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:
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.
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.
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.
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