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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.
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.
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.