Before we dive in, I need to remind readers of one important point – only Google can remove the maps spam. GMB listings all belong to Google and it’s at their discretion whether a listing remains on the map. But all is not lost.
To be most effective at removing spam listings, you will need to “make a case” that a listing is not legitimately on the map in order to get Google’s compliance team to review the listing.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll outline step by step, a number of listings identified as spam. You’ll see how it was done, what the red flags are, and tools you can use to make your job easier and quicker.
Spam Case #1 – Fake address
From experience I recall this outfit are shameless spammers, so it’s a good one to start with.
After you’ve been fighting spam listings in your area, you too will begin to recognise who the regular spammers are.
Check the website
If you click on the website link, it takes you to a page that’s confusing at best.
The URL is “…/california/garage-door-repair-valhalla/“. Yet this is supposed to be a business in New York.
Scrolling down the page, a the text and headlines repeatedly mention Washington and Seattle. And then there’s this beauty…
Umesh?! Hey, Umesh! Mate, you’re falling down on the job!
At this stage, your nose would be crinkling a bit with the smell of this listing…
Let’s keep digging.
Check the Address
First check the address on Google Maps. You can tell Google doesn’t know what to do with the address because the pin is in the middle of the road. (See image at top)
Go to Street View and drop the little yellow man on one end of Shelly Ave. Move around and zoom until you can see a house number. Work your way up the street checking house numbers as you go. Sure enough you’ll confirm that Shelly Ave doesn’t go up to 99.
Double check the address, as Maps isn’t always 100% up to date with images.
One good source is melissa lookups. Their system confirms the address is not valid “House Number Invalid (AE10)“.
At this point, I’m confident in reporting the listing as a fake.
If the area wasn’t too far away, you could go one step further and get a video or image proving 99 isn’t a valid address.
Since Google wants a reason you consider the listing bad, I recommend you provide all your evidence:
- Google Street View shows address invalid and
- melissa lookups confirms house number invalid
- video / image
Spam Case #2 – Fake Location
Things that make my spidey sense tingle (image 2a):
- Being at a “professional plaza” – it’s garage door repair… But to be fair professional plazas sometimes have office suites for permanent rental the admin staff could be using. So to show Google this is suspicious, the first thing I’ll do is investigate the address further.
- The crappy image they’ve uploaded. There is only one; it’s very generic, and poor quality. There’s nothing of the van they’d use, the people who do the work, etc.
- The type of business this is (this category has a reputation for spamming Google Maps)
- 17 x 5-star reviews. 17 isn’t as suspicious as 95, but for this type of business it still concerning.
Investigating the address
The office building
(Image 2b above) Search for Passack Professional Plaza in New Jersey. The search brings up a Knowledge Panel (right side) stating the business category is “general contractor”. Ummmm – that’s not right. As well, in the organic (left-hand side of search results) you can’t find any kind of website.
(Image 2c above) Next best option is the Facebook page. It’s an unclaimed listing, but it also says the business is a medical centre. That’s a wee bit different to a general contractor. Being an unclaimed FB page also doesn’t inspire confidence.
(Image 2d above) Looking further down the results you’ll see a site “officespace.com” domain, again mentioning medical suites. Clicking on that result gives two tenant brokers you could contact.
Investigating with phone calls
It’s time to start making calls.
First call would be to the number on the listing. How does the person answer the phone? If they don’t say the business name, pretend you’re flustered a bit and say something along the lines of “sorry, who have I called”? If you don’t want to be detected (anonymous phone number), you could call via Skype. Jot down key bits of the conversation.
Second call would be to one of the tenant brokers. Ask about suite availability, how they work, is it medical only, that sort of thing. Again take notes of key bits of the conversation.
And if you don’t feel the case is really strong just yet, you can always go to the building. If, of course, it’s in your general area. Take photos or a video of the front of the building, any signage, inside the front entrance, the building directory, and so on.
Secretary of State business registry
One other thing to check on this listing is the Secretary of State registry and look for the business. It’s fairly common with spam listings to not be able to find a business by the stated name. The SOS plus the evidence you dig up with phone calls &/or video should be sufficient to get the listing investigated.
It’s important when investigating listings not in the USA, to know the guidelines surrounding business registries in that country.
For example, in Australia we use the ASIC register or Business Name register to confirm a business name exists. You can’t use that information to confirm the location however, as registered addresses are commonly at the accountant’s office.
Spam Case #3 – Misrepresenting Business Type
One of the key guidelines for a listing on GMB relates to the address. Fundamentally it boils down to – if you have a shopfront or serve customers at your location during state business hours, you can have a pin.
If you go to “another place” to conduct business, your business should be classed as a Service Area Business, meaning it will have a radius, not a pin.
Tied to the address is the right to represent the location.
Ineligible businesses – An ongoing service … at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent.GMB Basic Guidelines
In this instance, not a lot of investigation is required.
- The address is not a valid street address (simply the name of a road).
- The business is at a city park. As a private business, she does not have the right to represent the public park.
side note: This should be a clear cut case. Yet for whatever reason Google has chosen to avoid dealing with this listing despite multiple reports. Yes it happens even to professionals, so don’t get discouraged when it happens to you.
Spam Case #4 – Shopfront Repurposing
This listing isn’t initially obviously spam. I’ll list the things the investigation turned up:
It fits a pattern of a huge spam network. On it’s own you might not see it as suspicious, so let’s look at a few other things.
Similar to one of the other cases, the address is smack in the middle of a road.
All 5 star. Not necessarily bad, but once you start to read them this becomes tragic. You can see from Google’s summary of key words in the reviews “policy” is something mentioned frequently. Why would a lighting wholesaler have a policy?
Looking at the text – “best policy”, “VisitorCoverage”, “this insurance agency”.
There’s the smoking gun.
Now you can be fairly sure you’re on to something.
A business listing can change ownership and shift the categories slightly, without being overly suspicious. But a big shift like “insurance agency” to “lighting wholesaler” throws up a big red flag.
For the sake of the argument, let’s look at what that listing was when it was the insurance agency. To find out the name of the business when the review was written, click on the 3 dots to the right of every review. You’ll see a little fly-out window saying “Flag as inappropriate”.
When you click on that link, Google gives you a new window with a big long URL. If you copy and paste that URL into a text editor or word document (remember to deactivate the link), you’ll be able to read what the business name was. The URL looks something like this:
The main text you’re looking for starts with what’s highlighted in yellow “https://maps.google.com”. After that, what is highlighted in green is the main event. Since it’s written in URL code, I can run it through a URL decoder and turn it into something far easier to read:
So now you know the business was called “Health Insurance Sacramento” and was located at “404 L St, Sacramento”. The name alone is suspicious and the address doesn’t check out when run through melissa lookups (see Spam Case #1 for using melissa).
Now it looks like the listing was a fake listing from the get-go. This name “health insurance +city name” is the remains of a national spam network I have come across multiple times.
Time to report it as spam.
Spam Case #5 – SAB Posing as Shopfront
This one might be easily overlooked, had I not tripped across it the way I did. I searched for a company I regularly deal with, and a knowledge panel for an entirely unrelated business popped up.
When search for the business by name, three listings come up. All three have links to websites which don’t have anything to do with the business – iubenda, mailchimp and soundcloud. Huge red flag.
Two of the three listings have the same phone number, one has no phone number at all.
Looking up the phone number, there is only one listing found on the web for a business, and it doesn’t have the same business name, nor is it in any of the same suburbs.
All three listings are at residential addresses.
The business shows three locations, yet is that doesn’t seem right. I seriously doubt people take their garage doors to these addresses to be fixed. Generally a Garage Door Repair business is a service area business which gets one listing for a geographic area.
And finally, this is one of the industries notorious for for spamming.
Business Name Search
Using a number of Australian business name searches (ASIC mostly), I was unable to find a business with that name, or a very close variation.
All up, there is little to suggest any of these business listings are real. They could be an experiment, or could be someone cutting corners. Either way, they doesn’t come across as a business I’d want to call to fix a garage door!
Spam Case #6 – Service Area Business Repurposed and Fake Reviews
Oh my, where to start with this one…
If you simply look at the pictures, the idiocy of this listing should be apparent.
The most super obvious thing here is the business name. Hard to believe anyone would name their business like that.
Second – the category is BMW dealer – yet the majority of reviews say garage door repair. Some even explicitly state the former business name.
When I looked in the code to see what the name of the business was, (see case #4), and can confirm the location of the listing was in Northridge CA. The listing was also previously a service area listing (the code from case #4 does not include an address).
This spammer knows how to:
- move listings (which normally requires reverification)
- reverify moved listings (am researching to confirm the listing had previously been reported/removed as spam)
- add reviews to listings with an automated tool
Even without verifying the previous listing address, there’s enough evidence in the reviews alone to be able to report this as spam.
You’ve done your homework, now what?
How to #StopCrapOnTheMap
You have two ways to report:
- On the Google listing itself via “suggest an edit”
- Use the Business Redressal Complaint form. You can report one listing at a time, or many.
See the other article for details of both options, and tips to be more successful with your report.
Tired of fighting the growing battle against maps spam?
We can help.
If you prefer to spend more time on your business and less chasing cheaters, hire us. We are experienced at identifying and reporting spam (remember, only Google can remove it so beware of agencies who guarantee they can).
We have dedicated resources and schedules for following up as long as it takes to get listings actioned.