Is Abuse of Local Citations the Newest Form of Negative SEO?

In May of 2013, a slightly pudgy unknown man from France decided to crash the Cannes Film Festival and hang out with the stars.  Amazingly, he succeeded…posing for selfies with famous movie stars, rubbing elbows with Adrien Brody, and even winning a spot on national French TV, where he danced as everyone watched and cameras rolled.

His secret to getting in?  Celebrity impersonation…you see, he had the (mis)fortune to look sort of like international pop music sensation Psy (you remember “Gangnam Style”, don’t you? It’s that guy.)  He assumed Psy’s identity, got into the hottest parties at Cannes, and even signed a deal to appear at a gala in Monaco, where he would be honored.  You can see actual photos of him arriving at Cannes here on the New York Post.

The interesting part is, the real Psy didn’t get too upset about it- he simply tweeted that he wasn’t at Cannes, and pretty much laughed the matter off.  It was a good thing for the fake Psy, whose real name is Denis Carre, that Psy didn’t press charges.

And good thing for Psy himself that Mr. Carre didn’t do any real damage.   Had he gone to town with the fake identity thing and begun speaking out, behaving badly, or signing even more deals, he could have done some real damage.

Easy for Psy… fitfully frustrating for SBO’s

Want to know what really gets under the skin of small business owners?  Being misrepresented.  While the impostor may have done the real Psy a favor in the end by adding a few minutes to his 15 minutes of fame, that’s never the case for small business owners (SBO’s) whose identity gets misrepresented in online directories.

In fact, one of the more confounding irritations for small business owners is how their contact info can get totally, completely botched in online directories. and others like it regularly feature old phone numbers, wrong addresses, misspelled business names and more in a continuous parade of mistakes which get crawled, repeated, and duplicated across the web.

To the rescue: Yext and company

The poor SBO’s dutifully correct the mistakes, submitting corrections to the directories, only to have them pop up again.  So they turn to the professionals…Yext and companies like them, who will fix and manage all the instances of online bad data for a business, once and for all.  It costs, of course, but the alternative is losing oneself in a maddening loop of directory submissions that don’t ever seem to stick.

And Yext isn’t the only company in the business of fixing bad data and removing “impostor” information about a business.  Yext is good, but they’re costly too.  There are services which will perform the task for as little as $50.  They will find, unify, and replace a business’s contact information in the 50 most important directories.  Pretty handy, and pretty cheap.

It’s complete control of a business’s online contact information from one central location.  Fix them all at once and be done with it.

Therein lies the rub…

The thing about absolute control from one central command location is…if anyone breaks in, they’ve got the keys to the kingdom.  Consider a medieval castle, where power rested in the land, and if you controlled the fortress castle, you controlled the people.  Power was very centralized, and therefore very easily seized or transferred.  That’s why we tend to favor distribution of power these days.  It prevents total hijacking power.

But that’s what can happen with services like Yext.  Yext will change all those maddening mistakes for you, across all those endless online business directories.  But what if someone assumes your identity and hires one of those cheaper Yext-like services to change your data for the worse?

That’s right, what would it be like if a competitor pretended to be you, hired a data-correction service, and switched all your phone numbers to their own?  They’d be getting your calls, taking your customers, and snatching up all your business.  What if they gave the directories a website address for your business that redirected to their own site?

It can happen just like that: your NAP* can be changed across all those directories and your business will be totally misrepresented, just like Psy’s.  And although Psy took it all in good humor, chances are you won’t find it funny when the directories point your potential future customers to a porn site or worse yet, direct them to your competitor.

It’s happening now

People can pull pranks like this for a measly $50 or so.  Of course, Yext is completely above board and they go through a process that requires customers to prove their identity.  But not every data fixer out there is Yext.  And I’m telling you now that unscrupulous activity involving purposely disseminating bad data is taking place as we speak.

Some data fixing services are capable of contributing to your business identity theft, even if they may not realize it.  Simply by not performing the proper identity check when taking on customers, they could be helping out your competitor.  The best thing you can do for your business is to stay alert, monitor the directories, and be on the lookout for impostors who want to misrepresent your business to the world.

*name, address, phone

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