Google Places and the Professional’s Place Pages – Should there be multiples?

Many, many professional practices and clinics have multiple practitioners. Google Maps is all about the Place. In the past, Google has made it quite clear that there should be one listing for each business.

However, Google when assembling data about these professionals, often gathers both place and practitioner detail to create Places pages. Thus often there will be a clinic page as well as a number of individual professional places pages.

I have often wondered whether one should keep the individual listings or consolidate them into one to best conform to Google’s guidelines and practices. Historically I have, when appropriate, consolidated the listings into a single listing. While that strategy consolidates all citations and reviews it often creates ongoing work. It becomes necessary to check the and purge the index as the individual listings continue to flow in.

I decided however, to get Google’s “official” opinion on the matter so I asked Ari Bezman, Google’s product manager for the Local Business Center Google Places as to how Google thought this situation should be handled.

MB: What is Google’s recommended practice in regards to handling the multiple listings that most professionals and clinics end up with?

Should we endeavor to have one listing for the practice Place and merge all of the doctors (or whatever) into the one listing or should a we endeavor to keep the individual doctor listings?

Ari: Each doctor (or other independent professional) should have their own listing, with one more listing for the clinic.

MB: A related question is that often the Doctor listings come into Google with a format of Dr Name: Speciality . Is that the preferred business name or is just the Dr. Name preferred?

Ari: The name should just be Dr. Name. The specialty should be in the category and/or the description.

MB: What about in practices (say legal practices) that have a ton of low level professionals who come and go but the practice really only wants to be known by their place and trade name. Is there anything wrong with them claiming the many spurious records into the master record?

Ari: It really depends what the individually “contactable” parts of a business are. We’d like to have one place page (and so one entry in Google Places) for each one of those. So, that definitely means one for the law firm, and then one for each department or professional that is willing to receive cold calls/emails/etc. from new customers. There’s no reason to list internal/back-office departments or people. So I’d say it depends on the law firm and how they represent themselves in the real world and in other media.

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41 thoughts on “Google Places and the Professional’s Place Pages – Should there be multiples?”

  1. Nice of Ari to consent to an interview.

    I know we heard Carter say this at SMX West, but it’s nice to have clarity.

    Ever since Carter’s similar statements we’ve been doing both.

    The good news is that with a well optimized listing you then have more bites at the apple.

    The bad news is you then have to manage multiple listings with their own set of citations and reviews.

    Will

  2. While it is nice that they have clarified the fact that a professional service can have multiple listings, one for the clinic and others for the practitioners, Google has, once again muddied the waters as to what is allowable, where.

    The rule for the past year-”One listing per Place”, is unambiguous. Now Google is saying- “One Listing per Place + listings per Professionals at that Place”…where and when does the distinction come as to inappropriate multiple listings?

    For example does a Plumbing firm that has 3 certified, trained and licensed plumbers get 4? Or because they are working class they don’t count? Massage therapists? The list goes on and my fear is that sometimes Google will say yes and sometimes they will say no and as they lurch toward clarification they will be nicking those that just want the same privilege..

    Secondly (and a related point), is that it mixes the metaphor of the product…are Google Places about Places or about People? Google banned the listing of individual rental units (places) but allows individual people…it is getting hard to keep this straight and I (as you know) track it carefully.

    Thirdly, it is not clear to me that Google has resolved their merging issues. Can they reliably deal with the granularity at a location level that is required to NOT mix these up? I think not.

  3. I think you’re right regarding clustering risk. Given the potential for non-unique NAP on 2/3 (e.g. Name is different but Address and Phone are same) I can see it turning into an even bigger cluster (hehe).

    Seriously though, there may need to be more clarity on which professional classes rate their own listing. I think we intuitively know the winner in the Lawyer vs. Plumber argument but who’s to say that John Smith, The Plumber, doesn’t rate a personal brand.

    From the a competitive perspective – given non-clustered listings – several optimized listings beat one any day.

    You remind me of the other part of that discussion with Carter in which it seemed like there was much more of a rush to add features than a rush to fix bugs.

    Will

  4. It seems that he hints at requiring a separate phone number for each. By allowing this practice (which makes sense for real estate agents for instance) it does open the door to spam.

    The issue takes another turn when we have companies with multiple very distinct businesses. What is a builder to do when he has a residential home building unit and a commercial build out business. Sure, you can list up to 5 categories, but those of us who do this all day long know we aren’t going to get high ranks on all 5 in competitive neighborhoods.

  5. @David & Will
    May be old news to you but I did not see it reported widely :) You guys spend all your time in the bar or what?

    @Randy
    Certainly phone numbers would help but in the case of lawyers, Google brings in every professional and often doesn’t merge them even with the same phone number. In realtors though, the use case is clear as each is their own independent business. That is not so clear with many professional relationships…..it could be either way.

    I am not sure that the argument that you can’t rank high in enough categories is a reason to have two listings. But the case that you bring up is interesting. If a business has two legally separate businesses, with two distinct marketing presences & different phones should they have separate listings… the business would argue yes, Google would argue…who knows… I would suggest that if Google merges them, what good are they anyways?

  6. Thanks for seeking clarification on this Mike :-) I’ve been wondering what the official take on this is. I have a client who owns a professional wellness centre that has 30+ different practitioners, each has their own business and pays a monthly fee to the centre for management services and room rent. I will follow the recommendations and see how it plays out.

    Andy :-)

  7. Mike,
    Thanks for giving us the word from the horse’s mouth on this. While I appreciate Ari’s answers very much, I share your concerns about conflated listings. Will calls this old news, but I was genuinely surprised by the advice that each doctor, lawyer or what have you should have his own listing, in addition to the practice’s listing. I think my eyebrows even shot up. And, like you, I can see that one could extrapolate this advice into an area of nonsense…should every checker at a grocery store have his own listing as a grocery sku-ing professional? Ah, Google, where do we draw the line? Not sure they know any better than I do.

  8. @Miriam
    For those of us who did not attend SMX-West it is new news…as it was not reported very widely if at all.

    An no, they don’t know any better than you. They will stumble towards a solution though over time, expanding, contracting definitions until they hit on a middle ground…

    @Andy

    I would be hesitant to do this many at one location unless they had distinct phone numbers.

  9. This is new news to me too. It’s interesting that what Ari is saying is the exact opposite of the published Google Places quality guidelines – specifically:

    “Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.”

    …and…

    “Businesses with special services, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.”

    I recently submitted a bulk upload with more than 600 listings for a hospital, with the goal of getting it verified. The majority of the listings were for individual physicians that already show up – unclaimed and with incorrect information - in Google Maps. Unfortunately, every single listing in the bulk upload was rejected, with the vague reason given as “This listing does not comply with our policy of allowed terms.”

    But Ari says that is OK. What gives?

    I know the Google Places team is dealing with an unbelievably difficult task, and I don’t envy them. However, the lack of communication and vague guidelines (muddied by contradictory statements) leaves many of us pulling our hair out.

  10. Note what Ari says later

    then one for each department or professional that is willing to receive cold calls/emails/etc. from new customers.

    That’s why I think separate phone/fax numbers will be needed in most cases. Certainly like the hospital.

    I would go further and try to get suite or some other number for each listing. Get the post office to approve.

  11. Mike – thanks for responding; I took part in the Places webinar today and asked for further clarification (I should receive a response by email from the G rep). I’m really feeling each practitioner should have their own Places account (even though the address and phone number will be the same). I, like you, feel that all practitioners on one Places account doesn’t make a lot of sense. While I first felt I’d follow the ‘recommendations’, I quickly became reticent… I’m not so sure the Places team are all on the same page on this and I don’t want to cause any problems for my client; who, by way of a previous SEO company, has the wellness centre and 4 practitioners listed on one Places account, and 4 other practitioners on another account — it’s a mess and I want to correct it properly. If/when i hear from the rep re my question, I’ll post the response :-)

  12. @Jim

    The guidelines speak of specialties not practioners so while I think most people, like you thought it was forbidden. It certainly calls for a rewrite/clarification of the guidelines

    Martijn also just mentioned that bulk upload error message (“This listing does not comply with our policy of allowed terms.”) in his recent comment on my last post. It appears to me new, and who knows what it means… the plot thickens (as your productivity drops to zero :( )

    @Andy
    Please do!

  13. I should clarify – in my case, “practitioners” = massage therapists, psychiatrists, homeopaths, acupuncturists, rolfers, naturopaths, etc. — tough to know what exactly a ‘”specialty” will be in this case.
    Andy :-)

  14. Oh man, what a can of worms, but thanks so much for asking and clarifying, Mike. I’m working with several Drs this applies to.

    I also feel the waters are going to get really muddy, really fast.

    So here’s the concern I have. Let’s say there are 100 Chiropractic offices in a city and there is only room for 7 of those on the 1st page. Now let’s say most offices have 3 chiros and they all read this post, and all claim 4 listings. (One for practice and one for each of 3 docs).

    Now suddenly in that town instead of 100 vying for the 7 pack there are 400. If I have one of those practices as a client and am really really good, do I try to get all 4 on page one and monopolize the results? But then aren’t all the Drs. that are in the same practice also competing for ranking?

    And isn’t a single Dr. practice going to complain he only has a 1/400 shot of being on page one, while a 5 Dr. practice has a 6/400 shot?

    In fact another question is, if you take what Ari said at face value: “Each doctor (or other independent professional) should have their own listing, with one more listing for the clinic.” One could take that to mean that a single Dr. practice can get away with 2 listings. One for Dr and one for practice. Right??? Why should a Dr. get 2 listings when other businesses are limited to one?

    Don’t get me wrong, I specialize in professional practices, so am thrilled with this! I can just see lots of ways someone could take an unfair advantage.

    I’m working with a practice right now that if I showed them this thread they would pay me a bundle extra to add and optimize listings for each of the Drs. I’m torn over whether to even tell them because I’m afraid it could open a big hornets nest if Google decides to change their mind on this. Hmmm…

  15. I would certainly get right on it. At least they are going to have the benefit of a professional attempting to get them maxed. If you fairly create all the listings, then whose to complain. They can fight it out by seeing who can get the most reviews. Check out the hotel biz with 100′s of reviews. That’s where the action is going to be soon for all local biz.

  16. Great topic. I’ve been overwhelmed in a couple of operating issues for our businesses and didn’t know that an announcement had been made at SMX-West which thoroughly contradicts the one business/one location “rule”.

    It seems that Will nailed it in terms of more opportunities to get “visibility” while it will be more difficult to manage more sites. OTOH, it easily will multiply the vast number of Google Places records within each metro region.

    Wow….this is a damn big “can of worms”…..and I certainly expect further comments on clarification to arrive over time as Google wrestles with this bear :D Should be interesting.

    Meanwhile, it looks like a golden opportunity for web marketers to make more money creating more sites and more records. :D :D

  17. Mike,
    As you know, my 10 location medical center client has already got multiple listings for each location, as Google is importing data from healthgrades.com on each doctor and creating a separate Place Page for each, even though they have the same address & phone. While it may sound great to have tons of listings, the reality is patients are very confused and calling the wrong numbers all the time. On your advice, we’re looking to claim all the listings and merge them over time. We’ll see how that works.

    But here’s another wierd thing Google is doing with professional services (esp. medical). As Google scrapes medical rating sites like healthgrades.com, they put that data into the Place Pages Details section – not the Reviews section – and the owner cannot edit it. The data is wrong — in my client’s case it lists 2 doctors instead of 43, for example — because it’s based only on data from reviews that patients have written in healthgrades. Why does Google include that in “Details”, making it sound like client-sanctioned facts?

  18. @Cindy

    I think you have nailed the issue quite clearly. It is all about what makes it easier for the reader. And if that is consolidating then consolidate, if it is splitting then split.

    As to the question of why Google does something, the only answer that I can give you with Google is: That’s just the way it is. :)

    I agree that it is not ideal but Google, in the end, makes the decision about what information makes up any and all parts of the Places Page.

    Your data from the LBC is just one part of their data view of your business within the “cluster” and sometimes not even dominant enough to show on your page.

    I think if you can help your customer get their heads around that idea you will be further ahead….

  19. I will do this for some businesses BUT am very, very cautious.

    It does technically say it’s breaking their TOS as @Jim Gianoglio said. I think the reason it didn’t work for him was maybe b/c a DBA, address, & phone #’s being too similar.

    It will be useless if you don’t do it ‘right’ and kinda counter productive. If you put the DBA with businesss professional + same address I find it will get merged for sure!

    However, if use Different phone + Unique DBA (Doing Business Name) or ONLY their professional name then it seems to prevent the listing from getting merged.

    This is maybe why Google is saying just use their professional name in the listing and not any category nor clinic/office/company name.

    Same with a business that has two totally different marketing platforms. I think it is fine to have two listings (can get grey hat quick so please be careful and make sure it really warrants it), but I am telling you now if the business resides at the same address then make sure the DBA & phone # is unique otherwise it will get merged.

    I think Mike you make a really good point, where to do you draw the line with this…? B/C many businesses have a huge list of professionals that work for them. There can easily be 6-8 massage therapists + 2 chiropractors at clinic, 8 Hairstyles at one salon, ‘handyman connection’ can have 20-30 handyman on their roster, etc. You see people talking about 30+ practitioners in one office. This could become potentially very, very messy.

    I think it’s good for professionals to brand themselves b/c they may not always work at a specific clinic/office and this allows them to get some specific traffic, reviews, rankings for themselves. However, I don’t think this is a overall effective strategy for a business to also get all their professionals strong rankings in the 7 Pack.

    Nonetheless, ‘not old news’ and thanks to Mike another relevant conversation on Google maps & local search marketing.

  20. Update:

    Previously, I had submitted a bulk upload for a hospital with more than 600 listings (practice areas + individual physicians). All 600+ listings were disapproved. I did have each physician listed as “Hospital Name: Physician Name” and as Matthew Hunt mentioned above, that could be causing some issues.

    I changed the listings in the bulk upload to only list the physicians’ names and resubmitted the bulk upload. Unfortunately, all the listings were still disapproved.

    So Ari says “Each doctor (or other independent professional) should have their own listing, with one more listing for the clinic” and yet they keep disapproving the listings that adhere to those guidelines.

    I’ve looked at other factors that could potentially be causing problems. Almost all of the listings have the same address (although I’ve included floor numbers and suite numbers) and many of the physicians have the same phone number. However, this is not something I can change.

    I would love to hear more specifics from Ari or other Google reps on this.

    As always – thanks Mike for holding their feet to the fire on this :)

  21. @Jim

    I agree with David. I missed that in your comment. Even though one side of the system scrapes these, the other might not approve it.

  22. @Mike – That’s my next step, to get their google account associated with an e-mail address at their domain (currently it’s just hospitalname@gmail.com).

    Thanks for the Feedback David – I’ve had my suspicions that this was the main cause. I was thinking about editing the list to exclude any duplicate phone numbers and resubmit. Sure, it will leave out many of the physicians, but some is better than none, right?

    Thanks for the feedback guys – I’ll keep you updated!

  23. Although most of the discussion is about doctors/practices, is it safe to conclude for a hospital listing with many departments, phone numbers, street addresses, department names, all in the same city, that I should create one listing for the main hospital address and a unique listing for each of the various departments as follows:

    Hospital: Main Office 150 Elm Street City State XXX-YYY-1000
    Hospital: Breast Cancer Dept 150 Elm Street City State XXX-YYY-1234
    Hospital: Cardiology Dept 150 Elm Street City State XXX-YYY-1112
    Hospital: Psychiatry 250 Maple Street City State XXX-YYY-2212
    Hospital: Rehabilitation 350 Maple Street City State XXX-YYY-2222
    Hospital: Respiratory Dept 150 Elm Street City State XXX-YYY-1112

    Is this the approach that would be more acceptable to Google?

    Thanks for any insights.

  24. Hello:

    Does any know the maximum number of entries that can be posted in this section? This is the section where you can itemize “brands” and provide additional info.

    What is the maximum number of entries you have made here?

    I have a retail store that would like to list approx 250 items and brands – - is this possible?

    Thanks for your help.

    Jim O’Donnell

  25. I haven’t ever done 250, but I know that you can do a lot. They will tell you when you’ve done too much. Try to use the left side for product types, then the right side for the brands associated with that product type. I’d say you can do at least 70 characters in each slot.

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  27. Hi Mike,

    I had just cleaned up 5 duplicate listings for a dental client of mine and had them at the top of the Google Places SERPS. Then the data gets fed backthrough (Mainly from HealthGrades.com) and I’m dealing with the same issue again.

    It’s not HealthGrades fault. They actually have the better system. I strongly believe Google Should have the ability to associate sub-listings or professional listings beneath a business listing. But, until then, the best option is to delete the dentists from HealthGrades before cleaning up the listings.

    Any additional thoughts?

  28. This is a present problem I’m having with a client’s listing. A divorce attorney with 16 different listings covering their specialties. Only two lawyers work the business, yet they have 16 listings. This is against Google TOS and is spamming the search engines.

    Since listings are claimed by phone number, no other listing for them showed up for me to claim. After doing all the work of building a proper listing, I can’t figure out why my listing will not show up. So I do a search on the business name and what do I find? A total of 16 listings for ONE business, TWO lawyers. A few had different addresses and phone numbers for different offices, but all the same business name. Some listings have the same biz name, phone number and address.

    Now I am claiming and deleting…claiming and deleting. Work that should be charged for. And of course, each one I claim only has the option of post card verification. This is taking far too much of my time. Usually my listings show immediately, but not so for this steaming pile of a hot mess.

    Talking with my partner who handles all the sales, I suggested that before taking their money, we need to research just exactly what they already have listed and what kind of mess they have made trying to do this themselves. If they have multiple listings, such as what this lawyer has, we should not accept them as clients until they clean it up themselves. My partner agrees and is now our new policy.

    He showed me the places page of a potential client. I immediately saw a whole host of problems, one being there are 8 categories on the places page when there should only be 5. This means there is already a problem of merging with another listing. Further search revealed 5 listings for the same business. Not going to waddle through that maze and we opted to not accept this client.

  29. Hi Barb,

    Another option is to charge per dupe. I charge an extra 200 per month for dupes because they are so time consuming. Almost every Place page in my niche has 1 – 2 dupes because of Google’s problematic data scraping. So I can’t turn away clients with a dupe because every single one of mine has them.

    But I won’t take clients any more that have more than 2. Clients with tons typically have tried to over-optimize and have broken the rules multiple times or they are heavy marketers with all kinds of messy upstream data problems including keywords in name and tracking numbers.

  30. Is this still relevant with Google? Since it has been over a year.

    I am trying to optimize a page for a lawyer who was dropped and has since to return to results.

  31. @Adam

    I am not sure what you are asking. Lawyers are allowed one listing per practice and one per practitioner… this opportunity has even made it into the Guidelines:

    You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the office.

  32. @Mike,

    Thanks for the response. I am working on a Lawyer’s listing and his main office listing was flagged. We adjusted the listing so that it once again fit Google’s guidelines, however, the listing is yet to appear in results.

    During that process, a listing appeared on Google for our main lawyer, which appears in results for our keywords. We’d like to get the main office listing back up there as well and I am just making sure that having two listings is acceptable.

    Thanks for the response.

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