Anyone in the SEO industry, especially those that focus on local SEO, know that the locksmith category is one of the most heavily spammed keywords within Google Maps.
David Segal from the New York Times decided to publish an article on it over the weekend. It is named Picking the Lock of Google's Search although NY Times SEO'ed title tag for the story is "Lead Gen Sites Pose Challenge to Google - the Haggler."
The article tells a story around Bob Strom, a legitimate locksmith in the Seattle area who loses out to lead generation sites selling locksmith services to under qualified companies or individuals who rip off customers, at least according to the article. Who's at fault? Google?
You might assume that lead gen sites would be no competition for people like Bob Strom. But for a couple of years, in one crucial arena, they have been crushing him: Google search results. Last Tuesday, the Haggler typed "emergency locksmith Seattle" into a browser, and the top results - most notably, the seven that appeared in the highly coveted Google Places spots, which are marked on an area map - appeared to be lead gen sites. They have local addresses, but if you call and ask to visit, they demur.
Honestly, the locksmith problem on Google Maps has improved drastically from years ago. It isn't "good" yet, but it is better from where it was, in my opinion.
Google told the NY Times:
We're aware of the gaming practices happening in the locksmith industry - practices which long predate Google and have affected the Yellow Pages for decades. We've implemented several measures to combat this issue, including improving our spam-detection algorithms and working with the locksmith industry to find solutions.
Anyway, like Matt McGee said at Search Engine Land, "Although the Times' article doesn’t reveal anything new, local search watchers and, more importantly, real local locksmiths can hope that the added exposure compels Google to finally solve this long-running problem."
Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.