Why businesses MUST claim and verify their Google business listing – or be hijacked!
With the ease, speed and access we have with technology – there are businesses out there who unfairly use this to their advantage to push out local competition or steal traffic, leads and ultimately sales.
Google Business listings are taking off and becoming a popular way for customers to access information and make a purchase decision.
Recently, a hotel affiliate site has been taking over and hijacking local hotel Google My Business listings by replacing the hotels URL to their own links.
How is this being done?
Without ongoing monitoring of your business listing on Google, this can be done very easily. All without you knowing with your leads are being siphoned & redirected to a competitor.
All one has to do is “suggest edit” in Google Maps to suggest another URL, and in this case – their own, a few tweaks to any other account details, and voila – the edit is approved.
This is much easier to do with unverified listings, as verified listings get an alert or notification every time an edit is pending, made or changed.
Hijacked or Maliciously Edited Listings
Sometimes unethical business competitors might hijack another business’ listing in their same industry and area. They use similar practices to the ones that an abusive travel listings service might or register a duplicate listing and report the real listing as a duplicate.
However, a more common issue is when a scam artist, unlicensed contractor, abusive travel company, former employee, or a malicious competitor simply edits your existing Google My Business listing by replacing correct information with wrong information. You might get an email from Google for some types of edits to your listing, but not always. In fact, anybody can change the address of your business in your listing.
Fake Restaurant and Hotel Listings
Abusive reservation services in the travel and food service industries will claim the Google My Business listing of a real restaurant or hotel. That triggers Google to send a verification postcard to the actual business. A few days later, the abusive listing service calls the actual restaurant or hotel and tricks someone there to tell them the verification PIN on the Google postcard.
Often the person who created the fake listing, claims to be Google to get the needed information. With the PIN, the abusive reservation service easily takes over the Google My Business account of the real business by replacing the actual listing with their newly verified listing. The new listing then links to the abusive listing service where customers can still make restaurant and hotel reservations at the real businesses but must pay a significant transaction or reservation fee.
There is a well documented problem with a third paty agency called BeyondMenu that will gain ownership of the business listing and when the business agrees to their service of helping improve their positions, but the third party then switches out the businesses website for their own cloned version and ordering system, which the restaurant then gets charged a commission on orders. The restaurant thinks this is from their work, not realising it is actually their traffic that they would have gotten for free originally.
Lead Generation Company Listings
Everybody wants to generate leads and grow their business. There’s nothing wrong with that. As an online marketing company, we love to help our clients get more leads so they can grow their business. However, while that kind of lead generation is perfectly fine by Google, what they don’t want are shady lead gen companies dominating the Google search results or Google Maps.
A lead generation company simply creates listings, websites, or ads to get contact information of potential customers that they sell to other businesses. In some industries, lead gen companies have completely taken over the top spots in Google Search and Google Maps, pushing out real companies, many of whom are small local businesses.
Google doesn’t allow lead gen companies to create Google My Business listings, but that still doesn’t stop them. Again, this type of business is different from a marketing company that can create lead generation marketing campaigns that generate leads for your business.
The next one often feeds directly into the above mentioned lead generation company listings
Businesses with Virtual Office, UPS/Mailbox Store Addresses or Apartments
Google doesn’t allow businesses to register a business address that is a virtual office or a UPS or other mailbox store or PO Box. The address on a Google My Business listing must be an address where people can actually come to your business or an address where your employees are during your listed hours of operation. And by employees, they do not mean the employees of a virtual office company or the UPS store. This is a common tactic people think will work if they want to rank in another town, so they set up a fake listing at a virtual office. It’s not how local SEO really works, and it’s against Google’s guidelines.
Believe it or not, there are actually forums where shady business owners and black hat SEO’s congregate to share tips on how to create these kinds of listings. During my research, I found a question from a person asking for advice on how to create a listing for their lead gen website that he made up a fake address for!
Phony Pin Verification Spam
How to avoid the hijacked Google My Business page
According to my reading, the culprits are having the postcards sent to your business. Then, in one case that I read, they are posing as Google and asking for the PIN that they sent to you so that they can help verify the page. Google won’t do this. This is the digital marketing equivalent of giving your Social Security number to someone calling you and saying they are with the IRS. Don’t do it.
Another tactic they may use is to sweet talk the person who answers the phone, saying that the owner has signed up with their service and they need the PIN. Business owners need to make it very clear to all staff members exactly who gets PINs and staff should never give them to anyone else even if it seems legit.
What to do if it happens to you?
The first thing I did was to ask the restaurant owner if she gave this person access and allowed for him to remove mine (and hers!) She assured me that she did not and that I am the only one managing the page for her. Next, I called Google. I was told to request the page access. I do not believe that a company that steals access would have the integrity to give it back. I next contacted Single Platform, with whom I resell for my menu management in the hospitality marketing packages and they made a call to their contact at Google. They were told to request access and then in 7 days we are to check back in with Google for the next step. While I am waiting, I am Facebook messaging with Google My Business reps to speed up the process. I see on the forums that resolution is happening for businesses so that is very promising. I will update this post as things progress!
Google My Business is still susceptible to these types of vulnerabilities. Until Google starts to trust and understand businesses VS users – the quicker these weaknesses will be closed.
How To Fight Spam in Google My Business
Can anyone make edits to your business listing? Yes
Even though it doesn’t seem fair to most business owners, anyone can suggest a change or an edit to your business listing, including your competition. These user-generated changes can be made live on your listing, and you might not even be notified the changes have been made. This includes changing your physical business location.
Are there any guidelines for dealing with Third Parties & Agencies on the GMB platform?
Yes there is and you can learn more about that here
Google My Business Guidelines regarding third parties or authorised representative are as follows:
Authorised representatives must:
- Never claim a business listing without express consent from the business owner.
- Never make false, misleading or unrealistic claims.
- Never use harassing, abusive or untrustworthy tactics with potential or existing customers.
- Always work directly with the business owner to complete verification.
- Always ensure that the business owner understands what Google My Business is and where Google My Business data is used.
- Always keep the business owner informed about what actions the authorised representative will take on the business listing.
- Always follow Guidelines for representing your business on Google. Note that the phone number and website for a listing should always be the single, authoritative phone number and website for the business and be verifiable by the business owner. Website content must be owned and managed by the business owner.
- Always respond to management access requests promptly, and always transfer listing ownership to the business owner immediately upon request. Authorised representatives must, whenever possible, encourage the business owner to create an account, own the listing and add authorised representatives as managers. Learn more about transferring ownership
How can you remove fake reviews on your Google My Business listing?
Answer: Are they truly fake reviews or reviews you simply don’t like? If they’re negative reviews you don’t like or don’t agree with, Google probably won’t remove them.
Read Google’s Review Policies to see if the reviews truly violate Google’s policies. If the review does violate Google’s terms and are truly fake reviews, the first thing you should do is politely respond to the reviewer. This lets everyone who sees the negative review know you care enough to at least address the unhappy “customer” head-on.
You can also flag the review for a manual review by a Google employee.
It is a 3 step process to do this
1 go to the review and look for the 3 dots to the right of the review
2 select the option that is most relevant to your problem
3 wait for the confirmation email from Google my Business confirming your request to flag the review.
You can protect your brand online by taking some precaution
- Verify if someone is actually reaching out from the Google team. Often these fraudulent callers will use language like, “Google specialist” or “calling about or on behalf of Google.” To verify whether a caller is actually calling from Google, you can ask that they send you an email from a Google email account to further verify their identity. This will immediately vet the caller into having to commit an email address, of course, you will have to advise the caller that once you have the email you will be glad to continue the conversation. Anyone who works for Google should be able to send you an email from an @google.com email account.
- Claim your business using Google My Business. This is a free platform that Googleprovidesbusinessowners with to enhance their local online brand visibility. Once you’ve claimed your business and actively manage your business information you will start to see an increase in local visibility online. Here’s how to claim your business.
- Know what’s possible and not possible when it comes to search engine optimisation. There’s no way to request or pay for a better local ranking on Google. Any company that claims to be able to do so may be running a scam so be careful.
- If you get an unwanted robocall, hang up the phone. Do not press any key, even if the voice recording prompts you to in order to speak with a live person or to be taken off the call list.
- Report unwanted callers to Google, and also the FTC or the FCC,
- Use this form to report a third party you believe is violating Google My Business third-party policies.
If the channels above do not help you solve your issues then you can take it to the Google My Business teams on social media links can be found here – via Facebook and Twitter or on the Google My Business Forum.
It is also another reminder as to why businesses must claim and verify their Google Business listings and monitor them on an ongoing basis. The online market will get more competitive as you become more successful and the local aspect of customer acquisition is critical for most businesses to grow. We can help you maximise the benefits of your local search campaigns and assign a dedicated digital marketing specialist to help you get more from your local listing, call today and speak to us about securing your local brand.
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