Here’s a(nother) Scary Thing about Zero Results Serps

A full 48 hours after my post on zero results serps, and how they could be a fundamental issue to online marketers, we see a great example of how they could be weaponized in the not too distant future.

Case in point (and no, this isn’t a Zero Result Serp, but its hard to see why Google wouldn’t roll out to companies phone numbers under the same reasonings of user speed):

So Whats The Problem?

Well, for a start, thats NOT Spotify’s phone number.  Thats a scam operator, who has been using SEO to try and get that phone number to rank for [“company name” + Support].

Apart from Spotify, you also see references to Apple Customer Support when googling that number, so its been tried a number of times.

Why Does Google Display this Result?

Well, for a start, this page actually ON Spotify is a good reason:

So if that’s not the right number, how has this happened?  There’s a couple of steps in this process, and whoever worked it out was certainly looking for a specific vulnerability, here’s the process:

  • Spotify incorrectly are allowing Google crawlers to see search pages on their site, and further, they are allowing data entry into the search form, through a query string on the URL.There’s two things wrong with this:  firstly, allowing internal search results to be indexed (which is expressly advised against by Google, and has been for over a decade) is a significant risk to organic search.Think about it this way, you could create massive amounts of duplicate content, just by linking directly to search results pages!

    If you can’t visualize my point, here’s an example.

  • The third party then gets Google to crawl the spammer created page, simply by linking externally to it from another website, twitter account, google plus bookmark, or by pinging through PuSH or similar.

Because there are no “better results” on Spotify for their phone number, Google see’s the page that the spammer created the same way as I did above, scrapes the phone number, assumes it to be true as it originated from the correct domain, and displays it as an answer-box…

 

How Can I Stop This Happening to my Site?

Good news is, this should be fairly straightforward, you should prevent Google from crawling search results on your site, or indeed any other URLs that can inject content onto the rendered output of the page, through data passed in a query string.

This should either be achieved using a noindex tag in the head, or simply disallowing the directories crawling using Robots.txt.

How Can Google Stop Helping Scam Consumers?

It’d be a great start not displaying these answer boxes, providing ‘definitive’ answers directly in the SERPs, when they aren’t totally sure its correct. 

This would cover basically anything that’s scraped off the web, as opposed to directly provided by site owners to Google (through an as yet non existent mechanism).

 

Also Google, lets not make this any worse by removing the Search Results, eh? 😉

 

Martin MacDonald
Previously: Head of SEO, Omnicom. Inbound Marketing Director, Expedia. Head of Content & SEO, Orbitz. Currently: Marketing Consultant to Fortune 500's and High Growth Startups locally in Silicon Valley. Retired BlackHat & Current Tech SEO Geek.
Martin MacDonald

@searchmartin

Founder of Digital Marketing Consultancy, MOGmedia. Former head of SEO & Content for Orbitz, Expedia EAN, Omnicom & more. British/Spanish.
@JohnMu CreativeSEO used to mean something very different: 😇🤭😂 https://t.co/eOs0JYAp05 - 8 hours ago