Google Places Hack: Barnacle Marketing Goes Black

Update 8:00 am: Steve points out below that this is not just a hack but a bug in how Google handles the URL from the Places Page. Thus even when a Places Listing points to the specific directory page for a business, the Google SERP can interpret and rank the URL based on the higher level page in the directory. So while it can be a black hat technique, it can also be a Google induced error and the listing owner could be totally unaware of the reasons. My apologies to the Portland Mover that I used as an example.

Whenever Google changes things around, the bottom feeders are never far behind, always looking for angles and cracks in the system. Google Places Search, introduced October 27, is no exception.

It didn’t take the spammers long to find a way to get instant results. It was brought to my attention and the details figured out by Yam Regev (Puresheer). This hack has started to show for front pages local organic blended (LOB?) results across the country. It is easy to spot as the URL associated with a LOB result is usually from deep within a directory and the listing is claimed.

Here is a screen shot for the search local movers Portland Oregon:

Note that in the screenshot above the business links to, a general business directory page

The technique is a variation on barnacle marketing that attempts to leverage the strength of an existing directory to highlight your business. While it doesn’t give you any web traffic, it does put your phone number front and center on the main SERPS. Because of this limitation it is a technique more commonly seen in service industries (you know the ones: locksmiths, movers, limos etc) with little or no bricks and mortar.

How does it work?

The Places search ranking algo has always had a strong component predicated on the authority of the website referenced in the Places listing. This was why, as Chris Silver Smith pointed out, a Wikipedia URL was a successful Maps hack.

However with the rollout of Places Search, a generally strong website was not enough. Google had rejiggered things so that more emphasis was placed on not just a strong, authoritative page but one that did well on specific local searches.

To execute this current hack, you need to find a search on which a directory page (or competitors page not associated with a Places listing) shows well organically, typically above the LOB result (See this search as an example- note the high ranking Superpages URL). Take the exact URL and use it in your Places Dashboard. Your listing will take on the relative strength of the organically successful page showing the Title Tags, Description and URL from the poached page but showing the phone number and address of the local business.

It could be that Google is already starting to fix this. I noticed that a search for Locksmith Palo Alto that returned one of these hacked results as recently as January 1 has been returned to its native state (see shot above). But the ability to use the technique to leach benefit from even a competitor’s site should make this gaping hole a priority fix for Google.

NineMSN & Bing Maps User Collections: Tracking the Floods

As many Australians and others around the world have their eye on the catastrophic floods in Queensland, Australia’s ninemsn used Bing Maps’ user collections to map out where the floods have occurred.

The collection is a great example of how online maps can be dynamic sources of visual information and context. Simply a list of cities affected by the floods cannot show just how dense of an area or how wide these floods affected.



Our thoughts are with those in the Queenland’s area.

5 Great Chrome Web Store Apps + Maps

Last week we opened the Chrome Web Store, an online marketplace where users can discover thousands of web apps, extensions, and themes for Google Chrome. With millions of people already using Chrome, the Web Store is a great platform for developers to generate both exposure and revenue for their applications.

Many of these Chrome Apps are utilizing our Geo APIs. Here we’ve highlighted 5 great Chrome apps using Google Maps API.


TripTrace organizes all the important places that you’ve been to or think you might want to visit; perfect for local exploration or vacation planning. Photos, events, and news are merged with your personal address book, check-ins, bookmarked web pages and more.


Wikihood World Browser gives users with a unique way to browse and discover knowledge. By organizing Wikipedia articles geographically, users can quickly find information about a given location on the map. Wikihood makes browsing even easier by providing a short synopsis of an article on the left side when the article’s geolocation is selected on the map.


Breadcrumbs is a great GPS management tool. Users can visualize, organize, edit, and share GPS data collected from any GPS enabled device (including Android devices!). Breadcrumbs is also integrated with the Google Earth API for 3D visualizations.

Delta Embark

Whether you’re planning your next vacation, trying to find a restaurant on your next business trip, or just looking for some travel inspiration this Chrome optimized travel guide is a delight to use. Travel planning made fun and easy, brought to you by Delta Airlines!


Don’t be late to Grandma’s this holiday season! Weatherbug let’s you view your weather and get the latest local current conditions, forecast, traffic information, and more for thousands of locations around the world.

To learn more about adding your apps to the Chrome Web Store, check out our developer documentation about apps and the store.

Posted by Carlos Cuesta, Maps API Product Marketing Manager