20% of Google Local Listings for Drug Rehab are Spam

Google “drug rehab” anywhere in the country and the map you see will have some level of spam. If you’re in the worst offending cities of Los Angeles or Phoenix, nearly half of your local listings are in violation of Google policies.

I analyzed:

  • the first page of Google local listings (top 20 results)
  • for the 20 largest cities in the country (using isearchfrom.com)
  • for the money keyword “drug rehab”

Infographic of Top 10 US Cities with Percent Spam Listings

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Here’s the spam I found:

Keyword Stuffing in Business Names

This is when rehabs add things like “Florida Drug Rehab” into their name on Google. There’s not much harm to the searcher here, but the system is rewarding policy violators. (Plus, if a rehab is willing to violate Google policy to make money, where are their ethical standards when it comes to treatment?).

Here’s Google’s policy on business names:

“Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers.”

Here’s a clear violation of that policy:

Example of Keyword Stuffing

To be fair, I’ve personally been told by multiple marketing agencies to add keywords to our listings. These rehabs may not be aware they are doing anything wrong. Plus, Google doesn’t usually punish this type of spam, according to Colan Nielsen of Sterling Sky:

“Google let businesses add keywords back to its name on GMB as many as 8 times after being removed, without taking any kind of action such as a warning or soft suspension.”

Completely Changing the Business Name

This takes keyword stuffing to the next level. Drug rehabs put listings with only the city and keywords and leave out their business name completely. While the example above is obvious, this is much less detectable.

Here’s an example of a listing and the logo that comes up when you click to the website:

Fake Google Listing Name

“Hotlines” That Don’t Have a Physical Location in the Area

This is where things start to get really sketchy. These hotline listings often aren’t created by a drug rehab, but by a company that sells calls to a rehab.

Fake Google Listing for Referral Service

Here’s why this is a serious issue:

  • If they qualify before selling the person’s information to the rehab, that’s flat-out illegal patient brokering.
  • It inflates the cost of treatment because rehabs pay for calls they should have already got for free.
  • It’s a purposeful violation of Google policy and purposefully hard to spot.

Fake Reviews

While not counted in my report, it’s worth noting that there were obvious fake reviews throughout the listings. (And many more that are impossible to spot).

Fake Google Review of Drug Rehab

However, these fake reviews seem to be counterproductive. The most reviewed listing only ranked #1 in 2 of 20 cities. In fact, 45% of the listings in the number one spot had 1 review or none at all. Since the average listing on the first page had 15 reviews, the standard local SEO advice to get more reviews doesn’t hold up in the rehab space.

The Good News

The good news is that spam is on the decrease. Some of the bigger cities like New York and Philadelphia are nearly spam-free on the first page. Even though this is likely due to manual submissions by competitors, at least Google gave us a voice (in the form of a form).

Takeaway Points for Treatment Centers

  • Adding keywords to your listing on Google is a violation of their policy. You may be winning short-term, but hopefully Google starts to punish these listings.
  • Reviews don’t seem to help much, so stop faking them.
  • You can submit spam listings here. (Mike Blumenthal has a grea article on how to find spam at scale).

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