I recently wrote a piece about how to bite back at local scam businesses over at Natural Search Blog, but one of the more difficult variety of scams are the faux local business listings that Google Places fights. And, ever since people first began scamming listing rankings in print yellow pages, the worst sector affected is that of Locksmiths.
Quite a number of locksmith listings are for business locations which do not exist or do not have locksmiths’ offices there. Some listings are blatent — they are locations where there are no businesses at all — while others are more subtle, being shopping centers or office buildings which have no locksmith shops in them.
Why do the scammers do this? Well, they figured out that in order to have placement in local search results, they needed to have local business addresses with which to register. You might ask yourself why a company would want a business address in a place where they do not have an office or a store, and the answer is that they’re still able to conduct some sort of business with this arrangement. Some of the companies involved are referral services, taking a cut for each phone call they get then passing the job over to the actual local locksmiths. Others are more sinister, being unlicensed locksmiths who need to cloak their actual whereabouts, as well as full-blown criminals who may change your locks and then extort you for a much higher amount to give you the keys afterward. There’s indication that Russian mafia may be involved in a concerted effort at using this as a protection racket scheme!
Google has been fighting the problem for quite some time (along with many other companies), but the issues persist.
Meanwhile, I’ve had complaints about it from a number of bona fide locksmiths who can’t gain tracking in local listings against the bad guys. Some of these real locksmiths even get lured into attempting to use the same blackhat tactics as the bad guys, attempting to fight fire with fire. It’s very frustrating to them to see others swooping in to take the local business from them, after they may have been operating successfully for decades.
The Associated Locksmiths of America, a national organization, has gotten involved, attempting to represent the locksmiths’ local search issues in a more concerted effort to bring attention to the proliferation of the bad guys as well as pointing out how the well-established, upstanding guys are struggling with the local rankings.
Another casualty in the faux listing wars in local search are businesses with PO Box addresses. As I’ve pointed out in articles, some of these are very real businesses which Google Places sandbags as a means of trying to fight the false listing problem.
It’s not clear how this war is going to turn out. As things stand, Google is struggling to find a solution that can yank the false listings. They’re mainly just trying to make it inconvenient and unprofitable for people to generate scam listings. But, the innocent casualties are the small businesses who cannot really figure out how to achieve proper representation for their companies in local results, and can’t really afford a professional to help them out. These folks continue to be left out in the cold.
It seems unfair for Google to punish the innocent along with the guilty — it’s an unAmerican concept! Yet, that seems to be what’s happening in the case of address-less businesses.