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Google Exploits

Today I’m going to talk about a couple of things that Google is doing that I find quite surprising. Editing Google Local results, and entering SearchWiki reviews. As always, when experimenting with exploits use a site and google account you consider “disposable.” Once Mr. Cutts’ team sees what you are doing, you’re going to get nuked.

Editing Google Local Results
The ability to edit Google Local results is fairly new. It’s been talked about extensively in the SEO world and has been abused by spammers since its introduction. Basically, anyone who is signed in to a Google account can edit the details of an unclaimed business. The scope of what you are allowed to edit is pretty broad. You can change the listing’s title, phone number, address, web address, and type of business. This has been broadly abused by people hijacking the listings by entering their own phone numbers and web addresses. I did a little experimenting and found that you can edit quite a few of the listings before Google shuts down your Google account. Also, even though they disabled the account I experimented with, the changes stuck. You may only edit businesses that are unclaimed. If you own an online business, you’d better claim it before someone comes along and changes your info. It happened to Yahoo recently. I was surprised when I searched Pepsi co’s world headquarters and found that they have yet to claim their business listing. I thought about hijacking it for Coke, but I don’t really want all that attention. I also found these companies to be at risk: LA Times Headquarters, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Coca Cola, The United Nations, Apple Computer, and many more. Amazing. I guess I could get famous real quick, but at what price?
Another way you can mess with the local results is to review businesses and enter the URL of your website. Seek out sites that have had no reviews and put your URL first in your comment. Your URL (if short enough) will display below their listing even if other reviews are entered afterwards. It seems that the first review is the one that is always displayed. This works if the listing is unclaimed or not.

Google’s SearchWiki
Google’s latest thing is the ability to enter comments about URLs in the listings. Unfortunately this doesn’t have as broad a reach as the Google Local Hijacking. The edits can only be seen by the editor by default, but you can view other comments by clicking the link at the bottom of the search results that says “See all notes for this SearchWiki” I made a bunch of comments on some sites today as a test and have yet to see them show up in the results. It seems that the SearchWiki edits don’t show up as quickly as edits in Google Local. The SearchWiki is a good place to review another site by including your site’s URL. I’m guessing that Google will make global comments much easier to review after they figure out how to effectively fight spam. Better to get your comments in now while you can and they’ll probably be “Grandfathered” in to the results later, if you’re not TOO spammy.

Personalized Search
The SearchWiki is one of the first major steps towards personalized search. Personalized search is going to have a substantial impact on the world of SEO. However, with all the hype you have to remember that for the most part you have to be signed in to see the major impact of personalized search. Not everyone that uses Google has a user account and will be signed in. SEOs will still have to fight to obtain first page positioning, but the doom and gloom being touted by the SEO community might not be quite as severe as they predict. People are still going to search without being signed in, from multiple computers, with cookies blocked, etc. The real question is going to be how to get people to promote your site in their personalized search. To this point one of the big challenges of user interaction has been getting people to bookmark your site which is taken into account in the Google algorithm. Bookmarking is great but there wasn’t really all that much desperation surrounding the topic. I think there will be significant urgency to get users to promote sites to the top of personalized search, and possibly some incentives for users who do. How all that is going to work has yet to be seen though. I’m currently working on ways to get users to promote my sites to the top of their results. Trouble is that this personalized search thing hasn’t really saturated the public just yet and most of the people I talk to have no idea what it is.