How do I get back into Google’s good graces?
Thousands of businesses bask in the glory of achieving high Google map rankings that help drive their sales while leaving competitors wondering how they are doing so well in a down economy. For many, it’s simple luck that gravitated their local listing to Google’s coveted first page (top 7 local map listings) while for others it’s a culmination of hard work, studying, and careful planning. Then, there are those who got the call from a Maps Optimization company that promised first page listings on Google maps for a fee. Typically these calls originate from an automated telemarketing call that connects to a live agent reading a script fresh out of the sales training room. Then come the bullets fired off right off the freshly printing sales training manual pages:
1. You’re business is not on page one of Google and you are missing the majority of potential customers! (Perhaps true if you’re not on page one for the bigger keywords)
2. We can get you there in 4-6 weeks! (Yep, that’s the standard BS directly from the sales script. The fact is that it’s a variable that the telemarketer is likely not even qualified to discuss).
3. Pay us $1750 per year and we’ll keep you up there all year. (This is a red flag and most yearly price quotes I’ve heard are typically around this price. Any company charging you a year in advance for SEO type services is giving themselves way too much room for error.)
So, what happens when the company gets you on Google’s first page in 3 weeks using black hat tactics? It’s time to celebrate, right?!! You made it to page one and the company you contracted – well, they’re just a bunch of geniuses!
Think again. More and more, Google is cracking down hard on black hat map optimization tactics in the maps. While Black Hatters may enjoy early results by either hijacking existing listings or loading the titles of listings, or both, the results are usually short lived. Every day, as Google Map Listing consultants, we get calls from small business owners who have essentially been “blacklisted” from Google’s local business listings due to high risk, instant reward practices. Often the affected companies URL, company name, and even their address can be penalized permanently by Google.
So, what is an example of a black hat tactic that works temporarily but will bring the wrath of Google down the road? Here is a prime example:
Las Vegas Bail Bonds (note today is 2/21/2010 – mark your calendar) brings up the following search results:
Black Hat Google Map Listing Practices
Note the Violations of Google Quality Guidelines
Google’s Quality Guidelines, are published by Google here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=107528
Let’s disect the varioius violations in the A listing (as of 2/21/2010 it is “In-n-out Bail Bonds” and this will likely change soon).
Google states in their Guidlines:
- Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
- Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.
- Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.
Note that first set of violations in the A listing:
1. Note the real name of the business is not “In-n-Out Bail Bonds Las Vegas Bail Bonds www.bailbondlasvegas.net”. Breaks Google’s first published rule.
2. Note the address on the web site does not match the address or phone number in Google’s local listing. This is indicative of a hijacked listing. Incidentally, it was reported recently that the first criminal conviction has resulted from this practice and the hijacker is facing 7 years in prison (see: http://blumenthals.com/blog/2009/12/11/nz-florist-facing-7-years-for-hijacking-local-gmaps-listings-of-competitors/)
3. Google states specifically not to put in extraneous keywords that are descriptions in the business name. Adding “Las Vegas Bail Bonds” in the title violates that rule.
4. Google explicitly states in its third rule that a business should not include their URL in the business name.
These blatant violations beg the question: why oh why is this violator at the top of Google’s maps listing when they (along with listing C) have so blatantly violated Google’s quality guidelines?
One of the answers is that Google penalties for quality guidelines are not applied at the point of listing verification (phone or mail registration process for newly listed businesses) unless the listing has been previously incurred a penalty. So in this case as in many others, the Spammy title is temporarily helping the respective companies with keyword loading that results in a ranking advantage over other listings – for the time being.
In time, the listings (A and C) will be penalized and the short lived success will translate into a long term nightmare of repairing the damage of the quick and dirty, “smash and grab” tactic of the company that promised the world, delivered the position using unethical tactics, survived the chargeback period of 60 days (typically the time credit card companies allow to attempt to get money returned for this type of bait and switch fraud), and destroyed the client’s URL for the long term.
In the end, it is critical to understand Google’s guidelines and how specifically your local map listing will be promoted if you use a maps optimization service. What do you need to know before you contract a Google Maps Advertising firm:
- Ask about how they will structure your title tags and how they will promote your listing.
- Ask why they will provide an advantage in your market and the realistic time frame for acquiring a competitive, first page position.
- Ask if they warranty their service and offer you guarantees.
- Ask if they have a month to month option rather than paying for a whole year up front.
- Ask what happens if you lose your competitive position – are you still required to pay?
To further qualify a maps optimization, more tips are listed in this article:
Meanwhile, buyer beware. Google local SEO marketing is truly the wild wild west of modern advertising with huge implications at stake for every local business. Google maps marketing experts are out there so do it is best to do homework before succumbing to the assembly map listing promoters who may appear to deliver results initially but destroy your long term position on Google.
Google Map Listing Pros
- Google Maps Marketing Pros
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