Many excellent articles reveal the shady underside of Local Services Ads spam and fake reviews. The Search Engine Roundtable has an article on fake his reviews and another one on Search Engine Land where Len Raleigh talked about location his spam, reviews, names and ads.
I recently learned from a client that Dark Hole is more than just a misleading location or review.
With this discovery, people in the local SEO space will remember what they saw in personal injury and garage door spaces.
Fighting Spam in Local Search
Over the last two years, we’ve seen a spike in location spam and review spam.
There are also large lead generation networks involved, destroying areas with fake profiles, reinforcing them with reviews, and then turning around to get those leads to merchants (usually the same ones they filled in). merchants).
Several people in the local SEO space have banded together to help reduce the amount of spam. And finally, Google did something.
This spam still exists in some form today, but it seems to have moved into other areas that Google isn’t good at or doesn’t want to actively police.
Fellow digital marketer and SEO expert Dennis Yu says:
- “Garage door space spam is just as bad as personal injury law space and is unfair to businesses and consumers. Yes, because your actions can always be sabotaged by bad actors, and it can feel hard to get rid of.”
Spam and Fake Reviews in Google’s Local Services Ads
Local Services Ads (LSA) helps consumers find businesses that Google feels they can trust. Because these companies have passed multiple checks on HR backgrounds, licenses, insurance, etc.
The big problem here is the easily manufactured and seemingly gullible “trust”.
To understand where things go wrong, you need to know how LSA works.
- The entity has undergone a background check and is ‘Google vouched’ or ‘Google vetted’. Here’s Google’s guide on how to qualify:
- Google presents providers from verified providers. The result is his 3 providers returned at the top of the query response (three rows).
- The customer calls the provider to make an appointment and the call is routed through Google. There are also message and reservation options.
- The company called is charged for the lead (usually $25 for garage door space).
- A review request is created or a link is sent. Google does not check reviews. However, it says it will validate the review if it can be associated with a job booked from LSA.
LSA was thought to be a great way to combat spam, but now it seems ready for the dark side.
The two companies highlighted in the screenshot both serve Pasadena and appear to be owned by the same person (based on the following table).
problem? This violates the LSA policy.
My source dug even deeper and saw that the same people own many companies in the area.
The table above shows that the same actor in Local Services Ads owns multiple entities. To clarify this, the third party turned to the license holder of a garage door company in California. These companies were affiliated with LSA at the time of data collection.
Below is the same list of companies with relevant LSAs. (Three have been removed from his LSA at the time of writing.)
- AAA Garage Door Service (deleted)
- Social Garage Door Service (Removed)
- Garage door service in Jordan (removed)
*Affiliated entities are entities with overlapping ownership as identified by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB).
Third-party research indicates that the above companies own multiple entities, some of which are also included in the LSA.
There is a pattern of creating an entity just to participate in an LSA. By examining the bogus entitlement behind his LSA entry in spam, I was able to successfully remove his LSA entry in spam. (More on why it’s important later.)
Now we have multiple entities. what next? What about getting fake reviews?
As Raleigh’s article pointedly pointed out, it’s very easy and cheap to get a “verified” LSA review.
side note: A “validated” LSA review is not actually validated itself. A unique link is generated once the job is complete and can be sent to LSA customers, but you can also distribute a generic LSA review link to get reviews from anyone. Some even left Google Business Profile (GBP) reviews. It’s not very reliable and can be easily gamed.
So how do these entities receive fake, unpurchased reviews? Simple.
- Call the “company” to schedule a fake appointment with a Google Local Service number.
- Please leave a review via the review link after the allotted time.
- The cost of this review is the cost of a call to Google Local Services. If the call is to a local provider listed not in his 3-box, this is about $25 for a “lead”. One company gave him a $4,000 quote for 1,500 reviews.
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How Local Services Ads arbitrage works
LSA arbitrage looks like this:
- Create a licensed entity and register with the Secretary of State without having any employees. Only the documents required to pass the LSA check are required.
- Buy or add fake reviews from fake GBP or LSA ‘verified’ reviews to your profile.
- When prospects come to them, they subcontract the work to unlicensed individuals or companies.
- The lead buyer can show up to work telling them the company has canceled and complete the order. This leaves consumers dealing with unknown individuals or businesses that can never be traced. Consumers are typically overcharged and sold for parts and services they don’t need. (Familiar, right?)
- Create more entities.
- When you start getting bad reviews, turn off ads and turn on new entities.
Google has no knowledge or quality control over the subcontracting between the licensed entity and the external entity that ultimately performs the work. (To be fair, this may be difficult to detect right now, but some mechanisms can be put in place to detect it.)
That said, Google says it will investigate LSA subcontracting allegations and enforce them where appropriate, so please report them if you see them.
Ultimately, what malicious companies can do is through a combination of strategies.
- Control access to customers and fill blue-chip merchants.
- We don’t put limits on poor service or negative consumer experiences.
- Engaging in major activities such as posting fake reviews (which violate US Federal Trade Commission guidelines) and illegal subcontracting to unlicensed entities. Still, they seem to be able to escape without any repercussions for now.
- Engage in GBP fraud.
what did google say?
When I asked an LSA representative about this, I received the following statement from a Google spokesperson:
“We have strict policies in place for Local Services ads to protect people and advertisers from industry-wide abuse and fraud. We are committed to fighting review and are investing heavily in new enforcement systems that help protect both users and providers from abuse.”
At another meeting, I was told that this would be elevated to the highest level of LSA and Google Legal. As such, policy changes may be made here.
For context, Google previously reported that to help people find reliable local information in 2021:
- We blocked or removed over 95 million reviews for policy violations, of which over 60,000 were removed for COVID-related instances.
- We’ve removed over 1 million directly reported reviews.
- Also, as a result of continuous advances in machine learning, the technology and team have blocked or removed over 190 million photos and over 5 million videos that are blurry, low quality, or violate our content policies. bottom.
Why is this LSA arbitrage a warning sign?
There was a certain cycle that started with personal injury and garage door spam. Spam occurs in major states/metropolitan cities such as California, New York, Florida, and Texas.
They stay in these metropolitan areas for about six months, after which they begin to spread across the United States.
actions we can take
Getting Google to take this seriously is like moving mountains and there are many legal hoops to jump through. It can also discourage action just because it’s hard to find ‘evidence’ in a scalable way. And let’s be honest, this is a money making platform.
As for making money, once the bad guys are wiped out, the good merchants will spend as much as possible to get leads.We have customers with weekly budgets of $100,000 or more.
Here are some ways search marketers can take action.
- Prevent repeat abusers from simply creating new entities to work with. Document your evidence and report it to Google.
- Report bogus GBPs and LSAs to the FTC. (Google seeks an opportunity to investigate suspected misconduct before escalating to the FTC).
- Pressure Google to address this issue.
- Raise consumer awareness of these issues through industry outlets.
What you can do with Google
- Part of the LSA’s value to consumers is in knowing that the contractor is genuine and will be there if a problem arises. Google conducts employee background checks. However, background checks cannot be performed against a changing pool of outsourced subcontractors. Google may clarify that subcontracting to another company or individual is against our policy (and in some states, such as California, is against state law). Google may also suspend LSA Profiles reported during the investigation.
- Enhance your ranking algorithm to assess the reliability of the number and rate of reviews received based on internal employees. For example, if your company has one employee, how can you get 1,500 reviews within a month? There may be a problem.
- Hold rogue licensing groups accountable for other companies’ violations.
- Do not allow multiple companies that share ownership to compete for the same territory within the LSA.
should have seen this coming
The Local Services Ads platform is still relatively new.
Marketers should have known this was coming. Given the spam and arbitrage experience with Google Ads, so should Google.
Google could do better. Hopefully, they will take this as a call to action to step up and do the right thing, no matter how difficult it may be.
It costs infrastructure and loses advertising revenue, but the upside is real merchants spending money on real leads. Consumers will ultimately have more trust in the platform. will be It’s a win-win for my book!
Thank you to those in the industry who support our efforts to raise awareness of these issues.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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