The obvious answer is that they are all local searches on popular phrases in major metro areas. A less obvious answer is that like the infamous Denver Florist search last December, they all return seemingly authoritative OneBox results on popular geo phrase searches in a major market, as in the example below:
The searches demonstrate clear problems with Google’s Universal Local OneBox algorithm. Certainly, “major city + service/product” searches should return a broad range of consumer choices and not an authoritative OneBox that limits the view to one highlighted provider of the service. Google returns the OneBox result because the ostensible business name in the result supposedly mirrors the search phrase and in Google’s opinion provides strong relevance in relation to the user query.
The problem with the above result is that the business shown on the map is the Marriott Orlando Downtown, not “travel.ian.com.” The Marriott’s business listing has apparently been hijacked.
In fact, all of the listings returned on these searches have apparently been “hijacked” via Google’s community edit feature and the business name of the listing has been modified from the original, Marriott Orlando Downtown, to match the search phrase. The URL’s of the listings have also been modified to direct users to an affiliate link on an appropriate site. How? Through the use of Google’s community edit feature for local business listings.
Google’s community edit feature has become the playground of black hat affiliate marketers and is sorely in need of more security. Of interest in this regards is that many of these listings are for multinational corporations. These are not small independent business that are too busy to notice. They are well funded, well oiled marketing machines. Yet none apparently realized they needed to claim their business record in Google’s LBC.
But the most intriguing commonality of the three searches? They were all changed by the same “community editor” that was responsible for the Florist Hijackings reported almost a month ago. Despite the many reports of these hijackings, where income was diverted from the florist in an allegedly illegal scheme, Google has apparently not yet put a stop to the work of one of the obvious perpetrators.
At SMX East, Greg Sterling asked Google’s Eric Stein the following question:
Q: :: What would you say to the many florists whose listings were hijacked in mid September by affiliate mapspamers?
Google: We won’t always be ahead of the spammers – that’s a tough race to run. But we will be increasingly effective at putting an end to situations like the one you mentioned as soon as they pop up. And we don’t just blacklist the bad guys – we put systems in place to block the next guy who tries to do what the last guy did, so we’re making it increasingly hard for spammers to hurt the legitimate business owners.
While Google may be feverishly writing code to fix the problem in the future, they also have an obligation to go back and clean up the index, ban these prolific “community editors” and, at least until a better solution can be found, put in some restrictions on community edits. Perhaps they need to redefine the word “soon” was well, as some florists listings have not yet been cleaned up.
Mike Blumenthal is a student of life, political economy and local search. He writes the blog Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local Search and is a partner in a small web design company in upstate NY.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.