Google announced last week that they had recently conducted a study to research the actors behind fake listings on Google Maps.
The study points out that “geographic proximity is the coin of the emerging localized-search realm,” which matches what I observed with the Possum update in 2016. This major algorithm update was responsible for making proximity to the searcher the #1 ranking factor for local search. This drives up the incentive for companies to create fake listings, since they need more “locations” in order to monopolize the search results and maximize exposure.
There were some things I saw in the study that were very helpful to know:
- Most of the listings that got suspended were in India and the United States (74 percent of all the listings observed in this study).
- 40.3 percent of the listings were in industries that are on-call, like plumbers, locksmiths and electricians.
- 54 percent of the suspensions in the United States were in the following six states: California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, while these states only account for 39.9 percent of the population.
The study also looked at listings that were suspended due to marketing companies abusing the verification process and obtaining ownership of the listing without the consent of the business owner. This happens a lot in the restaurant industry, where marketing companies will create a copy of the business website and put a booking/ordering link on it, then charge the business owner for all orders placed via their system. They then take ownership of the listing via Google My Business, and the business owner is stuck paying for transactions from any customer finding their local listing on Google. To make matters worse, they refuse to transfer ownership of the listing to the restaurant owner when he finally figures all this out.
When I first read the statement, “Our study shows that fewer than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings,” I actually laughed. But then I read the study and began to understand why they came to that conclusion….
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