Quality in local search directory results is extremely important because the consequences of bad local search results can be very serious for the user. This is because contact with dubious businesses or individuals found in local search brings those individuals to the user’s door — not just their computer. Consumer alerts from the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau describe some of the issues surrounding inaccurate information in Locksmith listings that illustrate the concerns that relate to any listing that involves a serviceman being called to the door. Most reports of abuses involve over-charging or other types of consumer scams,but there could easily be more serious consequences. Recently, Google announced that they have taken steps to close loopholes that allowed unscrupulous persons to hijack the listings of real businesses, but Google watchers remain skeptical as to how well this will solve the problem.
Local search directories including Google Maps, Yahoo Local and Live Maps are rapidly overtaking more traditional ways of finding local business information. Unlike the old Yellow Pages where all information was specifically submitted and carefully verified, information in online local directories is usually listed for free and gathered from a combination of user submissions and information from other local online directories. Business owners can “claim” their listings and “correct” inaccuracies but the monitoring of this has not been very vigilant and there have been widespread reports of listing hijackings or registering of multiple accounts. In fact, when Google’s Matt Cutts called for ideas on what areas of webspam their team should tackle for 2009, map spam was the second-most popular choice (no-result search results was first).
Google Maps has been the center of much of the concern although there are issues throughout the local directory listing sector of the internet as well. Originally, Google Maps were more careful about their listings. In order to create or claim a listing in Google Maps, a business owner had to obtain a PIN number to access the listing by mail. However, this required Google to actually mail the cards to business owners and Google eventually switched to telephone verifications instead and this has turned out to be not nearly as accurate. Google supported the less strict telephone verifications with bans and/or penalties for businesses that attempted to game the results. Naturally, this only works with the more scrupulous businesses and there have been calls for Google to return to stricter verification methods for their results.
In the meantime, business owners need to be very vigilant about their listings. Local search listings should be monitored regularly (at least once a month). Ensure that all information is still valid and any duplicate listings are removed. Here is information that will help edit or remove information in Google, Yahoo and Live.com.
Since these search engines also cull information from other popular local search directories, it is necessary to make sure that these are up-to-date and accurate. Probably the easiest way to check is to search for your business and review any listings that appear for accuracy. Some important local search directories to monitor include:
Setting alerts with Google, Yahoo and Live.com is a good way to monitor mentions of your site automatically.
Finally, it may also be a good idea to make your customers aware of any scams that they may encounter by alerting them to the existence of the issue. One of the best weapons against phishing scams where users were diverted to phony banking or other financial websites via suspicious e-mails is customer awareness. Local search spam is similar in that hijacked local listings may be tricking your customers in much the same way. Combat map spam with awareness. If you are a member of a national organization, include this information on your site and if there are any alerts or important information about these kinds of issues in your industry or local area, link to them so your customers can be aware.