Help: Pizza Hut Hijacked my Google Maps Listing!

Posted by | August 16, 2010 | SEO | One Comment

Search Engine Optimization on Google Maps for Small Businesses with retail locations is a passion of mine that I don’t always get to indulge in on a day to day basis.  Many of my clients are manufacturers or national service providers who do not have retail locations, so I only get to apply my knowledge in select situations.

That’s why I was very excited when I received the following distress call last week from a pizza place that had some problems with their listing on Google Maps; it allowed me to put my knowledge of the subject into action.  I was probably over exhaustive with my response, but I thought it would make a good blog post.

Pizza Hut Hijacked my Google Maps Listing

Definition of the problem:

“My favorite pizza shop has a complaint with a Google search.  When you search pizza in Culver CityLaRocco’s name comes up but the number below their name is for Pizza Hut.  It also says Pizza Hut but consumers don’t notice that.  They end up thinking they called LaRocco’s and show up asking for their pizza and get angry when LaRocco’s doesn’t have the order.  I was witness to this a few weeks ago.

Apparently Google said there’s nothing they can do.  Does that sound right?”

Pizza Culver City Hijacked

I knew right away what was happening, as I had read about this type of behavior happening in New York City with Locksmiths – as well as many other cases of Google Maps Spam.  Here is my response in full:

Local SEO and Fighting Google Maps Spam

This is a classic case of what has been called “map spam” in the industry –something that happens a lot on Google’s local search results.  Unfortunately, solving the problem isn’t widely supported by Google.

A company’s ranking in the search results for the “local” Google Maps search engine takes into account several factors, including distance from business from the city center, number of reviews for the business, number of local directories that claim this business and more.  In LaRocco’s case, they are actually doing a great job at being visible with the search engines (must be a great place and I am definitely visiting next time I’m in LA), but are running into a problem: Pizza Hut appears to have claimed their listing unfairly and possibly unscrupulously.

How does this happen?

This happens likely for two reasons:

  1. LaRocco’s has not “claimed” that they own this business location with Google.  While claiming a business is fairly painless (instructions below), it’s not something many business owners do automatically.  By not claiming a business, an opportunity arises for another business to claim this location as theirs.
  2. Pizza Hut is a large national retailer with many locations.  In order to ease management for mass retailers, Google provides them with the opportunity to “bulk upload” a list of their business locations and have them automatically approved.  As a result of their status, Google makes it very easy for Pizza Hut to claim all of their locations, and possibly claim the locations of their competitors.  This can either be done inadvertently or intentionally, but it appears to have happened here.

By not having claimed the listing in Google, it allowed Pizza Hut to claim that they owned the business.  This can be reversed using the methods below.

How do we fix this?

While there’s no magic bullet for fixing the listing, I would start with the source and troubleshoot from there.

  • We recommend starting with having LaRocco’s claim their local business listing with Google.  They can do this here: http://www.google.com/local/add/.  They can verify that they own the business via phone or US Mail.  They should choose the phone option, because US Mail doesn’t seem to work.   This should only take a short time for the business to set up.
  • Once the listing is claimed, LaRocco’s can update all vital information to make their business contact information appear properly. This should only take a few minutes and may solve the problem immediately.
  • LaRocco’s should do whatever they can to claim their business listing with all possible services to make sure that this doesn’t happen elsewhere.  Claiming the listing also allows them to post special offers, store hours, menus, photos, etc.  This is recommended.  Start with the following:
    • Use the tool on www.getlisted.org to see how the site is viewed in Google, Yelp, Bing, Yahoo, etc. (I see 75% for LaRocco’s Pizzeria)
    • Promote the site using a service called www.universalbusinesslisting.org.  For $30, they will create/claim your listing with hundreds of local business directories, protecting them from fraud while also allowing their business to be found on hundreds of more websites.
    • Consider promoting with even more services, like the others on this list:  http://getlisted.org/enhanced-business-listings.aspx
  • Participate in the communities around each of these sites, especially Yelp and Google.  Encourage reviews from customers, create specials on Foursquare and other location services (Gowalla, Loopt, etc.), respond to negative reviews, offer specials and discounts, etc.

Taking these steps will not only reverse the trends seen above by Pizza Hut “hijacking” LaRocco’s listing, but will also significantly increase their presence online!

Let me know if you have any questions.  If you got this far, I commend you for reading!

Google Maps Spam Problem Solved

“Jeff,

It worked! I dropped off the instructions last night and I had an email in my yahoo mailbox today.

Thanks again for making me look soooo good!”

Pizza Culver City - Clean

Concluding

If you know anyone who owns a business with retail locations, this blog post should help them by outlining a series of steps that all businesses can take advantage of immediately!  I probably didn’t need to write such a long email to explain the problem (I could have just sent the link to http://www.google.com/local/add/ and said “good luck”), but I decided to write out the steps for both personal justification as well as training for others.  While local search is fairly easy in principle, it’s a lot of information for a small business to consume on limited resources.

Understanding the intricacies of Google Maps and Local Search Engine Optimization can be a daunting task for businesses, and this is an area where it may pay to have an expert on retainer.  I can’t tell you how fulfilling it was to help solve LaRocco’s problems, and I hope that this post helps others resolve theirs!

  • Whistleblower (withheld by request)

    Pizza Hut is using other sinister techniques to steal competition. For example, in Canada, pizzapizza.com takes you to pizzapizza.ca. But with a simple typo pizzpizza.com redirects you to pizzahut.com

    http://www.pizzahut.com/?utm_source=Sendori&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Brand

    Although the pizzpizza.com domain is hosted in Shanghai, China, we can easily guess it was sponsored by Pizza Hut from the resulting URL.

    Interestingly, as of 2012-06-28 this no longer works.

    What is worth nothing is new TLDs will open a whole new can of worms for hijacking and redirecting traffic.