Google Customer Service: Up Against the Algo

I was approached by two bed and breakfasts whose Places listing had merged. They have all of the standard problems of being in the same business and being located right next to each other. They have the additional problems of one of the businesses previously having the current phone number for the other business. It is no wonder that an algo can’t keep these two straight but that is not consolation for the businesses involved.

Fortunately, the two owners get along well and have agreed to “share” the listing while we worked on getting them separated. Each Sunday, whoever’s turn it is, gets their Places record updated and they become the dominant business name to display. (Kludge of the highest degree! Shame on Google)

I have been working with them both to unmerge the listings and doing all the standard stuff. We created strong geo signals, updated a very precise pin placement, we built a number of upstream citations, added KML files, massaged all of the directories entries that had the wrong phone number etc etc., tweaked their respective websites.

Now all we can do is wait at this point. In the meantime, I thought I would call Google Tags and seeing if paying $25 might help in the interim.

A number of weeks ago, I called the Tags #800 for the one business that had already purchased a tag. I spoke with a rep that was going to “run the problem up the ladder” and call me back. He did call back and left a message but only to say that he hadn’t been able to solve the problem as of yet but he would stay in touch. That was the last I heard from him.

Late last week, I decided to call a Google Tags rep for the other business and express the desire to get a tag if the listing could be unmerged (true not just a lame effort to get support). Here is a transcript of the conversation:

Me: I called as I have a client that wants a Tag but has merged Places listing with his neighbor.

The rep, after a deep, deep sigh said to me: It is not easily fixed. I used to jump through hoops but now I suggest deleting the listing completely and starting it over.

Me: Delete the listing? Doesn’t that cause other problems like a loss of rank?

The Rep: It usually comes back after a few days.

Me: Do you see this problem frequently?

Rep: Yes and to be honest it is best to just delete the listing completely and start over. However, when you delete the listing you must follow a two step process prior to reentering the record
1)First
Remove this listing from Google Maps.
Your listing will no longer appear on Google Maps, but will continue to display in your Google Places account. This listing will be removed after you verify via PIN
2)Then
Remove this listing from my Google Places account.
Select this option if you mistakenly associated the listing with your account. This listing may continue to display on Google Maps if provided by other sources.

In other words, nuke the record.

My takeaways?

1) These reps have to deal with this problem all too frequently and don’t really have the correct tools at their disposal to do their job. They can’t really sell in this situation.

2) It is interesting that a rep is taking initiative to solve the problem. Whether it will solve the problem is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t seem to be a Google sanctioned tactic but hey this guy has to  make a living… the worst case is that listing will show up but not rank too well.

3) It is an Intriguing sequence of events that might completely obliterate the business ID from the system and could very well force Places to create a completely new cluster. If the signals for each of the merged businesses have been strengthened then this might succeed.

If anyone tries it, let me know. Caveat emptor!

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Customer Service: Up Against the Algo by

44 thoughts on “Google Customer Service: Up Against the Algo”

  1. i work with a previous google consultant and theyre all from outsourced companies which makes getting anything actioned a major pain… well done on your perseverance

  2. Hey Mike,

    Seems you have forgotten you have a resource for confirming Geo Located entities. More then a few times has what I do confirmed, corrected and established businesses locations.

    It’s a large part of the 30 point quality control criteria I have to meet for having what I do be accepted.

    Just thought I would toss it out there for your benefit.

  3. @Andrew

    If I can get customer service and an unmerged record for $25 a month, I am willing to pay. But at $50/mo (the minimum for Boost) it starts to get kind of pricey.

  4. Hey Mike,

    I have the very same problem with a client in which two of their locations have been merged where they both have different addresses and phone numbers, but I believe the business name is setting the algo off.

    I have been thinking for weeks now that my only means to a solution is to delete each listing and create new ones like the Google rep mentioned. I haven’t tried it yet, but if I do I will let you know how it goes.

  5. I have a rep that I use at Google Tags and he has given me the same advice and conplained that they don’t have the training or tools to help when people call with issues. He said that could sell a load more if they did. Shocking.

    But yes, the deleting the listing completely has worked. It has came back, and I have seen a merge take place again. Reviews are completely lost….but get this, I was told to copy the reviews and put them in again from different accounts if I was worried about it.

    But, I have to admit that the tag reps don’t have any grasp of deep ranking factors, if they do, it is self taught and they are seriously under taught and shame on Google for pushing sales channels with no support. When your reps can’t help even when they want to, there are some major flaws.

  6. I find it fascinating and somewhat telling that the Google sales reps are being hit up with complaints and issues that stem from Google Places.

    Hey guys!! What comes around goes around.

  7. @Jax

    I have yet to see any proof that it works

    @Jon
    Thanks keep us posted.

    @Mike
    It seems that the merge would take place again unless the precipitating signals had changed enough… thus I would think that adding all of the geo data etc might make the difference to keep them from merging a second time.

    Manually adding back reviews… now thats bizarre advice…

    On the training side, you would think that they would put training in place… sheesh…

    Well if nuking only temporarily stops the merge what good is it? if it leads to permanent loss of reviews… what good is it?

    @earlpearl

    Who else you gonna call? At least they have a forward facing phone number.

  8. Nuke the listing and start over… LOL.
    1) The “nuked” listing will disappear in the near future… maybe. There is some necromantic script in Google that brings back dead listings to life very frequently.
    2) The brand new listing will get the same ranking in few weeks… maybe. I’ve waited for months to get back all of my citations. And I’m still waiting.
    3) During the time your listings is “nuked” Google can make duplicate with information taken from different directories. IMO there is 50% chance that your new and shiny listing will get rejected.

    They call that support?

  9. @Mike I totally agree. The only situations that I have found for deletion are as followed

    1. when a listing is in purgatory— if a listing is held for moderation or not even showing up in maps. This actually works quite nice.

    2. If you have done everything to remove a duplicate (externally) you can take this to delete it, I have had mediocre success on this, sometimes it still comes back, sometimes it does the trick and I don’t see a duplicate.

    3. If it is your competitors listing….. just kidding…you simply have to have a least 3 points if you make a list.

    But, it still is the advice and “walk through steps” that I have had tag reps take me through.

  10. So the lesson is to set up a website and a set of other Web directory listings before setting up a Places entry or claiming a scraped Maps entry so that you have a complete set of matching data.

    I suppose issues out of our control are other listings scraped/manually re-entered for our data with transcription errors.

    Where google decides to scrape a ‘duplicate’ for us should we try to correct or delete the source before actioning the duplicate?

    How do we now deal with a Maps listing which is a duplicate if google do not allow merging of duplicates within a Places account?

    Is google only scraping duplicates into Maps now and not directly into a Places dashboard, which I thought was kind of naughty?

    Cheers. Andrew.

  11. I just don’t understand how such a rich company who clearly sees Places as an important entity can provide such poor support. I have a problem somewhat similar in nature to Mikes, and I am waiting and paying attention to the experts here to see what my next move is. All the while the business owner (who’s listing ‘was’ ranking #3 in Local) loses money and looks to me for an answer. i appreciate all of you for working together to try and figure things out. Thanks :-)

  12. I have had this same issue for a client that changed name’s and business location. I have taken similar steps to resolve the issue to no avail. Maybe it is time to bite the bullet and just start from scratch!

  13. Hi, I’m a Product Manager on Google’s local search team.

    Merged listings are a very frustrating problem — one that we’re working hard to fix. The best thing to do is to click the Report a Problem link on the listing in Google Maps, and choose “Some photos, reviews, or details belong to a different place.” We’re aware that it can currently take quite a while for these problems to be resolved. It’s painful, and it’s one of our top priorities to make this process smoother and faster.

    As for some of the advice discussed in this thread, nuking the business listing is at best a temporary fix. As Mike points out, unless the data has changed, the algorithms will eventually make the same decision. Also, providing reviews for your own business is against our policy, even if they have been copied from reviews posted by your customers. I’ll make sure that these points are clarified with our Tags reps.

  14. Ethan

    Thanks for stopping by. We appreciate you taking the time to clarify with both us and the Tags reps.

    You noted: We’re aware that it can currently take quite a while for these problems to be resolved.

    What is the timeframe someone can expect if they follow the procedure you outline?

  15. @Ethan

    I have been seeing merged listings for over a year now with no sign of improvement.

    How hard are you working on the problem?

    Its clear that internally google have poor procedures for analysis, coding, testing and problem resolution.

    I have seen it said that there are separate teams working on changes and certainly one sees innovations implemented with no consideration for interfaces to existing code.

    For listings to merge at search time there must be some poor coding practices, poor technical standards or poor coder supervision.

    In real IT shops these issues have been addressed and where the will is there it is possible to implement systems with few errors and better more transparent user interfaces than google can manage. Not providing meaningful error messages in context does nothing to combat spammers and just makes life too hard for legitimate users.

    Someone in google needs to review how the applications development is managed.

    I have implemented methodologies in similar poor environments and made big improvements in quality and productivity. It is hard work.

  16. @Andrew

    I have found that it is not productive nor usually valuable to second guess Google’s engineering… they have bright folks as capable as any of us of assessing the technical issues..

    While it is frustrating and Google could/should do a better job of communicating out solutions and timeframes, criticizing their coding practices seems futile.

  17. The issue is not the technical inspiration its the boring 90% where you have to write and review documentation, write and review code and write and review test plans.

    It is not futile to complain as eventually someone may listen and do something.

    Many people who have a business to run are spending too much time trying to manage problems due to poor interfaces and spaghetti coding outcomes.

    Its unfair to many unlucky, in the context of secret innovations, businesses who spend weeks, months and years trying to simply get a listing to show on Maps.

    Many of the noddy anti-spam measures google have visited on us this year will, I am sure, not inconvenience the accomplished hackers and spammers.

    Marissa Mayer is reputedly an expert on the right shade of the colour blue so with her secondment to local search she may pick out the ‘super-intelligent shade’ which will cure our issues in 2011.

    Any one offering odds?

  18. I am not suggesting it is futile to complain… I do it a lot. I just think it is futile and somewhat presumptuous to recommend your engineering solutions… to an engineering company. Good or bad they are unlikely to give them much heed. :)

  19. Hi Mike,

    After implementing improvements under development this quarter, we hope to be in the range of 21 days from time of report to time of correction.

  20. I have had the same exact problem and dealt with the same thing with Google’s “sales reps” or “customer service reps” for months now. However, these people who deal with the tags do not really work for Google — they are in Phoenix and there is no Google office in Phoenix — it’s a company Google outsources to. And they don’t know what they’re talking about half the time.

    Anyway, I’ve tried via Twitter to alert @marissamayer to this problem, who I believe is the higher up who was recently put in charge of this mess called Google Places but I received no response.

    I also had the rep tell me to delete the listing and start over, but it came back, or something and the two merged again. I’ve set up like 6 places accounts (for one location) all because this guy has the same name of his cousin who has a similar business. Ridiculous.

  21. @Ethan

    If a listing is “being reviewed” it is impossible to locate it in Google Maps in order to report a problem. It doesn’t exist.

  22. Hello– is anyone with me on this? If a listing is “being reviewed”…you can’t locate in Google Maps, no?

    It’s good that @Ethan *was* watching this thread, but I don’t know what happened to him. ??

  23. I should note that I went through the ‘ways to correct my business listing’ and they all led to going to Google Maps, which you can’t do it a listing is under review. All the listings the owner creates for this business are automatically put “under review”, where they’ve been for the months, because as soon as Google sees the address/phone # they connect it to the listing “being reviewed” and there it goes again.

    But who’s reviewing anything!!??

    I should also note that, again, the reason the listing is “under review” to begin with is because the Google “rep” gave me bad advice. It was showing before she told me to make changes to it.

    I am beginning to wonder if the client shouldn’t just change his address and business number to get a listing up there. I think that might be easiest..and that’s ridiculous!

  24. Hi Jami, if this is still a problem, and the listing still needs to be reviewed, then unfortunately you do need to wait for that step to be completed. The purpose of the Report a Problem feature is only to notify us about problems with a live listing. Sorry for the confusion there.

  25. @Ethan:

    That’s exactly right, BUT when the Google rep told me to create a new Places account to bypass the “review” process, the new listing goes directly into “being reviewed”. Because Google was pulling in wrong information and listing the wrong phone number, I originally flagged the account. (This client has the same name as his cousin, who has a similar law practice.)

    This particular account has been “under review” for MONTHS — how long should someone have to wait before their listing is reviewed? This client has done nothing to be punished for this. And why would a Google rep give me completely wrong information and waste everyone’s time instead of looking into the account and trying to fix it?

    I’m beginning to believe the lack of customer service by Google Places is an intentional move by Google in order to force companies that once received business through Google Local to use Google Adwords, and drive up those bids. Why else would their customer service and lack of being able to fix these problems BE SO BAD???

  26. @mike

    I just mean Adwords in general and am using the terms places/local interchangeably. I mean, why else wouldn’t google provide customer service? — it’s a cost to them (and they may make even more money if they don’t.)

  27. Hi Jami,

    The listings are under review because our automated systems believe they may not be in line with the Google Places Quality Guidelines. It’s wrong that creating a new account would bypass the review process, and the rep shouldn’t have said that. I’ll follow up with the reps to clarify this.

    As for the particular listing being under review for months, one thing to keep in mind is that changing the listing data and re-verifying may delay the review process.

  28. @Ethan

    OK, thanks for following up. I hope they are able to get the turn around time on these reviews sped up drastically. It’s still been six weeks since I added the new account.

  29. @Ethan

    and just to clarify — I originally sent the account “under review” by using the ‘report a problem’ feature, since the Google Places account was pulling in the wrong picture, the wrong phone number and the wrong URL (even though I specified these in the options). It was when I created the other account, after speaking with a Google rep that she told me to create multiple accounts to bypass the review. that account went up, but then, because it’s attached to the phone number, went ‘under review’ again.

  30. @Ethan, can you have a look at this ? I know Mike was kind enough to provide insite into this, but I feel that we are all at a loss. Clearly data was merged, which caused a violation in the listing and kept me from being able to restore my ORIGINAL content. Then the listing was deleted publicly somehow, and is now in a pending review status. It is frustrating to play by the rules only to have this happen.

    Like everyone here, I am just trying to understand it and find resolution. My hats off for Ethan and especially Mike for the support and going out of your way to help us out.

  31. @mike

    Did what the Google rep told you above actually work? Because they pretty much told me the same exact thing, only even after removing the original listing, the new listing somehow still was attached to the old listing, or the same problem still existed (because it was never fixed to begin with, only started over again.)

  32. haha, when I try to delete the listing completely from the map (Step 1 from above) , I get this message:

    Your business listing has been suspended from Google Maps.
    Currently, we’re updating our listings approximately every four weeks. Therefore, you may experience a slight delay in seeing your listing removed from Google Maps. You may resume your listing again in the future at any time.

    so, who knows when they’ll ever delete it, or if I should now proceed to step two?

  33. Jami

    I can guarantee you that deleting the listing and staring over, WILL NOT solve the problem. I tried it and it doesn’t work. After a few days, (or weeks) it just remerges.

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