The internet has increased the amount of competition retailers face, and that includes local businesses. If you do a local search on your industry, you may be surprised by how many companies in your area offer similar services. However, all may not be as it seems when it comes to companies you find on Google My Business. A recent report from the Wall Street Journal suggests there are millions of fake profiles on Google My Business, which may affect the marketing efforts of legitimate companies on the platform.
The Wall Street Journal did some research (subscription required to read full text) that suggests millions of profiles on Google My Business are fake. There study used multiple techniques to find what they considered to be counterfeit businesses, and they found a lot of them. The Wall Street Journal writers also spoke to subject matter experts who said thousands of fake profiles are uploaded every hour.
The research from the Wall Street Journal can be a little misleading. Here’s an example, in the article they note, “A search for plumbers in a swath of New York City found 13 false addresses out of the top 20 Google search results. Only two of the 20 are located where they say and accept customers at their listed addresses, requirements for pushpin listings on Google Maps.”
While they claim that only 10 percent of the top listings are legitimate, it’s more reasonable to say that only 10% were completely accurate. These inaccuracies could be explained by actions by companies that aren’t fraudulent. For example, if a business moved or changed its service area without updating their Google My Business listing, you would see the same sort of errors.
There’s also the real possibility of legitimate businesses using unethical tactics to boost their search rankings. Some companies try to keyword stuff their profiles in an attempt to show up in as many searches as possible. These businesses may list services they don’t provide or say their service area is larger than it really is. And companies with virtual offices are tempted to create fake addresses so they can perform better on Google Map searches.
It’s important to note that there are some actual fake businesses on Google My Business that are added by fraudsters looking to scam people. According to media reports, Google internally referred to some industries as “duress verticals” because the people who need these services are in a vulnerable position that scammers try to exploit.
Google is aware of these problems and has made many efforts to reduce the problems caused by fake or inaccurate listings. Google notes that in the last year: They took down more than 3 million phony business profiles, and more than 90 percent of those business profiles were removed before a user could even see the profile. They also removed more than 250,000 profiles that were reported by users.
In a blog post that addressed the Wall Street Journal article, Google wrote, “It’s a constant balancing act and we’re continually working on new and better ways to fight these scams using a variety of ever-evolving manual and automated systems. But we can’t share too many details about these efforts without running the risk of actually helping scammers find new ways to beat our systems—which defeats the purpose of all the work we do.”.
Some marketers have tried to paint this situation as a massive conspiracy that Google is using to get people to buy more advertising, or at the very least, Google isn’t concerned with solving the problem. This line of thinking doesn’t make sense if you think about it for more than two seconds.
If all the listings on Google My Business are useless, no one will use the platform. Google makes money by providing good results, which gets people to see the ads. Intentionally providing inaccurate or false results would never be in Google’s long term interest. Google doesn’t need to allow fake profiles to get businesses to buy search ads; firms are going to do that anyway. That said, Google does need to do more to address this issue. Anything that hurts consumer confidence in the listings on Google My Business hurts Google too.
For more recent news about Google, read this article on how Google screens potential web pages to use for the snippets in search results.