Dear SEOs: Please stop spamming Google Maps!


I used to think that locksmithing was the industry with the highest percentage of fake local listings on Google. I’m starting to think I was wrong.

It all started a few weeks ago, when I was talking to Dev Basu at Powered By Search. He was asking me why businesses in Mississauga were showing up in the 3-pack when you did a search for “Toronto SEO.”

After all, there are tons of great, well-known SEO companies in Toronto (including his and the one I work for), and shouldn’t these have priority over ones that aren’t even in the same city that was searched?

Why were the results all businesses outside Toronto?

When I started to investigate, I found that Google was pulling listings from Mississauga because of all the fake listings that SEO companies had created. These fake listings had their business name set up with a bunch of keywords as the title. Yes, unfortunately, this strategy works.

Here is a screen shot that shows how the local results looked before I started reporting all the listings:

toronto seo Google Search

Here is a screen shot of how the local results look at the time of writing this article. There is still a ton of spam and keyword stuffing, and I still have a long road ahead of me to clean up the results. At least the businesses listed now are actually in Toronto.

Toronto SEO After

The hard facts

  • Google will re-center the listings based on the ones with the strongest signals. So every time I got a batch of listings removed, the entire order and the listings that showed up changed. By the time you read this, the current results probably won’t match what you see in the picture above, since more will likely have been taken down.
  • I went after stronger-ranking listings first when reporting these issues to Google. I’m a firm believer that cheaters shouldn’t get away with it. What these companies are doing is a direct violation of Google’s guidelines.
  • Out of the 23 listings I’ve reviewed so far, 15 were spam and shouldn’t qualify for a listing. As of writing this, 12 of those have been removed, and three are pending removal.
  • Two were real businesses in Toronto that were inserting keywords into their business name. Both have been corrected.
  • Only six were listings that were set up according to Google My Business guidelines.

The specifics: What guidelines are they breaking?

Following are the most common violations of Google’s guidelines that I encountered while working to clean up these listings:

Keyword stuffing

According to the guidelines:

Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. . . . Adding unnecessary information to your name . . . by including marketing taglines, store codes, special characters, hours or closed/open status, phone numbers, website URLs, service/product information, location/address or directions, or containment information . . . is not permitted.

All but one of the listings that have been removed were guilty of keyword stuffing. The worst offender in this category was the one titled “Toronto Seo – Internet Marketing – Search engine optimization Toront.” They didn’t even have enough space to put the “o” on the last “Toronto!”

Spam 1

Fake addresses

According to the guidelines, “PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable” to use as business addresses in Google My Business. The guidelines also state that “a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.”

The worst offender in this category was an SEO company that listed itself at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. I played dumb and called the Royal York Hotel and asked them if there was an SEO company somewhere in their lobby (since they do have restaurants and novelty shops). The lady told me they have condos with tenants upstairs, and that is most likely how this business was able to verify their listing at this address.

If the condo/home was the legitimate address of the business because they had no office, they would be eligible for a page if they hid their address. However, this business did have an office with a verified listing — it just wasn’t in Toronto (It was in a suburb where they are actually located).

Spam 2

Multiple listings

Google’s guidelines clearly state that business owners should “not create more than one page for each location of your business, either in a single account or multiple accounts.” The guidelines also note that “[s]ervice-area businesses — business that serve customers at their locations — should have one page for the central office.”

The worst offender here was an SEO company that set up listings in several suburbs of Toronto. When I called to ask for directions, the guy on the phone told me that they don’t actually have an office, and they all work remotely. I’m assuming the listings were all set up using the employees’ home addresses.

Spam 3


If you are in the SEO industry, and you are doing this for your business, PLEASE STOP! Dev Basu stated it very well:

I’m sure there are real people behind the typical {keyword1} {keyword2} style business name. If you care about running an enduring business, it pays to work with Google rather than against it. Creating fake listings, pumping them full of keywords for the sole reason of gaming search engines may be fun, but wouldn’t all that time spent have been better invested building a real brand? The caveats are clear, Joy and other RL [real life] editors are clearing up fake listings, so if you’re a spammer, you’re either going to follow the guidelines or have to start all over again.

Please stop giving Google reasons to hate SEOs. Please stop giving them a reason to stop showing the 3-pack for SEO terms. Please stop making our industry more spammed than locksmiths!

Also, for those of you reading this who agree with me and want the spam to die, please start reporting it. Check to see who is breaking Google’s guidelines, and report them on the Google Map Maker forum or Google My Business forum. Let’s show them that the good guys really can win.

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