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In today’s social media age, there are two main ways people learn about new businesses and brands: via social media (i.e., when a business is mentioned/reviewed by those in their network) and via Google search.
Nowadays, a local business’s presence on Google search is highly dictated by its Google Business profile.
Your Google Business (previously Google My Business) profile can often be the first impression prospective customers may have about your brand, and this is why your Google Business can be a target for brand abuse attempts by scammers, cybercriminals, and even competitors.
In this post, we will discuss potential brand abuse issues that may affect your Google Business profile and what you can do about them.
Let us begin from the basics.
When consumers perform Google searches for local queries like “restaurants near me,” “gas station in NYC,” and so on, Google will display results from Google Maps on top of the organic search results.
Meaning, if you are a local business, you should put enough focus on your marketing efforts to ensure your Google Business listing is ranked highly on Google Maps results for your area.
We do it by performing a marketing initiative called local SEO or Google Maps SEO, which essentially focuses on four elements:
As you can see, your Google Business profile plays a huge role.
It’s also worth mentioning that assuming you’ve successfully ranked pretty high on Google Maps results and gained some traction, when searchers click on these Google Maps results, they’ll then be directed to the business’s Google Business.
This is why cybercriminals and scammers often target your Google Business profile to hurt your brand reputation, as we will discuss in the next section.
Cybercriminals and scammers can attack your Google Business Profile and Google Maps presence in three major ways:
Fortunately, for each of these challenges, there are brand protection strategies and actions we can take in order to protect your Google Business profile and your overall brand reputation.
What to do if someone else claimed your Google Business listing first?
If, in rare scenarios, the claimed Business Profile is already verified, then you’ll need to reach out to the current profile owner and request ownership (which can be time-consuming and costly.)
Fortunately, Google is pretty strict with the verification process of each Google Business profile, so when it’s possible someone else has claimed your listing, it’s unlikely it’s already verified.
If the profile is not yet verified, then you can simply request ownership of the Business profile to Google, which is fairly easy to do:
As you might have noticed, the above process of requesting Google Business ownership has a loophole: everyone can make the request, and the current profile owner will receive an email.
The thing is, the profile owner who received the email must approve or reject the request since if they don’t respond, Google may allow the requester to claim the profile instead.
This can be an issue if you are currently the legitimate owner of a Google Business profile since malicious parties can (repeatedly) submit the ownership request, often with the assistance of automated bots.
Imagine the situation when you received multiple and even hundreds of these ownership requests and have to review and decline them one by one.
In these situations, there are two things you should do:
While Google has been very active in combating fake Google Business profiles in recent years, cybercriminals are also getting more persistent, and there may be fake Google Business profiles impersonating your brand and posting derogatory content about your business.
What can you do about this?
The important thing to understand is that only Google can remove the fake profile/listing, and unfortunately, it’s up to Google’s discretion whether the fake profile will be removed or not.
What you can do, however, is to gather enough proof and report the fake profile to Google. Here is how you can do it:
If your suggested edit is approved, you’ll receive another confirmation email from Google telling you that your edit has been accepted. Then, voila! Your job is done.
Yet, if the edit doesn’t get approved, you will not get any email, and you should manually check the status of your suggestion. Edit suggestion is first filtered by Google’s AI, and unfortunately, your edit suggestions may not go through. This is where the next option comes in: using the Business Redressal Form (https://support.google.com/business/contact/business_redressal_form)
Below is a step-by-step guide on how you can file your complaint through the Business Redressal Complaint Form:
As mentioned, reviews on Google Maps are extremely valuable today, not only because your prospective customers/clients will read them but also because they are important ranking factors for Google search and Google Maps: the more positive reviews you have on your Google Maps, the higher your business listing will be on the search rankings.
This creates a potential brand abuse situation: it’s very easy for everyone to leave reviews on your brand’s Google Maps (Google Business) listing. Meaning, that competitors and scammers can quite easily leave fake reviews in order to ruin your reputation and also your Google Maps ranking.
What can you do in such situations?
Here is a step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Identify and validate fake reviews
You can’t remove fake Google reviews if you can’t recognize them and differentiate them from legitimate ones.
Just because reviews are negative doesn’t necessarily mean they are fake. They might come from legitimate customers with legitimate reasons.
Here are some traits you should look for:
Step 2: Contact the reviewer
Before anything else, try reaching out to the negative reviewer.
In fact, make a habit of always responding to negative reviews. Not only can it help you in resolving the problem sooner, but customers are more likely to leave reviews on businesses that frequently responded to the previous reviews. (Again, remember you’ll need these reviews.)
If you get a response, apologize for the experience, let them know you are unaware of the account they experienced, ask for more details, and try to find a resolution.
If you don’t get a response back from the negative reviewer, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Flag the review
Log in to your Google Business account, open the Review section, and find the fake review you’d like to report. Click on the three dots (menu) on the right side of the review, and flag it as inappropriate.
By now, you should be redirected to a new page where you can give more information. You should hear a response from Google within 72 hours.
Step 4: Contact Google and report the fake review
If you didn’t hear back from Google after 72 hours have passed, you can try reaching out to Google Business Support directly.
Investing in a brand protection software like Red Points can ensure potential infringements surrounding your Google Business and Google Maps listing, and ensure your brand reputation is protected around the clock.