Spam on Google Maps is big business.  Ranking competition is fierce for those businesses where every click or call can mean thousands of dollars.  The incentives exist for business owners and agencies to try every tactic imaginable to outrank the competition.  Some of these tactics, however, fall outside of the Google Maps terms of service.

When someone asks "should I do this?" on Google Maps, the simplest litmus test goes back to user experience.  Would a user, trying to drive out to your location, have a good experience?

When put into that context, many frequently used ranking tactics don't look very good. An easy example is that of a law firm that wants to expand their reach on Google Maps by opening a second location inside of a Davinci or Regus virtual office.  While it's possible to have a legitimate listing inside one of these locations, they often put more emphasis on the "virtual" than the "office" part – they sometimes only provide a mailing address.

A virtual office be just that – "virtual." No one from the company may be on site.

When searching for a law firm, you also probably don't expect to be visiting someone's house instead of an office.  Many lawyers, however, will use a home address if their operation is too small to afford an office.  

Some "rank and rent" scammers also use residential addresses as an easy way to establish a physical presence in a city they've never visited.

A residential address used to represent a law firm.

Vacant home or office locations are also another interesting phenomenon on Google Maps. USPS classifies an address as vacant if mail delivery has been stopped either intentionally, or because no mail has been picked up for over 90 days.  

These vacant addresses pop up surprisingly often in search results, so it's an interesting tactic to keep an eye on.

Street view reveals that the address is vacant.

How often are these spam tactics used?

I've spent a lot of time working on the GMB Scanner extension for Chrome, so map spam is something near and dear to me, but I'd never done a study of how prevalent bad GMB listings are on Google Maps until now.

My survey has a narrow focus on the term "personal injury", and it covers the 30 largest cities in the United States.  To be precise, a Map search was done from the center of every city, with each search going through three pages of results.  Every listing was scanned for virtual office usage, residential addresses, or vacant lots.

Here are some quick stats on the survey.

  • 1,854 GMB listings were analyzed in total
  • 180 listings were flagged as inside a virtual office location
  • 107 listings were flagged as using a residential address
  • 39 listings were marked as vacant according to USPS
  • 17.5% of listings had one of the above issues (There may be some overlap in issues, so this figure is not as precise as it could be).

Graphs and charts are always more fun, so here's the same data as a stacked bar chart!

Here we see what turned up in each search position, across the 30 cities that were sampled. In first position, for example, we have 2 virtual offices, 2 residential addresses, and 1 vacant lot that were found.

Finding GMB spam near you

You can uncover various spam techniques, such as virtual offices, by going through each listing and Googling the address.  If it's a virtual office, odds are the search will turn up a page for one of the major virtual office providers such as Regus or Davinci.  

Likewise, residential addresses can be uncovered with some Street View sleuthing.  

If you're interested in speeding up this process, you can try out the GMB Scanner extension for Chrome.  The free edition highlights virtual offices, while the "pay per usage" version will show additional issues, like residential or vacant addresses.  No more digging into each listing – the extension makes suspicious listings pop out.