Has this ever happened to you?

You lock yourself out of your car. Fortunately, your smartphone is in your pocket. So you promptly go online to search for a locksmith. Bingo! You immediately see on the first page of Google a local locksmith.

You call the number and are told someone will get right back to you. The call comes and you’re told the locksmith can be there in a jiffy, and only charges $50 for the service. You’re thinking “This is too good to be true,” but show up in a jiffy he does, just as advertised.

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Before he does his magic act to get you back on the road, he says it will cost $150, and, of course, he can take plastic. At that point, what choice do you have? You pay the man and you’re both on your way.

You’ve just been snookered by a scam that exploits the now-universal behavior of people relying on Google results to solve a problem. We’re all looking online all the time for answers, which can range from the above example to entering the phrase “Cheap Brazilian hair straightening,” if such a rarity even exists.

For most businesses these days, being listed on the first page of Google is like scaling Mount Everest, with a pot o’ gold perched at the top. That is especially true of service industries—like locksmithing—where there is no tangible product to differentiate one company from another and proximity is a priority.

If the victim described above were to attempt tracking down the wolf in lamb’s clothing who fleeced him, he’d be going on a wild goose chase instead. That’s because the local address he saw on Google when he searched for a locksmith was bogus. To be listed on Google, you need to have a verifiable address. The games that are played by the bad guys—unscrupulous SEO (search engine optimization) companies that submit a bunch of phony addresses to Google—are known in search marketing circles as “Black Hat” techniques, to denote their dishonesty.

If I’m in Somers or Yorktown and search online for a locksmith, Google reflexively displays locations closest to me, without my typing the location in the search field. Google already knows where you live, or at least where your device is based.

To be found high up on the first page of Google is a virtual guarantee a business will be called first. Those engaged in Black Hat shenanigans are not so much competing as stealing from a legitimate local locksmith. The Black Hats fool Google into thinking they have actual locations by larding their website with false content. Google eventually catches up with them, but the practice is prevalent enough that the company has an entire Web Spam Department to go after the sleazemeisters.

There’s another kind of scam that pays perverse homage to the monetary value inherent in a business sitting at, or near, the top of Mount Google. There are hucksters who guarantee they will elevate you to that vaunted position on the first page of results. If only it were that easy. 

Some of them will prey on unaware business owners by signing them up and, a few weeks later, telling them to type their business name in the Google search page. When the client does that, what do you know?! The business name pops up at the top of the results page. The unscrupulous consultant says, “See, I did that for you,” when all he really did was rob them in broad daylight.

The real deal is to work with someone who knows what it takes to push your business as close to the zenith of Google as possible when the consumer enters generic words that match the goods or services you offer.