In the world of local SEO, Google Maps is a game to get to the top to allow potential customers to find you. There are only two ways to succeed in Google maps: outmarket your competition, or use black hat SEO tactics with a fake business listing to rank.
That’s right: false competition exists on Google and sometimes these false listings take the coveted higher ranking spots. But what is a “false competition” or a “false listing” and how can you spot one? More importantly, what can you do about them?
What is false competition?
“False competition” refers to false or fake business listings in Google and manifests as fake Google Maps listings that exist to boost rankings for someone that isn’t a real business. The three main types of false competition are fake listings, old or outdated listings, and keyword-stuffed listings.
Think about your business listing as your “beacon” in Google Maps that extends to a 3-5 mile radius from the physical address used to verify the listing. When a person within this radius searches for your service, you have the opportunity to appear in their search results.
According to Search Engine Land, Google Maps has over 11 million illegitimate local listings. So if another “beacon” is actually fake and appears higher in Google Maps, it takes away from your free organic traffic. If this false listing wasn’t there, you could be ranking much higher!
How to spot a false listing in Google Maps
On the surface, it might be difficult to spot a false business listing. But here are some indicators that the companies ranking above you on Google maps might not be real businesses at all:
1. Photos. Study the photos in a listing. If the photos used in the listing have inaccurate signage, or if the listing doesn’t include photos at all, those are red flags and indicators of a false listing in Google.
2. Business name. If the company name is super generic, that is highly suspicious. For example, a company named “Flowers” might be a real company, but it does seem questionable. Keyword stuffing in business names or putting unnecessary keywords in the business listing is also an issue. Think “Dentist Near Me” or “XYZ Handyman Service.”
3. Reviews or lack thereof. Maybe the company doesn’t have a review strategy in place, but having a high ranking in Google maps would suggest that they’d have at least one Google review.
4. Missing contact information. No website is listed, and a phone number plus other crucial information is missing.
5. Business listing unclaimed on Google. If a company’s business listing isn’t claimed, it might not be real.
6. Physical address. Google does not allow a PO box to be used in a business listing. If the street view shows a USPS location as the address, it’s a sign the listing is false competition.
Why it’s important to have spam removal tactics in place
If your legitimate business listing and a false listing are competing for the same keywords and the false listing gets removed as spam, even removing that one false listing has a big impact on your rankings.
Case in point: I ran a scan on one of our clients for five keywords and found 40 competing listings I felt were worth reporting to Google. Within five days, Google agreed with all 40 of my reports and removed those listings as spam.
Now, let’s look at the effects of reporting a false listing in Google Maps. In the following visual, the keyword being shown is “tax consultant” with a 13-mile x 13-mile scan area, and each node represents 1 mile.
This shows how this client ranked for “tax consultant” before I reported these false listings:
And here are the results five days after reporting the false listings:
As you can see, our ability to rank higher for this keyword expanded with the removal of false listings that were occupying higher-ranking spots in Google search results.
I want to emphasize that no other marketing efforts were in place to gain these results; this was simply the act of reporting false listings in Google.
Key takeaways for false competition
False competition in Google Maps is an unfortunate reality in local SEO and is unlikely to disappear completely. It’s important to understand how false listings affect your business and what you can do about them.
When it comes to false competition in Google Maps, we always advise the following:
- The only action in SEO that has a tangible before-and-after effect is removing a fake Google listing. Why not be proactive and incorporate this into your strategy? However…
- Don’t abuse the system and report real competitors as fake. Google will absolutely penalize you for this.
- Continue to monitor false listings. Just because you made a complaint about a false listing, it doesn’t mean Google will automatically take it down. And if they do, it can always come back again later.
How we help clients by monitoring Google
Hennessey Digital begins every new client onboarding with a thorough audit process that includes checking for false competition, and our strategic assessments have a direct impact on local search rankings.
Every client has issues with spam and false listings in Google Maps. Our team of experts is very strategic about reporting potentially fake listings, only acknowledging top listings for keywords we scan for, and our data-driven approach determines whether we decide to report listings as false.
We have a great track record of being proactive about issues like these, and it’s one of the things that sets our SEO team apart. Most recently, the industry is seeing an uptick in the number of Google account suspensions occurring across the board. To ensure our clients’ accounts won’t be affected, we are pausing updates on clients’ Google business listings until November 1.
If your SEO team isn’t finding and solving problems like this and telling you what you need to know, this is a red flag. We work hard to identify and solve problems, but we also make sure to show our work and educate our clients along the way.