What’s Old is New Again – Spam in the Google Local Results

Yesterday I reported on hijackings in local.  Since August there have been significant quality issues. But the spam… its like 2008 all over again for Google local.

I hate looking at spam. It makes me feel dirty. But since Hummingbird that seems to be all that I see these days in local.

Lots and lots of those ugly spammy one boxes are obviously prevalent but things seem to not have stopped there.

The other day I was exploring the legal vertical in Los Angeles and fully 70% of the listing either had spammy business names or were at virtual offices. WTF?

But this search result from Dave Minchala took the cake:

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Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
What's Old is New Again - Spam in the Google Local Results by

16 thoughts on “What’s Old is New Again – Spam in the Google Local Results”

  1. Yes, very frustrating that the algo does not catch these fake KW GEO stuffed names. Much less gives them a one-box and let’s them multiply as bad as this.

    However the spammers aren’t gaining anything from this overtaking of the NYC SERPs. And neither are consumers looking for an emergency plumber!

    NONE of the phone numbers work. Some don’t ring at all. One says this VM has not been set up yet. And one goes to VM for a woman that sounds like she works at a corporate office. No mention of plumbing, just her name.

    Of the addresses I checked, one looks like it’s a Pharmacy, another a grocery store.

    Maybe this is one of those locksmith scams where they set up a bunch of fake listings on MM, then change the category later or something.?

    BUT if addresses are bogus and phone #s don’t work how are they planning to verify so they can change them? Maybe they plan to just edit in MM?

  2. @Linda
    It is likely that these results are like the one boxes you discovered…. old, crufty listings that had been buried in the Maps index only to once again surface.

    For me though, I spent so many years reporting and dealing with this that it truly is disheartening to see it return.

  3. Dang! Just when you think Google will beat the spam game… Thanks for posting on this Mike. It’s quite a frustrating thing for them I’m sure too. There will always be spammers that want to game the system.

  4. Seems that the only real pressure we can put on Google is to use Bing… Not that it will change anything. It really is kind of perplexing though, isn’t it?

  5. Wow. Just wow. After all the work they’ve put in to improve the system and add quality controls something like this happens.

    Hopefully it’s only temporary, they’ve come a long way looking back on things. More importantly they have a long way to go, amazing that it’s so hard for Google to get it right.

  6. For any businesses that manage their own Local SEO initiatives do you think the best course of action here is to simply just start reporting these in Map Maker or is there a better way to let Google know about these…besides posting great blog articles like this one :)

  7. Digging into the a phone # on that list, to me it appears to be non US based writers. Some of the grammar seems very elementary as seen many times over in these spam type listings.

    What I don’t get is the fact that most people searching for whatever it is they are in need of, can see thru the spam listings and will scroll down to the organic listings where they may see a more friendly “Brand Name” business offering the help needed.

    So, SEO still lives…

  8. @Dennis
    I think you are probably right. Given what Linda discovered these are also probably also old spam entries created a number of years ago that were hidden and are just now appearing in results due to the Hummingbird update.

    Yes SEO lives but it saddens me to see real businesses being effectively penalized when Google lets their quality slide AND there is the occasional naive searcher who might get taken for a ride.

  9. Mike, I tried to duplicate this search result for Houston, after changing my search location to Houston, and the results are NOT spammy. I then searched for “emergency plumber manhattan” with search location remaining “houston” and the spammy results above were returned. So why would old spammy results be returned for NYC and not for Houston? Would Google have a fix in place in Houston and not for NYC?

  10. Hi Paul
    There are several possibilities:
    1-Spamming created during the time that these were created (estimated 2-4 years ago) was much more common in NYC than in Houston
    2-Users in the Houston market have done a better job of crowd sourcing spam containment

    This spam is odd in that much of it was created long ago, hidden by Google long ago but somehow resurfaced by Hummingbird. So in some sense you are looking at a sort of archeological dig of spam.

  11. Thanks Mike! I’ll pick reason #2. We Texans probably are better at crowdsourcing spam containment. Now if we could only win a Super Bowl!

    Seriously, thanks to you and to Dave for highlighting this issue.

  12. “This spam is odd in that much of it was created long ago, hidden by Google long ago but somehow resurfaced by Hummingbird. So in some sense you are looking at a sort of archeological dig of spam.”

    Archeological dig of spam covered in Hummingbird “guano”.

  13. Doing this same search on Yahoo and Bing pulls up 100% spammy local listings at different addresses. This looks like true spam and not an algo glitch. Perhaps dozens of listings that have hijacked all search engines. Lots of poo clogging the drain in NYC. Bummer for them.

  14. This is not an insurmountable problem–it can be fixed. Google needs to shift away from automatic approval of business models toward manual verification, and they need to have well-trained personnel at all levels who can evaluate businesses to determine if they’re violating quality guidelines. Algorithms can’t figure out what is or isn’t spam, and the proof is in the Local search results. I think I speak with considerable experience and knowledge, since I’ve worked extensively on the local spam issue on Map Maker for over two years, when I say that the reporting processes are broken, the spam algorithms are ineffective, the personnel charged with upholding the guidelines are poorly trained, the moderation processes are buggy, and the verification procedures are non-existent. At every level of Geo, there’s a complete indifference to spam and it’s effect on not only on watering down search results in Local, but also the impact it has on SMBs. Spam is devastating to the SMBs bottom line, and erodes confidence in Google’s products, but Google doesn’t care, because they’re only concerned about the advertising revenues, and they have the holy faith of the true digital believers, that somehow, the algorithms will lead them to the promised land.

    The spam you see here is just one small fraction of the total spam out there. Google has created so many roadblocks for removing spam, and so many avenues for creating it, that they’ve completely inverted the traditional relationship that we’ve understood with the ‘real’ world, which is it’s easier to destroy than it is to create. Spam should be hard to create, and easy to remove. On Geo, it’s the complete opposite. Google, in their obsession with data hoarding, has emphasized quantity over quality. Google, by taking the lead in Local, and refusing to enforce their own guidelines, has incentivized the spammers to create more spam, even though, in the case of locksmiths, Google is helping to sustain a multimillion dollars criminal enterprise, and collecting a portion of the proceeds (via AdWords) in doing so. It’s deeply unethical, and a violation of both the letter and the spirit of “Don’t be evil”.

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