Google Maps: What can be learned from the Mapspammers?

Last week Matt Cutts implied that I was endorsing Mapspam tactics when he noted:

Mike: I find it odd to beat up Google for not taking enough action on mapspam, then beat up Google on the other side when we start taking stronger action on mapspam…..

During a few parts of the interview I felt like you were giving this fellow “air time” after he’d said that there were multiple listings with bad data.

Actually far from it.

The folks who practice the more questionable tactics in Maps are essentially pushing the system to find its limits; what can be listed, what affects rank, what works. They are doing so in a vacuum of guidance from Google and apparently their motivation is profit. Short term profit at that, as I don’t see it as a sustainable tactic. I don’t find these practices acceptable on any level but I do learn from them.

I study and report Mapspam because it provides insight
• into how Maps works,
• into factors influencing ranking,
• the obvious contradictions in Google’s policies and practices and
• occasionally it provides insight into legitimate techniques that might increases viewer response.

Here is an interesting case of obvious maps abuse (where else but LA) but one that raises the question, does the tactic increase end user response and is it acceptable practice?

The search that made me curious: Locksmith Los Angeles, CA

I have been seeing more examples of the practice of including a phone number in the bussiness name in a range of industries in LA (perhaps elsewhere) It raises the question: Does putting the phone number in the business title increase client call in? Is it an acceptable practice?  What are your thoughts?

Here are their other obviously spammy listings. I have not explored whether they are hijacked or just bogus listings. I will leave that work for someone else:

Search: 5625‎ locksmith near Los Angeles, CA

LA Locksmith Google Mapspam abuse

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps: What can be learned from the Mapspammers? by

23 thoughts on “Google Maps: What can be learned from the Mapspammers?”

  1. Mike,

    I think you bring up a really critical point:

    the obvious contradictions in Google’s policies and practices

    My biggest issue with all this is, as I said in a previous comment, when clearly certain techniques work and Google through FUD keeps reputable businesses from playing on the uneven field.

    Similar to your example from last week:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=botox+san+diego
    http://www.google.com/search?q=liposuction+san+diego
    http://www.google.com/search?q=breast+augmentation+san+diego

    So guess what, my client has legitimate top 5 organic rankings for all of those (and dozens more). It’s safe to say I understand what skincaidmd DOT com is doing and that I could replicate it.

    It’s also a good bet that Google has already begun cracking down on bulk insertions with the same address.

    Yet, this one persists. It persists not for categories (a la Yellow Pages) but for keywords. I can rebrand all the live-long day. I can make up suite numbers and even issue call-forwarding #s, but

    I go back to the start:

    the obvious contradictions in Google’s policies and practices

    Mr. Cutts needs to extend his charter and help those poor maps saps out.

    Will

  2. Whoa those fellows have gone a bit overboard.

    Botox in Maps

    Botox? - more info »
    8929 University Center Lane, Suite 201, San Diego, CA
    (858) 450-4199?

    Botox Home – Quang Dinh Vo, MD? - more info »
    2418 Ulric St, San Diego, CA
    (877) 865-8703?

    Botox Injections? - more info »
    8929 University Center Lane, Suite 201, San Diego, CA
    (858) 450-4199?

    Cosmetic Laser & Skin Rejuvenation Clinic – Hair removal Botox Restylane? - more info »
    3252 Holiday Court, La Jolla, CA
    (858) 587-7067?

    Botox? - more info »
    8929 University Center Lane, Suite 201, San Diego, CA
    (858) 450-4199?

    Botox Injections? - more info »
    8929 University Center Lane, Suite 201, San Diego, CA
    (858) 450-4199?

    Botox Financing? - more info »
    8929 University Center Lane, Suite 201, San Diego, CA
    (858) 450-4199?

    Botox Injection Financing? - more info »
    8929 University Center Lane, Suite 201, San Diego, CA
    (858) 450-4199?

    As to cracking down on multiple listings at one address, it is not clear to me that they are doing broadly yet (see previous post).

    Mike

  3. Mike,

    I think any of us who do this professionally will agree that there’s sometimes a thin line between spam and aggressive SEO. Thankfully whoever is working for these guys is an accomplished pole vaulter :)

    More good news. Based on our keyword research there’s not enough “Boob Job” search to make it worth competing for which is why our client isn’t in the top 100.

    You’ve got to wonder was “Boob Job” worth getting your client banned? :D

    Will

  4. Mike, another great, thought-provoking post.

    I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I’m not sure InfinityLocksmith is necessarily Mapspamming…? They may very well have several legitimate storefronts within the LA Geo area. I am not sure I see a problem with a business listing more than one location in the same city within Google. Do you?

    (I DO, however, have a problem that they aren’t using the same business name i.e. ROT vs 007 vs 24-7 etc)

    Isn’t the fact that all 10 listings that show up a weakness in Google’s Local algorithm not to filter by URL? Surely there are other locksmiths whom Google can find valid references for in superpages, yellowpages, etc.?

  5. Hi David

    Thanks. I am not sure that they are either. I didn’t really explore it in detail although the difference between the phone number in the business name and the numbers in the listings is more than a little odd. I did not dig into this in any depth as I am a little burnt out on Southern California spam. It gets to be a touch excessive after a while. :)

    I don’t see a problem with more than one listing IF they are in fact physical locations of some sort (although even there it can be abused in certain cases…) however in the locksmithing industry there is a tendency to think that they need to create a listing on every street corner even if they don’t have any presence as the searches are very localized. I think it a hangover from their phone book days. And there is a lot of affiliate bs in this market as well.

    Given the range of business names, the differing phone numbers etc I have suspicions that there may more here than at first glance obvious in getting listed.

    In the end Google needs to set clear rules, create systems that screens listings on the input side, proactively go after spam and end user abuse AND create ranking algos that provide meaningful results. If they don’t regulate this craziness, someone else (ie the government) will step and do it for them. The Local Search Results (unlike organic) will become almost like a utility and if Google doesn’t self manage someone will do it for them.

    It does indeed show a weakness in google’s algo…

    What do you think about the idea of using a phone number in the business name?

    Mike

  6. I totally agree that this SEEMS to be over the top. But I just don’t know a) LA b) the locksmith business that well. It is conceivable that this is a major regional locksmith chain down there. I do think they should establish some consistency with their business name not to be considered spam, however.

    Also, as you say it would be nice to know clear guidelines from Google on businesses in the same city name, zip code, etc.

    —-

    I know that the phone number-in-headline hasn’t really increased clickthroughs or response from Adwords campaigns in the past. Local 10-packs may be a little different since it is SUCH a strong indication to a customer that a business is local. But putting an 866 # in, I can’t think would have any positive impact.

    I bet EarlPearl would have something to say about it, though, he seems to have tried everything :)

  7. My opinion on the phone number is that it provides an additional signal to the searcher that the business is truly local. Which probably increases the CTR.

    I use it in PPC for this reason, though I have not tried it in Google Maps… as it seems a little shady.

  8. @Tim
    the 800 # looks particularly shady…a truly local number might seem ok (?)…I wonder if the practice started when Google was having trouble (ie a bug) getting a phone numbers into Local One Box?

    @Will

    This seo guy was just throwing ah…spaghetti at the wall…Botox Injection Financing? That had to have even less search frequency than Boob Job, no?

    I do find it of interest that in Beverly Hills the phrase of choice is “Breast Augmentation” and in San Diego it was “Boob Job”, definitely appealing to different clientele.
    Mike

  9. Hi Mike,

    More GREAT info. I’m not sure that having your telephone number in the listing name has any baring on your ranking. Unless someone actually knows your phone number and enters it as part of the name. That being the case why even bother “googling” the company… just dial the darn number.

    I think perhaps it could be a misguided attempt to influence listings. Obviously this person doesn’t understand ranking very well.

    LOL on the Boob Job… and Botox listings. I mean they are different company names right? Google isn’t at the point where they can validate if someone is a legitmate business – or runs multiple businesses out of one location. I mean you may have to finance your boob job – say if you want them the size of Pamela Anderson’s. That would put any girl into debt I’m sure.

  10. Joan-

    I would agree that the phone number would have no bearing on ranking…for me the question is does it improve view response when they do see the listing or was it just an adaption to Google bug that prevented phone numbers from showing?

    The Boob Job and all of the Botox names and a ton more are all one company at one address.

    I would assume that in the case of Pamela Anderson there must be a volume discount, no?

    Mike

  11. Mike

    Yes they are the same company – in reality. Yes I know. However; by changing the name SLIGHTLY they have created a ” brand new” company therefore more listings. By using Botox- financing – etc etc they are trying to load google maps with more listings to get as many hits as possible.

    And yes.. Pammy bless her heart… volume discount would be required. ‘

  12. Mike, David, et al.

    Low blow, David. I don’t think we spam at all….and certainly not like these guys….and beyond that….I’m not smart enuff to come up w/ these things.

    I simply bow at the imagination and creativity of these spam meisters.

    Keep em coming, Mike…..its pretty astounding stuff.

    :D

    Dave

  13. Earlpearl, I wasn’t saying you spammed at all. I’m sorry if it came across that way! I just meant that I bet at one time or another you had tried putting your phone number in your business title because it seems like you have a lot of hands-on experience with the Local interface.

  14. It’s a highly competative market out there. Dog eat dog. The more local realestate they own…

    I wonder if this is a bulk upload? The same edits aren’t in place up front. Or that this was done over a period of time so as not to create undue suspicion from the Google Powers That Be.

    With the same address & same phone number it defeats the purpose of the unique. I know I’ve tried with a client ( who shalll remain nameless) to use one local number that would route all calls for that state to a call centre then dispatch a technician.
    All but one listing per phone number were deleted out of Google.

    I’m very surprised that this hasn’t happened to them.

    Joan

  15. David: I’m neither that tricky or smart…but my achin old bones suggest I’ve got a lot of experience….and I do.

    I’ve never tried the phone number stuff. On a ppc ad….tho..per local hound’s suggestion….that sounds sharp. Never thought of that–never tried it.

    While speaking of authoritative one maps, I’ve got a business w/one and we did nothing to get it. Its not in the city where we are addressed. I can’t remember doing anything link wise or seo wise that would have caused it. Our address is nearby and the extension of geography within maps might have caused it. Here is the biggest surprise about it. Google has a competitor in there data base that is addressed in that town. So how did we get it. Big mystery.

    On the other hand, I can verify after years of tracking data that the value of this phrase is pretty marginal at best. Having an authoritative one map in that case won’t really matter.

  16. I agree that a lot of authoritative oneboxes seem completely arbitrary. One of my clients currently has a onebox for a LBC listing we uploaded over two years ago. IMHO they should not even be one of the first 3-4 results in the 10-pack, let alone an authoritative one, but the office is close to the centroid. Almost the reverse of what happened with you guys. There does not seem to be any discernible rhyme or reason.

  17. LOL Its funny to me that no matter what new popular service comes out, there will always be someone who will try to manipulate results with SPAM. SPAM is definitely here to stay on the internet…just in millions of different forms.

Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comments links could be nofollow free.