Malicious competitors are using a new way to steal your local SEO via your Google Business Profile—and not in the way you may think. Here is what happened to Image Building Media and what they did to reclaim their stolen SEO.

Understanding Local SEO Theft

Local SEO focuses on optimizing your online presence to rank higher in search results for local searches. When a potential customer searches for a product or service in their area, businesses with strong local SEO will appear at the top of the search results page, often within the coveted “3-pack” – the three business listings displayed on a map directly below the paid advertisements.

Unfortunately, some competitors may attempt to manipulate your Google Business Profile (GBP) listing, tricking Google into believing your business is elsewhere. This can devastate your local SEO ranking, potentially removing your business entirely from the local 3-pack and hindering your ability to attract customers searching nearby.

The Latest Tactic: Change Your Google Business Profile Map Location

Previously, whenever a competitor suggested an edit to a Google Business Profile listing, the business owner would receive a notification allowing them to review and approve or reject the change. This provided a safety net, preventing malicious edits from taking effect. However, according to Allan McNabb, founder of Image Building Media, a Tampa-based internet marketing company, Google has scaled back on these notifications.

McNabb discovered this the hard way when his company’s Google Business Profile listing was altered without their knowledge. While their address remained accurate, their listing indicated they were located in Hudson, Florida, a coastal town several miles from their actual Tampa location. This seemingly minor change had a significant impact – Image Building Media no longer appeared in the local 3-pack for Tampa searches.

How Competitors Can Steal Your Local SEO

The process is alarmingly simple. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how a malicious competitor can manipulate your Google Business Profile listing:

  • Suggest an Edit: The competitor navigates to your Google Business Profile and clicks “Suggest an Edit.”
  • Edit Map Location: They then select “Edit map location,” enabling them to move your business marker on the map.
  • Subtle Relocation: Crucially, they don’t necessarily change the displayed address. Instead, they subtly drag the map marker to a new location, often a different city or town.
  • Plus Code Hijack: The key lies in manipulating the Plus Code, a unique alphanumeric code assigned to specific locations. The competitor alters the Plus Code by dragging the marker to correspond with their chosen fake address, even though the displayed address remains unchanged.

The Devastating Impact: Loss of Leads and Sales

The consequences of this manipulation can be severe. Once your Plus Code is linked to an incorrect location, Google will categorize your business in the new, fake location. This removes your business from the local 3-pack for relevant searches in your service area.

Allan McNabb’s experience is a cautionary tale. His investigation revealed that numerous Tampa-based businesses had fallen victim to the same tactic, unknowingly misplaced within the Hudson area on Google Maps. The impact on these businesses is undeniable – potential customers searching for their services in Tampa would be utterly unaware of their existence.

Taking Back Your Stolen SEO

If you see that your map location on your Google Business Profile has been changed, here’s what you can do to reclaim your rightful local SEO position:

  • Reverse the Action of the SEO Thief: Click “Suggest an Edit” and then “Edit map location.” Carefully reposition the marker to your location and ensure the Plus Code reflects your correct address.
  • Precision Matters: Pinpointing your precise location can be tricky, particularly for businesses within large buildings. McNabb suggests referencing other online maps to ensure your marker placement aligns with landmarks or building entrances.

Proactive Prevention: Safeguarding Your Local SEO

While vigilance is essential, there are additional steps you can take to proactively prevent your Google Business Profile from becoming a target of this local SEO sabotage.

  • Regular Monitoring: The most crucial step is vigilance. Develop a habit of regularly checking your Google Business Profile listing, ideally multiple times per week. McNabb recommends twice a week as a minimum.
  • Spotting the Discrepancy: Pay close attention to the displayed address and your business marker placement on the map. Any inconsistencies between the two should raise a red flag.
  • Own Your Location: Claim and verify your Google Business Profile. This verifies your ownership and gives you control over the information on your listing, creating a barrier against unauthorized edits.
  • Review Activity: Set up Google Business Profile notifications and manually check your Google Business Profile online. Remember that Google is not currently notifying owners of all edit requests; therefore, you must manually check your business listing to detect all malicious activity.

Screenshot of how to set up Google Business Profile Notifications

Conclusion

Local SEO is an ongoing battle, and this latest tactic underscores the need for businesses to remain vigilant in protecting their online presence. By proactively managing your Google Business Profile and implementing regular monitoring practices, you can help minimize the risk of local SEO sabotage and ensure your business continues to reach the customers seeking your products or services in your area.

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