Why Google shutting down Map Maker should terrify SMBs
Contributor Joy Hawkins warns about the likely unintended consequences of Google's impending shutdown of Map Maker, calling for the search giant to create more transparency.
Google’s Map Maker has often received bad press due to the amount of spam that originates from users of the product. In May of 2015, Map Maker was actually shut down to help prevent disasters like this one. So Google’s announcement that they’re shutting down Map Maker entirely in March of 2017 made a lot of people really happy.
It’s the end of spam, right? We should all be celebrating, right?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Allowing spammers to hide rather than vanquishing them
The truth is that users — some with less-than-virtuous motives — will still be able to make edits to business listings, just like before. Instead of doing it on Map Maker, however, they will do it through Google Maps by pressing “suggest an edit” on the listing.
Spammers know this, of course, and have already shifted the majority of their edits to Google Maps because it hides their activity from the general public.
Currently, when a user makes an edit to a listing on Map Maker, the edit history on the listing shows their username, and you can see what other edits they’ve made.
This feature of Map Maker makes it much easier for power Maps users and marketing companies to chase down spammers and report them to Google (there is an option to report the user, as well).
With Google Maps, however, the users are completely anonymous, and there is no way for anyone, other than Google, to see what types of edits they have made in the past and who else they may have sabotaged.
Why this is a serious problem
Here are a few recent examples.
1. In case you didn’t hear, Maps users recently were able to successfully change a bunch of listings for Trump hotels and cafes to list them as “Dump Tower” and “Dump Cafe.”
At one point, the category for the hotel was also changed from luxury hotel to a garbage collection service. The edits were made by users through Google Maps, and the only way to see them was while they were pending on the Google Maps app.
I took several screen shots after I saw the article on Twitter, and as you can see, the edits show absolutely no details about the user who made them.
There is no way for the person looking at the edit to tell what else that user is doing or what their intentions might be.
2. The insurance industry is one that gets a lot of spam edits. Because these edits are now going through Google Maps, the mapping community is completely blind to them, and apparently, Google isn’t taking much note of them, either.
Back in Mid-November, someone managed to update over 59 listings for various insurance companies to change the listed phone number to this one: 800-701-5909. When you call it, this phone number goes to a lead provider so that they can capture the user’s information and then turn around and sell that lead to an insurance office.
Here is a screen shot showing some of the various listings that still had that phone number on them three weeks later (December 8).
The business owners were not alerted of this change, so most of them are completely unaware that all their customers and potential customers are now calling someone else. Who made this change? There is no way for anyone (other than Google) to know. Google Maps shows no edit history log whatsoever, and Map Maker is classifying this user as “Google” (edits via Google Maps on desktop show up this way in Map Maker).
Although I can tell the business owner to change the information back via the Google My Business dashboard, there is nothing stopping it from happening again, and unless the business wants to check their information daily, there is currently no way that they will know about changes.
I have already contacted a few of these businesses to make them aware, but the problem is still that the Maps user is out there unpunished and most likely making more edits, since there is no way for businesses to identify him or her and alert Google about the username.
Long-time spammers have shifted their efforts from creating dozens of fake listings (which is becoming harder to do) to reporting legitimate businesses as spam and having them removed.
Here is a recent example of a legitimate locksmith in Florida who had his listing removed from Google because a user (most likely a competitor) reported him as spam. Neither the locksmith nor I have any clue who did it or what will prevent them from doing it again. His listing was down for about a week while he was waiting for Google to reinstate it.
So, while I wish I could look forward to the prospect that spam on Google will diminish with the removal of Map Maker, I’m actually seeing the exact opposite occur.
The number of threads on the Google My Business forum related to legit listings being changed or taken down is on the rise and will most likely continue to increase until there is more transparency. After all, what would spammers like better than to be able to hide all their activity? My current advice to SMBs is to keep a close eye on their Google listing to make sure no one is trying to sabotage it.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.