Does the Google Places “Report a Problem” Work to Remove Spam?

Does the Google Places “Report a Problem” Work to Remove Spam? In the past reporting, spam via this mechanism has been roughly akin to peeing in the ocean… satisfying but hardly ever changing the salinity let alone warming the ocean around your feet. I am curious whether, along with other improvements in service level, “Report a Problem” is now a functional solution for dealing with spam in your marketplace.

Google has been slowly and steadily improving their service in Google Places. Given its very low starting point, service levels could have only gone up and while they are not anywhere near a level that one would call excellent the service situation is clearly better than it was 6 months ago and steadily improving.

The forums are staffed and real solutions are offered. There is now a way to get in touch with staffers in Mt View to solve complex problems created by the system like merges via the Google Place Help troubleshooters. The emergency messaging, needed when Google self inflicts turmoil in the Places index, has improved. Mapmaker, although complex and ugly, has been a help for do-it-yourselfers and “Report a Problem” has been a somewhat successful path on issues like dupes for those that don’t want the excessive complexity and bad UI of Mapmaker.

But spam has been and remains a huge problem in Places and the main way for most to report it has been via the “Report a Problem” process. I am curious: Are you finding that it works to remove the spam that you are seeing?

Have you recently reported spam via this path? Has it proven successful? Was Google’s email correspondence back to you meaningful or non-sensical? Did it still seem like like an exercise in urinary futility or was there a sense that you had actually impacted the outcome?

If you haven’t recently reported spam, I am asking everyone to take part in a grand group experiment. Find an egregious piece of Places spam, report it via “Report a Problem” today and report back if you see any results within the next 10 days.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Does the Google Places "Report a Problem" Work to Remove Spam? by

35 thoughts on “Does the Google Places “Report a Problem” Work to Remove Spam?”

  1. I have had to deal with a great deal of SPAM with many of my clients. every time I send something via “Report a Problem” i get this message. Even if I am the owner of the listing and send it while logged in I still get this. I sent the report about 22 days ago and there is still a good amount of SPAM on the listing. No clue where it came from either.

    Thanks again for sharing your local expertise with other Google users! We have reviewed Business Name because of your report.

    Please note that Business Name is an owner-verified listing and some updates require the approval of the business owner before they are applied.

    If you are the owner of this business, you may notice a discrepancy between your Google Places account and the listing as it appears on Google Maps LINK. The best way to update your listing is to make changes directly in your Google Places account: http://www.google.com/placesforbusiness

    For additional help in resolving incorrect listing information, please visit our troubleshooter: http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/static.py?page=ts.cs&ts=1386120

    Thanks for your help,
    The Google Maps team

  2. Mike – We are facing this problem right now for a client. He is a carpet cleaner and there are two companies that came out of nowhere. One is so obviously spam it is almost laughable. Over the course of 2 months they have received 36 5 star reviews from account owners who magically only have 1 review! We have used the “Report Problem” link and selected various options on the drop down and also the “edit listing”.

    Their page went down for about 2 days a few weeks ago but then returned to the #1 position. At the same-time our client’s business has vanished from the results page completely (even when we search his business name and city), even though the listing can be viewed by clicking the link on the admin page.

    We have been very transparent in reporting the problem and have a hunch that the messenger is being shot even when our listing is valid. In speaking with our client he informed me that he received a cryptic call from someone with an Indian accent asking very strange questions like what cross streets are near you and what does the front of your building look like. Unaware that this was the new Google India call center and thinking it was someone trying to take over his listing he hung up on them without answering.

    In watching this spam listing we have noticed that others have caught on and started calling them out directly with reviews and “… review not helpful” clicks but nonetheless it remains.

    Here is the url for the listing I am referencing: http://maps.google.com/maps/place?q=carpet+cleaner+simi+valley&cid=13114081578819023319

  3. Re “carpet cleaner”. The most notorious spammed categories in Google Places seemed to be locksmiths and carpet cleaners. Results in those areas were a total joke in late 2010. Today, they’re reasonable for major cities.

    This may reflect manual cleanup, not better data. San Francisco and Manhattan seem to have been cleaned up. How are smaller cities doing?

    For San Francisco, Google Places lists Coit Tower (a local landmark) as a carpet cleaning service. This is probably a mismatch to Coit Carpet Cleaning, a major local cleaning firm.

  4. @John – that is interesting as we have not seen that with our other clients (we have a lot of carpet cleaners). There have been hit and miss spam issues but nothing as wide spread or blatant as the locksmith issue. This example really is our first run in with blatant spam. Then again we do focus on smaller cities so maybe what you are referring to was a big city issue.

    The above being said we do have our happy clients coming to us and asking if we can do the same thing in “fill in the blank” neighboring city. Our response is always “do you actually have a physical location there?” So I can see how an unscrupulous firm can get themselves into that spam trap.

  5. I had success about two weeks ago, sadly I don’t have screen caps of the before. There was a fake places listing for a chimney sweep (the website was chock-full-o-spam too) that showed them near the centroid in a field next to a parking garage. I used the “report a problem” button and it disappeared about 2 weeks later. It was a bizarre listing with lady gaga videos and other copyrighted content, so it may be they cared more about that than the fact the place didn’t exist.

  6. @ Mark
    @Mike

    I can tell you that your case is considered “clean” in a Google eye… Our clients’ competitors have multiple reviews to the same reviewer & all of the reviews go to the same company that has multiple listings under multiple spammy names (even using the same phone number for multiple listings!!).

    None of all the above has been taken care of by Google, no matter what you report. & as for Mike’s experiment, today too you get the same message…

    Mike,
    I think Google’s 1st improvement for the “report a problem” issue is to handle differently reports from the owner of a listing (by the account), when reporting a problem about your own listing. This should be very easy algo… but then again, “easy” it’s not a legal word in this forum, isn’t it? ;-)

    .

  7. @Abby
    They have a system based on owner accounts via the troubleshooters in the Help files. I think their idea is owner goes in that way and public goes in via Report a Problem.

  8. @Abby
    Efficient for whom? Efficient at what?

    Having two parallel systems where it isn’t clear which things goes where is a problem for the end user but who knows it is probably efficient for Google (at least in a pay/cost sense).

    But at least there is a system and it does produce results…so while spam is not well dealt with (although my recent experience using Mapmaker was very successful) via Report a Problem it is not clear where the break down is… it could be that the spammer just did a very good job and someone in India can’t tell the difference.

  9. Hi Mike, I’m one of the spam hunters on Google Map Maker, mostly focusing on locksmiths, escort services, tow services, carpet cleaning, garage door suppliers, and the occasional bail bondsmen. I’ve also used Report a problem, which is a hit-and-miss proposition. Although they’ve improved the removal of locksmiths to some degree (through Report a problem), I can’t, for the life of me, get them to remove owner-verified Escort Service spam, even though it violates their TOS, and it’s considered a ‘banned’ category. I’ve got numerous examples: http://g.co/maps/pgrzx & http://g.co/maps/xgr4n (NSFW)–all of which I reported through Report a problem (and deleted from Map Maker). Primarily, anything that is owner-verified is considered sacrosanct, and I’m not exactly clear what kind of verification procedures they use to determine whether or not a business should be pulled. The inconsistencies between Map Maker’s and Place’s databases makes it problematic to fix or remove owner-verified listings from MM (changes don’t necessarily propagate from one to the other), which is why I’ve resorted to using Places Report a problem to pull down especially entrenched listings. I should also point out that I append a comment to my spam reports, which usually links to an indisputable source (frequently a .gov database) to verify the businesses legality or location.

    Most of the cleaner listings you see concerning locksmiths is not the result of Report a problem, but other internal Google processes. In fact, most of the lack of spam in certain categories has to do with manual spam removal on Map Maker rather than algos or bots efficiently detecting and removing spam. Report a problem is broken. It’s really difficult to get spam pulled down, even when it’s obvious spam.

    What Google needs is to take a proactive stance in removing spam, which means employing people to manually clean out their Maps indexes in the usual spammy categories: locksmiths, tow operators, garage door suppliers, cleaners, movers, limos, taxis, escorts, check cashing services, dating services, bail bondsmen, and contractors. After they do that, they need to be more vigilant, and funnel those categories (and keyword name/description search) through a better verification process in order to ensure that the spam doesn’t get back in, which includes rigorous document checks and the like. It won’t be even 90% improved, but it’s better than the status quo (one only need to breeze through this profile to see that spam is a huge problem, worldwide, for Google: http://goo.gl/ZW6Oa. Many of the links are obviously NSFW.)

  10. @Mark: I’ve noticed the same problem. Listings that appear to be gone from Places re-appear again, sometimes in a slightly modified form (like switching problematic categories around), in other cases because Map Maker Revert bot restored the listing, for no discernible reason. This has happened to me as well as other people in different locales.

    You have my sympathies. Carpet cleaning (and Fire Damage Restoration Service and Water Damage Restoration Service category spam) are thoroughly dominated by the same spammers that control locksmith, garage door supplier, and moving spam. It’s an organized crime syndicate with considerable SEO firepower. I’ve been watching as locksmith spammers have been creeping back up in the 10 pack, displacing legit locksmiths. See: http://g.co/maps/5z4ga. Four out of ten are spammers. Can you guess which ones?

  11. Here’s another example of a locksmith spammer that was removed in Map Maker but was restored days later (http://goo.gl/r3CrZ). How, I don’t know, but it did happen: http://g.co/maps/pq5x3. How does something so obviously spammy get a new listing on Maps? What happened to any verification procedures? How did they receive a postcard for an address that’s basically the Seattle Sheraton Hotel? It’s now at No. 4 in the local Places ranking: http://g.co/maps/5z4ga. I’ve submitted numerous Report a problem reports for this listing, and aside from the interminable wait, nothing has happened.

  12. Hi Dan

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. Obviously in the past Report a PRoblem has never worked for spam. Google contends that Report a Problem is now working to remove spam. I am curious if you have compared your results say after the beginning of February to before? Is it any different?

  13. The recent batch of reports that I received for the escort service listings date from Feb. 12-17th. They were reported about a week or so earlier. The only categorical improvement I can detect is in locksmiths, and even then, I’m not entirely certain it was the result of my report. I’m waiting on a batch of recent reports to see if there’s any definitive change to their internal procedures regarding locksmiths. The problem, too, is that Google is too secretive about their internal processes, so I’m left to guess on how it works, and if it works.

  14. Good news: In recent months (Nov – Jan), I’ve reported 3 spam listing and all 3 were removed.

    Bad news: One popped back into Place Pages right before Valentine’s Day with it’s glowing sock puppet reviews. Haven’t re-reported it yet, but will do soon.

    So from my vantage point, the reports work, but they don’t necessarily stick.

  15. At the risk of sounding paranoid, Are the super quick re-listings an “inside” job?

    The way that phone listings were installed by the thousands a day, can only mean that someone with special access to the Amdocs software was doing them. That was in phone listings.

    Now for Google listings;
    While one dept.of Google is working to clean up, and another is responding, are the re-listings coming from inside the Google campus and bypassing the regular verification? I know it sounds paranoid, but I believe that there needs to be a look inward.

  16. @Glenn: Perhaps not the Google campus (financial incentives are low, risks are great), but one of the Google contractors or employees outside the U.S. Not really unthinkable.

  17. Answer: If it gets removed it can take months. And sometimes it re appears on the next update.

  18. @Mike Bunnell. Happens to our law firm all the time. Google creates several listings on its own. For example, one with as address as “5th Street” and another from “Fifth Street” Then a competitor hi jacks the listings with Mapmaker, or community edits and voila they have a number one listing not theirs by use of my citation data. Then when I report them and e mail them, all of a sudden I start getting one star reviews from presumably, the same “reputation management” company writing 5 star reviews for them.

  19. This isn’t exactly what you asked for, but its a potentially new way to deal with SPAM–especially in the reviews. Recently I was impressed with the article by Gav Heppinstall that you quoted in your article on increased radius search where he took it on himself to clean up local results. I had a situation for a contractor in Las Vegas 2 weeks ago that was losing business to someone that had 36 5-star totally bogus Google reviews from reviewers that said they were in one city one day and another 1500 miles away the next day.

    Since most of the reviews were easily seen as fake when you looked at all the reviews the reviewers left, I decided to practice some ‘poetic’ justice and see what would happen if I removed the economic advantage of having fake reviews by posting a review of what I thought of their deceptive practice for their potential customers to see. Here is the review I posted. I gave them 1-star since most people typically go to see the bad reviews of a company first.

    “I was looking at this company and was disappointed to see that many of their reviews were faked. When you click the name of their past reviewers (above the “5 star” rating) you can see the other reviews these fictitious ‘people’ have left all over the nation with businesses they would never have dealt with if they really lived in Las Vegas. Check it out for yourself. I really question the integrity of a company that would pay people to lie. How would you trust them in your home?”

    I assumed the offending company would probably just try to bury my review with a few more fakes, but was surprised when I checked 5 days later and discovered that all but 4 of their reviews had been removed–including mine–which is better response than I have ever had using Google’s report a problem tool. My assumption is that something in my review triggered a look from someone at Google (probably the word “lie”), or they reported themselves to Google to get the reviews removed since all the fake reviews they paid for hurt them more than helped them now. I’m not sure which caused Google to act and have not had a chance to test it further.

    Since everyone compares the Internet to the ‘Wild West’ maybe there’s a place for vigilantism by pointing out to potential customers when businesses intentionally set out to deceive.

  20. I reported a claimed listing and it was removed within 4 days. The main issue were fake positive reviews…. Same as David’s Las Vegas example. The reviews are done by reviewers who suddenly had an urge to review a few businesses from across the country all in one day and one day only.

  21. @Art said:

    “I reported a claimed listing and it was removed within 4 days.”

    Are you saying that instead of reporting the indiv reviews you did report a problem on the Place page and they removed the entire Place page or did they just remove the reviews???

  22. @ Linda, I went to Google Map Maker and reported the page due to the fake reviews. The business name was literally the “city name” + “business type” So maybe when Google looked at it they removed it altogether when they saw the business name policy violation?

  23. Thanks for clarifying Art. I thought you were saying you just reported for fake reviews and they took the whole page down. But if there were other spammy violations, makes more sense.

  24. @ Linda – Anytime. I think that the fake reviews are evolving. A while back the reviews would be shorter and not as many had profile pictures that looked somewhat legit. It seems that in this case and with the other businesses I have seen that have these fake reviews, the profile pictures are more realistic and the reviews are well thought out and not short. You used to be able to spot them on the surface, but now we definitely have to dig a layer deeper to spot the fake reviewers.

  25. Ha! I’m a little impressed, a lot actually. I’d sort of given up on using report a problem but I just tried it again and it worked. The messaging from G could still use work though. Here’s the story.

    Wed 3/7 Reported spam on a Dental listing that had a badly keyword and geo stuffed name. Title was like: Dentist city 1, name, dentist city 2, dentist zip

    Really wasn’t sure if they would do anything.

    Today got email: Google Maps Problem Report – Action taken

    However it had that old standard line that made me think, oh dear here we go again…
    “Please note that Dentistry In XYZ is an owner-verified listing and some updates require the approval of the business owner before they are applied.

    However I checked the listing and it’s been changed to Dentist name only and in edit history I can see that “anonymous” made the edit yesterday.

    So YEA! I may just turn into a vigilante spam fighter now that I see it work so well!

  26. As someone that is fighting locksmith spam on a daily basis I did eventually figure out how it was getting through so easilly.

    Google works with local directories such as thomson local and yell.com who directly add to the places database without regulation so it seems.

    So a locksmith can create a load of false locations with redirects with one of these directory services who will then pump them into the google places database.

    I would go as far as to say some of the directory sales team are quite open as to how you can cheat the system and will ensure you get a prime false location that ranks well in various geographical areas.

    Since Google trusts these sources it is often hard to challenge them and get them removed from places.

    The only people that get penalised are the small guys trying to replicate what these larger companies are doing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comments links could be nofollow free.