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No. 1026
October 7th, 2011

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Google Places Spam Filter: Still Not Perfect

Normally I don’t like to call out companies for spamming (I am happy to leave that to Professor Maps), but when it’s

– this egregious
– on this scale
– hurting REAL Local SMB’s instead of one big corporation vs. another

I feel compelled.

It is about as blatant as business title spam gets.  See for yourself:

Clearly this is a verified bulk upload…either Eric Schmidt sits on GEICO’s Board, or the human scrutiny of these verifications is not very tight.

Full disclosure: I consult for a wide number of independent insurance agents around the country, some of whom will probably be impacted positively if GEICO is dinged for this violation.

  • Has it ever been even close to being perfect?

  • asim

    i am a big fan of you David, but in this post i disagree with you. the search term is too narrow. you searched for “geico insurance agent”. why do you expect other insurance companies to show up?
    results are not from single address
    titles are somewhat different from each other(even if bulk uploaded from a single account, giving appropriate information of agents in each area)
    phone#s are different as well

  • @Asim

    The search term was chosen to demonstrate the scale of the abuse NOT to demonstrate a likely user search phrase.

    If you explore these results you will see a number of patterns in the results. Since Geico is a large corporation and owns all of its locations, it is likely that these results are the results of a central process on the part of Geico.

    If Google is going to ding single locations for Business Name Keyword Cramming than they should, applying the same logic to large corporations, ding these results.

  • David I agree.

    @asim I think you may not understand the point David is trying to make.

    David’s search is not for insurance agents generically it’s designed to show only Geico listings, to show all the different instances of keyword stuffing.

    Google Places guidelines say you should use only the official business name. You are not supposed to add extra keywords, city or state to Place page title. MANY users get rejected or suspended for doing exactly what Geico is doing on a massive nationwide scale.

    Geico’s name is simply Geico. It’s not even Geico Insurance and definitely NOT:

    GEICO Local Duluth, GA Insurance Agent
    GEICO Local Greenville, SC Insurance Agent

    Each of the names above has 5 violations – 5 extra keywords that are not allowed.
    The words local, city, state, insurance, agent

    Businesses with multiple locations, agents and franchises should only list with the corporate name. Google knows the location and keyword based on the address and categories. You are not supposed to repeat them in the title.

    So the point is that Geico has an unfair competitive advantage, due to violating the guidelines.

    The other thing is, we often see users in the forum that appear to have been rejected, suspended
    or pending review for having more than 3 letters capitalized.

    My next client listing I think I’ll try AWESOME Local San Diego Ca Cosmetic Dentist to see if it flies. 🙂

  • Hi David

    You are spot on David but let me ask. You say you work on behalf of other insurance agents, how many of those insurance agents listings you have optimised do not have the keywords or locations in the titles?

    I work for various hotel chains in the UK. For one client I had to remove all instances of the locations mentioned in the title. Guess what happened, local listings disappeared from the results while the listings who still had locations in the title still ranked.

    I think this is a wider problem Google has to fix before they can expect people to follow there guidelines properly.

    I love your work by the way!

  • I am sure you are right about this being spam, but it made me think about a client that I had who would have multiple listing for their locations show up in the maps (duplicates and old locations). I would delete the old and duplicates listings and they would pop back up after a few months.

    Have you dealt with this problem?

  • asim

    @Linda So “”the point is that Geico has an unfair competitive advantage, due to violating the guidelines.””

    I agree with you Linda

    At the same zoom in map as given in above image, I searched “Geico”. the results were somewhat same as given above but if I search “insurance agents” on same zoom span. not a single Geico agent.

    Dig a little deeper in this case. someone bulk uploaded these pages without knowing google,s guidlines but only to keep track each listing using different titles, As said by David in the post.

    thanks for clearing up things.

  • Google has made a little progress. After being criticized in the New York Times, Google managed to clean up the Manhattan locksmith listings. Carpet cleaning has as many phony locations as ever, though.

  • I’ve seen this a lot in the insurance world. What do you think is the appropriate response for an insurance agent/broker who is being outranked because of the keyword stuffing? Is it a good idea to report the listing as spam, or just leave it for Google to discover?

  • David, I clicked on the map and it brought up the maps page and the names of the businesses had changed. They almost all read “Geico Insurance”… anyone else see this too? It’s as if this has been edited in this past week. Hmmm.

  • Jeffrey, thanks for the comment. Very interesting. It does look like most of them have been changed. I am still seeing Duluth and Birmingham with the keyword-stuffed business titles. Perhaps there are two different bulk feeds from different areas of corporate, or those two listings have been double-claimed by corporate and an individual agent…

  • @Linda, I’ll disagree slightly…I would say GEICO Insurance would be a perfectly acceptable business name for these locations…although I’m not sure how GEICO gets past the capitalization filter and my clients with three or four partner initials in their name don’t!

  • If you had an insurance agency client with the name XYZ, would you deem it okay for them to have their local listing be XYZ insurance agents, or would you only put in XYZ? I think keyword stuffing to some extent is okay, when it’s not overdone. In some cases, it’s helping users figure out what the place is. For example, a pizza places called “Mama’s” could appropriately name their local listing “Mama’s Pizza” and not get called out for keyword stuffing, right? So what’s the difference?

  • Hi Sarah,

    I think XYZ Insurance is just fine, just not “XYZ Insurance Agent in Hometown, State” !

  • Erik

    I worked with a client for 3 years who has a Branded name that looks like “BrandedName Service Level”. The client still ranks very well and has a good numbers in analytices. Is this capitalization filter checking with other local data bases to see if it really is the true DBA or the NAP matches? OR is this just another “hick up” with Local?

  • Hi David,

    With the amount of press these problems get, it’s crazy that things are still as broken as they are. I have a competitor who has a keyword-stuffed business name and 4 custom categories (one legit) that are all variations of service/city/state. Top 5 in places for the past couple of years and never called on the carpet. I would never report the listing or use the community edit feature, but can’t figure out why he hasn’t had his listed flagged or suspended.

  • Great post and comments. I am not going to even start with the similar issues that I see in the dental industry. So for now I will scream a little, stomp my feet and hope that it gets better!

  • This form of title spam is so prevalent. It hurts slot of companies in my industry (water damage) as well. We’ve tried the incorrect info report on the places page, but still no correction after 8 months. My suggestion to Google would be is if the category term broad matches any of the words in the title, it would trigger a manual review. But we all know that will never happen 🙁

  • Obviously it’s never going to be perfect, but you are right, this does seem a little blatant. Keyword stuffing is something that should probably be picked up on, especially on this scale. Those entries should just be “Geico” or something very similar. That is the purpose of the local search

  • The problem with Google’s change of or actual implementation of a business guideline it is only applied to new or edited accounts which really upsets users who are caught out at those times. I understand the overhead, and loss of income, in resources to go and apply these retrospectively.

    I have been pointing out for a long time that there would be no issue with what is in a business name if Google just matched categories to the Category fields and location to the Address fields at search time. And this could be applied to Description with similar issues.

    As Google says ‘use the real world, registered, business name in Places. Of course a new business who has done due diligence will choose a good search engine friendly name. I argue that old businesses with business names which worked for good old print advertising should have the leeway to add one category as well.

  • David you are probably the only person which decided to cover this topic. I own a small business and we constantly have problems with this :/ It’s not regulated and I really appreciate when someone like you points this out… Best wishes from Croatia 🙂 Regards.