Friday, December 11, 2009

Florist's Google Hackfest

An interesting story surfaced this week in which it was shown just how vulnerable many NZ businesses may be to a form of commercial sabotage performed with the aid of the internet.

According to reports, a Napier florist was able to alter the business details of her competitors as they appeared on the Google Maps service.

The ease with which this sabotage was performed actually beggars belief and represents a sage warning for all those who (whether they know it or not) have a presence on this increasingly useful Google service.

By simply creating a new Google user account, the allegedly fraudulent florist was able to claim ownership of her competitors' details and alter them -- thus derailing attempts by web-surfers to contact them.

Google has warned any and everyone whose businesses appear on Google Maps to make sure they claim and check their listings for accuracy. Once this is done, only those with the correct account and authentication can update the details of a specific business.

Just for fun, I scoped out many of the businesses that are listed for the town where I live and found that although only a small percentage of them had an entry, far too many of those entries were available to be edited by a third party.

And when you check your listing be very careful to look for subtle changes -- such as a single digit incorrect in your phone-number or PO box. The canny saboteur will ensure that their changes are small enough to be overlooked by people in a hurry.

If your business isn't already listed in Google's Local Business Center then you're missing out on some valuable free publicity and promotion so you might want to spend a few minutes and ensure you're available to be found by users of Google Maps.

It always amazes me how many people spend a fortune on advertising yet overlook the massive amount of free promotion you can get online simply by asking.

Yes, it's never been easier to promote yourself to a eager market for free -- but it's also never been easier for a competitor to ankle-tap your hard work -- if you're not vigilant and aware.

If you can't trust a florist, who can you trust?

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