Google Shuts Down OrderAhead Local Restaurant Listings Hijackings
Company registered ".net" and ".org" domains, unverified Google+ pages.
Seattle based GeekWire has written several articles about OrderAhead‘s fake restaurant listings SEO strategy, which has been turned back by Google. The company used dubious or unethical tactics to gain SEO advantage, creating fake restaurant sites and claiming Google+ pages to outrank and deceive both search engines and consumers.
On one level this is just the latest in a long line of hijacking stories. However it’s especially egregious in some respects. As explained by GeekWire:
The OrderAhead sites started appearing about a month ago, using web addresses that made them seem to be official restaurant sites. The OrderAhead sites frequently appeared above the official restaurant websites in search results, siphoning web traffic away from actual restaurant sites. In many cases, Google Business listings were also registered and linked to the OrderAhead sites, without the knowledge of the restaurant owner, violating Google’s terms of service.
In particular the claiming of Google+ pages and registration of “.net” and “.org” domains not claimed by the restaurants are glaring aspects of the company’s “aggressive” SEO strategy. Below is a GeekWire-taken screenshot showing how an OrderAhead-registered site outranked the actual restaurant website (annotations GeekWire):
Today the OrderAhead-created sites appear to be gone from organic results, except they still may appear in the knowledge panel — as in the example screenshot below that corresponds to the GeekWire shot above. It shows the OrderAhead “fake” site absent in the left column but still present in the knowledge panel under the “menu” category:
The rogue site “cafeturko.net” is still the URL associated with the restaurant’s Google+ page as well. I searched for other restaurant sites and pages cited in the GeekWire articles and they appear to have been largely cleansed of the dubious URLs. But the phantom sites still exist online, even though they may no longer appear on the first page of Google.
For example, the following OrderAhead page appears under the URL http://stuftpizza.org/ though it is not the actual restaurant’s website, which is admittedly a less attractive and more awkwardly designed property.
OrderAhead is not the only restaurant directory or site that tries to capture or divert consumer traffic and generate leads via SEO. However the degree of deception employed by OrderAhead is what stands out here.
I have asked Google to comment and will update this point if there’s an official response. OrderAhead likely conceived of this strategy as a shortcut to traffic and visibility and an alternative to buying AdWords.
Recently Google had to shut down Mapmaker because of some high-profile pranking and mapspam. However the company expects to have the tool back online in the near future.