For better or for worse, you can “buy” your way to the top of Google’s local 3-pack if you have a Google My Business page that already ranks OK, and if you use AdWords, enable location extensions, and meet a few other criteria.
It appears that’s also how you can buy wiggle room to spam the Google Maps results.
I say that for one simple reason: I’ve had one hell of a time getting Google to approve edits to Google My Business pages that spam blatantly and that show in the “paid” 3-pack. So far, Google has approved my edits much less consistently than when I’ve made the same kind of edits to non-advertisers’ listings.
The two kinds of anti-spam edits that Google – in my experience – is most likely to approve are (1) changes to a spammy business name, and (2) the removal of listings that use fake addresses or are for fake businesses. Recently I submitted edits to the keyword-spammy names of 15-20 Google My Business pages that showed up in the paid section right above the local 3-pack.
Google only approved 2 of my changes, and it approved those instantly. The other 15-or-so changes were rejected after only a few hours or by the following night when I checked. Google usually approves more of my edits to business names – I’d estimate about 30-40% – and leaves “pending” for days or weeks the changes it may or may not accept in the end. (For other types of edits I’ve got a good track record, but Google doesn’t approve them as often.) Google made the wrong decision more decisively than usual.
By the way, most of my edits were to moving companies, and to a lesser extent to keyword-spamming dental practices. I found it strange that the only edits Google approved were to the dental practices, and not to the moving companies. The latter is much more notorious for spam because there’s much more spam in it.
My “test” (if you can call it then) was anything but scientific. It’s also a work-in-progress because I’ll continue to nibble at spammy advertisers and non-advertisers alike. If I learn anything new, I’ll update this post, or do a follow-up, or both. There’s a lot I don’t know yet.
So far, the only thing I can say with confidence is that Google doesn’t scrutinize local-pack advertisers more than it scrutinizes businesses that don’t run ads.
Maybe the easiest way to wrap up my quick, in-progress observations is with a quick Q&A:
Q: Is there Google Maps spam in the paid 3-pack results?
Q: Is there more spam or less spam in the advertiser’s slot above the 3-pack?
A: About the same.
Q: Can you get edits approved on AdWords advertisers’ spammy listings?
A: Yes, occasionally.
Q: Is Google as likely to approve an edit to an advertiser’s listing?
A: No, apparently.
Q: If the business stops advertising, is Google more likely to approve the edit?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Does Google hold advertisers to higher standards?
A: Sure doesn’t look that way.
Q: Is Google likely to fix the spam situation in general?
A: Good one.
I’ve never thought the “paid” slot above the 3-pack is inherently bad – as long as it’s clear to searchers that it’s an ad, and as long as it doesn’t gobble up the whole page. AdWords often is a good way for businesses that aren’t ranking well, and the free results often are a good way for businesses that aren’t dominant advertisers. There can be a balance, and I think there should be a balance.
My concern is businesses can spam their way into the 3-pack, flick on AdWords, and possibly be more likely to get away with that spamming. AdWords shouldn’t create even more of a temptation to spam the map.
What’s been your experience in dealing with Google My Business spam by businesses in the “ad” section of the 3-pack?