Hotel Hijacking Map Spam or Does Google Suck?

Posted in Maps

south-pier-inn-picture

Go ahead, ignore case studies regarding various Google map spam vectors. I can tell you it’s devastating to see a friend’s GoogleMaps listing wrong. If the map has not been hijacked, then Google sucks.

In searching for Duluth hotels, in preparation for next week’s business visitors, I noticed that our good friends photo-of-south-pier-inn indexed prominently in Google maps listings. The only problem was that the website had been changed to South Pier Inn!

Click through on a link that reads photo-of-south-pier-inn and the click leads to South Pier Inn. OMGWTF! That’s where I turn things over to our good friend Mike Blumenthal who publishes Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search.

Mike indicated that, while there have been various vectors available to spam Google maps over time, nearly all are rooted in  spammers, Google’s corrupted data or some combination thereof. Right now the Wiki nature of Map records leaves avenues open to spammers and Google does make mistakes.

We know all about Google’s care of organic consumers, even though there’s no customer support department. Also it’s not a far leap to extrapolate the drastic downturn in traffic and revenue wrong maps can cause. Here’s some resources to start your journey into protecting yourself and we defer to Mr. Blumenthal.

HIJACKED!! Entire Town of York Maine moved 20 miles North!!! Google Maps Help April 10, 2009

Google Maps: Whitehouse Listing most recent Hijack Victim April 1, 2009, blumenthals.com

Reporting hijacking of our google map listing - Maps Help Google Maps Help, February 12, 2009

Google’s Hypocrisy: Search Spam and Map Spam SmallBusinessSEM November 4, 2008

Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me) October 30th 2008

Problems Continue With Google Local Business Listings SearchEngineLand, October 14, 2008

Don’t let somebody hijack your Google listing Merchant Circle Blog, August 21, 2008

Google Mapspam Brand Hijacking? July 14th, 2008, LocalSEOGuide

Google Maps Hijack Caused By Google Algorithm: Google Adds Report Map Feature SEORoundTable February 13, 2007

  • Pat

    You may want to talk to David Mihm about this, he has had some pretty detailed discussions with Google about this, maybe we can get him to do a post about it. I can tell you that we have received feedback about businesses that discovered they their listings were highjacked several times.
    Googe seems to believe the wisdom of the masses but in the arena of a persons business and how it is represented on the web I think they should give a bit more credence to the business owners than they currently do. Until then business owners can only make sure they take the time to claim their businesses, and to keep an eye on it by checking it occasionally or use getlisted.org to track their business over the main search portals.

  • David Mihm

    Marty, thanks for doing your part to highlight the real, on-the-ground damage that can be caused by Mapspam. The Google Maps team knows where we as Local SEO’s stand on the issue of community edits. Mike is the true expert on this and has been following closer than anyone, and has done a great job of holding Google’s feet to the fire.

    The interesting thing about this example is that I’m not even sure if it’s Mapspam or just a bizarrely conflated record — check out

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=hotels+duluth+mn&fb=1&split=1&gl=us&view=text&pcsi=8938063423540300717,2&ei=hePtSbntM5nejAOm2YCHAQ&latlng=8938063423540300717&dtab=1&sll=0.000000,0.000000&sspn=0.000000,0.000000&oi=md_structdata&sa=X

    which shows TWO separate websites and business details, both of which have supposedly been “provided by the business owner”

    Meanwhile, the South Pier Inn’s standalone listing says it’s unverified:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&sll=0.000000,0.000000&view=text&hl=en&gl=us&q=south+pier+inn&btnG=Search+Maps

    Marty, are the phone numbers correct for your friend’s business?

  • Marty Weintraub

    David, the phone numbers are correct. Blumenthal has a theory, I hope he chimes in here.

  • Todd Mintz

    It’s hard to believe that a hotel would deliberately do this to another hotel since the reprecussions of being caught would be so severe (and the likelihood of being caught so high). Has anyone tried to contact the South Pier Inn?

  • Stever

    I’m with David, this might be two listings getting mashed together, not outright spam.

    Look at the phone numbers, the listing shows numbers from both websites. information provided by owner is showing from both websites, photos, showing pics of both hotels and they are from business owner, web pages shows references from both websites at top of list. Even inside coupons, there is a coupon for each hotel.

    Interestingly the South Pier Inn website has a very different address on it, though two of its phone numbers match.

    My question is, what does the business owner see when they log into their listing in the Local Business Center? Just the one set of data, not the other? That would confirm a conflated listing.

  • Mike Blumenthal

    I have just written up a post on the issue. While it is conceivable that it is a type of record merging, it has all of the attributes that was characteristic of the Locksmith Hijackings. If it is a merge then it is a new, much more sever example as the similarity between the two businesses is so very, very slim. Historically these merges have taken place due to a shared address, a shared phone number or a share website. None of those appear in this case. Regardless the end affect on the business is huge! And Google needs to get it squared away.

  • MiriamEllis

    Thanks for writing this up, Marty. The more attention brought to the serious problems with Google’s local index, the better. As Mike says in his article, it does look more like hijacking than merging, and this makes the landscape of local competition turn suddenly dark for business owners. Errors in Google’s system combined with dyed-in-the-wool criminals taking malicious action are making doing business on the web extremely risky and scary for local business owners, and it just shouldn’t be this way. Glad to see you writing about this and joining the call for bringing justice and fair practices back to the local business world.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Mike @ MiriamEllis, Thanks for your comments. I notice the the hue and cry was not quite enough to get Google to fix it today. We appreciate your insight, support and friendship.

  • Ryan

    While this wouldnt fix the issue raised in this post, half of the spam (not hijacking), could be resolved by weighting *verified* listings above non verified. Silly Google.

  • Pavlicko

    Glad this is starting to get some good attention. I’ve been seeing this more and more – not just address changes, but information like – ” no longer in business ” or ” closed “, etc. somehow being placed in google map listings, most of the time completely unknown to the business. Google needs to get their crap together.

  • AnneS

    The real owner sees the correct information that they entered into their LBC when they log in. The South Pier Inn owner has been directly contacted and they are “working” on it from their end. As far as claiming the record, the real owner appears to have done just that when they view their LBC record.

  • InternetStrategist

    This issue affects more than hotels. A mobile mechanic I used noticed a sudden very noticeable decrease in business and found out his Google listings including the multiple outstanding reviews he had were hijacked by another mechanic. Google made him wait for a postcard to confirm he was the true business owner and did restore his reviews and listing.

    A separate but related issue is the inaccuracy of the maps databases. All businesses need to verify their map location – especially those in rural areas. The database Google, Yelp and some other Local Search businesses use is highly inaccurate. It is very common for addresses to be listed in the wrong city, wrong zip code, or wrong map location.

  • SouthPier

    As the individual responsible for maintaining South Pier Inn’s Google Maps listing, this was tremendously perplexing, especially since it took weeks before it was finally corrected. Even submitting error reports electronically to Google did not elicit a fast response. Everything on our Local Business Center console appeared correct, and even making some changes to try and “shake loose” the combined listing yielded no results. I spoke with the Inn on Lake Superior and they had taken similar measures. It was not until a Google employee became aware of the issue thanks to an individual who posted a blog on Google with the problem. And yes, as InternetStrategist pointed out, this issue seems to have been encountered by many other types of businesses as well. Fortunately, the issue has been corrected at this point; I’d hate to know the guests we lost because of this vector problem.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @SouthPier: Right, I feel your pain. Actually I was the one who discovered the Inn on Lake Superior map anomaly and engaged Mike Blumenthal, who is literally the very best. He’s the “individual” that posted to another blog and it was at our urging.

      Mike brought it to Google. As you know, that case study was then chronicled in a number of other blogs, publications, etc… Since I had access to Inn on Lake Superior’s analytics, I have personal knowledge of of the financial implications of the mixed up records to them. Remember, for weeks, the mix up pointed IOLS traffic to your site. The mix up in the other direction only took place since I got it reported. For weeks, SPI received the benefit. Trust me friend, your client was not the only one seriously damaged by Google’s weak maps programs. Thanks for stopping by. We should have coffee next time you’re in Duluth. We’re right in Canal Park :).

  • Scott Thomas

    I had a merged listing problem, but it has now mushroomed into a delisting (details at http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/maps/thread?tid=2a5577cf030b8563&hl=en). Since I manage both merged domains, an SEO recommended changing the merged one (less important domain) to the primary one. That was fine, but when I took the next step she recommended, deleting the duplicate, my listing vanished from local listings. When I re-enabled it, all my listings disappeared from the SERPs as well.

    Since I doubt the Gov’t will bail me out, if Google doesn’t fix this fast, we’ll be in bankruptcy.