Google Maps: Hijackers hit Major Brands

Searchengineland has published my newest installment in the ongoing series on hijackings at Google Maps: Problems Continue With Google Local Business Listings. The same hijackers that hit the florist industry hijacked the local listings of major brands like Mariott, Hertz, Avis and Thrifty changing location, url and business name. The change of business name was such that the listings achieved Authoritative OneBox status with searches like: Orlando HotelsMiami Discount Car Rental & Dallas Discount Car Rental.

It is an interesting story which leads to as many questions as answers, not the least of which being: Why would Google not shut these spammers down after they had hijacked the florists?

You can Sphinn this story here.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps: Hijackers hit Major Brands by

46 thoughts on “Google Maps: Hijackers hit Major Brands”

  1. Either I’ve been hijacked (which I doubt) or more likely the algo has done a crawl.. decided all the info it found on a competitor site was related to mine, and replaced my title, description, phone number, email, and web address.

    Love to know what I’m supposed to do, as reporting it on the main LB discussion hasn’t done anything.

    I’ve had to suspend my listing now.

  2. Rob-

    Not sure what in Google’s algo would cause every attribute to change in your record if it had been claimed in the Local Business Center unless their is address confusion and Google merges the records. Are there multiple phone numbers showing in the details bubble within Maps?

    Mike

  3. Hi Mike, thanks a lot for coming back on this.

    I can’t see how there could of been address confusion as we’ve got a PO Box address (pretty unique). We’ve had the listing for months without a problem then all of a sudden.. bang.. all details changed to the competitor (kept my original mobile number, under the new one it inserted). When I log into my LB account, it still shows all correct details and nothing of the competitor.

    THe top one here A is our listing http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=a+man+with+a+van+london&meta=

    (if you click of our 6 reviews, they won’t show as I’ve suspended the listing until it’s sorted out) (losing a lot of business)

    Interestingly, the competitor who has been added to our listing also seems to have been added to lots of other similar listings. See here: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&view=text&hl=en&q=man+with+a+van+london+helper&ie=UTF8&filter=0&oi=lwp_thresh&sa=X

    I actually feel sorry for him if it is the google algo that has done it.

    The closest mention of this kind of thing to this I’ve been able to find on the discussion board is by Jen here: http://groups.google.com/group/Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners/browse_thread/thread/a9258051dcebc30e/09174baac7ac796d?lnk=gst&q=hijack#09174baac7ac796d

    (one thing about the competitor in question, they do rather like to include long lists of areas/places etc on as many free listing sites as possible, and is known for it. Not sure if that could be connected?)

  4. @ Rob the few that I looked at have ” information provided by business owner” Do you think that someone is just to darn lazy to create their own information and have plagiarized your work?
    Seeing as you are the “A” listing they were hoping to ride on your coat tails so to speak?

    Just a thought.

    Joan

  5. Hi Joan

    No don’t think so, somehow the details of ‘Mr H’ have been put on the listing’s of mine and lots of others. Have a look at this link and note the telephone number of ‘Mr H’ appearing on almost all the other listings: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&view=text&hl=en&q=man+with+a+van+london+helper&ie=UTF8&filter=0&oi=lwp_thresh&sa=X

    His only real one is the one in ‘Tooting’ area.

    Some of the other listing’s I’ve noticed, like #G in the onebox are long term listings like mine, and somehow he’s been added to them too (note the telephone number again).

    I really don’t think this guy has somehow hijacked all these listings, especially because as soon as anyone notices, they will see it’s him.

    The really weird thing is ALL of my listing details have been replaced by his.. inc web address, email, phone etc.. AND it states that they’ve “been provided by the business owner” but when I log into my account it still just shows my original details.

    That’s why I think it’s the algo that’s pick his details up from the numerous free sites he lists/advertises on (believe me, he really goes for it). I think that’s a pretty worrying flaw, if the algo can overide what an individual business owner has put as the primary details of his/her listing (and as previously mentioned could cause all kinds of potential reprisal problems).

    I’ve had to suspend my listing, and needless to say it’s really hurting regarding loss of business.

  6. @ Rob

    Interesting? And not possible that it some how was overwritten by a iYP data dump or London Touch.co.uk? I see that they’ve provided some details.

    Another thought? what if this fellow has added all of these on his own, using places of residence with in the London itself. using as many variation of the name as possible to create a higher hit rate. London is after all a very large city and the need to be visible very necessary and unfortunately pehaps he’s claimed your listing even though you have it in your LBC. I don’t know how a listing would show in an LBC if someone else has claimed it.

    ( as a side note… my Boxer’s registered name with BKC was St George of Tooting.. ahah)

  7. Hi Joan

    Info from ‘LocalTouch.co.uk’ and other local directory sites get’s added to the “related web pages” bit at the bottom of a listing.. the algo pulls that info and although it’s not 100% accurate it does not present much of a problem, but this is ALL my PRIMARY info that has been changed.

    Regarding the other listings that have suddenly acquired Mr H’s details.. some are unverified listings (but I know have still been around a long time and have nothing to do with Mr H) and some like mine are long standing established listing’s that have had their primary details changed, like mine.

    So barring ‘Mr H’ having developed the capability to hack into a lot of LBC accounts simultaneously (remember, when I look in my account it’s exactly as it should be) then I think we’re looking at a major algo problem. No way can it be acceptable for the algo to determine what someone’s primary details should be in a verified listing. That is crazy and dangerous.

    I’m even nervous now about having a listing at all in case the algo suddenly puts all my details on to my competitors listings. I bet most of them would think straight away it’s been done maliciously. It’s mad and cannot be allowed to continue surely.

    I’ve posted all this several times on the main discusion board (there’s another business owner who’s recently posted the same problem) I really need Jen or someone to look into this urgently.

    (nice to hear about your dog, great name!)

  8. Even though I’ve suspended the listing, I’ve just checked and it still appears.. wrong title, half the address wrong, phone and Mr H’s website.. (my reviews)

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=man+with+a+van&near=London&fb=1&view=text&cd=69&latlng=51517079,-134224,3828682165053720686&ei=kgXNR6rnO5GC3AKgrpXJDA&dtab=0

    Joan, or Mike or anyone.. do you know if people from google look at this blog? Or is there anything else I can do to try and get this fixed? The way things are going it’s obviously not the best time to have something like this happen.

    Nothing has been answered on the main discussion board, don’t know what else to do?

  9. @ Rob – Then all seemly logical explanations have been disposed of. Time to go with the illogical ones. Algo’s. That indeed, is a very dangerous practise if it indeed is happening.

    Mike has the ear of Google & Jen has been know to visit this website and read up.

    Finger crossed.

    ( My doggy was a good boy!!)

  10. @Rob

    1)If I were you I would not suspend your Listing. I think that it is important that you maintain it correctly so that Google can see the discrepancies between your LBC content and the final listing.

    2)I would document those differences carefully over time and continue to post here or at the Group. I wouldn’t get into theories, but as they say, “just the facts, mam” (well maybe they don’t say it in England). I would ping the post periodically (every couple of weeks) with updates and changes if any.

    3)I can conceive of a weird combination of spammer behavior and algo that might result in this outcome but since I have not studied your situation with care and I haven’t tested the theory.

    4)Whether Google sees the comments in this post or not I have no idea. Regardless I will publicize this a little further and see if we can get any other eyes on the problem.

    Mike

  11. Mike & Rob,

    This looks a little more insidious than you suggest to me. A quick check of Mr H’s backlinks at Yahoo reveals these two gems:

    http://www.citylocal.co.uk/cities/Camden/freeadvert_MAN_WITH_VAN_HIRE_37617.html

    http://www.pagerank10.co.uk/services/man_and_van_hire/

    and hundreds of others like them. There is clearly a nefarious SEO company playing games here. Now whether Google should be overwriting your contact info, etc., on a LBC validated listing is a different story. They shouldn’t. But it doesn’t seem to me that Mr H’s hands, or at the very least his SEO company’s hands, are totally clean in all of this…

  12. Great, thanks Mike.. points taken.
    (and I’ve un-suspended it now, so they will be able to see)

    One other strange thing.. if you go directly to my listing it shows (and clicks through to) my web address. http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=man+with+a+van&near=London&fb=1&view=text&cd=69&latlng=51517079,-134224,3828682165053720686&ei=kgXNR6rnO5GC3AKgrpXJDA&dtab=0

    But when the corrupted listing was displayed in the onebox, it showed (and clicked through to) Mr H’s website.

    (it’s since disappeared from any onebox results, maybe because of the temporary suspension)

    Also, if you look at the following onebox result, you’ll see Mr H’s phone number (ending 866) on the listings of both F and G (both of those are long established verified listings that don’t relate to Mr H) http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=a+man+with+a+van+london&meta=

    Plus as mentioned before, he’s been added to lots of other listings: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&view=text&hl=en&q=man+with+a+van+london+helper&ie=UTF8&filter=0&oi=lwp_thresh&sa=X (not phone number ending 866 again on lots of listings including mine)

  13. Oddly enough I’ve seen something similar with one of ours.

    The only saving grace is that the two listings are for office mates who split up the call by day of the week.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=new+orleans+chiropractic

    The one-box listing is supposed to be pointing to http://www.neworleanschiropractic.net/ (and has been for over a year)

    But, somewhere along the way they flip-flopped and we noticed a few weeks ago that it’s pointing to: http://www.drnickthompson.com/

    Since both are practicing in the same location (and work different days) it hasn’t been an issue but I can see how this might be an algorithmic hiccup relative to address + phone guiding URL placement.

    I’d presumed it was a continuation of the issue already identified relative to multiple businesses in the same location.

    The really weird thing is that everything, even the reviews, are for the proper listing except the URL.

    Will

  14. Hi David

    Mr H is renowned for it. I thought it was too much of a coincidence that it happened to be him. As Mike said, probably a weird combination of spammer/algo corruption, but as you point out.. it still shouldn’t enable the main info on my verified listing to be overwritten.

  15. I’m seeing some similarities to this and Mr Philip Barnett and his credit recovery cunning ploy.

    What are the chances that all of these seemingly unrelated problematic issues colliding on one poor listing? The odds must be staggering.

    Mr H- has covered every single post code in the Greater London area.

  16. I think Mr. Mihm is the right trail. Looks something like the citations portion of the algo was overwhelmed by Mr. H’s spammy use of “man with van”. BTW looks like Rob is playing at

  17. Hi Andrew

    I wouldn’t say the page on hotfrog was really comparable to Mr H, but you did have a point.. the old “press release” did mention the phrase ‘cardboard boxes’ a few too many times, so I’ve removed it.

    I’m wondering if it might also have something to do with the fact my URL is an exact match of the generic phrase mustly used, but that doesn’t explain why his details have also been added to other verified listings apart from my own.

  18. Hi Rob,

    To my eye and, I imagine to Google’s, your hotfrog page is every bit as spammy as Mr. H’s.

    That said I am guessing that it did not have much of an impact on your LBC info probably because Mr. H is likely doing a lot more volume of spamming than you. And it seems like the LBC algo is being overwhelmed by the noise. That or perhaps a Google engineer spilled some coffee on one of the servers. 🙂

  19. – Andrew

    hotfrog has an option where you can create a “press release”.. it then almost encourages you to attach a large combination of keywords to it. I think one page where I may have had a lapse of judgment isn’t the same as someone deliberately spamming as many free sites as possible (craigslist, gumtree you name it) with an industrial scale use of place names, postcodes, keywords etc.. over a very long period (about 3 years) . I try very hard to play by the rules, even when I see websites with basic spam/hidden text etc benefitting with high organic listings.

  20. Also if you have another look at the cached version of the hotfrog page you referred to, you’ll see that every phrase used was different and included because of the multitude of variations of terms used when searching for cardboard boxes (after all, the searchers want to find the service don’t they?)

    Sorry, bit p***** off, as I’ve never been called a spammer before, and not really finding this funny as I’m losing a lot of business daily that I can’t afford. My reviews show what kind of service I provide.

    Anyone who wants to see the hotfrog page: http://216.239.59.104/search?q=cache:GzWjALZW5rEJ:www.hotfroguk.co.uk/Companies/Man-With-A-Van_3097303/FullPressRelease.aspx%3Fid%3D2607+manwithavan.co.uk&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=9&gl=uk

  21. Rob,
    Since you know whose data has overwritten yours, why don’t you consider talking to the guy? Phone him, ask him to look at the results with you and tell him you’re feeling very distressed. See what he says.

    His response is going to make it clearer to you what is going on. If he’s rude and dismissive, you can make a good bet that he knows what’s going on and is glad to be swiping your business. If he’s concerned about the ugly business atmosphere this is creating, maybe you can work together to resolve this.

    His local reputation is already in question as a result of this thread, and if he is smart…or simply honest…Mr. H should be the one working hardest to make sure he isn’t getting a bad name in his industry by engaging in unethical business practices. Who would want to trust their belongings to a cheater, after all?

    If what is happening here is a combination of spam + a Google algo goof, it seems to me that, as you’ve already taken the first step of attempting to alert Google, the second step is to speak to your competitor and try to resolve the situation with him.

    My 2 Cents.
    Miriam

  22. Thanks Miriam, that’s good advice. I think I might contact him and just see what he says. However questionable his methods are though, I honestly don’t think, whatever has happened, that his intention was to get his details to overwrite mine (or the others). After all he’d have to know the algo inside out to do that, and even then it shouldn’t be possible to overwrite the main details on a verified listing.

    On top of that, everyone who’s details have been overwritten will see straight away who it is, and it will come back on him immediately.. so why would anyone do that deliberately? (not sure how many of the others have noticed yet).

  23. Don’t worry about it Rob. I am just another silly local search blogger who would rather spend time commenting on other people’s blogs than actually working 🙂

    Check out my latest blog post (shameless plug). Maybe the magic of links from quasi-authoritative domains will make it all better.

  24. Thanks Andrew, really appreciate that..

    Miriam.. my colleague contacted him.. and through broken English he very politely explained his website (and “marketing”) is done by someone he pays in India.. Did seem genuinely concerned though, and quite worried.

    For what it’s worth.. someone (3rd person I know of) has just posted a simlilar problem on the discussion board: http://groups.google.com/group/Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners/browse_thread/thread/3a1e6cbcced196c1#

    Also, noticed that Mr H’s website has been included (presumably during an algo trawl) onto the list of web pages associated with my LB listing. I wonder if that is what is causing a corruption, as the person who’s posted on the above discussion link I noticed has exactly the same (ie. wrong URL is from a business that has been included on their LB listing as a web page).

  25. I applaud you for contacting the business owner, Rob. Sounds as though the owner may truly be in the dark about this. What remains to be seen is how in the dark his SEO company in India is…

    Miriam

  26. Mirriam
    One thing that doesn’t add up though.. the sheer volume of spam that Mr H is associated with.. it must have taken someone an *enormous* amount of time (and local knowledge) to do, and seems strange that someone in India would go to all that trouble themselves. It’s not as though it’s a high value client/business, so I’d be amazed if he’s totally in the dark about what they are doing re the spamming.

    I still think this is an algo/spam corruption though.. otherwise it would be a deliberate (and very obvious) hack into my verified listing (but who knows?). Just hope someone from Google can fix it soon.

    (thanks to everyone for showing an interest btw)

  27. Unless it’s piece work.. the more they put in the more they get paid, regardless of the consequences.
    It’s not hard to find addresses in specific postal code areas – just Google real estate + the postal code and Bob’s your Uncle. Instant address – instant spam.

    Joan

  28. Agreed – no matter how ‘they’ are doing it.. it is spam.
    Question is though, how should that be possible to overwrite the main details in a verified listing?

    – as mentioned earlier, if you click on the “web pages” tab of my listing, it shows Mr H’s website (as though it is one of my web pages). Coincidence?

    But again, even if that is the cause.. it shouldn’t mean my main details should be overwritten because the algo ‘thinks’ they should.

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=man+with+a+van&near=London&fb=1&view=text&cd=69&latlng=51517079,-134224,3828682165053720686&ei=kgXNR6rnO5GC3AKgrpXJDA&dtab=0

    If it’s NOT the algo, it has to have been hacked, I can’t see what other option there is. But like I say, I doubt it’s been hacked as any advantage would be brief, and the consequences potentially too damaging.

  29. It could be cross contamination. I’ve seen it many times in the work I do. However; these listings that I’ve worked with have one bit in common – they are older out of date listings that have been touched by data dumps from the many information providers that Google uses.

    Other than Google ‘attempts’ to give the users a more robust experience by adding details from these data dumps to enhance listings. Yours they might have thought was just a duplicate and thusly added wrong URL’s / links / info.

    I’ve had companies that I’ve done listings for – show up with the completely WRONG URL. And try to get rid of it – next near to impossible. Weeks of hitting “edit” “submit” “edit” “submit”. Made my head spin 360 degrees.

    So I wonder if it’s ( it being Google’s Algo) doing its Linda Blair impression. It’s been inundated with Mr H’s spamilious moving van stuff and has caught something in your information that has made it think you are part of that “comglomorate” .

    I would continue to hit edit and submit. To try to get your information back. As well – post – post – post.

    j

  30. I bet it’s this page that’s done it: (thanks David above)
    http://www.pagerank10.co.uk/services/man_and_van_hire/

    (See Davids post #11 the web address I’m referring to is the “pagerank10”)

    I now seem to remember it showing up in my stats a few months back, as though someone/thing had clicked through to my site from it.

    He’s added lots of links at the bottom with names of other businesses (even Pickfords). Click on any of the links at the bottom and it takes you to a whole new page of spam dedicated to that one name (that would also explain why I’ve noticed some other listings have now got his phone number etc).

    I hope Jen can do something

  31. Hi Jen (or anyone from Google)

    If you read this, please could you delete all trace of competitor details of “Mr H” that have overwritten our listing, including..

    – phone number ending 866
    – ALL links to website of “Mr H” (inc under the “web pages” tab)
    – email address of “Mr H”
    – title (should be re-set to what it says in our user account)
    – description (should only be one, see our user account)

    Our listing should just be how it is in our user account (please look).

    Thanks
    (Jen, this is costing us money/lost business every day, thanks)

    **PLEASE LEAVE OUR REVIEWS**

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=man+with+a+van&near=London&fb=1&view=text&cd=69&latlng=51517079,-134224,3828682165053720686&ei=bEL7SPC7N5GY2AL4p6iyDg&dtab=1&oi=md_structdata&sa=X

  32. you’re probably right Mike, apologies if I’m over doing it on your blog.

    Don’t know what else to do now.

    Seems really bizarre considering the scale of Google that they can’t just put one permanent person on it to deal full time with the half a dozen serious questions a day, it would be so easy to manage. Its the only point of contact for the entire local business listings, and they just seem to ignore it.

    Maybe I’ll drop the ceo a line or something.

    Rob

  33. No need to apologize. The whole support structure is very frustrating.

    They have the Groups but it is never clear whether they will answer or won’t answer. They answer some, so you keep posting hoping that they will actually pick you. As it is now you are sort of the pavlovian dog, with the intermittent reward.

    Even if there was paid support (ie free listing but $ for a question) there would at least be some accountability. I wonder sometimes whether what they learned in Google search keeps them from seeing what they need to do in Local to have the same kind of warm fuzzy feelings out there about them.

    Mike

  34. @Rob

    Any change takes time to migrate across all of their servers for Maps. This could take several days to a week.

    If it has been removed from Maps, then the time to upgrade the Universal Local results that show in the 10-pack could be 6 -8 weeks before they reflect the difference.

    Mike

  35. Oh dear.. it’s hapened again

    Re: mr-helper .co.uk

    Good old “Mr Helper” has got his details added onto our listing again (and others).

    See Listing E, that is our listing, but it now has his phone number and title on it: http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=man+and+van+london&btnG=Google+Search&meta=

    This time he’s using the website: http://www.odd-jobs-handyman.com
    Telephone number: 07918744120

    (Check out the usual masses of spam all over the free listing websites, which has probably corrupted the local business algo again)

  36. To Maps guide Jen or any other Maps/local business guide that happens to read this. Our listing has been hijacked again. Please could you remove all competitor details that have again overwritten our listing, and return it to exactly how it shows in our user panel.

    http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=man+with+a+van&near=London&fb=1&view=text&cd=69&latlng=51517079,-134224,3828682165053720686&ei=kgXNR6rnO5GC3AKgrpXJDA&dtab=0

    Info that needs to be removed:
    07918 744 120? (competitor)
    07888 824 866? (competitor)
    Title: needs to be put back to how it is in user panel.. (i.e.. just “Man and Van”)
    This 2nd Description? should not be there: Man and Van, Man and van london, Man and van hire, Man with van, Removal van hire
    Email?: manandvan@mac.com (competitor)
    http://www.professional-mover.co.uk (please remove any link to this website, it has nothing to do with us)

    For what it’s worth, this is the same problem that happened a couple of months ago (See history re.. “MR-HELPER.CO.UK”)
    Same competitor, new name!

    Thank you.

    PS. We don’t think it should be possible for our main details to be overwritten like this.

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