Google Maps, You Suck

July 17, 2009 by

Travel News & Alerts

Apologies for the rude headline. I am hoping somebody at Google Maps will be offended enough to actually read this post. And maybe then, Google will finally do something about all the spam infecting Google Maps and Google Local Business listings.

On one hand, Google Maps is a great tool. Remember MapQuest? Not so much. That’s because Google came along with a superior mapping application. And then they opened their map API, which introduced the world to the idea of mash-ups. And let’s not forget Google Local and Google Local Business Center, two ways of integrating real-world locations into Google Map results.

So far, so good.  Google makes a kick-ass product (maps) and dominates the world (again).

So why I am so pissed off?

Sometimes I laugh when I read about spammers abusing the Google Local results; here’s a funny one, do a search on “new york locksmith” and have a look at the map results (or click here if you’re lazy). Notice anything fishy? Do you really think there are 73,000+ locksmiths in New York? Probably not. Dig into the results more, there are some funny listings here, you’ll see what I mean.

I never thought too much about it, and then I read (props for the link, Suzann) about a guy who’s making a business as a Google Local spammer. It’s an interesting article, and a scary one.

Why scary? Because he’s basically given out the secret for spamming Google’s map results. Not just a little spamming, a lot of spamming! As in, do you want to own the #1 spot for “payday loans” in every city in America??? Well, now you can. Just click and he’ll tell you how.

I don’t mind spam as long as it’s limited to casinos, payday loans, porn, Viagara, pet food, and lists of local dentists. But when I see spam hitting close to home, I get pissed. And here’s the example that drove me over the edge. Funny enough, they’re using the Mail Boxes Etc strategy outlined above.

Google Maps Spam: I hate it

Do a search on “san diego tours” and this is what you see:

I’m not going to honor the spammer with a link, even a no-follow link, but you can tell what site I’m talking about. They’re a competitor to us (which is fine, competition is a good thing) who is abusing Google Local Business listings to get included at the top of natural search results (not OK).

How do I know this is spam? Well, I know these people don’t have an office in San Diego. Travel is a small world, and you get to know the main players. And trust me, I know they don’t have a real office in San Diego.

Can I prove it? Why yes, I can! Simply take the address (listed in both their paid ad and in the Google Map result) and enter that address into Google Maps itself. Want to guess what you’ll find?

Imagine that. The address matches a Mailboxes Etc. in San Diego. Am I surprised? Not really. This company owns about 1,200 domains and uses a similar strategy in cities across the United States.

Oh well, I guess all is fair in love, war, and travel. I can’t blame these people for trying. It’s Google Maps that ought to be ashamed. If there are entire industries out there dedicated to abusing Google Maps this way, why isn’t Google doing anything about it?

If they don’t deal with this, people will lose faith in the integrity of their search results. And for a company like Google, that’s not a happy prospect. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

-Scott McNeely

PS: I can’t help myself, once you start looking for Google Map spam it’s kind of fun and addictive (like crystal meth, presumably, with similar long-term affects on my mood and facial features). Here’s one. Do a search on “new york helicopter tours” and enjoy these fantastically crappy Google Local results.




13 Responses to “Google Maps, You Suck”

  1. sandiegotoursmetoo Says:

    Agree they are pushing the system, but you also seem to do the same on your “own” site allsandiegotours.com: All San Diego Tours Corporate Office Re: Price Guarantee 4285 N. Rancho Dr., Suite 110 Las Vegas, NV 89130 USA

  2. Scott Mc Says:

    Let me explain the difference. We list a real address and don’t pretend we have a local office. The other site lists a fake Mailboxes Etc address and uses this fake address on its site and in its ppc ads and in its google local listing. You really don’t see a difference?

  3. Scott Mc Says:

    Here’s an interesting take from Searchengineland.com, pointing to more flaws on the current Google Maps model: http://searchengineland.com/time-to-send-google-maps-to-drawing-board-18295

  4. Scott Mc Says:

    OK, props given where props are due. We just discovered that Google has removed the map results for the “new york helicopter tours” example. THANK YOU GOOGLE.

  5. Scott Mc Says:

    OK more props. The spam map listing in the first example, San Diego, is now also removed. (The fake address is still in the PPC ad, but we’ll overlook that for now.) Once again, a big THANK YOU GOOGLE for paying attention to this stuff. It means a lot. I can stop ranting, at least for a little while.

  6. Jeff Lancaster Says:

    Google maps poor useless directions made me miss a job interview. GM says merge onto N. Hwy, I get to N. Hwy to a stop sign I can turn left or right. If I knew which way to go I wouldn’t need directions…how do you merge at a T shaped intersection. GM says turn on … street toward Jupiter st. Again if I knew which direction Jupiter st. was I would be familiar enough with the area to know where I was going. I had to stop twice to ask for directions, told them both I was following GM and they both laughed… last time for me GM. Sucker me once shame on you… but twice!

  7. Rob Says:

    Try Bing!

  8. Rob Says:

    Whats up with giving a link to a “known malicious” site?

  9. Scott Mc Says:

    Hey Rob. Er, what link would that be? Last time I checked, there’s not much SEO value from a link to Mailboxes Etc. in San Diego…

  10. Marla Says:

    Yes Google Maps DO SUCK! Why? The company I work for uses Google maps to calculate my mileage for work. Well, it seems that every 2 weeks google maps “updates” and magically I lose anywhere from 1 to 10 miles per trip. Same route as the month before but suddenly shorter. Are they moving my house closer to my work? Is the earth shrinking? Will I soon go from a house deep in the mountains of PA to a waterfront view of the Atlantic ocean from the very same house? Someone has to put an end to this madness. Is this how Google is making their money, getting a kickback from major companies by lying about miles and routes?

  11. Joshka Says:

    To my reading of the situation, sure, the person is spamming the results. However they’re probably committing fraudulent advertising. I don’t know what the US situation for that is, but in Aus we have a government organisation that is setup to address such issues. Find out what the law says about fraudulent advertising, and complain to the appropriate agency.

  12. Barb Says:

    Funny that I should come across this post. I recently posted on my blog about fake addresses and the phone call I got from a “locksmith” wanting a bunch of listings done for his site. He even ADMITTED the addresses he uses are FAKES. Told him I wouldn’t do it and warned him of the consequences if Google found out. Apparently he was found out and Google took all of his listings down. I also saw complaints against him in the Google forum threads. You can read about my communication with this guy on my blog. You see talk on the Internet about the scam SEO companies, but let me tell you there are scam advertisers calling reputable SEO companies to do their dirt. My bet is these scammy advertisers are the ones making fraudulent complaints against optimization companies who worked like dogs to get top listings for them. Only thing is some advertisers give false information, Google finds out and drops their listings. Then they blame the company who did their listing for them.

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