If your local business/the local brands your agency markets aren’t using spam fighting as a ranking tactic because you feel you lack the time or skills, please sit down with me for a sec.
What if I told you I spent about an hour yesterday doing something that moved a Home Depot location up 3 spots in a competitive market in Google’s local rankings less than 24 hours later? What if, for you, moving up a spot or two would get you out of Google’s local finder limbo and into the actual local pack limelight?
Today I’m going to show you exactly what I did to fight spam, how fast and easy it was to sweep out junk listings, and how rewarding it can be to see results transform in favor of the legitimate businesses you market.
Washing up the shady world of window blinds
Image credit: Aqua Mechanical
Who knew that shopping for window coverings would lead me into a den of spammers throwing shade all over Google?
The story of Google My Business spam is now more than a decade in the making, with scandalous examples like fake listings for locksmiths and addiction treatment centers proving how unsafe and unacceptable local business platforms can become when left unguarded.
But even in non-YMYL industries, spam listings deceive the public, waste consumers’ time, inhibit legitimate businesses from being discovered, and erode trust in the spam-hosting platform. I saw all of this in action when I was shopping to replace some broken blinds in my home, and it was such a hassle trying to find an actual vendor amid the chaff of broken, duplicate, and lead gen listings, I decided to do something about it.
I selected an SF Bay area branch of Home Depot as my hypothetical “client.” I knew they had a legitimate location in the city of Vallejo, CA — a place I don’t live but sometimes travel to, thereby excluding the influence of proximity from my study. I knew that they were only earning an 8th place ranking in Google’s Local Finder, pushed down by spam. I wanted to see how quickly I could impact Home Depot’s surprisingly bad ranking.
I took the following steps, and encourage you to take them for any local business you’re marketing, too:
Step 1: Search
While located at the place of business you’re marketing, perform a Google search (or have your client perform it) for the keyword phrase for which you most desire improved local rankings. Of course, if you’re already ranking well as you want to for the searchers nearest you, you can still follow this process for investigating somewhat more distant areas within your potential reach where you want to increase visibility.
In the results from your search, click on the “more businesses” link at the bottom of the local pack, and you’ll be taken to the interface commonly called the “Local Finder.”
The Local Finder isn’t typically 100% identical to the local pack in exact ranking order, but it’s the best place I know of to see how things stand beyond the first 3 results that make up Google’s local packs, telling a business which companies they need to surpass to move up towards local pack inclusion.
Step 2: Copy my spreadsheet
Find yourself in the local finder. In my case, the Home Depot location was at position 8. I hope you’re somewhere within the first set of 20 results Google typically gives, but if you’re not, keep paging through until you locate your listing. If you don’t find yourself at all, you may need to troubleshoot whether an eligibility issue, suspension, or filter is at play. But, hopefully that’s not you today.
Next, create a custom spreadsheet to record your findings. Or, much easier, just make a copy of mine!
Populate the spreadsheet by cutting and pasting the basic NAP (name, address, phone) for every competitor ranking above you, and include your own listing, too, of course! If you work for an agency, you’ll need to get the client to help you with this step by filling the spreadsheet out based on their search from their place of business.
In my case, I recorded everything in the first 20 results of the Local Finder, because I saw spam both above and below my “client,” and wanted to see the total movement resulting from my work in that result set.
Step 3: Identify obvious spam
We want to catch the easy fish today. You can go down rabbit holes another day, trying to ferret out weirdly woven webs of lead gen sites spanning the nation, but today, we’re just looking to weed out listings that clearly, blatantly don’t belong in the Local Finder.
Go through these five easy steps:
Look at the Google Streetview image for each business outranking you.
Do you see a business with signage that matches the name on the listing? Move on. But if you see a house, an empty parking lot, or Google is marking the listing as “location approximate”, jot that down in the Notes section of your spreadsheet. For example, I saw a supposed window coverings showroom that Streetview was locating in an empty lot on a military base. Big red flag there.
Make note of any businesses that share an address, phone number, or very similar name.
Make note of anything with an overly long name that seems more like a string of keywords than a brand. For example, a listing in my set was called: Custom Window Treatments in Fairfield, CA Hunter Douglas Dealer.
For every business you noted down in steps one and two, get on the phone.
Is the number a working number? If someone answers, do they answer with the name of the business? Note it down. Say, “Hi, where is your shop located?” If the answer is that it’s not a shop, it’s a mobile business, note that down. Finally, If anything seems off, check the Guidelines for representing your business on Google to see what’s allowed in the industry you’re investigating. For example, it’s perfectly okay for a window blinds dealer to operate out of their home, but if they’re operating out of 5 homes in the same city, it’s likely a violation. In my case, just a couple of minutes on the phone identified multiple listings with phone numbers that were no longer in service.
Visit the iffy websites.
Now that you’re narrowing your spreadsheet down to a set of businesses that are either obviously legitimate or “iffy,” visit the websites of the iffy ones. Does the name on the listing match the name on the website? Does anything else look odd? Note it down.
Highlight businesses that are clearly spammy.
Your dive hasn’t been deep, but by now, it may have identified one or more listings that you strongly believe don’t belong because they have spammy names, fake addresses, or out-of-service phone numbers. My lightning-quick pass through my data set showed that six of the twenty listings were clearly junk. That’s 30% of Google’s info being worthless! I suggest marking these in red text in your spreadsheet to make the next step fast and easy.
Step 4: Report it!
If you want to become a spam-fighting ace later, you’ll need to become familiar with Google’s Business Redressal Complaint Form which gives you lots of room for sharing your documentation of why a listing should be removed. In fact, if an aggravating spammer remains in the Local Finder despite what we’re doing in this session, this form is where you’d head next for a more concerted effort.
But, today, I promised the easiness of falling off a log, so our first effort at impacting the results will simply focus on the “suggest an edit” function you’ll see on each listing you’re trying to get rid of. This is how you do it:
After you click the “suggest an edit” button on the listing, a popup will appear. If you’re reporting something like a spammy name, click the “change name or other details” option and fill out the form. If you’ve determined a listing represents a non-existent, closed, unreachable, or duplicate entity, choose the “remove this place” option and then select the dropdown entry that most closely matches the problem. You can add a screenshot or other image if you like, but in my quick pass through the data, I didn’t bother.
Record the exact action you took for each spam listing in the “Actions” column of the spreadsheet. In my case, I was reporting a mixture or non-existent buildings, out-of-service phone numbers, and one duplicate listing with a spammy name.