It's happened before and it will probably happen again. Nearly a year after local search gurus reported on a major hijacking problem with Google Local Business listings, reports are popping up all over again about a fresh crop of hijacked listings. Lisa Meyers made a post last week over at SEO Chicks sharing the problem they ran into when the local listings for one of their clients was hijacked.

...we get back from the Christmas holidays, login to our client Analytics and see that the local business listings traffic has halved!! We went on to search on the top "local keyword terms" on Google and found ALL OUR listings had been replaced! Our exact listing, with all the reviews, pictures, videos - everything was the same, including the phone number BUT the web address was to another website. A website that was loosely related to our client through a third party affiliate scheme. They were ranking for all the terms in the local result that we have been ranking for for months, they had in fact STOLEN our listings, and our hard work.

It's a true nightmare scenario for the hard working small business owner and their SEO. How did it happen? Through a big, gaping hole in Google Local Business Center's security process.

Local Search Listings are Super Important

Local search has been gaining in importance for quite some time, but these days it's a mainstream thing. Google has integrated their local search seven pack (a pairing of a map and a list of seven local listings with URL and phone number) into the main organic search results, superseding even paid listings to become the first thing searchers view. The local listing pack takes up the space of three to four organic listings and pushes the index based search results quite a ways down the page.

Let's take a quick look. Visiting Google and typing in a generic phrase like "pizza" generates a set of standard paid and organic search results like this:

googlocalpizza.jpg

Type in the same search term with a local qualifier (which is exactly what focused searchers are going to do) and suddenly, the results are jam packed with those juicy local listings and the organic listings have been pushed way down the page.

googlocalpizzapack.jpg

The combination of strong visual impact and relevant results means most local searcher users aren't likely to make their way down into those standard organic listings. In other words, if you aren't showing in the local pack, your front door sign might as well read "closed."

So What Can You Do?

If you haven't already verified your local search listing on Google, you need to do so. (Read Miriam Ellis' great post here on Search Engine Guide from last summer showing how to claim your Google Maps listing.)

Once you've done that, (and taken the time to maximize your Google Maps listing with images, coupons, and so on) log in to the Google Local Business Center's reporting feature and take a look around. Now, make plans to do this again on a regular basis, weekly at minimum.

This is where most companies are first spotting the problem. Hijacking is often identified when a sudden drop in traffic is reported in the local business center and the business owner or SEO heads off to investigate the reason. Vigilance is the name of the game and only by checking in on a regular basis can you be certain your listing hasn't been hijacked. (Besides, you should be checking in on a regular basis as part of your online marketing efforts anyway.)

Keeping an eye on your local listing once you've claimed it is your best bet at catching a problem quickly.


January 14, 2010





Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.





Comments(8)

Jennifer, thanks for the heads-up. Another way of keeping track of this would be through Google Analytics by setting up an automatic alert. I might do a bit of research and create a blog post on my site.

Really like your mentioning of checking your local business listing at least once a week. My clients have asked why I check the listing so much and now I can send them your post- for a great explanation as to why. Thanks!

The listing has become a hybrid listing, I'll explain:
When I log in to the Google Local Business Center and click on 'Edit' I see MY correct phone numbers.
When I google on "psycholoog utrecht" (Google Netherlands) I see my listing with THEIR phone numbers.
When I log in to the Google Local Business Center and click on 'View listing' I see THEIR phone numbers.
Then when I click on 'edit this place' I get to see MY phone numbers again... so I can't fix it... and when I could it wouldn't last.
I have, however, just saved the listing hoping it would overwrite their phone numbers. Though it will be temporary I know.

Thanks for covering this Jen, apparently the Googlers are working to fix this hole at the moment :)

@Marita: yes you CAN fix it. This is exactly what happened to our listing, basically they have claimed your listing. What you need to do is reclaim your listing, change the phone number in you Google local business centre to let's say your home number (just for 5 min), when you do that it will prompt the re-verification process and it will ask you to verify via phone etc. Do that, then change it back to your business phone number (you might have to do the re-verification part again, which I know is a pain in the ass but it's worth it). Basically when you have to re-verify your listing it will take away any association with your hijackers listing. Should be back up and running in a few hours. It is a pain to have to be doing this though and Google should be fixing it.

Jennifer, thanks for the warning. I mentioned this at a seminar last week as a problem, but I'll forward your post to the meeting host to re-emphasize the point.
One small correction to your post -- Google, Yahoo, and Bing do not require a location modifier to interpret your search as local. If the search phrase sounds local to the search engine, it will use the location associated with your IP address to serve up the seven pack or three pack. I learned about this change from a Miriam Ellis post last summer.
Thanks again for a timely warning!

I have a question and I hope you are able to answer. I created a local listing and it was doing really well. I noticed that I received a few reviews, and was really happy to see progress. Then I noticed the same day I received another review my listing was shot back to the 20th page from the previous 2nd page. Can reviews damage my listing even though they are positive? Why did this happen to my listing?

This is the very same thing we're facing with our oldest and most favorite client here in Seattle. We managed to take control of the listing but when we tried to change the phone number it locked future changes, didn't even show an AWAITING VERIFICATION message again. a few days later the culprit's listing is showing up again with my client's actual address and THE CULPRITS phone number.

It really is the wild west and it's almost a part time job trying to stay on top of it.

Thanks for the great article!

fL

Hi,

I've been HACKED!!!!... and dont know what to do?

I contacted the hacker and of course he's not answering. I reported it on google business center.. but Im not sure google is run by humans.. I've never got a human response from google I dont think. Can you please help me.

If you click my name you can see my #1 listing hacked!
scott

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Google Local Business Listings are Being Hijacked Again