The Boise area has been seeing a lot of misinformation on Google Maps lately. Business names have been changed, opening hours have been falsified, and worst of all, businesses still in operation are being marked as permanently closed.
So, what is going on here?
Simply put, this is a fairly new malicious or “black hat” tactic that some search-engine optimization (SEO) agencies have been performing against their clients’ competitors.
Ever since Google rolled out its Local Guides initiative to allow people to contribute and suggest edits to Google Maps, there have been quite a few opportunities for malpractice. One opportunity is the ability to wipe a business completely off the map — the Google Map, that is.
Why is this possible?
There are many variables in play here, but Google Maps is first and foremost a legal business directory. This means that although your business is legitimate and in operation, its Google business listing may be maliciously flagged as spam if its name, address or phone number is not exactly the same as your legal business documentation.
Google has been lowering its threshold for misinformation on its ever-so-popular Maps services, and even the slightest inconsistency may be grounds for removal of your listing if someone, or a group of people, report you.
Who would do such a thing?
People trying to reduce the competition for their own gain, that’s who. Nowadays, your Google business listing is the primary source of initial contact with your customers. Tampering with something so pivotal to your business should be considered vandalism, but due to the digital nature of your online listings, most government entities don’t see it that way.
With this lack of consequence, many digital marketing agencies are adding this technique to their arsenal of SEO tactics to help their clients grow their online presence. They “clean up” the map for their clients by identifying competitors and reporting them for even the slightest inconsistencies. Since most agencies have a few “high level” Google accounts, their suggested edits carry more weight than the average Google reviewer. In most cases, they can have a competitor’s listing removed instantly.
How can you protect your Google business listing?
Make sure your information is 100% accurate. If your legal business entity’s name is ABC LLC, that is exactly how it should be listed on your Google listing. If you are worried about not having enough keywords in your name to rank well, consider filing an Assumed Business Name with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office with your keyword-rich name. This will protect you from anyone trying to report you for “keyword stuffing” your Google listing.
Another precaution you can take is to make sure all of your other business listings are exactly the same as your Google listing. Double check to make sure your Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo, Bing, and any other local directories your business may be listed under are accurate, using your Google listing as your default.
If you need assistance with any of this, consult a local SEO expert for advice.