I lived in Kenya for several years in the mid 70s. About every 6 weeks I would take the train from Nairobi to the funky seaport of Mombassa and upon arrival at the coast, would frequent a local bar where the beer was cheap, the ambiance authentic and “working” women would congregate. I would enter, they would buzz around me for a few minutes until they realized that I was just getting a beer and would soon return to their tables. On occasion I would strike up a conversation and learn the women’s back story which usually involved a missing or worthless husband and the need to send their children to school or to support aging parents.
It was always a cordial environment until the sailors from a recently ported US Navy ship would hit the scene. It would become a mosh pit of human wants and needs with a frenzy of negotiation and resolution. Human relations had been reduced to the value of a few shillings. It was never clear who was the exploited and who was the exploiter. To think that it was victimless was and is naive but the Navy obviously was aware of the scene and for reasons of their own, never intervened to change it.
The other day, I was looking at the listings for Web Design Melbourne. I was examining the listings there on behalf of Paul of Simple I.D., a hard working web design firm in Melbourne, that was struggling with the affects of a recent move and lamenting his invisibility within Maps.
It quickly became clear that every cheap and not so cheap trick to manipulate Google Maps to get an edge was in play. It reminded me of that scene at that bar so many years ago, a mosh pit of base human activity where the only important thing in the end was to gain the edge and get what was wanted.
So why is Google letting these listings stand?
As I dug through the 7 Pack, it was like an archeological dig through the annals of Map spam. Obviously every business name in the list included Business Title Spam. Who knew that there were so many firms in town named “Web Design Melbourne”?
The most interesting of the 7 was the number one listing for “Get Started – Web Design & Website Development” that had employed none of the obvious tricks except title spamming but was using a large number of its own sites (I stopped counting at 6 or so) to create a citation/link farm to game the system.
It became clear to me, that Paul, taking the honest, long term approach would have little chance until Google intervened and cleaned up the listings.
Why they haven’t is a mystery.
In the US, they had long ago stopped showing local search results on searches for web designers. At the time, it was widely assumed that they had done so by hand. Each and every tactic in use by these listers has been algorithmically banned or punished. One presumes if they can clean up much of the locksmith spam they can deal with a few web designers, who seem downright tame in comparison.
Clearly, Google must be aware of the listings being spammy and could have removed them. Why then arn’t they being taken down?
Searchers looking for a design firm in Melbourne are only presented with less than honest companies that are willing to break the rules to gain any advantage. The businesses that do play by the rules are left to pick up, not even, the crumbs of the results.
One can only assume that Google, has some motive in keeping these listings active. Perhaps they are using the information, like Carter Maslan has pointed out, to better understand the tactics of spammers and further “inoculate” Maps for the future. Perhaps, from Google’s point of view, there is a greater good to be gained long haul.
However, as in the bar in Mombassa, this is not victimless activity. Google, like the Navy, should make no mistake; there are consequences in allowing this to go on. Experimenting with the lives of the small businesses involved, if that is what they are doing, is a questionable practice at best. Allowing searchers to find only those suspect businesses most willing to break the rules is contrary to Google’s oft stated goal of focusing on the user’s needs.
Regardless of the reason that Google is letting these results continue to show, both the users and the honest businesses suffer and to some extent, Google does as well. The results should be cleaned up.