In an era when Google is many people’s first destination for information, flaws in the search giant’s algorithm have opened the door to spam and fake Google local listings and ads.

Last March, Search Engine Land reported on the growing number of fake professional services appearing in local listings.

“Google’s ranking algorithm has a huge flaw in its local results that lead generating companies have been using for their own profit,” Joy Hawkins wrote. The issue was glaringly obvious from the number of car accident lawyers that appeared in Google’s local results. According to Hawkins, 18 of the top 20 lawyers listed for “car accident attorney” turned out to be spam. Specifically, lead generation companies that were not affiliated with any specific legal service.

The nature of this exploit was easy to identify. Despite the fake listings’ lack of website, backlinks, or reviews, Google’s local algorithm favors businesses that feature the search query in the company’s name. The inevitable outcome was reduced rank for authentic listings.

What should legitimate businesses do to outrank spam in Google’s local results?

In this case, the solution for businesses and site owners comes from classic SEO best practices. For businesses to appear higher in Google’s local listings, site owners should consider adding a target search term into the name of their online business listing. Confirming the business’s basic information, such as website, location, and phone number should all go without saying.

Plus, Google will presumably address this issue with the algorithm eventually, at which point backlinks and reviews will likely resume to carry their weight, as well.

One more solution for site and business owners – run a paid search ad. Unfortunately, paid ad scams also exist, and understanding how those work can improve a paid search strategy too.

A recent example that was caught in March had to do with a fake eBay promotion. Bleeping Computer reported on a seemingly typical eBay ad live on Google, that turned out to be a tech support scam. When people clicked on the ad, instead of sending users to eBay, their web browser was sent through multiple redirects designed to freeze the browser. According to the article’s author, Lawrence Abrams, Google was notified of the fake ad but waited about a week to react.

“Tech support scams have long been the bane of search engines as they have become very adept at masquerading as legitimate companies,” Abrams wrote. “In this particular case, the tech support scammers were instead masquerading as another site utilizing a method called cloaking, which is used by scammers to bypass Google’s, Bing’s and other search engine’s ad review process.”

How can SEOs and ad buyers reach consumers who may grow suspicious of potentially malicious Google ads?

The good news is that scam ads are not widespread, and when Google detects them, they do get removed. But building good faith with consumers is also key to search ad success. Similar to the principles behind effective SEO, stay the course with proven AdWords practices that encourage users to click.

  1. Stay consistent – Successful AdWord campaigns are long-term strategies. Users who see the same ad consistently are more likely to click.
  2. Stay focused – Use the AdWords platform to target a well-researched audience. Ad buyers should understand their target audience’s preferred search terms, favorite websites, and other key demographics.
  3. Stay specific – Capture users with a Google ad that uses the specific language and nuanced details that your target audience is searching for. Not only are scam ads often vague, they are less likely to appear for hyper-specific search terms.

For more advice on preparing effective AdWord campaigns or to improve your position in Google’s local listings, contact the search experts at Engage.