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Know Thy Enemy: Black Hat Google Places

Google Places | 13 Oct 2011

black hat google places

I love Local SEO just as much as I hate it. I love it because it is tremendously unpredictable and just when you think you have it figured out, the game changes. There is very little rhyme or reason and tricks have a very short shelf life. I hate it because it is an open house for those who choose to exploit and spam. The algorithm is still young, and the policing is non-existent, which allows for a lot of manipulation.

I really enjoyed Linda Buquet’s Red Hat SEO post, which emphasizes taking advantage of features and doing so in a really smart way. Basically she demonstrates how to make the best of the tools that Google gives you. Linda’s post got me thinking, and prompted me to write this one.

There is a phenomenal amount of information being published every day by folks like Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Linda Buquot, Nyagoslav Zhekov and many more. However, only twice have I ever read (outside of a WSO) about the enemy. What is the enemy, the spammer doing? Nyagoslav Zhekov made a good dent with his Black Hat Heaven post and more recently Verification Workarounds post.

I want to pick up where Mr. Zhekov left off and cover some of the real dirty black hat Google Places techniques I’ve picked up in my time in the niche. Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that I do this, or that you should, but rather that I have seen it done.

Citations: ScrapeBox Blast

A citation in respect to Google Places is an occurrence of business information. Specifically, it is NAP (name, address, phone). Many people get it confused with a submission to a local business directory like Yelp, Superpages or InsiderPages, but those are just popular sources to submit a citation to. We submit to these guys because they are authoritative and in addition to leaving a citation, we can earn some link juice by linking back to our site.

Is this enough though? Are my competitors doing more? Maybe. Introducing Scrapebox – a tool that harvests URLs from the search engines, in effort to find blogs that will allow you to leave a comment. Ideally you would search for relevant blogs, with good authority, domain age and most importantly that will approve your comment. Once you have your list, using this automation tool you can post to all of these blogs automatically. Typically most folks will use this for their organic efforts, but what if you were to post the NAP? Well people are doing it – in a big way. You can easily harvest 20k blogs, post to them and automatically create 20k citations. Holy **** right? Bear in mind, a lot of the sites are crap, and many comments won’t stick.

Think a bit outside the box and you will also realize that this is a great way to get your NAP scraped and Google Places page created.


Fake reviews are nothing new to anyone who has played around in the Google Places arena. Even business owners are well aware of them. Have you ever wondered how people get away with it? What tools they might be using? Leaving 1 or 2 fake reviews on your own places page is no science. Doing so on most directories, even easier. However, you aren’t a spammer if you are only leaving a couple reviews and that is who you may be up against.

I have seen a lot of variations to how people go about leaving fake reviews, but the ones that really impressed me come from the most paranoid spammers I know. Here is the process:

Firstly, you want to make sure you are not using Chrome. Google owns it, and you don’t need them spying on you. Use Firefox instead. Before you get started clean EVERYTHING. Cache, Cookies, Temp, History etc. Use Ccleaner, BetterPrivacy etc.

Next, we need to manipulate your location by changing your IP address. There are many pieces of software that will allow you to do this: HMA VPN, Hide My IP, Proxy Bonanza etc. Using one of these services you want to make sure your IP now reflects one from the closest city available to the business you are going to review. Out of country is unacceptable, in province/state is OKAY, same city is best.

Once you’re sorted, open FF and register a new Gmail account. Most guys who do this in a big way will buy huge lists of Gmail addresses. In my personal opinion, I would want a Gmail account that was created using an IP address in the city or nearby city of the business you are reviewing. Better yet, one that has had some time to mature and perhaps has reviewed some other local businesses before. Login, and then login to Google Hotpot.

Last step, search for the business as if you were a potential customer by searching their keywords. Find them and leave your review. The anatomy of a review is a whole different post, but obviously make sure it is natural sounding, and if you can, sneak the cityname and keyword into the content.

Rinse and repeat. Paranoia is your best friend when it comes to leaving fake reviews.

Note: there are tools that will accomplish all of this. Also, many folks have outsourced this function to microworkers, mturk, odesk etc.

Fake Addresses

Read Nyagoslav Zhekov’s post first. Many of his solutions are ones I know to work pretty well.

Now, this technique is as black as it comes. In fact, I am pretty sure this is mail fraud…USPS allows you submit a change of address online for $1. SO, if ONE was to find an address for a business not featured in Google Places, (use a real biz) and submit a change of address, any mail could be re-routed wherever you want. Figured it out yet? Create a Google Places page, send the post card and it will be sent wherever you want.

I understand that USPS sends a piece of mail to the businesses address letting them know about the address change so time is of the essence.

Another method would be using Scrapebox as explained above.

Lastly the most traditional approach, find a virtual office space or mail box rental joint. Pricing ranges from $20-$100/mo. I would stay away from PO Boxes and make sure the address you are issued is 100% unique. That is, it doesn’t already appear in Google Places. Unfortunately, a lot of these offices are already a suite themselves, and in that instance you will have to get creative with the address formatting. TIP: Stay away from alpha differentiators – I am told Google doesn’t treat them as a differentiation. Ie 123 main st suite 100A is no different from 123 main st suite 100.

Competitor Sabotage

Chances are, whether you know it or not, you have been effected in one way or another by this. I have seen it in just about every niche from optometrists to tantric massage. It exists and it can often be ruthless. In one particular case I had to give CPR to a listing in London daily for 2 weeks as it kept being knocked out of the SERPs by a fellow competitor. I eventually concluded the attacker was using a technique outlined in Mr. Zhekov’s before mentioned post. Nasty stuff and certainly where tools like Bright Local’s local SERP tracker come in handy. I remember Mr. Blumenthal putting it “Particularly the way I use [Bright Local] – to spot any strongly negative trends or fubars in Places.”

Some other examples:

Leaving fake negative reviews is a really obvious one, and as I recently experienced, can really tank your listing. Yah I am talking about you Mr. London Spammer.

If the business has wifi – walk into their shop and leave reviews from their IP. Not always, but if the Google account associated with the business was created and/or has been accessed from that IP by say the owner, Google will think it’s the owner leaving fake reviews. This is obviously very much against TOC and can land the listing in hot soup.

Xrumer their Google Places page. Xrumer is a tool that registers and spams forums with the aim to increase your search engine rankings. Today, most folks using this tool know not to point these links directly at the website, especially post panda. With that said, pointing these links at a property (Google Places page) which is not even yours, but Googles is suicide. I don’t think I need to elaborate any further…

In Summary

Please take all this with an ocean of salt. This post was absolutely not meant to provide you with direction to employ these techniques yourself, but rather to educate you on what may be going on in your niche. As the title of this article suggests, your best way to fight these guys is to know what they are doing.

Related posts:

  1. Places Optimization: The Ins and Outs
  2. Tips to Rank in Google Places
  3. Google Places Page Optimization: Google Local in Review
  4. Google Places Pending Status Surprise
  5. Goodbye, Farewell Google Places Phone Verification…


  • Nyagoslav

    Thanks for the mention of my article, Adam. Yours is definitely a very good sequel. I’m pretty sure fake addresses are illegal and I am often hearing complaints from totally clueless regular citizens that they got people at their door asking them if they offer plumbing or moving services…

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Haha – Well, I won’t say I am completely innocent of taking advantage of this pre post card. I think most people in the niche had a pretty good run. Nevertheless, they’re are much more civilized and legit methods, as you carefully laid out in your post.

  • Akshay Patil

    Nice Post :)
    This will actually help me in getting started on SEO for Google Places.

  • anonymous

    I’ve found that the phone number thing can be a real problem too… you need a unique one to complete the full “NAP” circle. I’ve found that services like Hosted Numbers can work great for this because you’re just creating a forwarding number to a main customer service line but it looks like a local business to Google. These local signals are really important. One really cool thing is that sometimes you can verify the address with a phone pin which makes life a lot easier.

    I’ve personally struggled to get PO boxes and virtual mail addresses to stick in Places.

    If anyone has any ideas on how to get an address in a market where you don’t have a physical location, please let me know. I’m working with a large national company, but their services are mostly local and their customers are searching with local phrases that usually pull up a places listing… super frustrating to not be able to capture that local traffic.

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Thanks for your comment.

      Re phone numbers – ya, there are lots of places to get them. One thing to note though is some of these providers recycle their numbers, and the number they give you could already exist in GP. Be sure to check this before using it. I believe Matthew Hunt mentioned that to me today. If you are looking for a good provider, check out – this is admittedly a start up of my own, but is something I have used for my local gig since the beginning of time. Works great!

      Yah, I hear ya – there are a lot of hurdles around picking up a virtual address or mailbox. Biggest things in my opinion are: Close to centroid, 100% unique address and cost.

      Good luck!

  • NewYorkGuy

    I’ve recently come across another possible black hat tactic and I can’t find any info about it online or figure out how they did it.

    A competitor has been posting MASS 5-star reviews on my business listing with very little text.

    For example, the reviews go something like this:
    1) Google
    2) 48291183372
    3) weird.
    4) girls
    5) OK yes I do know
    6) Haha

    About 40 reviews like that were posted in one day.

    No reviewers have clickable usernames.

    I wonder…did they actually have to sign up 40 Google accounts to post these?

    Why would they do this?

    It hasn’t seemed to hurt my Google rankings…

    Have any idea what this is about?

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Interesting! It was my understanding that one could only leave a reviews WITH a Google account.

      We’ve all heard of review sabotage, that is, leaving negative reviews on competitors listings…

      These reviews are most obviously spammy, and I would imagine given the poor content, they probably didn’t take the time to cover their bases (proxies etc). As such, I would be surprised if these didn’t get filtered out eventually. How long have these been live?

      I will ask around and see if anyone else has seen anything like this.


      • NewYorkGuy

        The last ones are from Dec 18 (11 days ago now) and they haven’t been removed. I haven’t reported this to Google either though.

        I haven’t seen any major changes in my rankings for good or bad.

  • bob mc alister

    would like to ask your advice. I have my website address currrently connected to my OLD physical address..which is still vacant. I did complete an address forwarding for the USPS, but havent changed the address on my google places for fear of losing my places page. anyone have any experience withthis problem…should I just add another location address in addition to the old one. ? thanks for any help !

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Well, I can certainly see the advantage of going the latter route. Two locations…twice the visibility : ) Depends on what kind of business you do I suppose. I would give my client the choice.

      If you make decide to make the change, be sure to be as thorough as possible when adjusting your supporting data or I can promise you, it will come back to haunt you, and not only in rank.

      Good luck, and please let me know if I can be of additional assistance.


  • bob mc alister

    also, the link to the black hat google isnt working for me. thanks !

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