While, we might not love all the updates Google is constantly making to the local pack and search algorithms, Google’s cracking down on fake Google Business Profiles (formerly Google My Business) is one update we can all get behind.
As you know, one of Google’s top priorities is serving relevant, accurate search results that consumers can trust. When fake local business listings started to appear on Google Business Profile, the search giant went to work putting a process in place to shut them down.
Just how serious are the Googlers about finding and removing fake Google Business Profile? They partnered with the University of California, San Diego to learn everything they could about the perpetrators and how they can be stopped.
According to this report, their ongoing efforts to crack down on Google Business Profile fraud is making a huge difference. The number of fake listings has dropped by 70% since June 2015. There is still quite a lot of work to be done before fraudulent listings are fully eliminated, but this is an excellent start.
Why Do I Care About Fake Google Business Profiles?
Fake business listings are no good for anyone. Since listings on Google Business Profile populate results in Google Maps and Search, a bad listing (fake, in this case) means bad data! And, well, you know how I feel about bad data. If you don’t, here’s an article all about it!
Consumers rely on search results to find the products and professional services they need. They use Google Maps to get directions to local businesses.
Fraudulent Google Business Profiles put consumers at risk and undermine the credibility of the millions of authentic businesses listings that exist on Google. Scammers usually create these listing to dupe customers into paying ridiculous fees or defraud business owners.
Unlike other online scams, fake local listings require the perpetrator to be located near their victims, which, Google says, “fundamentally changes both the scale and the types of abuse possible.”
Protecting Local Businesses and Consumers
Now that we’ve established that fake Google My Listings are a big deal, what is Google actually doing about it? Later in this article, I’ll also cover what you can do to make sure the businesses you represent aren’t perceived as fake.
Google has made several notable improvements to reduce the amount of fake Google Business Profiles. A few of these include:
- Preventing bulk registrations at most addresses
- Requiring extra verification if a business relocates far away from their original address
- Using machine learning to identify inconsistencies that could indicate fake listings
- Ignoring nonsensical data in address fields that scammers use to confuse Google
The results so far are promising. Google is now able to detect and disable 85% of fake listings before they show up in public search results.
Which Industries Are Most Vulnerable?
Google’s report found that certain types of businesses are more susceptible to Google Business Profile fraud than others. The most targeted industry? Professional contractors like locksmiths and plumbers.
40% Target Locksmiths, Plumbers, and Contractors
The report confirmed that about two out of five fake Google Business Profiles were impersonating locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors. These are listings for non-existent businesses that use fake zip codes and VoIP phone numbers.
10% of Fake Listings Belong to Hotels and Restaurants
Google also found that roughly one in ten fake listings belonged to legitimate businesses, including hotels and restaurants. In these cases, fraudsters had managed to claim the listings and take control. The scammers then used their position to extort business owners into paying referral fees for customers who found them though organic local searches.
Local Businesses Need to Take Control of Their Google Business Profiles
As promised earlier, let’s look at what you can do so this problem doesn’t impact the businesses you represent. There’s one simple solution (ok, maybe it’s really three).
- Claim and optimize the Google Business Profile
- Monitor the listing
- Update the listing to keep it fresh
Google knows customers rely on their search engine to connect with credible local businesses, so it’s easy to see why they are so committed to reducing fraud. It’s important for local businesses to take an active role in protecting their online presence, too.
If the business you represent doesn’t have a Google Business Profile, you should create one so no one else is able to create a fake listing that attaches bad data to the business’ name. Here’s how to create a Google Business Profile from start to finish.
It’s more important than ever for local businesses to take control of their local listings, monitor customer reviews, and manage their local presence online. Request a demo and find out how the Advice Local team can help!
Be sure to come back next week for more local search news from the #QueenofLocalSEO