Category Archives: Google+ Local

Review Spam – Which Google Categories Are Worst?

Which categories of businesses on Google are most likely to buy reviews? You will find many of the usual suspects and a few surprises as well.

I have been exploring review spam networks, review spammers (aka spewers) and the businesses that buy these fake reviews.  In April I wrote about a particular review spam network that seemed very pervasive and reported it to Google.

Google took down the spewers that I reported directly but left the network intact.  I have continued exploring it (although with better tools).

I analyzed 634 active spewers that had left 3 or more reviews each. Together these review spammers reviewed a total of 5048 businesses across 4 continents.

Here are the 25 specific Google categories with the highest amount of review spam:

Primary Category






HVAC Contractor


Internet Marketing Service


Pest Control Service


Insurance Agency


Taxi Service


Carpet Cleaning Service


Roofing Contractor


Garage Door Supplier


Moving and Storage Service




Website Designer


Used Car Dealer


Dental Clinic


Water Damage Restoration Service


Limousine Service


Window Supplier




Real Estate Agency


Property Management Company


Personal Injury Attorney


House Cleaning Service




Lawn Care Service

Movers, garage door openers & numerous home care services dominate the list. But there are a number of professionals including PI Lawyers, Insurance Agents, Real Estate and Dentists. I suppose it is no surprise to find Website Designers.

If you go through the complete list (available here) and aggregate dental and legal categories you will see that they are both in the top 5 although neither can hold a candle to the Moving industry.

As David Mihm noted, when looking at these categories, they primarily occur in service related industries where review acquisition is not a “natural occurrence”. And that applies regardless of whether they are blue or white collar industries.

You do find a few restaurants and used car dealers but those are the exceptions that prove the rule. Although I suspect in both cases, the reason for buying reviews has more to do with covering up an already bad reputation.

The visibility of lawyers, dentists, chiropractors and insurance agencies, unreported as culprits in Google’s local spam study, validates my previous claim that Google is in many ways currently looking the other way when it comes to abuses by these professions.

What should you do if you are playing in these categories and want to play by the rules?

Run a great business and don’t forget to ask for reviews.

Yelp Encouraging Use of Special Holiday Hours

Yelp is attempting to fix their lack of accurate hours by encouraging the input of special hours for Holidays.

Yelp, for all of their consumer strengths in reviews, has been woefully behind in getting accurate business hours from their restaurants. More than once I have selected a restaurant that was stated as opened in Yelp to learn that they were not. In the end I have resorted to finding a restaurant on Yelp and then double checking hours on Google.

Yelp is attempting to rectify this. In December, to little fanfare1, they rolled out the ability to enter special hours. Today, with the coming of Memorial Day, they are sending out reminders to add them.

Setting Special Hours at Yelp is trivial and I would recommend any business that is active on Yelp to do so.

Whether this push will help them clean up the general decrepit state of hours at Yelp is not clear. I would be curious whether the condition of hours on Yelp reflects a lack of communication on the part of Yelp or perhaps a very real indication of the lack of business engagement with Yelp.

1 – When I say little fanfare, that might be an understatement. It wasn’t widely covered in the industry press. Since I don’t regularly read their blog I missed it. 

2 – At least at the restaurants I have attempted to visit they have consistently let me down and I came away with the distinct feeling that I could not trust them.

When Will Google Fix My StreetView Image?

This falls into the “learn something new everyday in local” category…. fellow Top Contributor Treebles (a more knowledgeable Google Mapping/MyBusiness expert you will not find) advised me that Google publishes their Streetview update schedule for the year and it includes details as to which countries, states and cities they will be visiting.

Who knew? You probably did, but I didn’t.

This question comes up frequently in the GMB forums and elsewhere so its good to know that there is a published schedule.

Although one wonders how does Google decide what the schedule is? Is it based on volume of user reports or date of last visit? Or some algo that just spits out the locations? Probably the latter. 🙂

Update on Google’s SMB Website Builder

Phil Barnhart, Director of Marketing at NehMedia, reported out a new test version of Google’s Website Builder. The product appears to have a few upgrades from the previous version I reviewed in January.

As Phil noted in his post, it still is limited in many ways: It’s not ready for prime-time – there are no analytics for the business user, no tie-in to your social media account, etc. And obviously the photo management issue.. So while it doesn’t appear to have fixed the many photo , content issues or page limits that I found, it does now support the ability to add links.

Here is the site that Phillip developed:  Moments of the Heart Photography based in Austin.

Of greater interest to me is that Google has now placed the sites at a new domain: The domain was created April 17, 2017 and currently is showing 5680 sites indexed.

This compares to the earlier Url, which is hosted in a subfolder of their domain: It currently is showing 269,000 results returned in the index.

This 269,000 sites/pages compares to the 122,000 returned in January of this year1.

Some (ok more than some) thoughts. Continue reading Update on Google’s SMB Website Builder

Should You Add City to Your Business Name at Google My Business?

Should you add city to your business name at Google? This question recently came in from John Simonson from Webstream Dynamics at the Local U forum (paywall):

A (small) multi-location retailer who just starting using Yext was told by a Yext rep to append to their business name their city so to distinguish between their various locations.

[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]

Note: Addresses and phone number are different for each location.

Do you agree or disagree with that local seo strategy?

My answer:
Currently it is against Google’s GMB guidelines.

And currently Google is not in any way shape or form enforcing those guidelines. It is an active discussion on the Google GMB private forum but Google has not yet responded with clarification.

What do you do as a Local SEO? How do you counsel the client?

The question confronting a client is, given the lack of enforcement, will Google punish the business in some way if they decide to enforce this? If you think that Google will not punish the business then its fine to do this. If you think that they will punish the business for rule violation, then it should be assessed on a risk reward basis. I have no idea which way Google will land on this.

From where I sit, the obligation of the Local SEO in this situation is to inform the client of the facts, the possible downside risks and let them decide as to the course of action.

Here are the Google guidelines as they currently are written in reference to adding City name to a listing:

Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended. Refer to the specific examples below to determine what you can and can’t include in your business name.

Throughout the examples below, names or parts of names in italics would not be permitted.

Your name must not include:

  • Service or product information about your business, unless this information is part of its real world representation or this information is needed to identify a department within a business (see “Departments”). Service information is best represented by categories (see “Categories”).
    • Not acceptable: “Verizon Wireless 4G LTE”, “Midas Auto Service Experts”
    • Acceptable: “Verizon Wireless”, “Midas”, “Best Buy Mobile”, “Advance Auto Parts”, “JCPenney Portrait Studios”
  • Location information, such as neighborhood, city, or street name, unless it is part of your business’s consistently-used and recognized real-world representation. Your name must not include street address or direction information.
    • Not acceptable: “Holiday Inn (I-93 at Exit 2)”, “U.S. Bank ATM – 7th & Pike – Parking Garage Lobby near Elevator”, “Equinox near SOHO”
    • Acceptable: “Holiday Inn Salem”, “U.S. Bank ATM”, “Equinox SOHO”, “University of California Berkeley”

As you can see the current written guidelines explicitly prohibit the practice and suggest suspension as the penalty.

Current Google practice in this situation, when the name violation is reported by the public or a local guide, is to change it back to the normal name and do so without any penalties.

Unfortunately this is leading to a whack a mole situation with smaller, spammier players who then go and change it back. And so the snake chases his tail.

Google has generally looked the other way with larger players and has also often rejected edits to smaller businesses.

Google’s stated goal is to create a map product that conforms to the real world. Thus the initial and clearly stated reason for the ban on using city in the name if it isn’t normally there.

BUT the real world is a bit messier than that.

And when you view a list of locations under a brand search for a multilocaion business, it might be helpful to the searcher to see more clearly where each of the stores is located. That same argument however does not really apply to plumbers who are looking to manipulate for their personal gain.

And to a large extent these folks are, in my opinion, creating a situation that Google is likely to respond to with increased enforcement. Whether they, in that scenario, ignore or make an exception to large brands is another question.

Obviously the problem is much larger than just whether a business should add a city to a business name. All too often businesses also include everything in their business name including the kitchen sink. And all too often, as Joy Hawkin’s has recently pointed out, it’s a quick way to success at Google.

This case though interested me as even large scale providers, like Yext, are encouraging the practice. And on the Google side, this has been going on, in one form or another since its inception (see my 2006 post on the topic).

What do you tell your clients?

What do you think Google should do?

This is cross posted here and at Localu.

Google Local Restaurant Tests: Reservation Answer Box & Visual Attributes

Google Local has been on a tear lately with tests being reported on a regular, almost daily basis. Two that really caught my eye were local restaurant results found by Sergey Alakov and the other by Kevin Indig (h/t Megan Hannay).

These many tests are a testament to Google’s continual effort to gain audience and more importantly, keep that audience at Google long enough to complete a transaction. From Google’s POV,  the transaction will hopefully be monetized but if not then one that further leverages Google resources to gather data and user time like a click to call or driving directions.

Google has been actively collecting and collating attributes about all sorts of businesses but particularly restaurants. These have largely been buried in the depths of the Knowledge Panel and few clicks away from the front page.

These new visual attribute representations are front and center and colorful. According to Sergey he has seen as many as eight showing at once in the Knowledge Panel.

More transactional but equally interesting is Google showing a “reservation answerbox” on the desktip that allows for a table booking directly with OpenTable.


Mike B around the Web

Here are some places that wrote/spoke/recorded last week on the inter webs:

Google and Local Search Success – a great conversation with Joy Hawkins about Google Local, tips for success, editing and rank as well as a discussion about her new Expert’s Guide to Local SEO,

Also available as a podcast.

Video: Last Week in Local May 8th, 2017 – we discussed all the local news from the previous week. Also available via email subscription or podcast.

Here are some of the salient articles:

Should You Make It a Page or a Post? | If your content has “commercial intent” and you want it want to convert it should probably be a page, rather than a post.  People expect posts to be educational. Phil Rosek does a good job of creating a “decision tree” for what can be a complicated decision.

The Yext IPO and the triumph of local SEO – The article seems to overstate the value of local listings and how much folks are willing to pay for this service.

Many Local ‘Angie’s List Certified’ Contractors Unlicensed = The dark under belly of virtually all of the sites that show listings whether Yelp or Angie’s list is that many of the listings are not certified or licensed to operate in the markets in which they list.

Google Rolling Out Integrated GMB Update

Brian Barwig of Integrated Digital Marketing has pointed out that Google has been rolling out a number of updates to the Goggle My Business Dashboard. The latest is one that provides an improved, easily accessible menu to the left had side of a the listing view.

The new menu surfaces both listing and account specific tasks like making it easier to switch between business accounts. Things like user management are now more obvious.

The business account functionality, long in the product, has also recently (last month?) been elevated in visibility, making multi account management that much easier.

There has also been a small update to the photo section that now shows individual views plus how long the photo has been uploaded to the dashboard.  I go into this section so rarely that I have no idea when those metrics showed up. Continue reading Google Rolling Out Integrated GMB Update

Mike B Around the Local Web

Here are some other articles and podcasts from last week that appeared elsewhere:

Constructing the Enterprise Priority List for Local Search – Streetlight Magazine – In our biweekly chat with David Mihm and I discuss a local tactics for enterprises.

“I think some local managers in corporations are getting pushback as to why their local traffic is falling, and if it is why should they maintain local pages? What is hard to explain is that those pages DO feed Google,”

Video Deep Dive: The real world pillars of local brand-building, and how they relate to digital Mary Bowling and I discuss how the real world local branding and Google ranking factors are becoming one and the same. Also available as a podcast here.

And don’t forget that Last Week in Local (week ending May 1)  is now available as both an email newsletter and a podcast in addition to the video.

How Accurate is Google My Business Insights?

The scuttlebutt in the world of Local SEO has long been that Google Insights was inaccurate and unhelpful as a guide to consumer behaviors. But is the newish Insights a better guide? How accurate is it and how can we test it?

Prior to the rollout of the Google MyBusiness dashboard in June of 2014, the original version of Insights was most certainly a piece of crap. Data would disappear or change, the product would not report for weeks on end, it would display spurious and unbelievable spikes. In fact at one point years ago, when I inquired of Google about the old Insights as to how some given data point was measured, I was told that the person who had coded it had left and they had no idea.

The Insights that rolled out in 2014 seemed to me, at least anecdotally, more robust and reliable if not perfect. I had gained at least enough confidence to use the information as a directional guide and felt comfortable that it was accurate enough for client consumption and for decision making.

But was it accurate? Many in the industry continued to diss the product but no one has really bothered to test it. Most of the data that is shown in the dashboard is captive to Google’s environment and largely unknowable. Only they really know what goes on with users interactions with search, the Knowledge Panel, the Local Finder and maps. If they don’t share it, we can’t really know.

How could we test Insights?Last week I asked myself the question: Was there a data point within the dashboard that could be measured in some other way?

The answer is yes, there is one (and one only as far as I can tell) Insight metric that can be externally measured and that is Customer Actions: Visit your website.  With a campaign tracking code you could at least compare Google’s value for that metric in Insights with their value in Google Analytics1.

What did I find? That the accuracy of Google Insights seems to be quite good. The number from the GMB dashboard for Visits is very close to the Analytics number for that campaign.

The GMD Dashboard showed a figure of 1.14K while Analytics for that same period showed 1,147 sessions occurring from that campaign source.

So I have several questions for you.

Firstly are you seeing the same thing in terms of web visits being the same? Now that we have 18 months of Insights data you should be able to go back and look over a long period.2

Secondly can you think of another way to externally measure the accuracy of Insights?

Thirdly is your faith in GMB Insights increasing or do you still distrust the product?

Does a strong showing in one area (web visits) mean that the other areas like click to calls and driving directions can be trusted?


1 – Certainly there are issues using this as the benchmark.  If they are cooking the books then they would have to do so across two products. While not impossible, it is much harder. It is conceivable that they are using the same exact data as Analytics.

2 – I do not have a long data set to share unfortunately.