After noticing a steady increase in the amount of mapspam (also documented by Mike Blumenthal) appearing on Google in universal search results, we decided to ask the company about the phenomenon and what measures it’s taking to combat the problem. Earlier this week I posed a series of questions to Google’s Director of Product Management for Local, Carter Maslan via email. The unedited text of his responses is below.
SEL: Recently many mapping and local observers have noticed what appears to be an increase in what’s being called “mapspam” among the top 10 local results shown on Google.com. It appears to reflect the value of appearing among those results. Has Google noticed a similar increase or problem?
CM: Yes; the added visibility of business listings seems to have attracted more local listing spam attempts. I think anytime we change something to display business listings to more people, the more spam we’ll see there. We’re actively working to eliminate the type of “maps spam” we’re currently seeing. SEL: Where is this coming from? Is it coming through Google Base bulk uploads or through the Local Business Center?
CM: You can no longer make business listing uploads for Google Maps through Google Base, and so they are currently stemming from the Local Business Center.
SEL: How does Google address the issue as a policy matter?
CM: We want to implement policies algorithmically that detect and demote spam. But today, we sometimes remove spam manually. The removal is governed by internal policy that is refined and augmented as we see new types of spam.
SEL: Are there any penalties for parties who improperly spam Google Maps?
CM: Yes. Eventually, we’d like to have surgical precision in identifying and removing spam; but today, once we identify parties that are submitting spam listings, we remove all listings from those parties.
SEL: Are there differences between local or mapspam and spam on conventional Google.com results?
CM: Yes, but we’re adapting some of the spam fighting techniques to apply to local listings. Because of the location-based nature of Maps results, and the source of them (the Local Business Center) we’re taking a slightly different angle on how we attack it.
SEL: What about cases where people want to appear in results for areas where they don’t have a physical location (e.g., a “service area”). Is Google going to address that scenario?
CM: Yes, we will. We currently don’t allow for service areas, but we recognize that many businesses don’t have physical locations and are working to accommodate those businesses. We recommend that businesses without a physical location register themselves as a single business listing using a PO Box. SEL: What about a business that formerly appeared among these top 10 listings and no longer does or wants to appear in those listings, what advice would you provide to such businesses?
CM: The results that appear among the top 10 local listings are based off how relevant we think the listings are to the search terms. Of course, we’re always changing how we determine relevancy. As a result, there’s no one piece of advice we would recommend beyond providing accurate, well-categorized listings and, for those businesses with web sites, following these tips including location kml in sitemap. I can say, however, that spamming Google Maps is a surefire way to remove your listings from the top 10 indefinitely.