Case Study: How to Overcome Competition by Fighting Spam
It amazes me that in the world of SEO for lawyers in markets as competitive as St. Louis, spam still sometimes ranks. The SEO community often struggles to deal with this situation, and some even cave in to client requests to go ahead and do the same for them. Because why not? All of the other attorneys in town are doing it, and Google doesn’t seem to be penalizing them. That is really frustrating for SEO’s who want to keep their noses clean.
However, there is a solution for Google My Business spam. You just have to know how to report them to the proper authorities.
That’s why I’m going to walk you through one of my biggest spam busts ever. I successfully removed 29 spam Google My Business listings from the Google Maps, making for a much easier path for a client trying to break into the St. Louis market.
How I Found the Spam Problem
When a law firm is preparing to move into a new market, whether that’s a new location or a new practice area, one of the steps in the planning phase is to do a little market research. After a keyword list has been prepared, we run searches for each keyword to see exactly where the competition stands. It’s a long and tedious process, but the takeaways are important. During this analysis, we keep our eyes peeled for red flags, such as:
- Keyword stuffing in the business name
- A suspiciously high number of reviews
- Multiple listings for the same business (they may not look the same at first glance)
This is how I normally find spam, but in this case, the client sent me a screenshot of some of the spam listings before I ever even began researching.
If any of those issues arise, I’ll do a little digging to validate my suspicions. Here are three of the most common things I look for:
- Reviews that are noticeably fake
- Virtual offices, which can sometimes be caught with Google Street View
- Multiple websites for the same business
This time, all of them were a problem. Google Street View shows us that at least one of their locations is a Regus office:
Regus is the biggest provider of virtual offices, so confirming that they have an office here goes a long way to help our case. Google’s guidelines don’t allow for virtual offices to have a listing, so they usually cooperate when we ask them to take these down.
They used several websites for these listings, mostly targeting very specific keywords with each one.
Side Note: I find it hilarious that they actually used “near me” in one of the business names and the related domain. Kudos for creativity, but that may be one of the spammiest tactics I’ve ever seen.
Finally, the reviews were atrocious. Some of the listings had as many as 25, which is not out-of-this-world, but it’s sometimes a challenging number to reach for attorneys. The biggest red flag is that many were written in broken English. That would be understandable if it were just a couple, but when it’s frequent, it raises eyebrows.
Another big hint is that a lot of the reviewers had only ever left reviews for that business, suggesting that they might be fake accounts set up for the explicit purpose of creating these reviews. Even worse, some of them had actually reviewed more than one of this lawyer’s spam listings.
Compiling a List of Spam Listings
Now that we have confirmed several listings, we want to make sure that I have a complete list of them. The easiest way to find more is to record all of the phone numbers listed on the GMB’s, and then search for them one at a time in Google MapMaker. This should give us all of the listings that use that phone number.
This time, I found 29! For each of these listings, we want to find the CID number. Once we have all of the CID numbers, we can use them to create a full list of links to the Google My Business listings. Just list them in the following format: “google.com/maps?=[cid number]”
Pro Tip: Using only the phone number to find spam listings in MapMaker is only one way to do it. You may find more by searching for any variations of the NAP that you know of or can find. This time, I found so much just from doing the phone number search, that I felt like I had plenty.
Decide Which Listing is The Most Correct
If the business is at all legitimate, then they are entitled to one correct GMB. We’ll decide which one is the most correct based on the business information listed on their website and take note of it so that you can use this as a reference later.
In this case, the most correct listing wasn’t even claimed. That works to my advantage, since that means they haven’t been pouring any equity into it and it isn’t likely to outrank my client.
Report It to the Authorities
Now that we have our full list of spam and the correct listing, along with several points to back up our suspicions, we can ask to have them removed. Since most mere mortals don’t have a direct line to Google, we’ll need the help of a Google Product Expert who can send this information to Google on our behalf.
We’ll visit the GMB forums on the Google Advertiser Community and go to the Spam and Policy section to request assistance. Being an active member of the local SEO community, I usually don’t have too much trouble with this. Someone who is less active may need to do it several times in order to increase their trust, as there are often invalid requests on these forums.
We’ll create a post that explains the situation, gives plenty of details, names the most correct GMB, and then lists all of the spam. If we’re lucky, a Google Product Expert will review our post, agree with our reasoning, and escalate the issue to Google, who will also review the listings and (hopefully) take them down.
If you have any questions or comments about this process, please leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond.
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