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A Google sticker in the window at Cafe Turko in Seattle, whose official website has been restored to the top of Google search results, replacing an unauthorized OrderAhead site.

Google has started to target rogue restaurant websites linked to the OrderAhead delivery service — penalizing the unauthorized sites in search results, removing them from restaurant profiles in Google Maps, and revoking the “verified” status on Google Business restaurant listings that connect to the OrderAhead sites.

The crackdown, which follows a series of reports by GeekWire about OrderAhead’s online tactics, promises to help restaurants across the country combat what amounted to widespread online impersonation by thousands of OrderAhead sites.

The OrderAhead sites started appearing about a month ago, using web addresses that made them seem to be official restaurant sites. The OrderAhead sites frequently appeared above the official restaurant websites in search results, siphoning web traffic away from actual restaurant sites. In many cases, Google Business listings were also registered and linked to the OrderAhead sites, without the knowledge of the restaurant owner, violating Google’s terms of service.

Google has started the crackdown in just the past few days, based on numerous changes we’ve seen for restaurant searches across multiple states. For example, this was the Google search results page as of last week for Cafe Turko, one of the restaurants highlighted in GeekWire’s coverage of the topic.

BEFORE

before

And this is the search results page for Cafe Turko as of this morning, with the rogue OrderAhead site for the restaurant no longer appearing in the algorithmic search results for the restaurant.

AFTER

cafeturko-new

 

However, the crackdown is incomplete so far, possibly hampered in part by the wide variety of domain name owners and hosting providers used by the OrderAhead sites.

For example, in the case of Cafe Turko, the unauthorized site does still appear in the Knowledge Graph pane to the right of the algorithmic results, as shown in the first screenshot above. The rogue site also still appears in Cafe Turko’s Google+ page, tied to its Google Business listing, but the verification of that listing has been taken away in just the past few days, making it easier for the restaurant to associate the listing with their actual site.

Restaurants whose listings are still being hijacked should start by trying Google’s phone support options to fix their listings, according to search-engine optimization experts who have been following this story.

The rogue site has also been replaced with the official restaurant site on Cafe Turko’s Google Maps listing. (Previously, the OrderAhead site appeared here.)
screenshot_284

We’re seeing numerous examples like this in various states, based on the restaurants we’ve been tracking. We first noticed changes taking place on Friday, and they continued over the weekend. Other examples include Mel’s MarketGreen Leaf Vietnamese and Wild Ginger, which were among the restaurants highlighted in GeekWire’s coverage.

OrderAhead is a graduate of the prestigious Y Combinator startup accelerator, with a roster of high-profile Silicon Valley investors. Founded in 2011, the company has landed a total of $10.5 million in funding from backers including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Ignition Partners.

Even with those big-name investors, the company faces big challenges and pressure to break through in a highly competitive market. OrderAhead got its start by letting people order ahead for takeout, before expanding into food delivery, where it’s battling a long list of heavily funded rivals: Caviar, Munchery, SpoonRocket, Peach, Lish, FoodPanda, Plated, Bitesquad, Postmates, Yelp-owned Eat24, GrubHub, and many more.

OrderAhead has declined our repeated requests for comment. A GeekWire reporter who visited the company’s San Francisco headquarters was told by an employee that they “can’t just have people coming around here” asking questions.

The company’s co-founder and CEO, Jeffrey Byun, has made his Twitter account private within the past few days, and blocked a GeekWire editor who recently started following him on the social network. The company’s other co-founder, Henry Lee, has also set his Twitter account to private.

screenshot_285Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association, has been working on this issue and said this morning that he understands and appreciates the new generation of startups bringing change to the restaurant industry. He wants to see the restaurant industry work with these new companies.

“I don’t want to condemn the new model, but what we do need from these emerging businesses is some ethical guidelines and clear best practices,” he said. “It is never OK to use someone else’s brand, art and business, without their permission, for your own benefit. For us, this was a line that was clearly crossed in this case.”

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