You may have heard that creating extra “virtual” Google My Business (GMB) location listings will help your business rank better in local searches for your service areas. After all, if your business operates a warehouse or uninhabited office space on the other side of town, shouldn’t you technically be able to list it as another location for your business?
This is a common misperception among many home services contractors, and it’s a major local SEO mistake. While this practice ostensibly may work in the short term, Google has been cracking down on fake listings in recent years, and you’re not likely to get away with it for long. In fact, Google has been able to identify and remove 70 percent of all fake listings since June 2015. Even more importantly, Google’s penalties for doing so could potentially cost you a boatload of revenue and business.
Understanding Google’s Rules for GMB listings
Google’s “Guidelines for Representing Your Business on Google” are pretty clear on what does and does not qualify as an eligible location for a GMB listing. With the exceptions of ATMs, video-rental kiosks, and express mail dropboxes, the guidelines say, “a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.”
In other words, someone must be available at that location, ready to receive phone calls from customers during normal business hours. Google also has rules about street signage and physical mailing addresses that the company uses to document and verify whether GMB locations are legitimate. All of this means that it’s expressly against Google’s terms of service (ToS) to establish a “virtual” (that is, fake) location for your business.
Fake Listings Will Group You in with “Bad Actors”
Even if you can figure out a way to skirt around Google’s requirements to create and verify a fake Google My Business location, it’s still highly inadvisable. When you create a fake GMB listing, you’re unintentionally placing yourself into some bad company. Here are a few key statistics cited in a recent blog published by the Search Engine Journal:
- 2 out of 5 fake listings consist of bad actors posing as locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors.
- 1 out of 10 fake listings belonged to legitimate businesses which scammers managed to claim ownership of.
Because the stakes are so high, Google cannot afford to distinguish the bad actors from contractors who are just trying to create some extra visibility for their business. The search giant has to protect the integrity of its product.
Considering the thousands of fake listings that were created before it began to crack down, Google’s team has to assume that all fake listings are an attempt to scam or otherwise defraud (whether that’s the intention or not). Subsequently, your fake listing simply isn’t going to stand up scrutiny if and when it gets discovered.
What are the Penalties for Creating a Fake GMB Listing?
If Google catches you creating or managing a fake GMB listing, the fallout can be severe. The company “reserves the right to suspend access to Google My Business or other Google Services to individuals or businesses that violate these guidelines, and may work with law enforcement in the event that the violation is unlawful.”
At best, this means that access to your entire Google My Business account, including your legitimate listings, can be suspended. Your business will cease to appear in the local map pack and in Google Maps, and your reviews and all other information related to your business’ GMB listing will completely disappear from the web.
If Google determines your fake listing was being leveraged as part of a scam or criminal misrepresentation of your business, then the authorities may become involved as well.
Of course, for most home services businesses who are just looking to rank better in a service area on the other side of town, the former scenario is the only one that is applicable. Nonetheless, having a suspended GMB account is just as costly as any other major Google penalty. It means that your business will be much less visible in search, and you’ll see an immediate and drastic decrease in your call volume and site traffic. Meanwhile, your competitors will reap the benefits.
At this point, it’s probably pretty clear that setting up fake satellite locations isn’t a sustainable local search strategy, and this practice probably will do more harm than good. So now we come to the million-dollar question: What legitimate recourse do you have for ranking better in your service area?
Google primarily uses three criteria to determine results: relevance, prominence, and distance. Obviously, you cannot manipulate distance (at least, not without setting up fake locations and violating Google’s ToS in the process). But you can strengthen your local SEO presence in general by focusing on the relevance and prominence aspects inherent to local search results. Here are a few tactics that can help:
- Optimize and Manage Your GMB Listing: Google offers a number of helpful tips to improve your local ranking. These basic steps include entering the correct business data (pay careful attention to your name, address and phone number), verifying your listing, keeping your hours current, managing and responding to reviews, and regularly adding fresh photos. Remember that your GMB listing needs to be actively managed; it’s not a “set-it-and-forget-it” proposition. We suggest reviewing it at least once a month to resolve any suggested edits from customers (or unscrupulous competitors), upload new photos, and monitor any changes in information. This will help to ensure your listing remains relevant.
- Encourage Customers to Leave More Reviews: Positive reviews from customers on Google and other review platforms and business directories will augment your local SEO performance across the board. At Mediagistic, we recommend a two-tiered customer review acquisition strategy that includes training your employees to solicit reviews and using software solutions like Podium, ReviewBuzz, or Mediagistic’s ReputationBuilder. Just remember that your business will need to consistently monitor for and respond to all positive and negative reviews.
- Build Up Directory Citations and Localized Backlinks: There are thousands of business directories on the web, and they play a pivotal role in the local search ecosystem. There are a number of software solutions — Yext, BrightLocal, and our own Mediagistic Powerlistings (MPL) service, among others — that can be used to help build up the density and consistency of citations pointing toward your website. Combine these with a localized outreach strategy for earning backlinks (via leveraging relationships, sponsorships, etc), and you can drastically improve your listing’s online prominence.
- Get Engaged With Your Local Community: According to Google, your offline activities can play a role in how well your listing performs, “Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking.” This means that brands need to be involved with their communities in order to reap the rewards of offline prominence. Mediagistic published an entire blog on this very subject last year, so it might be a good idea to give it a read if you’re looking to maximize all your opportunities.
At the end of the day, there are no quick and easy solutions for enhancing your local SEO performance. By avoiding shortcuts and following best practices, though, you’ll be building a long-term asset for your business and brand.
Local Search Solutions for the Home Services Industry
Your Google My Business listing is the cornerstone of your local search presence. As such, it’s important to play it safe and build it up using every white-hat tactic at your disposal. The last thing you want to do is to sacrifice your long-term search visibility for a short-term boost in the local map pack, which is exactly what’s going to happen if you’re setting up fake listings.
Over the years, Mediagistic’s local SEO team has set up and managed hundreds of Google My Business profiles for dealers in the home services industry. Our holistic internet marketing solutions are designed to improve your local search visibility, and our dedicated team of experts is available to manage every aspect of your local SEO presence. Give us a call or reach out to us via our website to learn how we can help your business grow today.
Eddie Childs is the Inbound Marketing Manager for Mediagistic. His writing has been published by a range of websites and publications including Copypress.com, Jambase.com, NFLSoup.com, FootballNation.com, and Boating World, KnowAtlanta, Men’s Book, Cobb in Focus, TCL, Blush, Charged Electric Vehicles, Business to Business, and Catalyst magazines. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on Linkedin.
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