Well, according to the most recent survey on local search ranking factors, conducting false competition audits moved from the 10th to the 5th most impactful action you could take. When false competition is competing against you, removing it has a significant impact to your ranks in Google Maps.
If your a business owner who has a marketing agency, ask them if their reporting false competition for you. And trust but verify. Ask them for a report on what they have seen and removed. According to a Bright Local study, most agencies don't have a plan in place for one of the most powerful ways to gain marketshare in Google Maps.
Before we understand the value of a false competition audit, we need to understand how ranks work in Google Maps. Years ago, the best way to gauge your ranks in Google Maps was a keyword report. A keyword report looks like the following:
This report works for organic search but falls short for Google Maps. The problem is, in Google Maps, you need to know where you hold these ranks. A keyword report won’t tell you if you are 2nd in Maps for Fast Food within 100 feet of your office, 2 blocks around our office, or for the entire city. You might assume it's for the entire city, but this is rarely true.
The solution uses a tool like Local Falcon to run a grid scan. The scan below is a 9-mile by 9-mile area and each node represents 1 mile. We can see while we rank 2nd in maps for Fast Food in some places, we don’t everywhere. This grid scan is equivalent to if you drove around your town and ran the same search over and over. The results will slightly change because distance, in correlation to your location, is factored in.
Now that we understand the importance of using a grid scan to see your ranks in Google Maps, let's dive into how damaging false competition can be. If the top 3 results are the most important positions, it would only take 3 false competing listings in front of your own, to prevent you from being in the map pack in any given spot for any given keyword.
For every false competitor removed, you free up market share for you to instantly obtain. If you were 4th in maps, and you identified and removed 3 false competitors in front of you, you would now be 1st in maps before any additional marketing efforts. But the value goes even deeper than that. A single false competitor removed means you just gained market share in every combination of keywords that the listing ever competed against you for.
Now that we understand the value of false competition audits, let's discuss indicators to look for when conducting a false competition audit. We never truly know if a listing is fake, old, or keyword stuffed, but through a list of indicators and pattern recognition, we can make strong assumptions. Based on these indicators and assumptions, we then make a suggestion to Google to review our report. Google will then agree or disagree with the report.
In other words, you should have a strong intent of being right about your case. But you won’t get in trouble being wrong. With that being said, don’t try to report real businesses. Not only will Google ignore your bad reports, but your trust score will be lowered and eventually, Google will ignore your good reports also.
There are three main groups of false competition you should be aware of.
1: Fake Listings
2: Old Listings
3: Keyword Stuffed Listings
While the list of indicators below might look long and intimidating, a skilled auditor can look at a listing and in about 30 seconds make a safe determination. Remember, no one indicator is the magic bullet to identify false competition. But using a combination of indicators will help you make quick judgment calls.
Let's start with Fake Listings.
The first important indicator is,
What does your gut instinct tell you?
Is it normal for a laundromat listing to be in a strip mall?
Yes. Is it normal for a nursing home listing to be in a strip mall? No
Odds are’ you are right and this is enough evidence to make a report.
The next indicator is a lack of reviews.
Odds are, if the business is legitimate, their going to have at least a few reviews. The odds of a business having no reviews but also being a legitimate business is low enough to make having no reviews an indicator.
The name of the business is strange
If you saw a law firm called Bob’s Law Firm, we could probably agree the name looks normal. If you saw a listing called Car Accident Attorney Near Me, this is less normal and would be considered an indicator to report the listing. Once again, we never truly know, maybe the name is under a DBA, but we cant tell a listing is under a DBA so its worth the effort of submitting a report.
Does the listing show a website link?
Virtually every business has a website. And if the business doesn’t have a website, they would at least use a social media page in place of one. So the odds of a business now having any website at all becomes an indicator the listing could be fake.
What photos are being used?
Are there any photos at all? At the very least a business is going to have a handful of photos. They will usually relate to their logo or what they do. But the odds of having no photos at all and being a legitimate business are low. Especially when businesses know the value of fully filling out their profile and that anyone in the world can upload images to your profile, odds are, having no images makes it a flag for being a fake listing.
Can you see a trend between different listings and the photos used?
This is an indicator that will be hard to use at first. But the more you stare at your competition, you might begin to see completely different listings using the same images. You can use this to your advantage and use this information as an indicator.
Does it make sense for an address to be showing on the listing?
In Google Maps, if an address is being shown, the intent is, anyone can drive to that address and be serviced by that business. If an address is hidden, the intent is, anyone can contact that business, and that business will drive to you to serve you. So this means, if you see a listing that says it's a nursing home but is located in an apartment, odds are this is a fake listing.
If the listing does show an address, can you see signage at the street view level?
In Google Maps, if an address is being shown, the intent is, anyone can drive to that address and be serviced by that business. But to find that business, Google generally expects you to have signage outside to indicate your business exists there. While there are exceptions to the rule, like if your business is in a skyscraper, generally, you would need a sign outside to indicate the business exists there. Looking for signage is also a basic check Google’s own team looks for when deciding to take down listings. No signage is a quick way to determine if writing up a listing is worth it.
Is the business in a section of town that makes sense?
It would make sense for a bank to be in a commercial or industrial part of town. While not impossible, it would make less sense for a bank to be in a residential section of town. Trust your gut. If something seems off, it's worth making the report to Google.
Is the business using a business.site website?
A business.site website is a website you can make through the interface of your Google Map listing. While using this website isn’t against Google's guidelines and isn’t hurting anything, the odds of a legitimate business using the business.site website as their main website is low. Therefore using a business.site website can be used as an indicator to write up a listing.
Does the website look spammy or cookie cutter?
This indicator can be a little tricky. A low quality website isn’t an indicator. After looking at a bunch of websites you can start to tell the difference between a low quality website that puts effort behind it compared to a low quality website that looks spammy. Does the content look natural or does the website seem to repeat keywords over and over. Is there any indication of the company branding? Any company logos? Does the website talk about anyone who works at the company? Think about it from a business standpoint. A company is proud to show off who they are and what they are about. So when a website doesn’t speak about the company behind it or seems to read unnaturally, this is an indicator the website might not have a real company behind it.
Let’s cover indicators for Old and Unclaimed listings.
Does the listing say Claim This Business?
This can be used as an indicator that the business is old or unclaimed. With that being said, not every listing that says Claim This Business is actually claimable. It’s theorized that Google does this to throw off bots trying to identify claimable listings.
Does the listing have a low review count?
If a business is still around, they would likely have a small trickle of reviews over the course of time. So having only say 3 reviews can be used as an indicator to report the listing as old.
Are there photos being used?
An indicator the business listing is old is if there's no photos at all. At the very least a business will add a logo. So it’s a little strange when there's not even a logo shown.
Do you see signage at the street view?
A clear indicator the business is old or maybe even fake, is a lack of signage or any indication the business exists at the street view. This is the same check Google representatives take, so it's a powerful indicator for us to use as well.
Let’s cover keyword stuffed listings
What does your gut instinct tell you?
This is probably the fastest and simplest way to identify a keyword stuffed listing. After some practice, you will be shocked how easy it is to do. If the name sounds unnatural, but you see a section of the name that does seem natural, odds are, your correct and it's worth making the edit.
Let’s look at a few examples
Bob’s Law Firm
We can probably agree this is a natural sounding business name and nothing seems out of the ordinary here.
Bob’s Law Firm - Personal Injury Car Accident Attorney Near Me
We can probably still agree the Bob’s Law Firm part is the real name of the business, but the rest of the name sounds unnatural and is likely keyword stuffing. This can be used as an indicator to make a report to Google.
What is the naming convention of the URL of the website?
If the listing says Bob’s Law Firm - Personal Injury Car Accident Attorney Near Me but the website url says www.bobslawfirm.com odds are Bob’s Law Firm is the correct name.
What does the title or logo of the website say?
If the listing says Bob’s Law Firm - Personal Injury Car Accident Attorney Near Me but the title or logo of the website says Bob’s Law Firm, odds are Bob’s Law Firm is the correct name.
What does the copyright section in the footer say?
If the listing says Bob’s Law Firm - Personal Injury Car Accident Attorney Near Me but the copyright section in the footer says Bob’s Law Firm, odds are Bob’s Law Firm is the correct name.
What does the contact us page say?
If the listing says Bob’s Law Firm - Personal Injury Car Accident Attorney Near Me but the contact us page says Bob’s Law Firm, odds are Bob’s Law Firm is the correct name.
What images are being used on the website?
It’s not uncommon for images to reveal the true name of a business. If the listing says Bob’s Law Firm - Personal Injury Car Accident Attorney Near Me but images on the website use Bob’s Law Firm, odds are Bob’s Law Firm is the correct name.
Once again, no one indicator is the magic bullet to identify false competition. But using a combination of indicators will help you make quick judgment calls.
In the next section, we will cover how to conduct a false competition audit at a basic level, at an intermediate level and finally, at a very advanced level. The basic level anyone can do, is completely free to do but only works for a handful of listings once in awhile. The intermediate level will require buying a tool that can run grid scans and take a considerable amount of time. The advanced level is a done for you solution that combines a grid scan tool, automated tracking and a manual auditing team to complete the audits monthly.
On a basic level, you would run through the list of indicators, and once you make a judgment call, you will make a suggest edit. Go to the listing in question and you should see a button called Suggest an edit.
You should now see two options.
If you're reporting a keyword-stuffed listing, click Change name or other details. Change the name to what you believe is correct, and press submit.
For fake or old listings, click Close or Remove. Then click the appropriate option for the listing in question.
Now, this part gets a little tricky and the correct answer can change. In the past, our data showed using Doesn’t exist here had such a low success rate it wasn’t even worth using, even if it was true the listing didn’t exist at a given location. Nowadays, using both Permanently closed and Doesn't exist here are both powerful options and what is commonly used the most. Once you have reported the listings in question, you want to also submit a redressal form to Google. Making suggest edits has a strong chance of being reviewed by automation and automation doesn’t always get it right. Submitting a redressal form though has a strong chance to hand in the hands of a person to review your case. So completing both steps is important.
Ok, now that you understand how to conduct a false competition audit on a basic level, let's take it up a notch. If you understand how to look at your ranks in Google Maps, then you understand that without a grid scan tool, you are basically spot-checking. And spot-checking using only Google Maps and no other tool, can likely lead to many false flags. You might not see how bad false competition is in your market when in reality it could be the single thing holding your marketing campaign back. There are some markets where false competition appears monthly and the only solution is running an audit every month to report them.
So you know how to report any one listing through a suggest edit and the redressal form. What you will need now is a grid scan tool like Local Falcon. We suggest running a grid scan on 5 keywords and if you are still finding new listings to report, continue running scans. But in general, running an audit on 5 keywords is strong enough to capture most of the false competition. Thinking about 5 keywords that are most valuable to you or 5 keywords that you know have issues with false competition is perfect. We would also suggest using 5 short tail keywords that are different from each other.
For example, if the listing is a personal injury attorney, good keyword examples are
Personal Injury Attorney
Car Accident Attorney
Truck Accident Attorney
Slip and Fall Attorney
Workers Compensation Attorney
Examples that would be less effective are
Personal Injury Attorney
Personal Injury Lawyer
Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Personal Injury Attorney Miami
Personal Injury Attorneys
While running these searches could produce some new false competition, odds are, your going to capture a majority of them with just Personal Injury Attorney and its more valuable going after something like Car Accident Attorney.
When setting up a grid scan, we recommend a 9 by 9 grid size using a 9 mile by 9 mile area. We find this is the most effective range for conducting a false competition audit. Be sure the grid scan is over the address used to verify the listing. For listings that show their address, the address used to verify the listing is the same. For listings that hide their address, you will have to manually move the grid scan over the address used to verify the listing. The grid tool you use wont actually know what address was used.
Ok, everything has been relatively simple so far. The next part is the tricky time-sink part. By running a grid scan on 5 keywords you will have 5 separate lists of competition but these lists will likely have overlap. So the next step is truncating the 5 lists down into one single list. From there you would begin the audit process like normal. We suggest not worrying about competition that doesn't show up in your grid scans. If a competitor your thinking about is not on the list from the scan, they might not be competing against you as much as you might think. Or you might need to run other keyword combinations.
Once you created your list, you would submit suggest edits and the redressal form just like before. The difference is, you would want to compile a spreadsheet to submit to Google on the redressal form since your going to have more than just a few listings to report. Remember, the redressal form likely goes to a person, so if your report is sloppy and unreadable, the person will likely ignore it. The time spent on making a clean report for Google is worth it. At this level, you will likely also want to track your results to see what's being removed. We recommend checking in once a month to see what's been removed and if the listing was removed, did it come back. Think of this audit as a very advanced game of whack-a-mole.
Ok, at this point you understand the value of a false competition audit. And you have probably ran the audits yourself and realized how much time they take. The value is well worth the time, especially with this audit clocking on as the 5th most important action to take in local SEO. But when it comes down to it, you or your team just might not have the time to complete the audit yourself every month. So the advanced level is a done for you solution. This is where we step in. The advantage is, you and your team no longer have to put in the time to conduct the audits every month. The audits will run monthly like clockwork. Every month, new grid scans will be ran on the keywords you find important to your business and every month suggest edits and a redressal form will be sent out to google on listings that indicate they might be false competition. The platform also checks daily for listings removed as well as if the listing comes back. We also stays up to date on what works and what doesn’t as Google is ever changing. Using Doesn’t exist here didn't work a year ago. Now it does. But next month it might not work any more.
Congratulations, you now have the knowledge to conduct a false competition audit and conduct one of the most impactful actions in gaining traction in Google Maps. As you begin to see listings removed, you will be shocked to see the results. Be sure to conduct the audits monthly. You might just be shocked by the ranking changes after a few removals. Happy auditing.