December 22, 2014

More Trouble In Google’s Local Biz Center

Another week brings some more troubling news for small business owners and the state of their Google Local Business listings.  There are two somewhat concerning stories that have sprung up as of late that you should be aware of. If only so you can make sure you haven’t been affected.

Here’s a look at both.

Google Sends Potential Competitors Your Analytics

Late last week many small business owners and those that work with them began receiving emails about their local business results for the month of November. The emails contained  information about where the business ranked in Google’s local index, how many users clicked on the listing, how many users clicked through to the Web site, how many clicked on ‘more info’, and how many went looking for driving directions. This is all super important information for any small business owner to know and can be used to make sensitive decisions. Problem is, business owners were getting emails about businesses they had nothing to do with. Basically, they were getting other people’s site details. And if you’re getting someone else’s analytics data, well then, who’s getting yours?

Obviously, small business owners were concerned and a little upset. Mike Blumenthal covered the situation, as did search marketer David Dalka, Search Engine Roundtable and The Register. When asked, Google responded that it was “a glitch” and that less than one percent of Local Business Center users had been sent the affected emails. Of course, we don’t really know how many people “one percent” really accounts for.  It’s scary when you don’t know who has access to your information. It’s also potentially dangerous should it fall into the wrong hands.

Google Lets Competitors Hijack Your Listings

Just as small business owners were wrapping their heads around their private information being leaked, search marketer Lisa Myers showed how easy it is for a competitor to hijack your listing in Google Local Business. And she knows how easy it is because she watched it happen to one of her clients.

In her post, Lisa breaks down the exact steps that a competitor would need in order to hijack your listing. Scary is that it doesn’t seem that difficult. Just create a new listing with someone else’s company name but your address, claim and merge the listings, and then verify it via the mail. Once that’s done, any time someone searches for you, instead of seeing your real listing, they’ll see the one for your competitor and be directed there.  And just like that, your search traffic is gone. It’s just that easy and so far Google doesn’t seem to have a solution.

I’m not sure what the “fix” is for either of the issues discussed (Google hasn’t even addressed the latter). To be honest, I don’t think there is one for now. It’s disheartening to see so many issues with spam and hijacking (which sometimes happens accidentally) coming out of the engine’s local indexes with no real action taken.  I often wonder if Google’s policy of no response would be the same if it were bigger brands feeling the impact. Regardless, as a small business owner the best you can do is to be vigilant about monitoring your local listings and reporting anything that looks weird.  We’re louder in numbers.

23 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

23 Reactions

  1. It looks like Google has several issues to take care of nowadays. The real-time search has been criticized by people, e.g., Strike Point at Webmasterradio.fm and a “Mozilla exec suggests Firefox users move to Bing, cites Google privacy stance.” http://bit.ly/55PCZj

  2. While I can be understanding of a problem now and then (though even small errors are hugely multiplied because of their size) I have to wonder about the hijacking issue because it is such a simple hack. Google has smart people, so why didn’t someone 1)see the vulnerability and 2)think through a solution?

  3. I have had nothing but problems with LBC, which I manage for some of my clients. The data is inaccurate and inconsistent.

    One of the issues I discovered is that Google might have already pulled erroneous data from yellowpages/superpages before you actually claimed your business in LBC. For example, the default (actually first on the list) category is airplane leasing. Even though we claimed my client’s business and updated the information in LBC, it was still pulling the airplane leasing category from yellowpages/superpages. This resulted in bogus/unqualified traffic and showing up on page 3 for relevant searches – “office space” or “commercial real estate”.

    Google needs to address these issues ASAP.

  4. Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for mentioning the blogpost about the Google LBL hijacking issues. It’s shocking that it’s so easy actually but thanks to everyone helping me spread the word I believe we might have got Google’s attention (I hope). There is a way to FIX it though, which we managed to do. If someone hijacks your listing through claiming your listings as theirs what you need to do is trigger the verification process again. So if you change your phone number to a different number then that will trigger the verification process (i.e Google phones you with a new PIN number) then you have to change it back to your old number again (so basically you have to verify twice). That basically takes the association off with the hijackers, if that makes sense? But of course this is a BIG pain in the ass to do and in our instance that meant we had to phone our clients call centre and make ALL of the people in the call centre aware of the call from Google so that whoever answered the phone when Googles automated call kicked in would note down the PIN number and get back to us = pain in the backside :)

  5. Robert: It’s actually really scary that Google has left such gaping holes for people to get through. I can’t imagine that this would ever be “okay” or “just a glitch” if it were impacting mainstream results and not just local. But when it’s small business owners who are less likely to complain, it feels like things just get swept under the rug.

    John: I definitely agree…I just don’t think they will.

  6. Hey Lisa, Thanks for swinging by. ;)

    You did a great job explaining how to fix it once it happens. But there doesn’t seem to be a fix to *prevent* it from happening, which is a little sad on Google’s part. Considering how easy it is for someone to hijack your listing, you’d think Google would have found a way to patch that up by now. But doesn’t seem like they have.

    Again, thanks for sharing your experience with everyone. You may have given them nightmares but I think it was worth it. ;)

  7. Lisa, I think you got it absolutely right when you ended with “We’re louder in numbers.” That’s the key and it’s also the thing that will bring about the necessary change that needs to be made.

    Robert, I second your thoughts, “Google has smart people, so why didn’t someone 1.) see the vulnerability and 2.) think through a solution?” You do have to wonder, don’t you? Or maybe it’s a case of . . . they can fix it, but not many were talking or complaining about it so it didn’t attract their focus?

    Which leads me right back to Lisa’s ending comments again . . .”We’re louder in numbers.”

  8. The first step is for all of us to complete the Google Local Business Center survey. You can either log into your account and click on the link at the top of the page or follow this link:

    https://survey.googleratings.com/wix/p2935530.aspx?hl=en-US&gl=US

  9. These problems will only get worse and more wide spread while all of our information is within one large entity. One way to solve this problem would be to not utilize the large Search Engines for all your advertising needs. If you signup with a small well known Business search engine like http://www.bizflick.com your listing will still be available for the public to view and will be found by the many search engines like google, but your company will not be open to having all your data stolen.

    John

  10. As a small business owner using Google’s local business listing, this article is rather concerning. Thanks for raising the issues, and consequently our awareness of the issues.

  11. Thanks for the heads up on this. I’m sure they will get around to fixing it asap. Until then, I’ll back away from this.

  12. Google Lets Competitors Hijack Your Listings, Oh!!! that is shocking & even more disappointment is Google doesn’t seem to have a solution for this problem

  13. Thanks – interesting that Google is advertising the local listing with a ferver…and yet allowing such slack security around them. Maybe this means the wrong local businesses will get the decals to hang in the shop window :-)
    Is it just me, or does it seemt that there are very limited catagories for folks to list under with the GLL? One of my clients thermoforms plastic packaging. There was nothing even CLOSE!
    Still…I like Google. A Lot. :-) (just in case the spiders want to bite in retaliation!

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