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Beware of Google Partner ‘Spoofing’ – It Will Cost You

Every single week we receive calls on our business phone, my personal mobile phone and emails soliciting us for Google business listings. The sellers all claim to be ‘Google Partners’ with an almost magical ability to put everyone on the first page of Google local search engine results page (SERPs). I know they guarantee the #1 position to me, and I presume they aren’t calling another potential client saying “we’ve already guaranteed the first position to someone else, but we can offer you the #2 position.” Heck, everyone can be #1, right? In the scammers world, there is no such thing as honesty.

By and large, these solicitors are fly-by-night operators using spoofing techniques to portray themselves as legitimate, trained and certified Google Partners. Their contact emails will generally suggest a Google relationship with addresses such as searchgoogle1@gmail.com, etc. Note, they will often cleverly use Gmail…Google’s public, free email system to lend credence to their claims, but replies to those email addresses are “forwarded” to their real email addresses that may not even be located in the U.S.

The pitch goes something like this:

“Today we have guaranteed free first-page positions available for your business from Google. Press 1 to connect to an operator to get your first-page Google listing.”

These solicitations are rarely about Google Adwords for Pay Per Click advertising. These solicitations are about the organic listings on the search engine pages, Google map placement and the Google Business listings you’ll occasionally see across the top or right rail of the screen or the large block format “Local 3-Pack” as it is now called. These are not unlike the old Yellow Pages directory listings in which you paid for a variety of different ad sizes, type size differences and boxy-formatted content to make your listing stand out in the telephone directories. Google has a huge investment in Google My Business and its PPC formats, but around the fringes of just about every large business opportunity, which is measured in the tens of billions of dollars, “entrepreneurs” will pop up, try to grab some quick cash and then move onto a different location with a different company name and email address. Roving telephone directory sales squads and boiler room telephone solicitations used to be prevalent in the Yellow Pages era. These disreputable firms would collect cash or a check on the spot through pressure tactics, with no intention of delivering the service. We apparently now have a counterpart in the digital age.

Many of our clients rely on Communication Links for consulting services to help with PPC, SEO or business listings, and they expect us to act in a trustworthy fashion to help deliver results. For that service, we do charge a fee. But we, and firms like ours, put the customers first and act responsibly to spend their money wisely and to provide them with performance measurements. As a legitimate agency, I get really upset with these disreputable solicitors, and I let the telemarketer know I’m planning to report them to federal agencies. It’s amazing how fast they hang up the phone!

And, you should, too, if they call you directly. Regardless of whether you are one of our clients, or use other firms to help you, make sure your agency or business partner has a physical office, a legitimate business website, telephone numbers that actually work and an email address tied to their website domains. Frankly, I am wary of a ‘company’ that has an email domain with no website, or a flimsy website but doesn’t use email associated with the website domain. What are they trying to hide?

Google My BusinessAlternately, you can do some of the Google local work yourself for free. The caveat is that you’ll need to work through the Google My Business website pages to figure out how to do this, perhaps using a tech savvy member of your staff. Go to Google My Business for more details.

Last year, Google finally took note of the spoofing problem and filed a lawsuit against one such company in California for portraying themselves as “agents” of Google, and using illegal and abusive telemarketing tactics to solicit small business owners. In its filing with the court, Google listed a example of a typical call:

‘It’s extremely urgent that we speak to the business owner! We’ve tried to reach you numerous times. Our records indicate that your Google Business Listing has not been claimed…’

If you receive a call like this, or if an email solicitation offers you a “Guaranteed #1 position” in search results, hang up quickly or add the email address to your company’s server anti-spam filter. If you really need help with Google Pay Per Click advertising, SEO or local business listings, work with a professional company that is willing to stand behind its work. At the local level, every dollar counts in the golf industry, and you deserve accountability from your partner-agency.

This Featured Post first appeared in Jim’s Digital Lab in January, 2016 on my company’s website at Communication Links, a Marketing, Public Relations and Digital Media agency based in Scottsdale, AZ.