam is an easy task, especially when they clearly show keyword-stuffed names, generic images, nonsense operating hours, and a distinct lack of reviews. Following URLs to their keyword-stuffed websites is not advisable, and would hardly fill even the most unsuspecting user with confidence.
In our examples above, URLs point to either irrelevant websites (valuepenguin?!) or redirect to the same lead-farming website. These are very obviously fake listings that have fooled Google’s bots and are now ranking at the very top of a local search.
The “Suggest an edit” button at the bottom of each business’s profile gives the option to flag a listing for removal. In the list of reasons for removal, you will be able to mark the listing as “Spam, fake, or offensive”.
After the report is sent, Google will verify it. Unfortunately, that verification process can take a couple of weeks or even longer. We’ve dealt with exceptionally long wait times during COVID-19, but don’t be dissuaded from reporting spam: it could be the difference between revenue and, well, no revenue.
Reap the benefits
Once spam listings have been removed, every legitimate business that was pushed down in rankings should see an instant improvement in their 3-pack positioning. Considering that it may only take a matter of minutes to improve your GMB and Google Maps rankings, how much could an hour of spam removal benefit your listings? If your business is falling just shy of the local 3-pack, this simple spam removal might be all you need to drive a dramatic increase in leads.
Why don’t more businesses fight back against spam?
With such profound benefits to such a simple process, you have to wonder why every business isn’t already actively engaged in the fight against spam listings. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, it’s difficult to know exactly which of your listings are having their rankings lowered by spam and which are simply losing out to legitimate competitors—especially for multi-location business with hundreds or even thousands of listings to manage. Although spam removal is relatively straightforward, it’s also an inescapably manual task that cannot easily be scaled.
Secondly, spam removal is not a one-time deal. Like invasive weeds, new spam listings will reappear even if you trim out a few. They are a persistent threat to listings, but few businesses can spare the time and energy to repeatedly intervene. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of a local marketing platform that makes spam removal simple, intuitive, and effortlessly scalable.
Our tailored solution to listings spam: Local Rank+
We developed Local Rank+ to help multi-location businesses optimise their local 3-pack performance, understand the impact spam listings are having, and estimate the time and effort required to fight back. It also highlights instances where a business is close to ranking in a local 3-pack placement, enabling anti-spam efforts to be prioritised.
Nobody wants to dedicate resources to manually fighting spam. With Local Rank+, you can ensure that the time spent culling spam is as efficient as it can be. Of course, you also have the DAC team at your disposal: we can detect and remove spam listings as part of our Local Listings Management service, ensuring that your listings reach their full ranking potential—today and into the future.
Want to prevent spam pushing your listings down and stealing your leads? Don’t want to spend countless hours doing it? Let’s talk.