Google recently released and touted their research on fake listings in Google Maps. While their may have been a few problems with the research and quibblingabout the details, I wanted authoritative voices as to its worth. I reached out to the living past and soon to be past presidents1 and asked2 them.
“It depends on your definition of fake, but I found the research very interesting”.
“The research was very, very special and very, very nice. We have some bad hombres here and with my help Google’s gonna get ’em out”.
“Intelligence gathered by this and other Google research leaves no doubt that the fake listings possessed and concealed some of the most awful spam ever devised. Google has been been very candid about their past. They found the weapons causing this abuse and destroyed them”.
“Read my lips, if Google says no new spam, it means no new spam”.
“I’ve looked on a lot of spam with lust. I’ve created fake listings in my heart many times. I am glad it was just in my heart or Google would have suspended me. Or maybe not since I was a lawyer”.
“During my administration, Google signed into effect the biggest fake listing cut in history”.
2 – OK I didn’t really. But if you are going to be in the fake news business I figure go big or stay at home. I always thought that it was the famous propagandist Goebbels who noted “the bigger the lie the better” but apparently that was not the case. It has been falsely attributed to him. This fake stuff is hard to keep track of. There is a certain “meta-ness” to discovering that a quote by the most famous fake news master is fake while researching and writing a fake news article about a fake story on fake listings.
The Google My Business Dashboard now allows restaurants to add menu URL. Last December, Google updated the GMB API to allow for a menu URL attribute to be added. Yesterday they announced that the feature is now available to regular dashboard users via the Google My Business New Features Page.
Many restaurants use PDF file formats for their menu but this is apparently not accepted. And there is only one URL space for a menu. Most restaurants offer up multiple menu pages for lunch, dinner and desserts so a business needs to make a choice as to which menu to share.
Last December when I had spotted an early version of the feature I noted: Giving this feature directly to the small business owner will solve one of the persistent and annoying problems that crops up in the GMB forums IF owners are given enough control over their menus AND 3rd party order options that Google auto loads. Few businesses want an outdated SingPlatform page as a default, uncontrollable link in their Knowledge Panel.
Google guidelines delineate two types of menus:
A menu for an eating and drinking establishment (like restaurants or cocktail bars) that lists the complete set of food and drink items that are available at the business.
A menu for a service business like a barber, spa, or car repair shop that lists the complete set of services that are available at the business.
However it appears that the interface does not yet support a service page and automatically prevents its inclusion:
Although the feature description implies that they will accept something beyond restaurant menus: Enter URL attributes for your business to add links to more kinds of information, like a restaurant’s menu.
Single location restaurants will appreciate the opportunity to directly control this feature as many are tired of Google’s previous insistence to include a 3rd party menu no matter how old and crusty it might have been.
I recently received this comment from poster Frustrated. And it rang so true that I decided to track the writer down.
Frustrated is Marc Reisner of Reisner Construction in northern Michigan. He has moved around a bit; Colorado, Seattle and finally landed in Port Sanilac, MI. Turns out he had relatives from the Olean area so we had a long talk. He wants nothing more than to move out of home construction and into making custom furniture full time.
He thought he could do that with internet marketing. But the lack of knowledge opens up small businesses to this sort of problem that he writes about. They are vulnerable while thinking that they are missing something that the cold caller is promising to deliver.
It is interesting that Google, by association, was tarnished with the same brush. It is not surprising that the over promising and under performing digital marketing hype plus the hard sell scammers, ended up hurting Google as well as everyone else in the space.
Here is Marc’s story:
I was contacted by Yodle, then Townsquare Interactive, then Yelp. All 3 within a year.
Wanting to sell custom made furniture via the Internet, I fell for Yodle with anticipation of what they promised. After an initial discounted 6 months, no results….account closed and listing was pulled off the internet.
A week later TS calls. Their sales pitch was similar to Yodel, but they do not hold you to a predetermined period of time. 3 months, one call. I closed that account & lost a website.
Then, Yelp called. I explained to them my results with the first two and was lead to believe they were more established with a BBB rating and would create more business. I fell for it. They assured me they were the best. (I took notes on every conversation.) An initial monthly fee + $6 per click……meaning anyone calling my number listed on the internet I got charged $6/call. The number of calls that supposedly were dropped my me was unbelievable and I complained about it.
In looking at the actual phone numbers, I’d call the numbers Yelp listed and got the other side to answer with a recording, “The number you have called is not a working number.” The $425/month hit…..one contact via by one person, which looks like one real client.
It was a pain to actually close the account with Yelp with a closing fee of $450. They said they’d leave the account active for 2 months thinking I’d reconsider. One thing to do is set up your account with a credit card that is front loaded….put money into the card so you know how much will get spent, it’s like a debit card, but more protected from hackers. I closed the account.
Today, Google called to list my company for $600, but offered a one time discount dropping the fee to $399 for life….One time offer. I’d heard that before from them. I told them up front I’m not agreeing to sending any money today, I got this ‘that’s okay, I’ll just finish your company information’.
When done he went for the money via Cc #. I refused, so he said “I’ll get our finance manager on the line, he can help you. As soon as he said that, Bryce pipes in saying he had been listening to the call and could offer a better deal, $299 for life. I told him I didn’t have the money today…they hung up.
Word of mouth is the best advertising I’ve experienced over 35 years. Using the internet sounded appealing, so I figured I’d give it try hoping to find a good company to work with. I’ve not found one yet. I’ve learned a lesson that hopefully no one else will have to learn.
In a subsequent conversation where I asked if I could publish his name he noted:
As to the use of my name in your blog, I don’t see it as much of a problem.
It’s one of those “buyer beware” reality checks I think a lot of potential customers need when considering using an online advertising company that sells anyone the idea that “within 90 days you’re business will increase beyond expectation.”
Selling positive hype, rather than reality, should come with something only Townsquare Interactive gave, no contract. I’ll give them credit for that.
I am very disappointed with the promises Yelp gave. Deception at it’s best.
The claim made by Googlethat “…fewer than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings” in Google search is NOT a conclusion that can be drawn from Google’s recently published paper. This number understates the number of local searches that lead to the visibility of fake listings due to its assumptions and flawed methodology. And it may do so by a large margin.
The paper, Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps, while providing interesting insights into Map spam from 2014 and 2015 is fundamentally flawed in its approach to the question of fake listings in Google Local and in no way warrants the optimistic conclusion that Google noted1 on their blog.
First you need to understand what Google defines as a fake listing for the purposes of this study. It only includes listings that were in gross violation of the guidelines and caught by their algo or human curation and suspended.. This excludes any listing that manipulated its name or any listing that had manipulated their reviews2. And more importantly it excludes fake listings that their algo didn’t catch.
Then you also need to understand what Google means when they say that “0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings”. They are not saying, like I erroneously thought, that only .5% of the listings are fake. They are saying that the listings that were fake & suspended were up for an average of X days and only seen Y times during that time. I.E. Compared to total searches, fake listings constituted .5% of the user’s impressions in search and Maps. But as I will detail even the visibility assumption is flawed.
Every week Mary and I (and occasionally some guests) meet to discuss some of the bigger local search issues confronting local marketers and local businesses. We spend anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes covering the issues.
The current and previous episodes (which are also available as video) are now available as podcasts. Sign up for your weekly fix.
The study details released today, while an interesting necessity on the step to cleaning up Maps, leaves many questions unanswered.
Our study shows that fewer than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings. We’ve also improved how we verify new businesses, which has reduced the number of fake listings by 70% from its all-time peak back in June 2015
Previous indications from Google were that they had 16.8 million business listings in the local index. If that number is roughly true then they currently are logging roughly 87,000 fake listings in the index today. That means that as of June 2015 they had 280,000 fake listings in the index.
Bad actors posing as locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors were the most common source of abuse—roughly 2 out of 5 fake listings.
Another 1 in 10 fake listings belonged to real businesses that bad actors had improperly claimed ownership over, such as hotels and restaurants.
OK that accounts for 5 out of the 10 that they studied. What were the other half made up of?
And exactly what constitutes a fake listing? Does it mean anything that violates the Guidelines? Or anything that creates a listing that is wrongly at an address? Those are different things.
It must exclude fake names at real businesses in the criteria otherwise the number would have to be higher.
They note that they have improved the verification process and are testing even more rigorous processes in the form of advanced verification of locksmiths and plumber.
Combined, here’s how these defenses stack up:
We detect and disable 85% of fake listings before they even appear on Google Maps.
We’ve reduced the number of abusive listings by 70% from its peak back in June 2015.
We’ve also reduced the number of impressions to abusive listings by 70%.
It’s interesting that Google is publicly releasing data about the quality issues in Google Maps. The data provides some reason for hope but goes nowhere near far enough in helping the industry or public understand the scope of the problem.
As local marketers with a critical in high value industries where spam is more likely to been see, we see the many abuses first hand. The pov may jaundice our perspective as to the overall quality of the index but if these 84,000 fake listings are limited to 5 or 10 key markets then the averages don’t really mean much. And there is in fact still a quality problem in local.
And if the definition of fake listings doesn’t include everything that degrades them not just fake addresses but fake names as well then Google has undercounted the problem.
Then again, because of our unique point of view maybe we over count.
It’s great that Google is studying the issue, its even better that they are being somewhat transparent and sharing their results.
But that still isn’t enough. The quality, at least in those heavily impacted industries, needs to improve. The definition of fake needs to be expanded to bogus naming if it hasn’t been.
And there needs to be increased transparency of google’s efforts in the arena.
Only then can Google overcome the current crisis of confidence that they are experiencing. Google has become, by hook or by crook, the utility that provides the bulk of driving directions and business discovery.
The public needs to know that they can trust Google 100%. Given that in come markets the problem is likely much more widespread, it seems that in this context even 99.5% isn’t quite enough.
The product that was originally called Podium and is often referred to as Posts, continues to be tested as a small business tool that allows a business owner to post directly to their branded search result.
We saw the “Posts” like test in late January that included a call to action and posting on the right. Recently, Barbara Oliver Jewelry, a testing participant since last fall, saw her posts move from the main body section of the search results to the interior of the Knowledge Panel.
Here is the new test that Barbara is involved in (you can also see in this search result):
To a large extent, a great deal of consumer activity like click to calls & requesting driving directions now takes place either in the general local search results or from within the Knowledge Panel in the branded result.
In a recent unpublished case study for a hotel, spa and restaurant with great brand recognition, 50% of their total click to calls across all of the internet came directly from the Knowledge Panel or a direct look up in Google Maps. Being able to speak directly to the consumer in this way would be a powerful and visible tool that I think would have rapid adoption.
As Glenn Gabe noted in early March utilization of the product seems to be growing world wide.
When I checked today there were over 30,000 indexed posts. That is a doubling in the past month. I am not sure whether that is a result of increased usage from the same businesses or more businesses creating posts. Regardless that is a lot of content that is being created directly on Google’s servers.
When it is finally introduced, it would be the first Google response to Facebook that makes sense from an SMB perspective and might shift some SMB mind share back to Google.
I am guardedly optimistic that it will make it out of beta into the hands of the world of SMBs. How long it stays there and stays free are open questions.
In related news, Google has announced the expansion of the Posts tests to organizations and individuals:
Starting today, in the U.S. and Brazil, we’re taking it to the next step and opening up the application process so that organizations and people within specific categories can post directly on Google.
Now, when you search for museums, sports teams, sports leagues, movies and, in Brazil for now, musicians, you can find content from that participating organization or person, right on Google. So if you’re searching for the Henry Ford Museum in the U.S. or for Vanessa da Mata in Brazil, you’ll see updates directly from the source with relevant information, like new exhibits, timely updates and interesting facts. Beyond these categories in the U.S. and Brazil, we’ll continue to experiment globally and look forward to making Search even more useful and timely.
Although announced today, it is clear that the Henry Ford Museum has been a participant since September of 2016 and Vanessa Darlene Mata since the first of February this year. While the program may or may not have been expanded today, Google’s publicity about it has.