Google Maps suffers huge infusion of Remote Call Forwarding Mapspam

rcf mapspam
Google has been working hard recently at limiting the ability of bulk uploaders to spam the Maps Index. Their efforts have significantly cut the frequency of reports of large scale abuse.

However it appears that the new Yellow Pages are out and more than fingers walked on over to Google. Massive amounts of Remote Call Forwarding numbers and associated businesses have made their way into the Maps index. If the counts at the bottom of Google Maps are to be trusted at all, the numbers are well into the tens of thousands and could be over a hundred thousand entries. Regardless it is a lot of spam.

Cathy Rulloda describes the process thusly: “While the ultimate blame lies with the businesses who willingly providing false information to deceive consumers about their actual locations, the cloaking behind RCF numbers – which are then picked up by data providers like the Yellow Pages publishers, assigned zip codes (if no street addressees are provided), and then treated as trusted local businesses by Google – makes their entre’ into Maps easy.”

These records initially are listed in Google without any street address and a round pin. They are much more frequently shown in rural environments where there is less competition and fewer highly authoritative listings. 
Florist Concierge by Wire – 20,175 listings
Flowers By Grower  – 2,325 listings
Florist Telesales Directory –  5,502 listings
Flower Shops Directory– 3919 listings

This one is impressive 
Florist Directory – 102,855 listings

This count likely has a large number of dupes and it may not be totally meaningful but as far as the eye could see they were all obviously the same company listed in the index. 

Initially this sort of spam has the most impact in rural searches as the listings, without address do not have high authority and do not rank well in competitive areas. For example, this rural search turned up 7 of 10 of these listings in the Ten Pack. If these listings are allowed to be claimed via phone verification, it is conceivable, that like the locksmith spam, it could impact more urban and competitive searches.
Continue reading Google Maps suffers huge infusion of Remote Call Forwarding Mapspam

Locksmith Industry Association Proposes Best Practice to Avoid MapSpam

Rob Reynolds works for Pop-A-Lock, a large multi location locksmith chain. He coordinates their SEO and SEM activities particularly the Google maps/local business listing efforts and is also a central figure in Pop-A-Locks efforts at combating the scammer/spammer issue. Here is a recent comment that he offered up in reply to my recent posts on Locksmith abuses in Maps:

This is a highly emotional issue for locksmith all over but one thing is correct: this has nothing to do with the fact that most of the players are Israeli. The fact that illegal aliens are being recruited to work here in a multi state fraud is very relevant because it will eventually allow Rico statutes to apply once this gets to a federal case level. What particular nationality is irrelevant and only distracts/detracts from the valid arguments.

The fix for Google is actually quite simple as is the fix for the Yellow Page publishing industry. In a joint meeting with our CEO, our Attorney, a former FBI official, the Attorney for Aloa and several key figures in the locksmithing industry involved in the investigation of scammers, we came up with a simple set of ‘best practices’ that if followed would kill this phenomenon within a year.

1. Do not allow any new entries into the Google local directory, any IYP or in the Yellow Page categories of Locksmith or Keymaker without a valid DBA certificate issued by the state that the ad (listing) will present in.

2. Do not allow the address to be submitted unless proof of address is presented for the address requested.

3. If the state requested or city requested is one of the current 9 states that require a locksmith license or New York City, Long Island or Washington DC, then require that license number be submitted and presented in the ad.

In the case of Google there is a very simple step that they could do that they are already set up to handle: Require Post Card validation of any listing in the categories related to locksmithing. However, do not require that the address be posted in the ad itself.

In other words: suspend every listing with no address listed, if an address is listed send the post card and reactivate upon receipt of the pin number. Allow a new listing but force an address to be inputted (but allow it to be hidden except for the city and state see below why) but force the post card pin validation for any new listing.

Why allow people to hide the address: Most locksmiths are mobile only service (as evidenced by the, polls and the polls of their members) and listing the home address causes safety concerns as well as misleading the public to thinking they can just drive over and have service performed.

Why force the City and state. This will limit the out of state companies from concealing their whereabouts. They can still post their numbers and ads in Google, however if they have no true local precense the ‘New York, New York’ city and state will be associated with the ad an minimize the black hat efforts.

I am available to discuss these issues either through our corporate office, through our attorney or if Google feels more comfortable they can directly contact the representative of TMP who can then in turn discuss the issue with us. Since I do represent a private company with a large stake in this issue, Google is welcome to contact the rep from Aloa who is representing not only their membership but the locksmith industry at large.

Tim McMullen JD is available at

I am available at

Thanks and thanks to the efforts of Map Guide Jen and Map Guide Adam for helping with this problem but the outstanding issues that we have with other companies having our Authorotative One Box result for local “Pop a lock + city name” still exist. Please see mapspam complaint on the water cooler site related to “Pop a lock oakland” searches.

Local Links of Interest

MapQuest: A Symbol Of Everything That’s Gone Wrong – John McKinley, Silicon Valley Insider

John McKinley, a former AOL President of Digital Services, offers a concise and pointed critique of Mapquest’s loss of market dominance and what needs to be done about it.

Local Search Behavior by Industry Category – David Mihm, Mihmorandum

Do the IYPs offer any real value? David highlights a chart from a Comscore/TMP study that seems to indicate so, primarily in industries that have low web penetration. I am not buying but see what you think…

Windows Mobile 6.5 — Obsolete Already? Ian Paul, PC World

With Windows Mobile 7 coming out so soon, some people may just forget about Mobile 6.5 altogether and wait for the more advanced system. This is particularly problematic for Microsoft, since it’s already clear that Windows 6.0 and 6.1 device owners won’t be able to run Mobile 6.5. So if Mobile 7 is also going to require a new device, then why not wait a few more months for the newer system?


Local Search Directories List

Has put together a great reference list of US local, directories, IYP & upstream data provider sources that one should consider when planning a local campaign. Minor quibble: the only source missing was While I like and use UBL, I think you should take control of Google (and a few others) as it is far too critical in the successful campaign mix.

Explore more with User Photos in Street View – Google Lat-Long

Google has been integrating Panoramio images into Maps and Maps Business Listings for a while. Now they are integrating them with Streetview. Greg Sterling has an interesting comparison of this new feature with Micorosoft Live’s Photosynth at

Google Maps: UGC Maps from Map Maker go Mainstream

Yesterday, Google announced that maps created via Google Map Maker have been formally migrated and integrated into Google Maps.

This is a significant moment for world mapping, Google’s move towards mapping independence and for the competition between Google and other Mapping sites.

Historically, the two primary mapping data suppliers, TeleAtlas & Navteq have focused on providing maps and navigation support in a limited number of profitable, developed markets. Google’s introduction of Map Maker, created an environment where populous but less developed areas could generate their own maps.

According to the LatLong blog the “following are the 16 countries that now have data available in Google Maps: Bhutan, Bolivia, Cambodia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guam, Iceland, Mauritius, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe”.

These maps provide a global reach that Mapquest can not duplicate due to its reliance on Navteq. When combined with the possibilities offered by Streetview, they point to a time when it is very likely that Google will control both the market for online maps and its underlying data within their products.

The problems confronting user generated content in gathering underlying maps data are significantly less than when generating business data. The user motivations are significantly different and the possibility, when matched against satellite imagery, for quality much greater. It would be interesting to examine, in some formal way, the relative quality of these maps against those provided by TeleAtlas.

Google Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning?

The Locksmith industry has always looked to me like an industry of self dealing and dishonest promotion that, when combined with Google Maps, created a mosh pit of sleaze. As a result I never examined it very closely in the context of Google Maps.

Locksmiths are a little hard to love. They aren’t Mom and Apple Pie, they aren’t florists who we can all identify with when things go wrong. The industry is hyper-competitive and they have been at the forefront of cracking all sorts of locks, unfortunately not always the ones that they should be cracking. They were early into blackhat reviews, one of the dominant sources of bulk upload spam and were first to the party in compromising the records claimed in the Local Business Center.

Google wasn’t their first target. The “blackhats” in the industry have used whatever marketing vehicle was “au courant“, whether it was the phone books, 411 or now Google and Yahoo.

Here is a BBB alert from 2007, BBB Warns Consumers of Nationwide Locksmith Swindle and a recent ABC news article and video. The Associated Locksmiths of America provides a list of over 110 news reports over the past several years from across the nation detailing the abuses*. As you can see, consumers have paid the price of these many scams with high prices, rip-off installs and even theft.

But the reality is that Locksmiths come in varying shades from white to black and consumers are not the only ones short changed when the blackhats are allowed to abuse the system. The legitimate locksmiths suffer as well. Folks like PureSheer feel it necessary to go “black” to compete but many are just left with the loss of business and no real understanding why.

Google is changing the playing field of local marketing and they are defining it in a whole new way. They are on the battle lines between doing it right and letting the “bad guys” have their way. If Verizon can pull a hundred thousand phone listings from the directory, is it too much to ask of Google to be vigilant and proactive?

Here is a search,”emergency locksmiths NY NY” on Google that shows how deeply the problem is embedded in Google and why they need to be more proactive in their mapspam battles. This search highlights not just the spam problems but the downsides of some of Google’s decisions around the Local 10 Pack. It illustrates why it might be a good idea to refine it in such a way as to prevent “branded” searches from dominating an obviously generic search and to minimize the impact of the business title on relevance and rank.


Every number here goes to the same call center, located who knows where, for dispatch of (at best) third party providers. A quick count in Maps of the domains showed over 5000 listings. Continue reading Google Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning?

Google Maps Business List View Tweaked


Google has upgraded the wording and massaged the layout of the business listings in Map & Text Views.

The most obvious change is the larger and more prominent search title at the top of the listing, reinforcing the what and the where of the search for the searcher. While the category information is now presented in less bold relief, it is more visible in the cleaner top layout.

However the search modification wording has been slightly changed and the search count of results has been de-emphasized and moved to the bottom of the screen.

I am not the only human that noticed this change (although probably one of the few who cares). At least one other reader alerted me. Thanks to PureSheer for the heads up.

Here is a screen shot of the same search results from last week that reflected the K-Pac upgrade for reference:
Continue reading Google Maps Business List View Tweaked

Google Maps: “System Error”, Googlespeak for Banned?

There have been a growing number of public and private reports of the dreaded message upon attempting to enter the Local Business Center: 

System Error 
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time. Please try back in a few minutes. 

Typically these reports in the Maps forums are followed by a comment like: “I get this error. And my listings have been removed… Why?”

The message is cryptic like many messages in the LBC and it probably covers a range of error conditions. Perhaps Google should add a definition of errors states to their LBC new glossary. It is also the message received by those whose records have been removed and access to the LBC blocked.

It appears that Google is increasingly banning users of the Local Business Center that it thinks have violated its listing guidelines.

I support Google cleaning up the pollution in the Maps Index. However I am also a proponent of transparency and fairness. The cleanup should not be a little bit here and little bit there to instill fear in the masses, it should be done across the board.

In those cases where the “System Error” refers to being banned it should clearly state that is the case and provide a link back to the listing guidelines and reinclusion request.

My “Deep Throat” Gets Banned, Goes Public

PureSheer, a locksmith internet marketer that has shared Google Maps blackhat techniques with me, recently posted this into Google Maps Help Forum:

So Maps Guides, you thought all Locksmiths are ‘Black hat’, ay?!

Hey Maps guides,

I’m the one that post the issue of “Stealing Gmaps claimed listings” to Mike Blumenthal (which, as in a generosity way, forwarded this issue to you).

After that many of my claimed listings got hijacked by my competitors, I knew I’ll crack the method to do it myself & that I’ll send you my revelations in order to shut down this option. Well I did & you replied to Mr. Mike Blumenthal that this issue is no longer can be done, however 10 hours ago, couple of my accounts got closed by you & all the listings that were in them are not on line anymore.

I know I’m paying the price for playing spammily in Gmaps. Well, can you blame me? – during the last 7 months I’ve posted in Maps Guide Jen’s forum for numerous cases of spammy listings of ‘Scam of the art’ locksmith companies. The issues were- bulks of tens of thousands of ‘fake addresses listings’, listings that they claimed to me & my colleges, listings that they claimed to other businesses or organizations (Restaurants, Local Directories, Etc..), & claimed listings that they stole to me (& to many others).

The Locksmith business I represent suffered from angry customers that got ripped off, as we are appearing in the listings with a full profile & not hiding from no one, but the listing got hijacked &  the phone numbers leads to other company that don’t have any interest in Customers Service but in making fast money. Moreover, the amount of calls to my represented Locksmith business dramatically dropped due to those companies never-stopping new listings creation process.


I’m advertising in Gmaps for a year & a half now and the last 8 months are unbearable. I’m mastering the Local world & eat it for breakfast, lunch & supper.

I’m considering me as a “good guy” (that trying to survive) & I’m just waiting for the time that the option of uploading numerous listings & claim open (& claimed) listing will not be possible at all. Let me play by your rules, you’re doing great job & running a great & very useful feature here, but I think it’s too vulnerable.

I have more spicy issues that I’m keen to tell you. I’d like to reveal it all & get it off my chest.

Please, If would be kind enough, contact me by this mail.

One request though, {WITHOUT ANY REGARDS TO THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH} please reactivate my accounts so I’ll be able to edit them, please. I’ll be happy whether you’ll be able contacting me about this issue as well, so I’ll give you my accounts info.

Thanks ahead guys!

Puresheer is one of the many that seem to have been sucked into the hypercompetitive world of locksmith marketers that have gone over to the dark side to stay competitive in the unregulated environment that was (is?) Maps.

But, unlike many, he recognized the slippery slope on which he was perched and decided to come forward. He did this long before he was banned and he took steps to reveal the illicit tactics and techniques being used. He attempted to help clean up the Maps world by stepping forward while trying to preserve his standing there. He succeeded at the former but failed at the latter.

While it is inevitable and appropriate that Google ban him, I would suggest to Google that his actions do deserve consideration and perhaps leniency.

Google Maps now showing Ads within Listing Tab

Google has been expanding where and when they show ads in general and in Maps in particular. I am not sure when this started showing but Google Maps is now also showing ads deep within the tabs of business listings in Text View:


Showing ads inside Maps in general increases relevancy. Displaying subtle ads at the bottom of Maps adds context.

However showing them in this new context seems intrusive to me. There is something very disconcerting about reading the intimate details of a business listing and being confronted with the ad of a competitor.

It is possible that not too many business owners will notice as I am not sure that they or many Maps users go this deep into Text View in Maps. However, this is one case where I do not think that the benefit to Google will outweigh the negative feelings of business owners… It smacks of a certain blatant exploitation of the businesses’ good will equity.

Google Maps: Disaster Communications & Reputation Management

The recent crash of Flight 3407 that killed 50 was a disaster that affected many in Western NY. The degrees of separation are few in our communities and a disaster like this is never far from touching each of us. In many business meetings over the past few days there has been more than one conversation about a brother of a friend or the husband of a coworker dying.

There have been many recent reports of using Maps in reporting disasters ala the Australian wild fires but I was more than a little taken aback to see Google Maps Local Adwords being using for disaster communication and reputation management. 

 The more I thought about it, the more it struck me as an excellent idea. Certainly there is a role for company communications in a time like this and what better medium than Maps. The ads didn’t have the garish tackiness of the lawyer ads that one sees cropping up on the main search results during these type of events. The lower profile of ads in Maps provided a subtler and more appropriate way for the company to communicate with both the public at large and those affected by the disaster. I spotted this ad while researching a general business category:

Flight 3407 Adwords
Colgan Air and its parent company Pinnacle Airline were able to quickly target and communicate their message to the local community without seeming exploitive or over eager. Obviously, someone was on the ball there.

Maps is definitely coming of age.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search