Cutting Down on Google Maps Fraud

Hello, everyone out there. We’ve learned a lesson this week, which is that it’s pointless to try to finish this newsletter ahead of time. Every time we’ve tried to do that, we always stumble upon something more interesting on Friday morning that replaces whatever else we had in the works. On that note, let’s get into some of those exact things.

The Google Maps team posted an article on their blog about the ways they’ve recently stepped up their ability to fend off fake reviews and weed out nonexistent businesses. There isn’t much in the way of technical explanations because there can’t be– if they explain how they’re spotting bad actors, those bad actors will know what countermeasures to adopt. The Maps team did give us a lot of statistics though. 

The most pertinent stat for this audience is the fact that Google Maps stopped 20 million attempts to create fake business profiles in 2022 (up from 12 million in 2021). They also removed over 115 million fake or otherwise policy-violating reviews. 

The part of the post that we found somewhat fascinating concerns user-uploaded imagery. Google Maps removed 200 million photos and seven million videos because they were too blurry, but that’s not what we mean. They also took down a lot of fraudulent pictures, which is part of a scam we weren’t hip to before reading about it this morning.

It works like this. Say there’s a high-ranking business that installs windows called Glasswork. Another window shop owner can come along and upload pictures like the one above this paragraph (although he’d probably have something better than that– it took us ten seconds to make it on Canva) to Glasswork’s GBP location, hoping to lure customers into calling his business. This practice was apparently rampant before Google Maps tweaked its machine learning algorithms to root it out. 

In other news, the Google Search Central YouTube channel released an SEO Office Hours video for April two days ago. Those videos used to come out every Friday like clockwork. Recapping them was the original purpose of the Local Viking newsletter, but nowadays they’re released so unpredictably and infrequently that we got out of the habit of checking for new ones.

Most of the questions that the Google Search team answered were dry and technical. One that was a bit entertaining came from someone wanting to know why his site had an unexplainable spammy description when it appeared in SERPs. 

The diagnosis was that the website had been hacked. If you find yourself reading about discount hair loss shampoo or hot singles in your area when you see your own site show up in search results, head over to the pages on that deal with hacked sites to figure out how you can resolve your predicament. “It’s not easy, but it’s certainly possible to clean up your site” is the vague advice that was given. So yeah– good luck.

Another one of the questions wondered how to remove an old website from Google Search. For reasons we aren’t smart enough to discern, the given answer was only applicable to people who are migrating from one domain to another. “If you are moving to a new domain, please, please, please redirect your old site to the new one instead of just deleting the old site. It’s pretty likely that your old site has collected some valuable signals over time, and you really don’t wanna throw that away.” 

After putting your redirects in place, it can take a few weeks (or occasionally a few months) to see your old URLs replaced by the new ones. 

We’re giving John Mueller (the host of SEO Office Hours) and his team a bit of a hard time, but the truth is we’re glad to see a new video from them. We only recapped two of the questions here, but they answered 21 in total. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t blink when terminology like URI or hreflang is thrown at you, and you know what 301 and 308 redirects are, you may want to watch the whole thing.  

This next topic is only tangentially related to local SEO. It still caught our eye and we thought it was newsworthy enough to pass along. Microsoft is building a “net zero water” campus, which is more ambitious than you probably realize. 

The server farms that facilitate our livelihoods require jaw-dropping quantities of water. It’s unavoidable. Computer equipment needs to be cooled. A medium-sized data center consumes 3-5 million gallons of water per day. These are the types of places that host Minecraft servers and 

The far-larger hard drive warehouses run by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Apple, and Amazon (not to mention the multi-story, mostly-subterranean intelligence agency outposts) go through billions of gallons of water per year, which is why the big players been experimenting with creative ways to slash their utility bills. Microsoft dropped a data center submarine 117 feet underwater off the coast of Scotland in 2018. Google built several four-story, ocean-powered facilities on barges. Microsoft’s project was a success, but it wasn’t scalable. Google gave up after a few years. 

Anyway, Microsoft’s plans for a campus with a self-contained, renewable water supply will be a big deal if it works out. It seems to us that water will constantly be smuggled in and out of their buildings in employee bladders and water bottles, but we have to assume they’ve considered this. Collecting rainwater is part of the plan. 

This is the type of feel-good project that only the richest organizations in existence (Microsoft is worth more than most governments) can possibly hope to undertake, but maybe they’ll figure out some cost-cutting measures during the process that can reduce water usage across the board. We’ll see. 

We need to plug next Wednesday’s AMA with our CTO, Nate, before we get out of here. It will be held at 2 PM EDT/11 AM PDT. Local Viking and Local Brand Manager have released many new features recently, so there’s plenty to talk about. There will be a Q&A session with all participants when Nate’s presentation ends. Anyone in attendance will be welcome to bring up their situation and ask for local SEO advice. It’s always a good time. You can register here

That’s it for this week. We hope to see many of you on Wednesday. We’ll be back in your inbox next Friday either way though. Take care. 

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