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.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Maps & Local | SEO: Local | SEO: Spamming

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://seorefugee.com/forums earlpearl

    Greg: Over the last 1/2 year during which Google Maps has been very visable…I think there has been a gap between the corporate statement….”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.”….and their actual response time.

    I do believe they simply need to put more customer service resources (people) into reviewing reports of spam or correcting errors.

    They have the money to do so. It would speed up the process. It seems as if the number of people responding within gmaps–google groups is insufficient to handle all the inquiries that come up.

    Mine is a simple response. They can figure out better technical responses and actions later.

    I emailed, spoke w/Mike, and wrote about this in the geo section of seorefugee. In fact Mike and I discussed a number of issues with regard to the validity of this type of marketing; how it may diminish the believability of googles information to the user public…and how it enables a national firm to claim localness–even when it is not as firm or well established with regard to localness as other competitors.

    For instance, I believe one competitor to Tech Pros is called Geeks on Call. (I hope that is the correct name.) They sell local franchises, establish local offices and have a local point of reference for continued follow up with customers. Ultimately there is a big difference in accountability with this type of structure than one that is being run out of a slim central office in one location. (I don’t mean to demean techpros…but it is simply structured differently than local identifiable brick and mortar businesses)

    Getting back to Google’s responsiveness…they just issued a set of guidelines w/in Google Groups on how to communicate a problem so that they can respond more quickly.

    A person needs to be more thorough and specific with the description of the problem or the description of the offensive action.

    That makes sense. In fact in early 2007, after not getting help with a couple of offenses and several requests into Google Groups for Maps I was extremely specific. Google cleaned out the erroneous information very quickly thereafter.

    In the meantime, though, until it is quickly made clear to every person inquiring about every problem that they need to be more specific….I’d strongly suggest they up the amount of customer service to respond to issues like this.

    Currently, though, and into the near future I’ll be looking at G maps virtually every day to see if bulk uploads or spammers are abusing G maps on a couple of local topics I cover.

    Dave

  • http://www.blumenthals.com/blog mblumenthal

    Greg-

    The TechPro link to Google that you reference above no longer demonstrates the the nature of these bulk uploads.

    Here is a link where there is still an active case that has not yet been taken down (4 days and counting):

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=we+buy+houses&near=Portland,+OR&fb=1&view=text&cd=1&output=html

    It is for the “We buy Houses” market.

    Mike Blumenthal

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    I’ve been talking to local/maps folks about similar topics even before TechPro, so I know that that team has been paying attention to issues like this.

  • mblumenthal

    Here is a more graphic example of the practice (although nowhere ne the number of postings that TechPros or RentaGeeks has)

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=l&abauth=f56c0118%3AjLBbwMGCee5bruZGpLqZGwxVDKk&view=text&output=html&hl=en&q=we+buy+houses&near=OR&btnG=Search+Businesses

    Mike

  • http://seorefugee.com/forums earlpearl

    By the way guys and specifically Mike–we discussed this with regard to the We Buy Houses Bulk load.

    Yes there is a Main Street, Alexandria VA. No there is not a 500 Main Street. Bad data!

  • http://www.eshop600.co.uk/creditexpert.html eshop600

    Lets hope they sort this out, perhaps dropping them from google might sort it!

  • http://www.idoseo.com David

    I think the possible launch of the “Feet On The Street” Google independent representatives will have a great effect on nailing this problem as the independent reps would have a vested interest in keeping the locale they represent spam free.

    I work SEO locally only these days and would like to see some form of local spam cop reporting system in place if Google go ahead with this program

    By the way I have applied to be a 1099 local rep – yes I know it’s only a possible $10 per business but that’s OK I don’t need to make boatloads of $$ss

    David

  • http://www.idoseo.com David

    I think the possible launch of the “Feet On The Street” Google independent representatives will have a great effect on nailing this problem as the independent reps would have a vested interest in keeping the locale they represent spam free.

    I work SEO locally only these days and would like to see some form of local spam cop reporting system in place if Google go ahead with this program

    By the way I have applied to be a 1099 local rep – yes I know it’s only a possible $10 per business but that’s OK I don’t need to make boatloads of $$ss

    David

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