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.

Local Links of Interest

Gate Keepers, Digital Gazetteers and Folksonomies – Part Two – Mike Dobson, Exploring Local

Who provides authoritative cartographic information now that the Mapping world has moved online? TeleAtlas and Navteq are primarily interested in selling navigation services and thus only focusing on gathering navigation information in countries with significant transportation infrastructure. Who will fill the gap in providing reference mapping for all the other types of map information traditionally collected particularly in the less developed world?

Google Wins Street View Privacy Lawsuit – Thomas Claburn, InformationWeek

A Pennsylvania judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought against Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for invasion of privacy, vindicating the company’s Google Maps Street View image-collection practices.

Last May, Google filed a motion to dismiss the case that disputed the Borings’ privacy claim, questioned the Boring’s claim of mental suffering, and chided the couple for seeking to protect their privacy without taking steps to make their public court filings private.

“Plaintiffs have drawn the public eye upon themselves and the view of their home they claim is private,” Google’s motion states. “Plaintiffs did not seek to file their Complaint under seal, they unnecessarily included their street address in the Complaint, and they did not ask Google to remove the images of their property before they filed suit.

HTC Android Vodafone ‘Magic’ Is Better than G1 – Greg Sterling, Local Mobile

The G2 is sleeker and more polished. Do we have an iPhone challenger yet?

Google Maps Proves More Locksmiths in NYC than Cabs

David Mihm alerted me to an interesting tidbit about the new K- Pack. The new Google Maps feature showing more than 10 business in the Maps view, conclusively demonstrates there are more Locksmiths than cabbies in NYC. On one small block in Chelsea between 22nd and 23rd Street on 9th Avenue, Google is showing 10 locksmiths. I guess I never realized exactly how competitive of an industry it really was.

Here is a view of the locksmith business listings arrayed around the centroid of NYC near Times Square:

One just doesn’t have to travel far in the Big Apple to get their locks fixed…do you think there is any chance that Google would go back and clean up their index?

Google Maps: Enhanced Map View and other tidbits

Google has introduced an enhanced business listing Map view in Google Maps that they have referred to as “1000 is the new 10” in the Lat-Long blog announcing the rollout. The new Map view provides an additional layer of dots that indicate that there are more relevant results than can be shown on one page.

New Map view

While Google is in the process of passing Mapquest in total visits, user engagement with Maps has historically been shallow. Mark Law of Mapquest noted in a  November interview that: MapQuest also has a deeper level of user engagement as demonstrated by 113% more pages viewed per visitor per month than Google maps and visitors spending 78% more minutes (13.8 compared to 7.8 minutes) on MapQuest verses Google Maps. 

This appears to be an attempt to educate users about the depth of information available in Maps and encourage them to dig a little deeper into the product.

Maps offers two views of business listing data, the Maps view which is the default view upon entering Maps directly and the text view visible upon entering Maps via the Local 10 Pack. This new pin dense view is only visible when entering Maps directly, not in the text view that is the default view when entering Maps via the Local 10 Pack.

In related Maps news, Google rolled out an introductory Local Business Center video tutorial and a new LBC glossary over the past few days as well.

Google: Claimed Business Records No Longer Can be Hijacked

Google has recently informed me that the vulnerability that has led to the hijacking of claimed listings has been fixed and that business listings that have been claimed can no longer be compromised.

The hijackings, common in the Locksmith business, were first reported very early last summer and fall. There have been numerous reports as recently as Feb. 11th in the Help Groups. The legitimate records took on the appearance of merged records showing multiple phone numbers and the url of the black hat Locksmith. The “bad” phone number often displaying first and showing in the Local 10 Pack.

Google, is not going back and identifying hijacked records nor proactively repairing them. If a particular record has been hijacked, the business must notify Google through the groups for the bad data to be removed.

In September and October, I received several emails from Search Marketers serving the Locksmith industry that claimed that it was possible for claimed listings to be compromised. In the absence of technique and proof, I wrote (erroneously) at the time that it did not seem likely and that it was more likely that the blackhats were simply using the community edit feature (wrong).

However in mid December, one of the Locksmith SEM’s provided both specific techniques and concrete proof of the vulnerability. At that time, the information was forwarded to Google. It is likely that Google had knowledge of the exploit well prior to that point.

The hack was simplicity itself and seemed to exploit the same flaw that causes the merged record problem. The “blackhat” would create, in their Local Business Center account, a new local business listing with exactly the same information as an existing Locksmith with a high Local 10 Pack standing. The fields would be identical to the legitimate listing with the exception of a different phone number which Google would verify against. Once the new record was validated, the content would merge with the other data in the cluster but take precedence as the most recent. Once the record was secure in the wrong LBC account, the URL could then be changed.

When asked what a business owner who suspected his record had been hijacked should do, Google noted:

“Basically we’d tell users to make sure that they have one and only one correct, up-to-date, verified listing in their account that is not rejected for content problems. If they think that their listing falls into the “hijacking” bucket, they should let us know in the help forum.”

“I’d just be cautious to really delineate what types of listings this situation applies to. I am worried that people who are seeing third-party provided data are going to think this is them, and if that’s the case then all we’ll do is send them to the Local Business Center.”

Developing Knowledge about Local Search