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You don’t have to be an SEO geek to have noticed that over the last six months or so, whenever you search for a phrase with a location in it, Google shows maps with local listings.

What you might not have realised is that these results are sorted and sequenced by a different and far more basic algorithm than the main search index. Not surprisingly given the simplicity of these system and prevalence of the listings, some cheeky beggars have been using some ingenious ways of boosting their rankings on Google Maps.

Fake addresses & PO boxes.

Not surprisingly for a map-based system, location plays a huge role in if and how you rank.

This is based around the ‘centroid’, which is Google-speak for where they think the centre of a town or city is. The problem arises if you’re too far away from that location. i.e. if you search for guest houses on the Isle of Wight and it cuts a big chunk of the island off.

So how have the sneaky types been working around this?

One popular option was to get a P.O box right smack bang on top of the centroid, but that’s declined in popularity recently. More often now people are bunging genuine business owners a few quid to post on Google’s post card, which they use to verify addresses.

Another trick I’ve heard mentioned at SEO meet-ups but never seen, is where sly businesses have used the fact that Google let you move your marker slightly to correct for dodgy postcodes. Every month or so they move themselves five minutes down the road in a short period of time they’ve moved themselves from Croydon to Oxford Street.

Redirecting local numbers

It’s really easy to get a local phone number that redirects to a mobile or land line nowadays. Unsurprisingly, a lot of these scam-sters have been registering local phone numbers for their listing which they then redirect to wherever they are actually based.

Because use of a local phone number is another ranking factor, this slight of hand can help boost rankings of businesses legitimately located and operating in the area.

Spam Citations

One of big difference between the ‘normal’ and local algorithm is the reliance on citation and mentions rather than links. This means a business owner wants their company name, address and phone number up on the web in as many different locations as possible.

With traditional SEO, where you’re looking for links rather than mentions, quality is more important than quantity.

That’s not really the case with local, so people have been spamming their address and phone number far and wide with some pretty impressive results.

I think Google’s going to pay more attention to quality of citations in the future but in the short term this tactic has worked a treat.

Outsourcing Reviews

The number and quality of reviews your business has on sites like TripAdvisor has a part to play in how high you rank on local.

As quantity outweighs quality, people have been off-shoring to "review factories" where they spend their time writing and posting fake reviews of local businesses.

It might sound far-fetched but you’d be surprised how widespread this fake reviewing and ‘Astro-Turfing’ is.

Kelvin Newman

Published 30 April, 2010 by Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman is SiteVisibility's Creative Director and is the editor of the UK's most listened to Marketing Podcast. He also spends his time at conferences, tweeting too much and working on top secret research and development projects. He's also on Google+

21 more posts from this author

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Vincent Roman

There are definite tricks you missed out here, like business names and other things. People are just abusing them in some fields. Making sure the keywords in your listing description and categories tie in with your own sites keywords also helps. For services like Bing Local and non-US business, getting onto review sites like Qype is useful because it means your listing will end up there! I wrote about such things in my article: http://www.vincentroman.com/blog/search-engines-love-qype/ All useful stuff. Thanks for your tips too!

over 6 years ago

Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman, Creative Director at SiteVisibility

I'm not sure including your keywords in your description is particularly sneaky, I'd say it makes sense!

You're right though if you want to rank highly listings on third party sites like qype makes a lot of sense

over 6 years ago

Jon Hudghton

Jon Hudghton, Development at Quayside Clothing Ltd

Just to echo Vincent, including keywords in your business name certainly helps local listing positions. I don't know if it was just me, but when Google Local launched, I just assumed keyword stuffing your business name wouldn't help you rank higher in the local listings. I guess I thought Google is too smart to fall for that and it would weight other factors much more highly (location, reviews and the others you have listed).

But I was wrong, so get your target keywords in your business name  for better results. e.g. if you're a record shop, don't just have your shop name, have "xxxx record shop". It's not a huge factor, but we've seen a definite improvement via testing this.

Good post by the way, thanks.

over 6 years ago

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Geoff Jackson, Director of Search at Clubnet Search Marketing

You've successfully listed some sure fire ways to get your business banned and blacklisted on Google Maps. Google sporadically delete/merge a ton of businesses from their Local Business Center, including all those that are stuffed with keywords.

This article on optimising for Google Local Business includes all the legitmate ways to rank well on the Google Maps.

Why would you write an article on this, giving spammers more reasons and ideas to manipulate the Local Business algorithm? It's almost as if you are glorifying their spamming techniques... All those mentioned WILL get you penalised, maybe not for months, but Google will catch up with them eventually.

over 6 years ago

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Vincent Roman

Geoff =

Too true and Google states that these things shouldn't be done in their docs.

That being said, it's great that you can go from nothing, to getting several hundred hits a month, just from Google Local alone. A friend who was struggling with her business, turned it around. Love the listings ... and review sites that help pad them out are also great!

All part of a cohesive approach to online marketing, really.

about 6 years ago

Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman, Creative Director at SiteVisibility

Sorry Geoff I think you've mis-understood my intentions with the piece, I've said these are sneaky ways people are doing it, not sneaky ways you should do it...

about 6 years ago

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Andy

Hi Kevin

In the last couple of months Google has turned down the ranking factor based on how far from city center your location is. It still has a impact but not like it  was. Also the use of PO boxes will get you a ranking penalty so you really have to consider all the factors before you try to use a fake address. If you are within 5 miles of city center you can generally get on the map by working your citations, references, reviews, geotagging and anywhere else you can mention you business online.

I agreee with Geoff just stay away from trying those.

about 6 years ago

Geoff Andrews

Geoff Andrews, Lead Generation Manager at Kumon Educational UK

I think I understand the intention of the post but I'm not sure someone new to Search Marketing would get that some of these techniques are black-hat ways to spam the local listings while others are perfectly legitimate ways to construct your listing.

For example  "xxxx record shop" as a title with "cd shop", "dvd exchange" or other relevant terms in the free form categories is a good way to construct your listing.  "xxxx record shop, cd shop & dvd exchange" is spammy.

As a user, I never call from the local listings and always travel through to the website. This becomes the stage I realised I've clicked on a spammy listing and remember to never click on that site again and continue searching.

Deceiving users damages your brand - and then you could get penalties from Google to boot. As long as you are not being deceptive (or over the top) you should be OK. Anyone I know who has ever got a penalty, always knows what they did to get it. You just know.

about 6 years ago

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Jim Ryan

Respectfully speaking, you are making a lot of assumtions that are simply not true. Reviews play no factor in ranking in Maps.  P.O Boxes are being penalized and that's why you not seeing them used, because you're not going deep enough into Map pages or because they have been changed as someone has read the guidelines that addesses this specifically.  Over time, discriptions in business name field are penalized and more so for geo modifiers.  Most importanly, proximity to centroid is also not a ranking factor, as long as the business is relevant to the modifier and that differs by city, community.  I can go on but I'll finish with this.  Local phone numbers are not a ranking factor but 800 numbers are an issue.  I'm out. 

about 6 years ago

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Mark Petrakis

Thanks for raising this issue, as I've been trying to get Google's attention for a couple of weeks now as regards a competitor of my client who has created entirely fictitious addresses for himself which because they have reviews, place prominently on Maps listings. It seems a rather obvious infraction of good practices. I've submitted three separate problem reports on each of the false address listings, but have gotten no reply from Google - not even a confirmation of receipt, which I have gotten in the past. Any clues why no one cares to respond to flagrant listing manipulations?

about 6 years ago

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Mark Petrakis

And also respectfully... based on considerable observation, I'd say that the number of reviews do indeed effect sequential placement in Maps listings.

about 6 years ago

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Thomas Henry

Have to agree with Mark but not Jim In the widely quoted David Mihm Local search ranking factors http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml#7 Review Quality and Quantity seemed pretty important

about 6 years ago

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Laura Jennings

While I agree that potentially these techniques could send more traffic to your site, by moving and chaging your marker on the Google Map, you are confusing your users and potential customers and thus damaging your brand. While optimisation through Google and driving traffic is of course important, it is the customer who will be buying your products or services and so need to remain a priority.

These techniques should not need to be resorted to if on-page SEO and relevant content are already in place, coupled with high quality backlinks.

about 6 years ago

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Mark Petrakis

User-driven activity involves a certain assumption of honesty.. but it also assumes that gatekeepers (the Googles and Bings of the world) find ways to systematically validate and reward that honest behavior, and penalize dishonest behavior. If the system begins to go lax and people get the sense that fraudulent behavior will not be penalized, then you have a Wall Street scenario - where everyone feels obliged to get theirs while the getting's good or else risk losing out. Moral behavior exists in a context. I'm still stumped why Google hasn't addressed my problem reports. I think you all have more experience in these types of forums. Can anyone point me to a place where I might be heard? Thanks.

about 6 years ago

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Gus

@Mark... Google is in a difficult position. What is there to stop unscrupulous businesses blatantly breaking Google's guidelines in the name of a competitor purely to get that competitor blacklisted/penalised? This does happen… and therefore devalues the overall validity of spam reports as a portion of them will be fraudulent. There is no algorithm that could detect this kind of abuse (yet?), so this would therefore require a human investigation... which takes time and resource. Imagine the scale that this is happening across Google’s empire... if they were to investigate every time a spam report was made they'd have to employ 1000's of people. It just doesn't make commercial sense to do this... not to mention the fact that they would potentially leave themselves open to litigation if they blacklisted a company who had done nothing wrong (not 100% sure about that tho)... so they have a small team who penalise sporadically to create fear, but the chances of individual, low profile cases being penalised is very small.

about 6 years ago

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Mark Petrakis

Thanks Gus, for your response. Sorry for the delay in getting back here. I agree that the scope of the challenge for an enterprise the size of Google faces in policing user-input AND user-complaints is significant. At the same time, this is not a complaint based on subjective motivations. This business (or any business, for that matter) has listed 3 addresses for itself, which it does not occupy. Would it not stand to reason that this is something that could and should be quantified and programmed into Google's process of accepting new listings? What's to keep anyone from creating multiple non-existent addresses for themselves and their businesses? Why don't we all just create some bogus addresses in any of a dozen nearby towns and order a bunch of additional phone numbers - all of which then forward to one number for the PIN confirmation step? And then according to Google, your business suddenly has doubled its locations and perhaps quadrupled its maps reach. Cheaper than paying rent, eh? Seems if one is unscrupulous enough to think of doing it, and considering there are no seeming downsides, doing that wouldn't take much effort to accomplish.

about 6 years ago

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Glenn Bucahn

Nice article man! I wrote a similar one here: http://glennbuchan.com/blog/how-to-get-to-the-top-of-google-local-google-maps/

about 6 years ago

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Mark

EnLocal is appropriate for all types of businesses from new to establish.  However, for the new business owner, who isn’t yet in front of any of their target market enLocal, is even more beneficial.

about 6 years ago

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Mark

Every year more and smaller businesses spring up in the United States alone. More often, these owners have a hard time getting customers and don't have a clue on how to promote their local business, especially if they are trying to do it online.

about 6 years ago

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Ramit

You've got a few good points for rankings for google places. There are a lot more factors that are considered while rankings are calculated. I've been researching the factors for the past few months and will write a post on them this weekend on my Local Seo blog.

about 6 years ago

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matt

Its too bad google is doing nothing to stop this....there is a one man scam "computer repair shop" (one guy working from home) whos using all these techniques for over 2 years....i and many others have been reporting it with the "report a problem" button as well as the google maps spam form, this guys got over 20 fake listings and holds the top 4-5 spots on many searches here!!!  Google removed a few sites when we emailed mike blumenthal of "understanding google maps" and he forwarded it on to google, thats when they removed like 20 percent of the spam he listed, only to see more show up since then.  Hes even got a repair listing with over 400 fake reviews, most by the same users over and over, and the users just reivew his 20 fake listings over and over.  Still no help from google, not even a reply.........

about 6 years ago

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Manny

As a small business owner you need to carefully pick and choose where your hard-earned money is going to go. Maybe you've considered joining your local business association but aren't sure it's worth the cost of the yearly dues, or maybe you simply don't know enough about the benefits such an association can provide.

about 6 years ago

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Manny

Marketing online has always been a challenge for small businesses. For most of the history of the internet, there simply haven't been any good resources for local marketing. The web is an inherently.

about 6 years ago

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Sonic Bass

Great stuff, i like the moving the marker a bit each day part!

about 6 years ago

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Payroll Services

You have to exhaust all options to get high in the search engine rankings and if this is another option that aids your business presence, then i cant see the problem.

almost 6 years ago

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A Real Phoenix Locksmith

Google has tried to curb some of the spam but to no avail. For example, I believe they've banned the term "locksmith" from new local listings. The irony is that they say you have to use your real business name but if your real business name has "locksmith" in it, you're hosed. I own a Better Business Bureau Ethics Award winning company and I can't claim my legitimate shop listing because of this. It goes into indefinite "Pending" status.

As a result, the fraudulent companies often change the non-claimed listing. I've had the website, address and phone numbers changed. It's a constant battle to keep an eye on it and fix it when it gets sabotaged. 

Google needs to end-of-life Google Places.

almost 6 years ago

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Manny

Internet has changed the way a business is transacted all over the world. Business today, local, regional, national or international has got more nimble, faster and more innovative. The traditional ways of doing business are paving the way for the novel ways of business transaction.

almost 6 years ago

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Locksmith Fort Lauderdale

All very good information here.

I especially wish they would do away with the LBC on Google.

I constantly see new businesses pop up.And the addresses are incorrect.There will be 7 listings and 5 out of 7 are the same guy with different addresses and phone numbers.And they are not at any of these addresses.
  This is misleading to customers,and they do not even know about this.

almost 6 years ago

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MASSEY

I think its truely a joke. I seriously wish they would place these maps that smack you in the face 3 places down like they do on some results pages. That at least gives people who decide to optimise their sites a chance. With this uncertain maps system they currently have it usually covers the screen when you search and you have to scroll down to see the organics. I might give a review factory a shot and see if it boosts me, other than that i think i give up.

almost 6 years ago

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StreetShadows Photography Blog

Thanks for the post. Some really helpful info here that I was not aware of. I only wish I didnt take quite so long for Google to update their local listings

almost 6 years ago

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Hannah Bickley

Very interesting, i will definatly try some of these tricks, especially the moving marker each day!

almost 6 years ago

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Zed Charles

ALL OF YOU HAD FORGOTTEN THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ON GOOGLE MAPS. 

IT TAKES YEARS TO RANK UP AND CLAIM YOUR TERRITORY. 

almost 6 years ago

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Pest Controtl Guy

  1. I own a pest control company in Davidson County TN. I hired a “spammer” without knowing better… I wanted to compete, and I got fantastic results for a while. I noticed all of my lising where being reviewed one day so I took the time to do some digging in to the company I hired. I found out everything they were doing was against Google Places TOC. Will see what happens now that I deleted all my “spam” listings. Pest control companies like U S Pest Protection are major scammers “spammers”, Armaxx Pest Control Services, Ace Exterminating, Arrow Exterminators, and even Orkin and Terminix are spamming Google Places.

almost 6 years ago

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Tom

This Google local spamming really gets under my skin, for the second time in 2 weeks I've looked up a business searching for eg. 'Contact Lenses W1 London' and found fake listing addresses for companies. I will now avoid purchasing from any company with fake listing addresses as it wastes my time..

almost 6 years ago

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air compressor manufacturers

being on top of google really a tough job but when it comes on top it means pure business to you and on a good scale .. top of local listing in google maps brings business of certain areas ( if you only have territory restictions) .. anyways i really enjoyed getting business from google

over 5 years ago

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website designer

google local spamming is increasing day by day you cannot get good results from google if it result in wrong outputs. anyways google is still on top

over 5 years ago

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Tom

To John Hudg.....

Keyword stuffing your title will not give you better rankings, it will get your business listing removed for not properly using google local. You must only use your actual business name for your title..... furthermore, when creating citations they should include all the info from your google listing including business name, address and phone number and all this info should be EXACTLY the same as what on your google profile.

Everyone stop cheating the systme, stop focusing on that and focus on doing a good job and providing the most accurate information for your type of business, if you do that you will naturally and automatically dominate the top like I do!

about 5 years ago

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Google Top

Google Map listing are great for local businesses. It's a shame about all the spamming. I've been doing Google Map listing for local businesses with decent results and without resorting to spamming. But it does take some time.

about 5 years ago

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SEO Consultant from Miami

The spamming is getting out of hands here in USA. I know of a trick where people would use USPS locations as their business addresses.
Unbelievable!

almost 5 years ago

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Geoff Jackson, Director of Search at Clubnet Search Marketing

Bit like the spamming on here then! *rollseyes*

almost 5 years ago

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Geoff Jackson, Director of Search at Clubnet Search Marketing

Our site is getting quite a few visits from this page today from the link in the #4th comment from me.

It's probably worth mentioning that this econsultancy post is pretty old now and therefore the link in the previous comment from me is to a post that is also equally old. We did however release the third part to our Google Places optimisation however that is an up to date piece of content and will also be featuring follow up posts to it also over the next month.

View the post here >> http://www.clubnetsearchmarketing.co.uk/blog/your-definitive-guide-ranking-google-places-part-3

over 4 years ago

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Roger

i have a small business in Lewisham i have checked out some of the competition and is shocking when you look at their reviews, they have the same person write about the company which is miles away from there home and the stories are quite convincing but they are either very rich or can fly all over london in one day

over 4 years ago

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Barney Bates

I think most of the plumbers in London use fake addresses,or virtual offices. As there is no way they could afford the office rental space.

over 4 years ago

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