Blackhats to Google Maps: Take That!

Last week I made fun of blackhats that had mapjacked a listing for a hotel with the worst of reviews in an effort to rank high on locksmith related searches.  The screenshot from that incident shows that the blackhats had 7 of the 10 pack listing using a combination of illicit techniques on the phrase Manhattan Locksmith New York, NY.

The listings have been changing quite a bit of late and it appears that Google is trying to clean things up. Today though, a poster in the Google Maps Help Forum noted that the blackhats seemed to have changed tactics and are no longer relying on cross industry hijackings. Never ones to be satisfied with half a dozen when they can have it all, the mapspammers now have 10 of the 10 Pack listings for the search phrase Manhattan Locksmith New York, NY:

take-that

These folks are good! (For any Googler reading who might misinterpret my writing, that phrase means that they are competent at being crooks not that they are moral or decent….just wanted to be clear). I really am cheering for Google but do they ever have their work cut out for them. Here is the screen shot from 3/11:

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Blackhats to Google Maps: Take That! by

13 thoughts on “Blackhats to Google Maps: Take That!”

  1. Hmmm when you look at the phone numbers in the 10-pac; 877 -807 5625–its an obsessive compulsive’s ideal.

    Maybe Google is developing G Maps for the obsessive compulsive audience amongst us. If that is the case I wish they would turn the 10 pak into a 20/30– more ideally a 50 pack.

    being somewhat of that ilk….should I need a business requirement I couldn’t think of a better source than turning on google, searching for something–and finding a list of up to 50–all with the same phone number . Talk about having the best quality info in a search engine :D

  2. I am with you Mike. I’d like to see Google offering quality local results on a consistent basis.

    There’s so many place they could start. An exclusion criteria so that the same url, phone number, or address only comes up once for a given keyword phrase would be one good place to begin. Of course the spammers will go out and get multiple URL’s and multiple phone numbers, so this isn’t the ultimate prevention, but its a pretty descent deterrent. Couple that with a post card that is only sent to the address listed on the LBC listing and they’re definitely moving in the right direction.

  3. @Earl

    I too am a bit obsessive. My wife keeps telling me that this is Google’s problem and not mine. Every morning I wake up and think that I am going to write about something different today but each day I am more intrigued by the mapspam search result than the day before…

    @DavidW
    I certainly agree that there are a number of things that Google could do to slow and/or stop much of the current abuse.

    But as you point out, these blackhats will keep on coming….I am sure that you will see an avalanche of DBA’s being filed and significant growth in the virtual office business just to accommodate the many virtual local businesses being set up.

  4. Someone with some time should just blackhat them back. This is getting ridiculous and it is making Google Maps lose credibility amongst users. Not that the hole over at Yahoo Local are any smaller.

  5. @Joe
    Do you think that this problem is affecting the credibility of Google amongst the bulk of the average shoppers or is the loss of credibility limited the small businesses owners that have been affected?

    Mike

  6. @Mike
    Both. As more small business owners look more cheap ways to market themselves online, they will enviably find out about these issues. That will make them less likely to put more user content into their listings which will affect the overall user experience. If this type of blackhat tactic is not stopped and spreads to other verticals, users are going to find other sources of more accurate information.

    IMHO, Google Maps needs to make fixing this priority number one.

  7. I agree with you that more and more people will discover the weak underbelly of Maps going forward. I have seen more and more small business people visiting and commenting on this site compared to last year when it was primarily search professionals.

    What the tipping point to Google’s reputation going bad is though, is hard to assess from where I sit. I (and to some extent many readers of the blog) have a very limited view of the total picture. We see one stolen listing here, another corrupted one there and they frame our point of view and cause us to legitimately question Google’s ability to maintain their reputation in the market.

    What we don’t have any idea about is how many results are right at any given moment AND what % of bad results will be enough to push the perception needle of Google to “do evil”.

    Mike

  8. Mike, my company manages over 7,000 customer each with their own Google Maps listing. It is a struggle everyday! Especially with all the new user content features that can be abused.

    If Google provided tools for us to manage and test these things, we would be able to get a better view of the big picture. Do you know if they have any plans to add this type of functionality? Maybe a Google Analytics for Maps? Right now you see view and clicks but this information is stuck in the LBC, there is no way to export it.

    Yahoo at least sends my team a warning via email when a user attempts to edit a listing or add content. So this becomes manageable. Google needs to provide something similar, especially for their verified listings.

    –Joe

  9. @Joe

    I agree that it is unmanageable for most. I manage about 50 listings and it is a nightmare just tracking changes that occur for no obvious reason like the url changing back to maps.google.com or the address no longer geocoding correctly.

    I was contacted once to see if I would participate in a test of an easy to use tool for measurement of local results but they never followed up with me. In several interviews last year Google spoke of an “agency model” to facilitate verification and management

    Nothing has come of either initiative as of yet.

    Do you mange each of the 7000 in their own account or do you attempt to manage multiple listings in one account?

    Mike

  10. @Mike

    We used to use one account until Google started making PIN Verification mandatory on every listing. That basically made the bulk upload feature unusable because of the “Unverified Listing” label and the low exposure listings would receive (i.e. almost no chance of being in the 10 pack).

    We sell over 60 accounts a day now. Due to manual account limitations Google has put in place (no more than 100 listings in an account), we need to create a new Google account everyday. Needless to say this is quickly becoming a administrative nightmare.

    Google needs to come to grips with the reality that agencies are here to stay. We need proper tools so we will not be confused with the blackhats of the world and be able to provide our customers with useful reports. Agencies provide a useful bridge to SMBs at this point because Google does not do it as well directly.

    –Joe

  11. Mike, Google may not lose credibility but the maps will for finding businesses… but… IMO, more people use maps after they find what they need because the business listings are far from “saturated” whereas the top ten in organic search are lined up into the parking lot!

    My brother doesn’t leave the house without googling the maps for the location. IMO, that how the maps are frequently used I don’t see people using the maps to search for products maps are too exclusive when they should be inclusive.

    Google thinks everyone knows all about what they are doing when in reality most business people don’t and a lot of SEOs can’t be bothered with it because it’s such a hassle with the verification. I have a google account why shouldn’t I be able to use maps the same way as analytics or AdWords. I mean it’s not like business directoriues haven’t been doing that for eons!

  12. I would agree with you that Google does understand nor do enough to get users to participate in local. That being said, those that do have seen significant returns if their industry has in fact moved over to the internet.

    As to SEO’s not bothering with Local, feel free to send those clients this way. :)

    Mike

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