The New York Timesâ€™ interest in the underbelly of SEO continues today with an article that details Googleâ€™s struggle to fight locksmith spam in Google Places. While not as deep as the Timesâ€™ recent articles on J.C. Penneyâ€™s SEO tactics and floral industry SEO, it nevertheless casts Google â€” again â€” as unable to keep up with the tide of SEO spam.
Todayâ€™s article covers locksmith spam in Seattle â€” more specifically, the search query â€œemergency locksmith Seattle.â€ The image above shows what that search looks like now, but when the article was written, the Times says that seven local listings were showing â€” and none of them were actually locksmiths based in Seattle.
They are phone banks, typically set up in far-off places, often in other countries. Call them and theyâ€™ll dispatch a locksmith. Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate.
The Times explains that they create fake listings and/or use the real addresses of other entities (like government buildings) to get around Googleâ€™s local listing guidelines, then get insane amounts of local citations/references to improve their rankings.
Frankly, none of this is new to anyone whoâ€™s been following the local search industry. The image at right is from Despite Fixes, Google Maps Still Vulnerable To Spam â€” a 2009 article here on Search Engine Land â€” and shows a Google map result for locksmiths in New York City. Here are a few other articles weâ€™ve written over the years that mention Googleâ€™s locksmith spam problem:
- Searching For Small Businesses, Coming Up Frustrated (October 2008)
- Google Believes It Has Ended (Some) Hijacked Listings In Google Maps (February 2009)
- Investigating Google Places Hypocrisy For Address-less Businesses (January 2011)
When contacted about the locksmith spam issues, Googleâ€™s Gabriel Stricker gave this statement to the Times:
Weâ€™re aware of the gaming practices happening in the locksmith industry â€” practices which long predate Google and have affected the Yellow Pages for decades. Weâ€™ve implemented several measures to combat this issue, including improving our spam-detection algorithms and working with the locksmith industry to find solutions.
Although the Timesâ€™ article doesnâ€™t reveal anything new, local search watchers and, more importantly, real local locksmiths can hope that the added exposure compels Google to finally solve this long-running problem.