Google Maps: Category Mapspam

category-spam2Google recently revised their listing guidelines for Maps. They specifically added several sections on appropriate category use.

Why? Well because while you and I are stressing over the details like legitimate business naming practices to comply with the guidelines, the spammers long ago went after the long tail of category search very aggressively to maximize ranking benefit. Here are the specific sections of the new Google Listing Guidelines relating to categories:

When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation”, but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”.

Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.

Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields.

If you look at the search results in Maps (Clean Hotels NY NY) to the left you will see that most listings seemed to have engaged in some form of category abuse.

The “Chem-Dry Cleaners” results provide an incredible visual of field stuffing. Obviously the field length limits are quite high and while it should be easy to recognize the stuffing upon data entry in the LBC, Google seems to have not yet done so.

One can presume that the “Good Hotel” folks, listing spam in its own right from affiliate spammers reservationcounter.com, have used the phrase “clean hotel” as a category. 

To a large extent category spam has flown under the radar as it is usually the out of sight, out of mind kind of spam and it  is a little harder to spot by someone without more access to the index.

Why Google shows some category listings and not always others is not totally clear. It seems that the category information shows up when the algo is not positive that the result belongs in the result due to the ambiguity of search intent.

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

6 thoughts on “Google Maps: Category Mapspam”

  1. As much as I love the ability to create custom categories in the end this is just not going to work.

    Google needs to either go back to using only preset categories. Or have 4 preset categories and one category that you can customize. Either way the custom categories field needs to have a 50 character limit or something.

    I know there will always going to be a small number of of businesses that will have a hard time finding a preset category related to them… but Google shouldn’t make it this easy for spammers.

  2. Look at those business titles in the E and G positions! They are so bad they are almost funny.

    It’s kind of a weird example, because you can almost follow the thinking of a carpet cleaner offering to ‘clean hotel’. Obviously, this is spam, but it has a weird kind of logic to it.

    You sure to turn up the most amazing spam, Mike.

  3. Yes some compromise that tightens it up some but still allows reasonable long tail categories would make lots of sense. I am not sure I would like fixed categories in general but there is a lot of room between now and there thats for sure

  4. It seems to me that google maps are evolving so fast that it has been a gift for Google to leave this space open to learn what is needed. I really appreciate it. Spam may be a result, but it’s also making results better. Yes, if you search for a clean Hotel it makes sense that you might get hotel cleaners.

    In accommodation you could say there are preset catagories as these are the ones used in suggestions to refine a poorly organized search. The open catagories we create are good for fringe groupings that just don’t fit elsewhere.

    Also, this is a worldwide tool. People in other countries don’t use terms like Lodging, which was something that Google seemed to push at an earlier stage. Vacation Rentals in America could be Holiday Letting in Australia.

  5. @Mark

    I strongly agree that open categories make lots of sense and that there is a certain ambiguity in the search “clean hotel”. Clearly the world is a varied place and being able to categorize correctly and appropriately is a good thing.

    That being said even Google, their new guidelines, felt that the type of behavior noted above was a violation of appropriate listing practices and banned the infinite number of categories in one field.

    They noted: When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation”, but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”. Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.

    Clearly this violates those guidelines. Also it would not be that difficult for them to error check the fields to be sure that it isn’t happening or to scan through the index to flag and review those that look a tad suspicious.

    While it is important to have flexibility, without guidelines and some structure things rapidly head downhill.

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