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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Bulk Upload 'Mapspam' On Google

Is it black hat “mapspam,” a mistake or a creative response to a legitimate business need? Mike Blumenthal has chronicled the history of some recent bulk upload abuse on Google Maps in a couple of detailed posts: TechPro’s CEO speaks about Google Maps Bulk Upload abuse and the related Batten down the hatches: More Google Mapspam on the way to a Local Map near you?

The issue involves two companies (or their SEO firms) using the bulk upload process to create what amount to false local listings that appear in Google Maps and in Google OneBox/Universal Search presentations of local data in Google results.

The company Mike focused on was TechPros (a computer support company that employs local contractors in multiple US metropolitan markets). According to one of his posts:

The abuse reported was multiple local listings by TechPros. In a brief check of other areas, their listings were found in all major and minor metropolitan areas of the US that I checked (perhaps in every zip code), using the exact same PO Box and phone number on every listing. In the example shown below Google Maps show 487 results for Techpros near Chicago, IL. Google is also showing 264 for Techpros near Olean, NY (by way of reference Olean barely supports 5 computer repair facilities).

Google requires businesses to have a physical address to be included in organic Google maps/local results. Many national businesses that do not have an in-market physical store seek local customers and will try and service those customers out of a call center or refer leads to a local vendor that is under contract (think FTD florists).

TechPros apparently works this way but didn’t get its local vendors to participate individually. Instead, it created – or allowed its SEO firm to create – what amount to fake local listings for every market that then appeared in organic local results.

There’s nothing that would prevent a national or regional entity targeting local markets from doing SEM. However SEO and the top listings on Google Maps drive tremendous amounts of local business. And for the roughly two weeks that TechPros fake local listings were live, the company apparently got a huge spike in orders/customers.

You can read Mike Blumenthal’s interview with the CEO here.

I asked Google for an official comment and was sent this very general response about the issue:

Google takes Local Business Center abuse very seriously and acts quickly to remove fraudulent listings when we’re made aware of them. We are continuing to develop new tools and technologies to improve the quality of our local listings.

It’s clear that Google will seek to address this problem and prevent further Local/Mapspam abuses as it has in general search results. But there was apparently a curious one or two week period during which Google was aware of the problem without addressing it. According to Mike Blumenthal:

This abuse was first reported to Google in the Maps for Business Group on 7/19/07 and substantiated on 7/20/07. Google’s response from Maps Guide Jen: “Right now there’s no easy way to report these listings or get them removed, especially if there’s a lot of them. If you can let me know the specific search term that you’re looking at, I might be able to do a quick quality check.”

When Google and Overture (now Yahoo) first rolled out their local search ad platforms, Overture’s required a physical address to advertise in a specific market. Google’s system did not require that and was more flexible and successful accordingly. (The Yahoo Panama ad system has changed that rule and broadened the availability of geotargeting to all advertisers.)

It makes sense for Google to require a physical address for organic local listings — that’s what makes a business local! And, as mentioned, national or regional entities targeting local customers can use SEM. But Google can probably offer some additional clarity and guidance around these issues and policies for advertisers with multiple locations or that use local independent contractors to fulfill.

Local search and local listings become more important to advertisers large and small, as it becomes increasingly clear that the dominant commercial use of the internet is as a marketing platform to drive local and in-store transactions.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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