Claim Your Local Business Profile Now: Avoid Black Hat SEO Exploits

A while back, I wrote an article about the importance of claiming your local business profile.  Today I ran across a situation that made me an even bigger believer.  Welcome to the curious case of asapsmithpro.com and the world of locksmith spam:
I love local search engine optimization because it’s transparent.  The Google Onebox results serve as a wonderful dataset that allows you to see what makes a listing successful.  It’s really quite simple:

  1. Enter the keyword terms into Google
  2. Study what the top listings have done
  3. Do it better

While skimming Craigslist computer gigs today, I came across someone looking to rank for “locksmith” in Chicago.  Initially, I figured locksmith would not be that tough a keyword to rank for, but the surprise I found at the end of this rainbow blew my mind.

Check out the first two listings: hundreds of reviews, web references, etc.  Color me impressed.  At first glance, one might think that someone had done an exceptional job optimizing these profiles.  I know I did, for about 30 seconds – then I clicked thru to the reviews.  I read the first one:

… Keefer’s has proven to always have consistent food and great service. Every year my husband and I go out for “our holiday dinner” around Christmas, and this is the only restaurant my husband will go. We also recommend Keefer’s to … –from citysearch.com »

Interesting.  Must have just pulled the wrong thing.  Google aggregates pentabytes of information from all over the internet; I can certainly forgive little glitches here and there.  On to the next review:

I had a difficutl [sic] time selecting a Steakhouse for my recent trip to Chicago. I wanted to rule out the chains and try to experience something unique to Chicago (though I did consider the original Morton’s). I had read many positive …–from tripadvisor.com »

Okay, something is going on here.  This profile is for a locksmith, but the reviews are for a restaurant.  So I google the address and take a peak at street view.  Sure enough, it is a freestanding restaurant.  Three phone numbers are listed on the profile; I call them all.

The first number is for the locksmith.  The second is the number for Keefer’s Restaurant.  The third is the locksmith again.  Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have stumbled upon a profile hijacking.

Hijacking a profile is not necessarily difficult.  There are thousands, if not millions, of unclaimed profiles out there.  If you are a black hat douchebag, all you have to do is find one of these unclaimed profiles that is already organically popular and click “Add or edit your business.”  Jordans also writes “You can get Google’s LBC bot to call a new number, when you get to the final stage you would not let the call go through then go back and edit the phone number it’s 50/50 shot that Goolge will allow the number number. This happens from glitches in the verification process.”

The hijacker can remove the existing info and replace it with his own keywords – essentially telling Google, “hey, this is my business!”  These profile changes are reflected almost immediately.  As a result, all the authority an organically popular profile has built up can be stolen in a matter of hours.

In this case, Keefer’s was organically popular; many people talked about, reviewed and referenced this restaurant (after all, content is still king).  However, Keefer’s never claimed this profile, which ultimately left it vulnerable to hijacking.  So again, I repeat, claim ALL your local profiles!

Now, you might be asking yourself, how does Google allow this to happen?  Don’t they have safeguards to prevent this sort of thing?  Of course, the answer is “yes.”  Google is way too awesome to allow these shenanigans long term.  Unfortunately, the hijackers have found a way stay one step ahead of the game.

Google verifies every local business listing with either a phone call or a physical mailing verification.  So, if a listing is hijacked, Google will sniff it out eventually through this verification process.  But here’s the catch: when you change a profile’s phone number, Google no longer accepts verification by phone.  Otherwise, anyone could edit a listing, use their own phone number and confirm the listing as valid in a matter of hours.

As a result, Google has no choice but to send you a postcard, which takes 2-3 weeks.  In the mean time, the profile continues to route all of its built up authority to the hijacker.  All the black hat douchebag needs to do to stay ahead of the game is hijack a new profile every couple of weeks.  The sheer volume of unclaimed profiles out there makes this an incredibly easy task.

Why though?  Why stoop to such a shady tactic?  Simple.  Why is SEO in such high demand?  What is the number one ranking on Google worth?  The potential for lead generation from the high volume of search traffic is substantial.  I’m willing to bet these two listings aren’t even real locksmiths.  I am almost certain that this is a marketing company that gets paid by real locksmiths for the leads they are able to generate.  The real locksmiths don’t care.  They are making money and it isn’t even their brand name at stake.

Bottom Line:  These hijackers have absolutely no reason to stop.  Claim your profile and avoid being exploited.

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