Google My Business Spam: What It Means for SEO

November 27, 2020

Kerrie Ashall

Google My Business – also referred to as GMB – is an imperative tool in Local SEO. By being able to list your business location on Google Maps and local search results, you can substantially boost your business’ success, all because Google now has a geographic location to work with. For instance, when users search for ‘boutiques near me’, if your business is in the vicinity, it will be one of the first results to pop up. Your listing can also include other valuable information about your business, such as opening and closing times, contact details and a link to your website. Being able to access all this information simply by Googling for services ‘near me’, not only makes it easier for customers to find your business, but also makes you look like an expert in your field. 

That being said, GMB does run into some issues now and again, most notably with spam, which can negatively impact your business. 

Types of Google My Business spam 

Some of the different types of GMB spam include: 

  • Fake business listings – Also known as ‘ghost’ business listings, these fake listings are used to steal leads from legitimate companies. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google Maps had approximately 11 million illegitimate local listings.  
  • Fake reviews – Spammers will leave fake business reviews for two purposes: they want to post negative reviews for their competitors to make them look bad, or they want to post positive reviews from themselves. Unfortunately, this is one of the easiest ways to spam a business.  
  • Duplicate business listings – Duplicate listings can mean more exposure for a business, and spammers can sneakily do this by changing their business’ name ever so slightly; for instance, having ‘Miss Macaroon’ as the name in one listing, and ‘Miss Macaroon Ltd’ in another. They can also use a fake business address in duplicate listings.  
  • Keyword stuffing – this is a common method for helping your business rank higher, and it involves adding keywords to your business name. The reason this counts as spam, however, is because Google is very strict when it comes to your business name on your GMB listing, stating “Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers.” So, if you stuff it with keywords – for example, ‘IDOC Repair Melbourne City – iPhone Repairs & Services – then you may be reported for spam.  

Impact on SEO 

When businesses use underhand tactics like GMB spamming, they are putting at risk the local businesses who are abiding by Google’s guidelines. 77% of marketers say that GMB spam makes their job more difficult 

To get a clearer idea,check out this poll by Bright Local from 2019, when marketers were asked if spam made it harder to achieve good rankings:

On Search Engine Land, Barry Schwartz also commented on the negative impact GMB spam has had on the essential relationship between businesses and potential customers, stating that “consumers are being driven to consider a business’ GMB profile as a single source of truth, even over and above the local business website. Because of this, GMB has become a wedge driven between consumers and businesses. Searchers can no longer get a first impression of a business created and tailored by the business itself. That first impression now belongs to Google… 

So, not only is GMB spam making life even harder for marketers, but GMB itself is now almost considered a hindrance for businesses trying to expand their customer demographic. Users are now more likely to see GMB listings as their first point of reference for a business, so instead of clicking onto the company’s website and converting from visitor to customer, they see a GMB listing that is potentially hampered by fake customer reviews or keyword stuffing. On the other hand, they may come across fake listings or duplicate listings, but the end result is the same: the legitimate businesses lose out on organic web traffic and conversions.  

What can users do to combat spam? 

Fortunately for online businesses, there are ways to tackle spam.  

  • Monitor listings – Businesses need to carefully monitor their GMB listings at all times in order to spot any discrepancies. Anyone can make edits to your business, so try to check on it at least once every day if you can to check that the information is still all correct.  
  • Report GMB Spam to Google  You can report spam by using Google’s Business Redressal Complaint Form, where you can use the drop-down menu to select how the listing violates Google’s business listing guidelines.  
  • Make Public Edits  Alternatively, you could submit public edits yourself on the business listing’s GMB. If you look below the business information, there is a ‘Suggest an edit’ button. You could also click on the ‘Remove this place’ option for reasons such as ‘Doesn’t exist’, ‘Copyright/legal violation’, ‘Spam, fake or offensive’, ‘Duplicate of another place’ or ‘Private place or home’.  

It’s also important to remember the features that come with your listing that allow you to get ahead in the SERPs. If you want your GMB listing to stand out for the right reasons, then things like adding your business logo, header images and welcome offers and discounts can make a significant change in how you rank. For more information on how you can boost your GMB listing, check out our previous blog about GMB features  

Google’s Response  

As mentioned above, Google introduced the Business Redressal Complaint Form in 2019 in response to the rise of businesses losing out on customers and ranking. This was certainly a step in the right direction, especially as many in the SEO community felt that before this period Google was not taking the issue of GMB spamming seriously enough.  

Back in 2017, Google claimed it had reduced fake listings on Google Maps by 70%, but over the years, fake listings and spammy keyword-stuffed listings have only been on the up. Perhaps it was the realisation that customers were viewing GMB listings as a sign of legitimacy, and the SEO community’s exasperation at losing out that pushed Google to introduce the complaint form. At the end of the day, GMB spam makes Google My Business look unreliable, and Google does not want to ignore that chink in the armour. Google has never liked Black Hat SEO tactics and will penalise sites that are in violation of Google’s guidelines.  

Final thoughts 

As a free SEO tool, Google My Business should be utilised to help businesses achieve organic growth, but unfortunately, there’s always someone who has to take advantage of a good thing. However, as explored above, there are methods you can use to fight back against GMB spam and ensure that your business’ online reputation remains intact. Google My Business is a great tool for businesses trying to reach out and connect with their local community, so don’t let the spammers get you down.  

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