Is it possible to steal customers looking for your competition in Google Maps? It not only appears as if you can, but it might be trivially easy and somewhat troubling that it’s possible. It’s also a good reason why it’s important to register your business with Google Maps and other local search services and have at the very least a single page website listing your company info.
This issue came to my attention via a thread at the Small Business Forum. Thread starter MONOLITH tells how one of his competitors set up a listing with Google Maps with MONOLITH’s company name, but with a link to the competitor’s site. Even worse the competitor’s listing is ranked above MONOLITH’s listing.
Since MONOLITH didn’t openly mention the sites in question I’ll refrain from mentioning them here as well. However if you read through the thread it’s easy enough to figure out. Hint: Look at the linked image.
You’d want to believe potential customers could figure things out when they arrived at the competitor site, but you never know. And if your competitor added a single line like company ‘x’ is now company ‘y’ to the landing page they could easily steal your business.
Is hijacking a your competitors brand in this way legal? It’s definitely shady. What can you do about?
What You Can Do To Keep Your Customers
Legally I have no idea, but I do have some suggestions to help potential customers find you instead of your competitor when they search for your name. Most importantly make sure you have a listing in Maps and all the other local search services. Next make sure your listing ranks first for your company name. This shouldn’t be too hard and part of MONOLITH’s problem appears to be the lack of a link to a website. At the moment the company website is a single coming soon page, but while the site is waiting I’d change the coming soon message to the company’s contact information and then include the link on the Maps listing.
That really should be enough to ensure you rank first for your company name, but if for some reason it doesn’t work you can try optimizing for these 10 likely elements of Google’s local search algorithm.
Even if you’re ranking #1 your competitor’s phony listing will still be there. One thing you might do is add a review to their listing where you simply point out where to really find your company. That might lead your competitor to fill out reviews on your listing, but the more they lie the worse they’re going to look.
Ranking first or adding a review still doesn’t remove the phony listing. I’d like to believe Google will remove it once it’s made aware of the problem, but I have a hunch they might not. And like I said I don’t know the legality of this situation. I’d also like to believe one phone call from a lawyer would have the competitor remove the listing, but again I have a hunch it would take more.
Regardless of how Google and the legal system deals with the issue it’s clearly in your best interest to list your business and make sure it ranks above the phony listing. Most people will click the first result and finding your business never notice your competitor’s hijacking attempt. Still it’s pretty troubling how easy your competition can steal your customers, especially if your company has no online presence.