Respected tech magazine Wired recently published an article about the ways a small group of individuals with ill intent can effectively destroy a small business’ online presence.
Worse? Google’s not doing much about it, at least according to a lawsuit by Rene Bertagna, whose restaurant of 40 years shut down after Google Maps showed his restaurant as closed on his busiest days.
How Hackers Can Destroy Your Business
Have you ever used Google Maps to find a restaurant, store, or other kind of business?
If you have an Android or iOS device (such as an iPhone), chances are you have.
Mobile users account for a huge portion of all web traffic, and built-in maps apps (like Google Maps) are among the first place those mobile users turn when looking for you.
It stands to reason that businesses who have a strong presence on Google Maps – the ones who show up first and have accurate information – get more customers than businesses who aren’t listed on the service.
According to the article on Wired, hackers are exploiting flaws in the basic functionality of Google Maps and effectively making businesses disappear.
Based on my reading of the article, it sounds like anyone – an unhappy customer, a competitor, or just some kid looking to cause trouble – can modify any business’ listings on Google Maps. (That’s what Rene Bertagna alleges happened to his business. According to his suit, a competitor submitted false information to Google’s database and showed Bertagna’s restaurant as closed on the weekends – his busiest days. Now, the restaurant really is closed for good.)
Bertagna lawsuit claims Google should do more to protect businesses from the practice.
As SEO consultant and whistleblower Bryan Seely says,
“People (hack Google Maps like this) all the time—people have even offered me money to get listing spammed or banned . . . There are legitimate businesses being put of out business.”
This is scary. As seen in the article, a “mom & pop” business can thrive for 40 years…only to disappear in a matter of months thanks to some Google Maps hackers.
At this point, there’s no way to “lock” a business listing so a competitor can’t change it. But there are things you can do as a small business (or even an enterprise) to protect yourself from digital vandals. Here are my top 3 tips to protect your small business from Google Maps hackers.
1. Own Your Web Presence.
Do you have a website? Does it have up-to-date information about your hours, location, prices, etc?
If not, you’re essentially leaving the door open for someone else (such as a competitor) to take charge of your web presence for you.
Hire someone to build a simple website, and you’ll quickly have an official place customers will look for information about your business. Owning your web presence is the first step to protecting your business from hackers.
(I recommend avoiding “free” website builders like Wix and Homestead. They don’t offer much customization, despite what their sales pages claim, and it’s very hard to grow your business website if you start with one of those services.)
2. Submit your Information to Multiple Sites.
By having your own website, you’ll be able to have a place Google and your customers can reference for accurate, real information about your business.
It’s also the first step to submitting your business information to directories like Google, Yelp, and others. By having your information on multiple sites, you’ll essentially flood the web with redundant information. This protects you in case hackers target a single site, such as Google Maps.
You’ll also need to regularly monitor the information on those sites for accuracy and to quickly correct any errors you see.
3. Get Some Help.
If you’re a small business owner, you probably don’t have time to constantly check your Google Maps listings and ensure everything is still accurate.
You’re busy managing your business, restocking supplies, and keeping track of sales numbers.
Don’t add to the pile of responsibilities you have to your business. Instead, make a smart choice and get help from a professional.
If you need help getting your business listed, found, and protected online, contact me. I don’t currently offer those services myself, but I can point you to someone who does.
You’ve probably spent thousands of hours making your business successful, so don’t let all of that go to waste in a relatively short time simply because of Google Maps hackers. Follow the steps above and begin protecting your business today.