The State of Spam Fighting: What We Learned From Analyzing 5,306 Listings in 16 Industries

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fake google listings by industry


 

In the 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors Study, there was a clear trend that stuck out. In the commentary, people listed spam-fighting as both an effective strategy and a strategy that doesn’t seem to work anymore. It might make you wonder if you should be prioritizing reporting spam anymore.  To help answer these questions, I’m going to be sharing some details from a recent study we conducted at Sterling Sky.

In This Study

  1. What industries have the highest percentage of fake Google listings?
  2. Is spam declining compared to 3 years ago?
  3. How big of a problem is keyword stuffing?

Methodology

For this study, we looked at Listings 5306 listings that we identified ranking on Google over the course of four years in 16 different industries.  Our goal was to try to answer a number of questions about how effective spam-fighting really is and if spam is still a problem on Google.  In this study, you’ll see us using the terminology “fake listing”.  We define a “fake listing” as a Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business listing) that was created and violates Google’s guidelines, thus they removed it after it was reported.

Sterling Sky fake listing study

 

What Industries Have the Highest Percentage of Fake Google Listings?

The first thing to note right off the bat is that people’s mileage may vary when dealing with spam due to how drastically different it can be across different industries.  This graph looks at the total number of listings we looked at in each industry, and what % of those listings were removed from Google for violating their guidelines. 

fake google listings by industry

 

Industry Number of Listings Total Listings Google Removed % Removed
Hair Restoration 249 89 35.7%
Funeral Services 128 15 11.7%
Drug Rehab 579 301 52.0%
Realtors 237 30 12.7%
Dentists 156 20 12.8%
Home Security 321 103 32.1%
Criminal Lawyers 531 123 23.2%
Tree Service 197 57 28.9%
Personal Injury Lawyers 416 315 75.7%
HVAC 1082 243 22.5%
Bankruptcy Lawyers 199 37 18.6%
Junk Cars 767 615 80.2%
Private Investigators 275 161 58.5%
Insurance 197 132 67.0%
Locksmiths 114 48 42.1%
Handyman 259 73 28.2%
Garage Door Repair 676 592 87.6%

 

Is Spam Declining Compared to 3 Years Ago?

According to Google’s numbers, they removed 7 million fake business listings in 2021.  This number was 2 million in 2017 and was 3 million in 2018.  630,000 of the listings they removed were ones that users reported to Google to remove.  That number has grown from 250,000 in 2018. So, not only is Google preventing more people from attempting to create fake listings, but more users are actually reporting fake listings too – compared to a few years ago.

How many fake listings you find in a single market or industry can really vary based on how big of a market it is.  Here is an example of how it looked for the junk car industry, in a large city, over the last few years:

fake junk car listings removed

Here is how it looks for a few other industries, by year, according to our study:

Fake listings removed by yearThere are some industries that have actually improved drastically in the last couple of years.  For example, the fake listing network that plagued the personal injury lawyer industry in 2019 actually got mostly removed from Google and they have now moved on to Bing.  Just search “car accident lawyer [insert city]” on Bing, and you’ll get results like this:
bing search results car accident lawyer

However, Google has not solved the huge lead-generating networks for other industries, like the garage door repair industry.  Fake listings are still a massive problem in this industry and fake listings, like the ones below, are constantly popping up with fake reviews on them.

How Big of a Problem is Keyword Stuffing?

Keyword stuffing has been a common practice due to how much keywords in the business name impact ranking in the local pack. For this section, we only defined something as keyword stuffing if Google actually agreed and corrected the business name.

keyword stuffing by industry

 

Industry Number of Listings Total Listings Keyword Stuffing %
Hair Restoration 249 43 17.27%
Funeral Services 128 16 12.5%
Drug Rehab 579 42 7.25%
Realtors 237 12 5.06%
Dentists 156 7 4.49%
Home Security 321 13 4.05%
Criminal Lawyers 531 19 3.58%
Tree Service 197 7 3.55%
Personal Injury Lawyers 416 10 2.40%
HVAC 1082 25 2.31%
Bankruptcy Lawyers 199 4 2.01%
Junk Cars 767 15 1.96%
Private Investigators 275 5 1.82%
Insurance 197 3 1.52%
Locksmiths 114 1 0.88%
Handyman 259 2 0.77%
Garage Door Repair 676 1 0.15%

 

Often we found with keyword stuffing businesses, it would take several attempts to get Google to fix the issue

What patterns are you seeing with spam on Google Maps? Share with us in the comments below.

 

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