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Hey Glyn: Theft And Misdirection In The Hotel World Inside Google Local

hotels booking companies google local spam more cr@p

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#1 earlpearl


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Posted 15 January 2014 - 11:53 AM



This article by Danny Sullivan:  http://searchenginel...le-local-181670 grabbed my attention and I thought you'd find it interesting if not something with which you have already encountered:



The comments section is VERY revealing.  A number of seo's that deal with hotel sites described that this has been a recurring problem.  Booking sites get the local sites of hotels redirected to their own urls.   


I guess if you work on this in scale it really makes a financial difference.   I know I saw reference to this issue years ago, wherein the url's within the local records for hotels were redirected to booking websites.  


That is theft.  Plain and simple.  A fee based booking company steals the record of a hotel to hopefully get a booking and a fee.  Frankly the searcher is oblivious to what occurs.  The searcher clicks on what they think is a hotel site and are sent to a stolen record for a booking site.   It could be a landing page built by the booking site for that hotel.  Really does the searcher know the difference????


Its the comments to the article that are very revealing.  There are a lot of them.  It grabbed a lot of attention.  People with experience in local seo for hotels commented on the issue.  Its evidently an issue that has been in existence for some time.  Its only the size and scope of the problem that grabbed Danny Sullivan's attention this time.  In fact it appears the publicity he garnered created an instant reaction by google this time to plug this scam.


But its been going on for years.


As somebody who has followed, worked and commented in the local world for years I've felt for a long time that the scammers and spammers in local are ahead of the game.   Find a hole in local google and do it in scale and it results in big $$$$.   That has been a recurring theme.  


Danny couldn't figure out how the scam occurred and neither could I but reading the comments made it quite clear.


Its way to bad google doesn't lock down claimed listings.  Its been a recurring problem for all kinds of businesses let alone hotels.

Edited by earlpearl, 15 January 2014 - 11:56 AM.

#2 glyn


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Posted 16 January 2014 - 02:50 AM

Hey thanks for that heads up.


Seems pretty straightforward to me, create fake listings based on either brand name domains or you could technically just clone a website for the purposes of being convincing at a review stage and then just redirect the URLS.


I wonder who broke the story, probably some OTAs seeing lots of their revenue drop off :dazed:



#3 glyn


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Posted 16 January 2014 - 03:01 AM

I just love the way the Guardian is able to slice Google Ads on their homepage (right column underneath sponsored feature) below so that the advertisers URLS are not properly represented. Is that breaking Google terms of service?

Edited by glyn, 16 January 2014 - 03:01 AM.

#4 earlpearl


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Posted 16 January 2014 - 03:13 PM

Barry referenced this snafu at SERoundtable here  I found his comments interesting:


1.  The story was in the works for a few days:  That suggests to me either somebody got a hold of it at SELand early on or quite possibly a hotel seo fed them the story to get it publicized.  Somebody somewhere did a little homework to scrape data and see how many of these listings were hi jacked.  


2.  Google swept it under the rug.  That has been the Google MO for years on these types of things.


3.  I do know that in the past there were examples of booking companies stealing hotel records and redirecting searchers to booking urls/sites/landing pages.  Its just theft.


4.  I'm not in the hotel world...but I know hotels are among the largest advertisers on google.  I'm surprised that this didn't go up the hotel chains and they didn't get to google directly on this.   I just wonder how long this big theft was in existence in this latest episode.


5.  The numbers of redirected urls to booking urls is large.  That is a lot of money.


I'm actually more surprised at the hotels.  While I'm not in the hotel industry...I know that booking fees can be pretty danged expensive, especially on the smaller hotels....and pull out a lot of money.   It surprises me the industry with the actual hotels haven't taken a big stand on this.  


6.  I don't know.  there is a lot of money in this and in my experience usually money talks.  I'm surprised more at the hotel chains than google...b/c google basically have never shown utmost concern about these types of problems.  


7.  As to the methodologies for the scam.  The comments section in the article are pretty revealing.  For all the effort in the local world....I haven't spent a lot of time to develop "scams" to game the system in google maps....but its amazing how many there are and how many get surfaced.

#5 earlpearl


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Posted 20 January 2014 - 03:23 PM

Hey Glynn:


I see you added comments to the story.  Did you find out who "spilled the beans" or more formally, who alerted SELand to the story????   


I too am curious.

#6 glyn


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Posted 21 January 2014 - 05:52 AM


#7 bobbb


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Posted 21 January 2014 - 10:52 AM

If you read Glyn's hacking thread [Edited the URL out]

that is what happened to his site in a less than a subtle way.

Edited by jonbey, 21 January 2014 - 01:25 PM.
Link to the Labs which is a private category + removed the last bit of link that was still there (jon)

#8 earlpearl


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Posted 21 January 2014 - 11:18 AM

Stealing a google record can be a pretty mundane activity without code.   There are a lot of ways to do this.  One method appears to be submitting multiple sets of changes to a record through either map maker or the correct the record sources available in google local or now called google + local, or on Maps.  It might just be, Bobb if you and I separately made edits to Glynn's hardware and underwear shop in London and gave it new NAP (name, address, Phone info, plus a new url) and say we coordinated the info that all the traffic came to my hardware/underwear shop in sunny Palm Springs..or your hardware/flannel underwear shop in Canada,we could steal Glynn's traffic...simply because there were 2 reports each one coordinated with the same info and coming from 2 separate IP's.   A reviewer might see two reports and automatically assume they are correct.  (2 heads are better than 1, or 2 crooked heads are better than 1)   ;)


I've been generating edits in google's MapMaker which is one way to edit information about hard businesses.  In fact you can go into MapMaker and see the history of edits on smbs.   In this most recent case it appears that google is erasing the edit history on these hotels along with fixing the information.  It seems google doesn't want you or I to know what was done-- ;)


As to the one's I edit ...they are local honest changes having to do with smb's in my area that might close, have wrong information up, etc.   Google is dealing with something like 40 million local smbs around the world.   They have edit teams in India but it appears they can be compromised.  


I've also been editing records in yelp.  Both seem to be similarly responsive on updating smb information.   The changes being affected don't have to have been done via code.


The other side of the issue, not significantly addressed in Danny's article is simply that the google maps/google local/ google local + system is not nor has it ever been airtight.  On top of that google never seems to give a rats @ss about correcting this information with any urgency, let alone ever correcting the info at all.


I know that the local info for hotel sites has been periodically redirected to booking businesses for years.  The issue has come up in complaints into the google places forum for many years.


Its been consistent.  Its theft.  Google mostly doesn't care, it appears, and I suspect the only reason this one got prompt attention is that it was brought to Danny Sullivan's attention...he wrote about it...it got significant publicity...and so they jumped on it simply because of the potential for major publicity damage.    Also its quite large and widespread.  This one's a biggie!!!!!!


btw:  I've been part of the local seo community for a long time; having been a commentator on David Mihm's "Local Ranking Factor's" annual article as a commentator since it began, and I've worked on some of these issues.   There are some industries that have been under the radar screen who have employed spammy methods to dominate local visibility for years and years.   Locksmiths are the ones that gained a lot of publicity a few years ago.  It occurs across the board.


Some methods are or have been pretty mundane.   For instance a business or industry would "spam" the ecosystem of local directories  ie all the web yellow page sites;  with faked information about location, address, name, url. etc.   That info would get scraped by google into their local records data base via algo and the plethora of faked bad information would result in wide spread changes across the board in google local records appearing in the LOCAL PAC on the first page of google dot com.


Just a lot of stuff.  Its all about the money.  I'm pretty sure the spammers will find and pay off webmasters or webdesigners/ to place hidden invisible links into perfectly acceptable websites....that will only get snagged by competitors who saw their site's local and or organic serps plunge to competitors and then use link tools to see the underhanded links.  That is organic...not maps...but it also goes on.    Whenever I've seen one of those there is always big money behind it.


I mostly think google is completely lackadaisical about policing this stuff.   They only seem to react when they are embarrassed as with the big publicity from Danny Sullivan's article.   But after all....the spam methods are all ultimately targeting google where most of the search traffic is.  So by not addressing it google more or less accommodates it...and its usually theft.   

Edited by earlpearl, 21 January 2014 - 11:51 AM.

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