Google Places to Rollout Repair Option for Merged Listings

Ethan Russell, a Product Manager on Google’s local search team, recently posted some comments on my post: Google Customer Service: Up Against the Algo. He noted that sometime this quarter, Google will be rolling out a service solution to the long standing problem of two listings merging. It doesn’t appear that mergings will cease but rather that, once reported, they will be fixed in a reasonable and predictable timeframe.

Good news for all. Here are his comments and replies to my subsequent email queries:

Ethan Russel: 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.

MB: 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?

Ethan Russel: 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.

MB: You say “under development” this quarter. Does that mean that if the stars are propitious it will be started this quarter or finished this quarter?

Ethan Russel: The work is already in progress, and we hope to finish this quarter.

***
Merging, an artifact of Google’s duplicate removal process is the “flip side” of the duplicate listing issue. If Google dials up the deduping, the mergings go up and if they dial it down the existence of dupes in the index increases.

Having a Google provided service solution to the merging problem is not an alternative to the best practice as far as minimizing the chances of a listing merging in the first place. The problems leading to mergings revolve around confusion in the NAP (name address and phone) between two distinct listings causing two clusters to become one. Here is a check list to prevent or possibly cure mergings while we are waiting for Google’s solution and to prevent them in the future.

1)Be sure that your business name is short and not keyword spammy. The longer it is and the more similar it is to other spammy business titles the greater the chance of a merge

2)Be sure that your phone number is unique to your business. If your number was previously used by a similar and/or nearby business the chances of a merge go up immeasurably.

3)Be sure that your address is a unique reflection of your actual location.

4)Reinforce the name, address and phone number by widespread dissemination of the basic business NAP throughout the local ecosystem.

5)Carefully position your business on the Map when you edit your business in Places.

6)Be sure that you provide reinforcing geo signals to Google via a KML file, geo-sitemap, hCard, geo-tagged photos, myMap references. Confirm that the geo info provided in all these geo-references is accurate to the specific lat-long minute and second.

Remember that Google’s algo is just an algo and if you nuke a listing without changing anything of the underlying data and signals that the algo looks at, the algo is likely to merge the two listings again.

I am hopeful that Google’s customer service solution might put in place some override to keep it from happening again but there is also the danger that citations, reviews and other data might be wrongly associated with the other listing so doing the above is still a good idea.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places to Rollout Repair Option for Merged Listings by

24 thoughts on “Google Places to Rollout Repair Option for Merged Listings”

  1. @patrick
    1)You mean you don’t think that they hang on my every word? :)

    2)It would seem a conflict to first create the problem with the algo and then charge for a solution… no?

  2. There is one thing I don’t understand about the merged listing issue. The existing google algorithm does not remove information from the Places Index after a business has closed or relocated. This is an issue that will only compound the problem over time. The more businesses that relocate, the more opportunities for either merged records or problem duplicate records.

    The algo over time will become increasingly problematic with information that is:

    A) Not accurate
    B) Subject to problems that will take tremendous time and a level of sophistication to fix:
    C) And in my experience, it can be extremely frustrating when citations, links, and maps records that refer to an old location won’t or can’t be removed from third party websites.

    Without having a systemic way to remove old records the google Places Index and the records within it will become an increasingly poor mistake filled database of information. The smb’s that need to deal with this will become increasingly frustrated. Customers will receive increasingly worse information.

    I’ve faced this in two forms. I’ve a business that relocated about 6 years ago. There were a lot of Google Maps/Places “signals” to that old address and its Places Record. Specifically there are websites that never responded to years of requests on our part to remove or update the old address information. As time marches on this situation will only get worse.

    Secondly I worked for about 2 decades as a commercial real estate broker. 1,000 such commercial agents and I assisted in relocating retail and office tenants in great quantity every year. Multiply that by every metropolitan region in the nation and the world, and you have a lot of data that is subject to change all the time.

    In the case of the existing business, ultimately a representative from Google “confirmed” that the business had relocated. The result, though, was that the old record remains in the index, but it has been “weakened”. It took a lot of effort.

    All other existing data bases of this kind of information regularly get purged, cleaned and updated. The information is fluid and dynamic. It needs to be cleaned and changed. Currently there is no systemic method within Google to do so.

    Until such time occurs the merged listing problem will continue to occur, regardless if Google manages to effect a “21 day turnaround” from time of contact. Even if Google manages that, many of those businesses will suffer for months before they realize they can contact someone in some capacity within Google that a problem exists.

    Unfortunately I see the Places index and its algo replacing reality with an algo reality that should only get worse over time.

  3. Hi Mike,
    I am so curious to see what the reporting form/fields will look like when this rolls out. People will need this to give them space and cues to accurately explain their merging problems. Thanks so much for blogging about this. It’s great to see Google’s awareness on this issue.

  4. Yes, Google — People would GLADLY pay for customer service (they are already paying $20+ a click in Adwords — Get some people hired and fix this problem. I have been appalled at how much money Google makes, yet they can’t supply real people to fix problems like this.

    I was offered a $500 bonus by a client for getting his listing back up on Places to give you one example of how valuable it is.

    It really hurts small businesses, especially. 21 days is still too long. People’s businesses are being made or broken on whether or not they appear in these listings.

  5. Google places could be renamed as Google puzzle . Places full of bugs, since October upgrade there is no more spam! although Google keep changing places . making Small business owners life tough. Since this morning there is no more phone verification option .

  6. @Miriam

    My fear is that the “fix” will be shoehorned into the existing “Report a Problem” interface and no one will really know that it has been turned on….the email feedback will be generically inappropriate and non informative and like the current status of Duplicate removal one will never be sure when or if Google is really working on it…..

    @Jami
    I get calls literally from across the globe to fix problems…

    @Martin
    Google will offer only one or the other of the several verification options depending on their trust and history with a listing. Sometimes offering only the post card and sometimes offering only the phone verification option.

  7. I’d like to give an example of what I consider an extreme case in which Google’s Places algo does not remove a business listing that has closed.

    1. A business was closed in 2008 (I believe that was the date)
    2. The website no longer exists
    3. The phone number doesn’t work.
    4. Google received multiple messages that the business was closed.

    And here are two further pieces of evidence I just love :D

    5. The Google street view of the property shows that there is no building on that property
    6. A review in Google Places about the property says (more or less) Ha ha I drove by the place and the building was razed. There is no business there.

    As to #4 above I contacted Google referencing their own information re: the street view and review.

    Nonetheless the record remains in the index. Search for this business via a search for (business category/local city) and the record for this business shows first among three. First :D

    By the way Google, the record was claimed. :D

    (It seems in current Google algoresism….a claimed record means it can never be altered.)

    Clearly Google needs to address an algo that mistakenly generates merged listings from among existing businesses, relocated businesses, etc.

    I’d suggest the data needs to be regularly cleaned, updated, and adjusted as any such data base regularly goes through.

    Until they do this the problem will only compound as inappropriate data adds to this problem.

  8. EarlPearl –
    Your scenario reminds me of that fellow I worked with a few years ago whose town’s whole map was referencing a railroad that hadn’t existed since the 1950s and was missing all the streets that had been built over the defunct railroad tracks. Sigh.

  9. This tool can be useful but won’t be THE answer of our problems.

    BTW anyone having problems with activating new listings? I get only the postcard option.

  10. Am eagerly awaiting this ‘merged review’ reporting option since my company was recently ‘gifted’ really bad reviews from two unrelated businesses located about 10 miles away from us.

    One of the top snippets showing on our Places page (earned by a different company) is enough to send visitors running away.

    Both sets of reviews came in from InsidePages.com and it appears there’s a serious problem with G associating reviews from that site. I’ve also seen numerous complaints in the Places Help Fora about IP review errors.

    Do you think G ‘gets’ that we SMBs won’t trust them to purchase Tags or Boost when our Place Pages are big, undeserved messes?

  11. hey mike,
    try creating a new business listing . there is only post verification option . which is gonna take 5 to 6 weeks to arrive .

    martin and Plamen is right there is no more phone verification option .

  12. At some point google will have to trust a owner verified Places entry and add a feature where ‘duplicates’ can be marked as such by the current owner of the location.

    Either google will have to visit ‘advertisers’like Yellow Pages, for a small charge maybe, and physically verify they are legitimate occupiers of the location, whether an owner or renter or leaser, even if its a hot desk;
    Or accept mailed proof such as two original utility bills, security marked by one time PINs as most are totally computer printed, which are used for anti-terror and money laundering control in the UK.

    Owners should be allowed to mark a ‘duplicate’ as wrong, old, spam or WHY and the listing not shown in a search result. Other verified owners should be able to view these ‘stop lists’ and be able to Report a Problem with them. The definition of a duplicate should include the verified Phone no or Address/PIN location or Business Name/Title as all of these should be unique in a locality.

    Not hard to implement.

  13. Thanks for the update Mike. Happy to see Google is finally doing something about the Merged Listings problem. I also hope they’ll come up up with a permanent fix in the long run so that listings don’t get merged to begin with.

  14. Hey Mike has there been any other updates regarding the merge listing repair option? I have an ongoing problem with my listing being merged with competitor after competitor. The listing I have now shows that I’m receiving all the traffic but when you click on the link to see the lisitng it shows my competitors … very fustrating. I’ve created a quick screencast of what it’s doing. If you can take a peak and fill me in on anything I’d forever be indebted =o).

  15. @Donovan

    Didn’t you used to be at #210? And you moved to #212? Wasn’t that a second move?

    Because of your moving, because of the closeness of the businesses, the similarity of your businesses, the confusions about phone numbers, the fact that you moved more than once, the fact that there are numerous, numerous claimed listings at that address…. the Google Algo can not, does not, see you as a distinct entity. In fact, it is nearly impossible to tell the real businesses from the fake ones at the address.

    It is but an algo that assesses these things in an automated fashion… it is a wonder that it works at all given the reality on the ground.

    If you want Google to get is straight… create a unique identity, with a unique name, at a unique address and make sure that it is consistent across the internet. Your history is anything but…

    As it is now expecting google’s algo to understand the differences between you all, when a human looking at the situation can’t, is more than you can hope for.

  16. You’re correct about the move Mike but the bottom line is Google’s results look like shit and if their whole thing is about relevancy then integrating a broken local system into search is …

    Mike you write like you’re defending how Google handles the verification process or the local listing as whole. The systems broken plain and simple. You stated the reason my listing has merged or is no longer showing is the move from 210 to 212 .. also, phone numbers, business name and then go on to say that the Google algo can’t distinct the two business then why is Google charging for things like boost, etc.

    I want to point out a few things:

    Their name: Vegas Wet
    Our Name: Las Vegas Escorts

    ….. Our names are not similar

    Their Number: 702-669-5240
    Our Number: 702-733-4949

    … Our number has been updated in all major data sources. (and address)

    Our listing: http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=3409458686756646442

    Their listing: http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=6548725046538814013

    … clearly different cid # but as it was shown in my video my info is on the places page but when you view the listing it shows their info (broken system)

    To top it all off these guys have multiple lisitngs in the same vertical. If you do a search for Las Vegas Escorts the A and B listings are theirs using the same number on the site (702) 669-5240. I’ve reported and get the same bullshit response from Google. I’ve repeately asked Google to remove my images from the listings via DMCA request and nothings happend as well.

  17. Donovan

    I am not defending it in the least. I am stating that is the material reality within which we live. Its kind of like gravity. No matter how hard I try I can’t jump high enough to dunk a basketball regardless of my intentions and my wishes.

    Google isn’t broken per se, its just that is is how it works. It works for 90, 95, 98 or maybe 99% of the cases in the U.S…. it just sucks at edge cases like yours…. where it is a nearly impossible for G’s algo to distinguish the difference between spam, multiple similar businesses at the same location, businesses that move from one suite to another that all are trying to have the “optimal” business name, businesses that swap phone numbers. It is a situation where even an intelligent human can’t tell which are real and which aren’t without a site visit and even then they might be confused. An algo is at best an imperfect mirror of reality.

    I can keep trying to dunk or I can play at a different game. In your case, if you find Google that important….given that you know that they are incapable of resolving this particular situation… you need to find an alternative strategy.

    That strategy, if it is to include Google, would be as i noted above… it sucks. I agree. It also sucks that I can’t dunk.

  18. Is there anyway I can have 2 businesses approved? Here is the case:

    a. Businesses has the same name.
    b. Businesses are located on different areas. (Branches)
    c. All areas are using the same mobile number

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