Is Australia the Wild West of Google My Business?

A seasoned SEO person recently told me that Australia is “the wild west” for Google My Business (GMB).

What did he mean?

He went on to explain that from his estimations, 1 in 5 GMB listings were fakes, put up there by a “lead Generation” businesses, effectively presenting as a real business, attracting leads and then selling those leads onto businesses who need leads.

Naturally, quite a few questions come to mind:

  • Is this true? Are there heaps of fake GMB listings in Australia?
  • Does Google know about these fake listings?
  • What is Google doing about it?
  • How do these fake listings affect legit listings?
  • How will Search Engine Optimisation be affected?

What is a Google My Business Listing?

When you search on Google for a local service, such as a plumber in your suburb, you will see in the search results some ads, then a map with three listings and then some websites below it.

First is the ad, then the three map pack listings.

The ads are there because those businesses paid Google to be there (a.k.a. Google Ads).

Then the map with the three listings is the Google My Business listings.

This is a free directory that Google owns that business owners can submit their business to. Once you submit your business, you must verify it. In Australia this is usually a postcard with a code mailed to your business address to verify that your business is indeed located where you say it is.

Why Does Everyone Want to Show Up in the Map Listing?

The map listings have a few features that make them so effective at driving leads to businesses.

  1. Proximity: Users can see on the map where they are located (unless they register as a “service only” business
  2. Reviews: As seen in the example above, independent reviews are aggregated and show up right next to your business listing.
  3. Business Information: Open hours, photos, FAQs and other business information can show for the three listings that come up.
  4. Ease of Engagement: Local search mostly happens on a phone, and the three GMB listings will typically have an option to call the business then and there.

Given the above reasons, it’s easy to see why people are increasingly using these results to find local services they are looking for, instead of the traditional organic results below them.

Are There Fake Listings?

The short answer is probably yes. I did a quick search and was able to quickly identify many suspect listings across a lot of industries.

Sometimes multiple suburb by suburb business listings that all seemed to have no real people behind them. Just stock images and generic “about us” pages on their website. Combine this with the fact that there are hardly any reviews or information on the listings, and this raises a huge red flag.

A friend of mine found these listings 9 months ago. I couldn’t find any “real people” behind these businesses.

I am not sure if 1 in 5 listings are fake, but there certainly seemed to be a lot of fake listings like these out there. Which leads us to more questions…

Does Google Know About these Fake Listings?

Google as an organisation is aware of the fake listings and various ways they are exploited. Big websites are also picking this up such as this article on The Verge, and this video looks at a report by NBC at the rise of fake listings on GMB in the US.

So while the human beings at Google would be aware, they would be keen to get their system to be smart enough to weed out these fake listings automatically without the need for human intervention.

What is Google Doing About Fake Listings?

Google does have a team of humans who look at the internet. They are called “quality raters” and their job is to monitor if the Google algorithm is working. In their guidelines they are encouraged to look at the images on the listing and the about pages on the related website to see if the business is real. They are told to look for photos of real people and biographical information that is very hard to fake.

The fact that this is in their guidelines indicates they would be trying to implement these within their algorithm too. Highlighting the importance of real images of business owners and biographical information as a key to building algorithmic trust in your local business website.

Interestingly, Google recently updated their guidelines on what you should upload to your GMB listing. They now say that we should only upload genuine images taken at the location of the premise as opposed to stock photos. Here is an excerpt from their guidelines:

Screenshots, stock photos, GIFs, other manually created imagery or imagery taken by other parties should not be uploaded. To be relevant, photos or videos must be taken by users at the location in question. If the primary subject of the content is irrelevant to the location, it may be removed.

How Are Legit Australian Businesses Being Affected?

Lately we have found it hard to get new legitimate businesses verified. We have requested a postcard to be sent, but it seems that the postcard never arrives. In one case we had to build out a number of directory listings and get the new website indexed before the card was sent. This whole process took over 4 months.

Other agencies are reporting similar issues with postcards never being sent. As you can see on this thread, Google provides a request system when situations like this occur. They ask you to make a video explaining your business and showing the signage with your location at the premises.

What You Can Do to Build Trust and Boost Your GMB Rankings

How Google cracks down on these fake listings gives us great insight into what they are looking for. Specifically doing the following things will help your GMB rankings.

  • Original images of your team on your website and GMB listing
  • Biographical information of team members on your website and GMB listing
  • Add original photos of your premises on your GMB listing (some suggest downloading the GMB app, taking photos from your phone, then uploading through the GMB app so that images retain location data).
  • Get your customers to “check in” to your business on their phones
  • Get real customers to review your services

Final Thoughts

So perhaps Australia does deserve the “wild west” tag when it comes to GMB. One thing we are sure of is that Google will be relentlessly trying to find ways to ensure legitimate businesses are prominent in their results and that their system will learn to weed out the fake listings.

James Alviani

James Alviani

James is a Digital Marketing Strategist at Halo Digital. For over 10 years, he has been working with Perth businesses, organisations and companies to generate leads through online search. His specialty is formulating strategic digital solutions from website design, messaging, keyword optimisation, content creation, and link building. He lives with his wife, Briony and four children South of Perth in Western Australia.

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