If you do something long enough you feel like you’ve seen it all. SEO is no different. I’ve worked with companies of all stripes, but every once in a while you see something that just blows your hair back. This past year I began working with a local rehabilitation facility, and while I began doing my job I became appalled by the business practices of certain companies in the rehabilitation industry and how they were exploiting holes in Google’s algorithm to benefit themselves. The industry is drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and when I began working with a local business that puts their heart and soul into helping people I made a discovery that made me sick.
Go ahead and call me a socialist
It’s 2017 and there’s an argument for everything. I don’t give a shit. I own a company and make a living by practicing capitalism, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere, no? Let me walk you through this.
- In the summer of 2016, I begin working with a local drug and alcohol rehab facility in Grand Rapids
- At one of our initial meetings I’m informed that the industry is inundated with fake local three pack listings
- Not familiar with the industry, and having done plenty of local Grand Rapids SEO, I assure them this must be an anomaly as Google has cracked down on fake local listings pretty effectively in recent years
- After assurances that this is indeed an issue in Grand Rapids, and markets all over the country, I go ahead and search for “Grand Rapids alcohol rehab”
- At this point, I looked like a dipshit who knows nothing about SEO
So, to get this straight, Project Rehab is a misleading link to a local place and Sanford House is a legitimate link aimed at facilities helping people with addiction. So, those two listings are okay in a roundabout way. Mind you, this screen grab is from January 2017, but the “Alcohol Detox Program Grand Rapids” is not a local business and has been around for at least the last seven months since I started paying attention to this mess. They’re still in the three pack with several other local competitors competing further down map listings who DO NOT HAVE LOCAL FACILITIES. At one point, the top two listings were fake addresses leading to sites just like this:
Check out the 888 number, and go ahead and do the search and check it out at http://drugrehab247.com/grand-rapids-mi/#27 (they will not get the benefit of a live link from me). If you live in Grand Rapids, I implore you to swing by 101 Diamond Avenue and see if you can find their facilities. I live a few blocks from this address, and I can assure you there’s no rehab facility there.
This isn’t an online shoe store
There will forever be scams online, or misleading marketing. I’d be lying if I haven’t fallen victim to it at times and perhaps participated in a bit of misleading behavior myself over the years. However, trying to get someone to order a product from a shipping center a few hundred miles away rather than in their backyard is a very different situation than having someone with a potentially life-altering chemical dependency showing up on your doorstep seeking help and finding this, the actual facility at 101 Diamond Avenue…Houseman Field, a local stadium nestled into a residential neighborhood.
Google has some responsibility here
We have managed local search marketing campaigns for hundreds of companies during Netvantage’s existence. I can tell you with certainty that it’s become increasingly difficult to try to fake Google out with a P.O. Box address or a temporary office in place of a physical business in nearly any industry. Yet somehow, in an industry as vital and potentially as life and death as drug rehabilitation, they’ve dropped the ball. It has taken us MONTHS in some instances, to get Google to verify an actual physical address for a local lawyer, making this all the more frustrating. Especially if someone calls the 800 numbers on these types of sites, since they sell your information to countless rehab facilities who then spam your phone with endless sales calls to get you to come to their facility, when all you want is a local solution for a critical issue. The fact that Google makes it difficult as hell for practiced professionals and legitimate businesses to get a verified local business listing while this shit is everywhere is nauseating.
How big is this problem?
The scariest thing about this is that I don’t even know how out of control this is. When I first explored this problem the biggest offender was rehabs.com. Again, I’m not against someone making a legitimate business out of the rehab industry, and in theory, rehabs.com offers a useful service. The site is a paid directory where local rehab facilities pay to be listed in. They get a lot of traffic, and if someone is researching various facilities in a specific region, this can be valuable for the person seeking assistance and to the facility who is connected to a potential client. However, not everyone using a Google search will click through to these pages, they instead see the local address or phone number and get sucked into a web of sales spam, which helps no one but those profiting from the fake local listing from rehabs.com or drugrehab247.com.
So, to the question, how out of control is this? Here’s a graphic, I’ll explain more below:
This is SEMRush’s data for organic search results for the rehabs.com domain. If you look to the right under “SERP Features” you’ll see that “Local pack” accounts for 7.86% of their estimated 498,000 organic search visitors per month. Keep in mind, rehabs.com DOES NOT HAVE ANY LOCAL LOCATIONS, they’re a directory that sells leads. So, every month roughly 35,000 people click on their result and even more likely call their phone number or visit their fake local addresses only to find that no one is there to help them. Now, as awful as this is, please realize this is only one of the companies playing this game.
What can you do?
Unfortunately, nothing will immediately stop this issue. In the meantime, you can click on local map listings to provide feedback and tell Google that the location is moved or closed. That seems noble enough, but Google doesn’t often respond quickly to these sorts of requests. What might be more beneficial in the short term (in combination with reporting the location as closed or non-existent) is to write a review explaining that these locations are not local. That can likely help deter those in need from wasting their time on these blood suckers.