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Leaning into SEO as Google shifts from search engine to portal

How to prepare your company for Google’s new customer journey for search.



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How to Guard Your Google Business Profile from Becoming a Running Joke

Posted by MiriamEllis

When customers walk into your place of business, phone you, or reach out to you via email or social media with a question that’s clearly a lead, you’d never, ever answer:

“Who knows?”

But it’s exactly this, and several related scenarios of absurdity, that have resulted from Google positioning itself as the dominant middle man between customers and local brands while failing to adequately communicate or enforce product policies.

Examples of Google Business Profiles gone bad are often comical, but it’s no laughing matter for your business to shed revenue for the sake of some jester’s joke. Then, spammers jump into the game, and that’s about as humorous as hitting your funny bone. And, sometimes, it’s even somebody on your own staff or a marketer you’ve hired who goofs.

Good local companies work so hard to develop exceptional customer service and a sterling reputation, and the Google Business Profile can brilliantly showcase both when carefully curated. But lack of vigilance over five key sections of this most visible online asset can cumulatively undermine offline goals.

Today, let’s look at some serious gaffes, get you set up to mitigate them, and put a watchdog mindset in your local place of business.

Naming nonsense

One of my favorite Local Tech Leads at Moz, Robert Reis, recently pointed out to me that Google’s sternest local guidelines actually reveal their greatest vulnerabilities. This is certainly true when it comes to Google not wanting brands to keyword stuff business names, because it so clearly appears to impact local pack rankings. Take a look at this all-too-common tomfoolery:

Credit: @DarrenShaw_

Then, there are other cases in which a business listing can be maliciously edited or hijacked by a competitor, an angry customer, or another third party. In this example, not only has the business name been edited, but the website URL has been pointed to ripoffreport.com:

Credit: @keyserholiday

What to do:

Customers may laugh, but certainly, they will not trust business names like these. If someone in your own company has been keyword stuffing, show them Google’s explicit guidelines regarding formatting names to match real-world business titles and edit the name to conform to the rules. Any other course risks losing customers and being reported by the public to Google for a violation.

If you suspect that a competitor’s high rankings are stemming, at least in part, from keyword stuffing, do a little research. Look at the name on their street signage in Google Street View. Take a photo in person if necessary. Look at the name on their website. Phone them to see how they answer the phone. Then, if you’re convinced that the guidelines are being broken, submit your evidence via the Business Redressal Complaint Form. There is no guarantee that Google will act on your report, but this is the main vehicle for seeking action.

If your listing has been hijacked and maliciously edited, I recommend starting by reporting the full details at the Google My Business Help Community. Ask the volunteers there to give you current steps for resolving the hijack. You can’t ever be totally safe from the possibility of hijacking, but do be sure you’ve claimed any GMB listing for your company. Some local SEOs also recommend making occasional null edits (hitting the submit button in your GMB dashboard without changing any of the listing data) as this activity might make your listing less prone to third-party edits.

Review roguery

I like to give business owners the benefit of the doubt for making a judgment call error when they review themselves. But it’s always embarrassing to see any company misusing reviews to sing their own praises, and particularly so when their family members point this out in public:

Credit: @ordacowski

More often, the business is the victim of review shenanigans. Google’s forum is continuously emitting distress signals from business owners who feel they’ve received one or more negative reviews from people they’ve never had a transaction with, as illustrated by this interchange:

And, the hard truth is that some entities have made a business model out of competitive sabotage via negative reviews. The problem has become large enough to make televised news.

What to do:

Falsifying reviews is illegal and has resulted in multi-million-dollar FTC fines in the United States. If you own or market local businesses, adhere to the Consumer Review Fairness Act and read the guidelines of any online platform on which you are receiving or writing reviews. Don’t review your own business or have past or present staff do so. Don’t review your competitors. Don’t incentivize reviews in any way, or post reviews on behalf of anyone else. Don’t hire any marketing firm or use any review management software that violates guidelines.

If your business becomes the subject of a review spam attack, screenshot and document all of the fake reviews, then flag them from inside of your Google My Business dashboard via the three little dots associated with each review. After three days, contact Google through their online chat option to follow up.

Google will make the ultimate decision on whether to remove the reviews and they are quite strict about what they view as negative vs. fake. If Google doesn’t remove the reviews, I would suggest two things. First, I would report the reviews to ReviewFraud and then, if the sentiment in the reviews is damaging enough, you might need to contact an attorney to see if further steps can be taken to prompt removal.

If you suspect a competitor is trying to boost their own rankings with review spam, document what you see and report it via the Google My Business Help Community.

Fatuous photos

“I cannot for the life of me believe that you would allow a normal user to upload photos to my business listing without my approval and you do not give THE OWNER OF THE PAGE the ability to delete them!” – from Google’s Forum.

The above quote typifies the frustration business owners feel regarding yet another element of their Google listing that is open to public contributions. Brands often think of these listings as belonging to them, when, in fact, they belong to Google. Images are considered to be a strong factor in CTR, so it’s particularly aggravating when user-uploaded photos either misrepresent or embarrass the business.

I’ve been shown cases in which people have mysteriously uploaded images that have nothing to do with a business. More often, though, I see photos like the following which highlight some aspect of the company that has disgusted or angered customers:

When something goes wrong with photos, like a bug on Google’s end, failure to size images correctly, or possibly the owner removing images that were previously there, this public warning symbol is definitely not a good look:

Google can also pull random images from website pages into your profile, resulting in your business being represented by something like … melted ice cream?

Credit: @tomwaddington8

Claire Carlisle recently documented Google’s penchant for pointing European users to Google Image Search instead of the photo section of listings. There is some reason to suspect this may happen in the US in the future, which could result in all kinds of strange optics popping up in association with brands.

What to do:

If an image accurately represents a lack of proper management at a location of your business, fix the issue or such imagery will continue to surface. You can then try flagging the photo, identifying yourself as the business owner, and explaining what you’ve done to correct the problem. However, unless the photo violates Google’s guidelines, it’s unlikely to be removed. Barring removal, be sure you are adding as many high-quality photos as possible to your listing to lessen the impact of a single image.

If the image violates Google’s guidelines, click on the name of the person who uploaded it and copy their profile URL. Then, report the user via the Google My Business Help Community, requesting that the profile be removed for failing to adhere to the guidelines.

If you see something like the warning symbol appearing instead of a photo you’ve tried to upload, check the above forum for reports of known bugs. You can always remove your own photos via the trash can symbol in your Google My Business dashboard.

Hours of inconvenience

“This is not a sustainable way to treat a business or customers.” – A reviewer experiencing unmanaged hours of operation

When customers feel that it’s your business playing a joke on them, they’re unlikely to return. This collage of 1-star reviews captures the collateral damage of neglecting to properly manage hours of operation on the web:

What to do:

A consistent theme in these damaging reviews is that customers are checking multiple places on the web to be sure an establishment is open on a given day. We’ve all come to depend on websites and business listings to provide this information, and it’s truly inconvenient when these assets mislead us. Few businesses can afford to let multiple customers down and no business can survive customers sensing they’ve been tricked!

The good news is that the fix for this is quite simple. Google’s tutorial for setting special hours if foolproof, and it will only take you a few minutes each year to ensure your profile displays correct information every day of the year. And, of course, update your website to reflect this data, too.

There are no dumb questions, but…

Sorry to say it, but there are actually some answers that are far from smart. I’ve saved for last the most extreme example of real-world businesses becoming the butt of online jokes.

Google Q&A is beginning to have all the earmarks of an experiment gone astray, and if you’re not actively managing this feature of the Google Business Profile, chances are good that your customers are experiencing a bizarre substitute for customer service.

Brace yourself for this collage:

What to do:

A quick study of the public responses to real consumer questions shows the state of total confusion surrounding this GBP feature. For example, one customer has mistaken it for a “discussion board” not associated with the business; this is incorrect. Others are proclaiming that they aren’t associated with the brand and don’t want to “lead people”, despite responding. Still, others are steering potential patrons away from the brand to a competitor (yikes!).

But, predominantly, we have wags replying to questions without having any information to share. “IDK” and “Why don’t you call them yourself?” typify this ridiculous behavior. Why would anyone waste time doing this, you might ask? We can put it down to two things: the old adage about idle hands and Google’s still-new program of perks for participation. Note how many of the individuals in our collage have achieved Local Guide status for giving out these useless answers. Raise your hands if you’re not impressed.

But now, put your hands back on your keyboard for a little work. Unlike the review medium in which guidelines forbid you being an initiator, Google Questions & Answers invites businesses to post and answer their own FAQs. All you have to do is spend a few minutes populating this area of the Google Business Profile with common questions and responses. Then monitor this feature on an ongoing basis so that customers are receiving a helpful, authoritative response to questions. Q&A is a lead-generating asset and conversions are totally within your control.

Adopting a local watchdog



All five cases of Google Business Profile hijinx share the requirement of vigilance for prevention and mitigation. Manually checking on multiple features week after week is a serious drain on local business owners’ limited time. Businesses with multiple locations are especially prone to becoming distracted from or worn out by the effort.

Putting a devoted watchdog between pranksters, spammers, and your vital Google listings is the smartest thing you can do to maintain them as an influential source of truth about your brand.

Adopt the new and improved Moz Local at your place of business and feel secure knowing:

  • If a third party edits your business name, our software will recognize the change and override it with the authoritative data you’ve provided.
  • Moz Local continuously alerts you to incoming Google reviews so that you can catch any emerging reputation problems quickly and respond to them.
  • You’ll be alerted every time a user-uploaded photo gets added to your Google listing. This is tracked in a continuous feed in your dashboard, and you can even set up email alerts if that’s easier for you. Either way, you’ll be the first to know if someone is uploading images that violate Google’s guidelines.
  • You aren’t disappointing customers anymore with inaccurate hours, because you can set them up well in advance in the Moz Local dashboard. We recommend setting special hours at least 7 days in advance of a known closure.
  • You’ll see all incoming Q&A queries in a continuous dashboard feed, facilitating fast, authoritative responses from your business instead of “IDK”s from random users.

Moz Local is the faithful companion you’re seeking to ensure you’re publishing trustworthy business data, taking maximum control of your online reputation, and maintaining a high level of spam awareness, all in an intuitive, organized dashboard.

Everybody likes a good joke, but your Google Business Profile isn’t the place for one! Ready to put a serious watchdog at your place of business? Learn more about the new Moz Local!

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How to Zap Your Reaction to Criticism and Grow from ‘Good Enough’

Content creators are easy targets for criticism. Some might even say they “ask for it” by publicly displaying their thoughts,…

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Google search update aims to show more diverse results from different domain names

Another Google search update has rolled out this week, this one deals with domain diversity in the search results.



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What clients expect from their PPC agency

Keep clients happy with in-person meetings and short, frequent check-ins. It is as critical to a healthy relationship as delivering the numbers they want.



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What to Do When Your Eyes Are Tired from More than 15 Years of Professional Proofreading

Me: “Hey, Brain, it’s time to proofread!” My Brain: “We don’t want to.” Me: “But, Brain, this article isn’t complete…

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3 ad copy mistakes keeping you from paid search success

Although Google provides data on keywords, bids and other aspects of your paid search campaigns, it tends to leave us hanging when it comes to ad copy.



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The Thing that Keeps Many Conscientious Writers from Trying Freelance Writing

If you’re concerned about whether or not you’d be a good service provider, there’s a good chance you’d be a…

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How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone

Brian McCullough, who runs Internet History Podcast, also wrote a book named How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone which did a fantastic job of capturing the ethos of the early web and telling the backstory of so many people & projects behind it’s evolution.

I think the quote which best the magic of the early web is

Jim Clark came from the world of machines and hardware, where development schedules were measured in years—even decades—and where “doing a startup” meant factories, manufacturing, inventory, shipping schedules and the like. But the Mosaic team had stumbled upon something simpler. They had discovered that you could dream up a product, code it, release it to the ether and change the world overnight. Thanks to the Internet, users could download your product, give you feedback on it, and you could release an update, all in the same day. In the web world, development schedules could be measured in weeks.

The part I bolded in the above quote from the book really captures the magic of the Internet & what pulled so many people toward the early web.

The current web – dominated by never-ending feeds & a variety of closed silos – is a big shift from the early days of web comics & other underground cool stuff people created & shared because they thought it was neat.

Many established players missed the actual direction of the web by trying to create something more akin to the web of today before the infrastructure could support it. Many of the “big things” driving web adoption relied heavily on chance luck – combined with a lot of hard work & a willingness to be responsive to feedback & data.

  • Even when Marc Andreessen moved to the valley he thought he was late and he had “missed the whole thing,” but he saw the relentless growth of the web & decided making another web browser was the play that made sense at the time.
  • Tim Berners-Lee was dismayed when Andreessen’s web browser enabled embedded image support in web documents.
  • Early Amazon review features were originally for editorial content from Amazon itself. Bezos originally wanted to launch a broad-based Amazon like it is today, but realized it would be too capital intensive & focused on books off the start so he could sell a known commodity with a long tail. Amazon was initially built off leveraging 2 book distributors ( Ingram and Baker & Taylor) & R. R. Bowker’s Books In Print catalog. They also did clever hacks to meet minimum order requirements like ordering out of stock books as part of their order, so they could only order what customers had purchased.
  • eBay began as an /aw/ subfolder on the eBay domain name which was hosted on a residential internet connection. Pierre Omidyar coded the auction service over labor day weekend in 1995. The domain had other sections focused on topics like ebola. It was switched from AuctionWeb to a stand alone site only after the ISP started charging for a business line. It had no formal Paypal integration or anything like that, rather when listings started to charge a commission, merchants would mail physical checks in to pay for the platform share of their sales. Beanie Babies also helped skyrocket platform usage.
  • The reason AOL carpet bombed the United States with CDs – at their peak half of all CDs produced were AOL CDs – was their initial response rate was around 10%, a crazy number for untargeted direct mail.
  • Priceline was lucky to have survived the bubble as their idea was to spread broadly across other categories beyond travel & they were losing about $ 30 per airline ticket sold.
  • The broader web bubble left behind valuable infrastructure like unused fiber to fuel continued growth long after the bubble popped. The dot com bubble was possible in part because there was a secular bull market in bonds stemming back to the early 1980s & falling debt service payments increased financial leverage and company valuations.
  • TED members hissed at Bill Gross when he unveiled GoTo.com, which ranked “search” results based on advertiser bids.
  • Excite turned down offering the Google founders $ 1.6 million for the PageRank technology in part because Larry Page insisted to Excite CEO George Bell ‘If we come to work for Excite, you need to rip out all the Excite technology and replace it with [our] search.’ And, ultimately, that’s—in my recollection—where the deal fell apart.”
  • Steve Jobs initially disliked the multi-touch technology that mobile would rely on, one of the early iPhone prototypes had the iPod clickwheel, and Apple was against offering an app store in any form. Steve Jobs so loathed his interactions with the record labels that he did not want to build a phone & first licensed iTunes to Motorola, where they made the horrible ROKR phone. He only ended up building a phone after Cingular / AT&T begged him to.
  • Wikipedia was originally launched as a back up feeder site that was to feed into Nupedia.
  • Even after Facebook had strong traction, Marc Zuckerberg kept working on other projects like a file sharing service. Facebook’s news feed was publicly hated based on the complaints, but it almost instantly led to a doubling of usage of the site so they never dumped it. After spreading from college to college Facebook struggled to expand ad other businesses & opening registration up to all was a hail mary move to see if it would rekindle growth instead of selling to Yahoo! for a billion dollars.

The book offers a lot of color to many important web related companies.

And many companies which were only briefly mentioned also ran into the same sort of lucky breaks the above companies did. Paypal was heavily reliant on eBay for initial distribution, but even that was something they initially tried to block until it became so obvious they stopped fighting it:

“At some point I sort of quit trying to stop the EBay users and mostly focused on figuring out how to not lose money,” Levchin recalls. … In the late 2000s, almost a decade after it first went public, PayPal was drifting toward obsolescence and consistently alienating the small businesses that paid it to handle their online checkout. Much of the company’s code was being written offshore to cut costs, and the best programmers and designers had fled the company. … PayPal’s conversion rate is lights-out: Eighty-nine percent of the time a customer gets to its checkout page, he makes the purchase. For other online credit and debit card transactions, that number sits at about 50 percent.

Here is a podcast interview of Brian McCullough by Chris Dixon.

How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone is a great book well worth a read for anyone interested in the web.

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Get more from your customer data with marketing automation

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