Watch out for ugly image graffiti on your Google listing

 

You search up a business online—a restaurant, a tax accountant, a marriage counselor.

Google may show you a box on your screen with the company address and hours—plus images from the business.

What if one of those images was a semi-naked man in bed, surrounded by unpeeled bananas?

That’s what happened to one company, a business management consulting firm. A Google search turned up their name—and the offending image.

“They were concerned their website had been hacked, so they were upset and confused about what was happening,” said Alycia Mitchell, digital marketing manager with cybersecurity company Sucuri. 

 

Unwanted picture on Google business listing. Image credit: Sucuri

 

The business management consulting firm contacted Sucuri for help.

But as it turns out, it was not a hack, but instead unseemly image graffiti on the digital face of their business. 

And this kind of virtual vandalism is apparently easy to do. 

Anyone can upload a picture to Google Maps and tag your business, as someone did in this case, Mitchell told Archer News.

“It could be a competitor or an upset customer. It’s impossible to know for sure,” she said. “This could impact any businesses that is listed on Google Maps.” 

The result? Customers could turn away, and companies could lose credibility.

‘Please help!’

This is not the first time someone has defaced a business on Google.

A prankster posted a picture showing monogrammed bathroom towels arranged to spell “F-A-R-T” to a Bed, Bath and Beyond listing in Texas, according to Wesley Young with the Local Search Association.

“Not exactly what you want your customers to see,” he wrote in a post.

 

Potentially unpleasant image on Bed, Bath & Beyond Google listing. Image credit: Wesley Young

 

Others have complained online about misleading Google listing images in the past.

“This photo is HIGHLY inappropriate for our business since it’s an old man’s face for a NANNY agency,” wrote a nanny and home staffing company in Indiana. “We have provided lovely photos of nannies and babies, but the OLD MAN persists like a bad rash—as our chosen image by Google.”

“Please help!” wrote a man from Canada. “There are inappropriate pictures that are showing up on my places page and I can’t get rid of them. They are actually quite obscene, to the point of being extremely offensive!!”

“I have reported them already, but nothing has happened,” he added.

What to do

Your first step will be to report the picture, like the man from Canada did.

“Just like any abusive content, anyone can help out by using the flag icon or by reporting a problem link in Google Maps,” Mitchell wrote in a post. “These reports take time for Google to manually review.”

But you do not have the option to remove a customer photo on your own, according to the Google My Business site.

“If you notice that a photo uploaded by your customer violates our photo guidelines, you can request for it to be removed by following the steps below,” Google My Business Help says.

 

How to request removal of a customer photo from your Google business listing from Google My Business Help.

 

And those Google My Business photo guidelines?

“Make sure that the reviews and photos on your business listing, or those that you leave at a business you’ve visited, are honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed,” the guidelines say.

What next?

Next, fill up your listing with your own more appropriate pictures.

“Google will prefer images set by the business owner over user-generated images,” she said.

Go to Google My Business and make sure your business is verified, Mitchell recommended.

Then, add several pictures of your business to all four sections:

 

—Identity photos

—Photos at work

—Team photos

—Additional photos

 

Check your profile picture for your business’s Google Plus page, too.

“Many businesses use their logo, but unfortunately these do not pass Google’s local image submission guidelines,” she said. “This algorithm will also favor real-world images over stock photos.”

Search up your Google listing regularly to make sure no one is posting anything problematic, Mitchell added.

Also check listings in places like Yelp and OpenTable to see what shows up by your business name, Young said.

 

Google’s algorithm prefers real-world pictures to stock images, according to Mitchell.

 

Still there

Banana man no longer bothers the business management consultant that Mitchell helped.

But Bed, Bath and Beyond’s Google listing still features the F-A-R-T towel picture as of this writing, just not as the main image.

Young said the company added new pictures to its listing. 

No word yet from Bed, Bath and Beyond about whether they also tried to remove the towel image, or just uploaded new, less mischievous ones.

 

***Update: Bed, Bath & Beyond told Archer News it was not going to address the issue. “Unfortunately, we are unable to participate,” a spokesperson said.

 

“Note that Google reserves the right to determine which photo is shown first, despite your selection,” said Young in his post. “Google doesn’t disclose the algorithm it uses to select photos for you, but it does give a few tips as to some factors it considers.”

“Google will determine how well the photo represents your business’s service or product and uses pictures of food as an example of what works well for restaurants,” he explained. “Other factors include the format, size, resolution and quality of the picture.”

 

The Google business listing for Bed, Bath & Beyond at Caruth Plaza in Dallas, Texas still shows an image of towels arranged to spell a word.

 

Crucial?

Some people use the Google listing as a mini-webpage, not even bothering to click on the link to the business’ real site.

That means those Google listing images can be crucial.  

“Yet it is surprising how many businesses fail to manage and monitor images that are associated with their store or service,” Young said.

Try using free web tools—not just Google My Business, but also Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster and more—Mitchell recommended.

They may help you keep banana man out of your Google listing—unless, of course, you think he fits your business image.

“As more people learn how to use these systems, I think we can only expect more hacks and abuse,” Mitchell said.

 

Featured image: Bed, Bath & Beyond Google business listing. Image credit: Wesley Young.