The Locksmith industry has always looked to me like an industry of self dealing and dishonest promotion that, when combined with Google Maps, created a mosh pit of sleaze. As a result I never examined it very closely in the context of Google Maps.
Locksmiths are a little hard to love. They aren’t Mom and Apple Pie, they aren’t florists who we can all identify with when things go wrong. The industry is hyper-competitive and they have been at the forefront of cracking all sorts of locks, unfortunately not always the ones that they should be cracking. They were early into blackhat reviews, one of the dominant sources of bulk upload spam and were first to the party in compromising the records claimed in the Local Business Center.
Here is a BBB alert from 2007, BBB Warns Consumers of Nationwide Locksmith Swindle and a recent ABC news article and video. The Associated Locksmiths of America provides a list of over 110 news reports over the past several years from across the nation detailing the abuses*. As you can see, consumers have paid the price of these many scams with high prices, rip-off installs and even theft.
But the reality is that Locksmiths come in varying shades from white to black and consumers are not the only ones short changed when the blackhats are allowed to abuse the system. The legitimate locksmiths suffer as well. Folks like PureSheer feel it necessary to go “black” to compete but many are just left with the loss of business and no real understanding why.
Google is changing the playing field of local marketing and they are defining it in a whole new way. They are on the battle lines between doing it right and letting the “bad guys” have their way. If Verizon can pull a hundred thousand phone listings from the directory, is it too much to ask of Google to be vigilant and proactive?
Here is a search,”emergency locksmiths NY NY” on Google that shows how deeply the problem is embedded in Google and why they need to be more proactive in their mapspam battles. This search highlights not just the spam problems but the downsides of some of Google’s decisions around the Local 10 Pack. It illustrates why it might be a good idea to refine it in such a way as to prevent “branded” searches from dominating an obviously generic search and to minimize the impact of the business title on relevance and rank.
Every number here goes to the same call center, located who knows where, for dispatch of (at best) third party providers. A quick count in Maps of the domains showed over 5000 listings.
The problem is not just in NYC but rather it is nationwide. As you fan out across the US, every major market seems to be polluted with a criss crossing network of spammy listings often dominating the 10 Pack:
Each number in the domains often leads to the same call center as above. You often can switch the name of the cities (in each domain) or the location of the word ‘locksmith’ in it & you’ll find that it is often owned by the same folks or others with similar intentions.
Another search technique that uncovers lots of similar and probably related listings is to add the three digit area codes to the search. I have not tested all of these domains but the result is likely the same:
Isn’t it time for Google to stop reacting to spam and establish a more proactive policy of removing it from their index? Is banning a few blackhats enough? Should they not be actively searching them out and banning them all?
* Here is one with no little irony: Blagojevich Administration Suspends License of Dependable Locksmith for False License InformationGoogle Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning? by Mike Blumenthal