There are many great articles that expose the dark side of Local Services Ads spamming and false reviews. Search Engine Roundtable has one about , while Search Engine Land features Len Raleigh’s discussion on .
A client recently told me that there is more to the “dark hole” than misleading reviews and locations.
The local SEO community will be able to recall the as well as the space.
Local search spam is being combated
We have witnessed review and location spam grow exponentially over the past two years.
Large networks of lead generators were involved. They would dump an area with fake profiles and boost them with reviews, then sell the leads to merchants – often the same ones they had buried.
A number of people working in local SEO helped to reduce the spam volume. .
Although spammers are still present in some way to the day, they appear to have moved on to an area Google does not like or is unwilling to patrol.
I was told by , a fellow digital marketer.
- Spam in garage doors is as harmful as in personal injury law. It is also unfair for consumers and businesses. LSA is becoming more popular among marketing agencies. Any move that you make could be interrupted by bad actors, which can feel like it’s hard to eliminate.
Google Local Service Ads: Spam and Fake Reviews
Trust is the big issue here, which can be manufactured easily and cheated.
To understand the problems, we need to be able to explain how LSA operates.
- Google Screened or Google Guaranteed Entities background checks are performed. Here’s Google’s guide to help you qualify.
- Google displays providers only from verified sources. Three providers are displayed at the top (in a row) of queries.
- To schedule an appointment, the customer contacts the provider. Calls are routed to Google. There are also options for booking and sending messages.
- Company called to pay for lead, usually $25 per garage door.
- An email is sent with a link or request for a review. Google doesn’t verify reviews. They do however state that they will verify reviews if they are able to tie the review with a LSA-booked job.
LSA used to be an effective way to combat spam but it now seems that LSA is on the verge of becoming a dangerous tool.
Illustration of the issue
Both the Pasadena-based companies in the screenshot are owned by the same individual (see the table below).
What is the problem? This would violate LSA policies.
My source looked deeper to find out that many of the people in question owned other businesses within the region.
As you can see, the actors appearing in ads for local services have multiple businesses. A third party examined the licensing of garage doors in California to uncover this. The data collected was from companies that were LSA.
Here is the exact same list with LSAs. Three companies were removed from LSA at the time this article was written.
- AAA Garage Door Services (removed)
- Socal Garage Door Services (removed).
- Jordan’s Garage Door Service (removed)
An affiliated entity refers to a California Contractors State License Board-certified entity with overlapping ownership.
According to research by a third party the companies mentioned above own several entities, some of which also belong to LSA.
It is common to create entities solely for the purpose of joining LSA. By looking closely at their fake entitlements, we have been able to remove spam LSA entries. We will discuss why this is so important in a later article.
Now we have several entities. Now what? What about fake reviews?
Raleigh makes a smart observation in Raleigh’s article that it is easy to obtain “verified LSA” reviews.
Sidenote A LSA review that has been “verified” is not actually verified. After a job has been completed, a unique link will be generated. This link can then be sent to LSA customers. However, you also have the option of handing out the LSA review link, and getting reviews from anybody. Anyone can leave a Google Business Profile review (GBP). This is not a trustworthy system and it can easily be manipulated.
How can these companies get fake, non-bought reviews? It’s quite simple.
- To schedule an appointment for a Google Local Service, call the company.
- Leave a review after the time limit has passed via the link.
- This review costs the same as a call from Google Local Service. For 1,500 reviews, a call to any listed local provider is charged $25.
Find the Daily Newsletter Search Marketers Rely on.
What the Local Services Ads Arbitrage does
LSA Arbitrage is something like the following:
- Without having to hire employees, you can create licensed entities and register them with the Secretary. LSA checks can only be passed if you have the required documentation.
- Seed the profile by buying or other means with fake reviews using fake GBP, and/or “verified” reviews on LSA.
- They subcontract the job when a lead arrives.
- A lead buyer arrives at the job and states that the company has canceled, but they are able to complete it. The consumer is left dealing with an unidentified company or individual that they won’t be able track down. Many times, the consumer ends up paying more for services or parts they don’t need. (Sound familiar?)
- You can create more entities
- If you see negative reviews, it is time to turn off the ads and start looking for new companies.
Google does not have any knowledge of or control on subcontracting among the licensees and the outside parties that will ultimately manage the jobs. This could prove difficult to spot, however, some tools could help.
Google claims they will investigate any subcontracting allegations on LSA, and will enforce the law as necessary.
It is through a mixture of strategies that companies with bad actors can succeed.
- Dominating access to customers and burying great merchants.
- Do not be limited by poor customer service and negative experiences.
- Core activities include posting false reviews, in violation of U.S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines, and subcontracting with unlicensed entities. This is illegal. They seem to have no consequences for the moment.
- Engage in GBP fraud.
Google: What have you said?
After asking LSA’s contact about the matter, I was told by a spokesperson for Google:
To protect advertisers and people from abuses and fraud in the local services industry, we have strict . We have invested heavily in new enforcement systems to protect users as well as providers against abuse.
Another meeting informed me that this was going to the top in LSA as well as Google Legal. So there could be changes in these policies.
Google previously to provide context. To help users find trustworthy local information by 2021,
- More than 95,000,000 policy-violating reviews were blocked or removed, with more than 60,000 being taken down because of COVID-related incidents.
- They received more than 1,000,000 reviews.
- Their machine learning technology has allowed them to remove more than 190,000,000 photos and 5,000,000 videos from their servers.
Is this LSA Arbitrage a Warning Sign?
The garage door and personal injury spam began in a particular cycle. Spam would appear in the major US/metros like California, New York and Florida.
These migrants would remain in these metros for approximately six months before spreading across the U.S. According to reports, they currently reside in the following metros.
We can do things
Google may not be willing to consider this serious, and there are many legal hurdles to overcome. Google could be disincentivised to take action simply because they can’t find the proof scaleably. This is an opportunity to make money, and let’s face it, that makes a lot of sense.
To make money, good merchants will do whatever it takes to eliminate the negative actors. Some customers have a $100,000 or more weekly budget.
These are just a few of the many actions search marketers could take.
- To prevent repeat offenders from creating new entities to do business from, Document your evidence to Google .
- Send fake LSAs and GBPs to the . Google wants to investigate any fraud allegations before they escalate to the FTC.
- Google should be made to resolve the problem
- These issues can be raised through the use of industry outlets.
Google can do what?
- LSAs are valuable because they can help consumers know that the contractor is legitimate and will be available should they have a problem. Google does background checks of employees. Google cannot conduct background checks for a change in subcontractors. Google may make clear that the subcontracting of leads to another person or company is against . In some states like California it could also be considered a state crime. Google may also suspend LSA profiles that have been reported while it investigates.
- To assess reliability of review rates and the amount of reviews that are received, enhance the ranking algorithm based on employees. How can a single employee get more than 1,500 reviews within a short time? There might be an issue if hundreds of reviews arrive between 6 and 8 a.m.
- Adverse licensing organizations should be held responsible for violations by other companies.
- Multiple companies that share ownership cannot compete in the same LSA region.
This should have been obvious to us.
It is still a young platform for Local Services Ads.
This should have been obvious to marketers. Google, with all of their experiences in spamming and arbitraging on Google Ads, should have seen this coming.
Google can do better. They should take this opportunity to be a call for action and make the right decision, regardless of how hard it may seem.
While it will be costly in infrastructure, as well as loss of advertising revenue, the upside to this platform is that actual merchants will spend real money on leads. The platform will eventually gain more trust from consumers. This is my view of a win-win situation!
We are grateful to all those who have supported the efforts to increase awareness.
These opinions are not necessarily those of Search Engine Land, but they do reflect the views of the guest author. Here are the names of staff authors.
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