Google Places Tidbits and Quirks

Update 3:30: Google Employee Sid has noted below that the Report a Problem Link is a bug that Google is working hard to fix.

1. Top Contributor EHG in the Google Places forums, emailed me yesterday that the “Report a Problem” Link has disappeared from the bottom of your Google Places Page. It is still MIA this AM from both the places page AND the drop down in the list view of Maps:

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2. Some readers reported here, via email (hat tip to Robert Ramirez) and on Twitter that Google was no longer allowing them to verify via phone and could only verify by postcards. When I attempted to do so yesterday, I was allowed to verify by postcard. Several possibilities:
— Google is becoming more stringent on who is allowed to phone verify in an effort to increase trust level
— Google is changing the procedure to post card verification only and certain users are seeing the changes first

Are you experiencing this limitation?

3. Several Twitter commenters (@mktgbill (Bill Allen), @DavidKyle & @KiwiMarketing) noted that they were seeing “a shift to the 7 pack + organic and away from Places/Organic mix?” As Matt McGee has pointed out there has been no discernible rhyme or reason as to which shows when and there is an increasing variety of displays. It has been so volatile that I just haven’t lost any sleep over it. I have not been tracking specific search results either so I can’t verify the observations.

Are you seeing more old style 7-Packs showing?

4. TripAdvisor Reviews are reported as once again missing in action by readers and posters to the forums. For those of you that missed the Google TripAdvisor Kerfuffle in December see this article.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places Tidbits and Quirks by

39 thoughts on “Google Places Tidbits and Quirks”

  1. Hi Mike,

    being a local SERP addict myself… i also had the “feeling” recently (no statistics) that in quite a lot of business areas the results “tend” to switch back to the classic 7-Pack.

    But as you noted “I just haven’t lost any sleep over it” either…
    … therefore i cannot assure the observed shifts on a valid database.

    Greetings,
    Sebastian

  2. Mike,

    I have been seeing some of my client’s local listing revert back to the traditional 7-box versus the mixed results. Noticed it more this week.

  3. Mike,

    I emailed you yesterday about some of my clients reporting that the phone verification feature was missing from the listing creation process, and only the postcard was an option. The problem continues in my area (Southern California). I’ve tried making listings from work, from home, using different phone numbers and in various categories, but all result in a postcard only option for verification.

    Along with a larger # of 7pack listings, I’ve also noticed a “shuffling” of places listings lately. There have been shifts in a lot of my clients markets with new listings showing up higher in search and older listings taking a small dip.

    I’m wondering if this is a temporary issue that may fix itself or the start of something bigger.

  4. I’ve seen lots of variation in the Phone vs Postcard verification. On a single day, with 2 different clients, I’ve seen both options available for one client, and only postcard for another client. I much prefer phone verification; sometimes I just wait a few days, try again, and then phone pops up and is available again. Go figure. Google certainly keeps me guessing….are they just messing with us?

  5. Mike: I went to this Google record for a business that has been closed for years. In fact the building was torn down. It does have a claimed listing.

    The report a problem option on the drop down list was not available.

    Then I went to Google reviews to try and report it that way. Google wouldn’t take the review. It didn’t work.

    Then I went back to my hotpot sign in and went back to the record, to try and review it.

    Couldn’t do it that way either.

    Guess Google doesn’t want to hear from anyone anymore :D

    Meanwhile my adwords campaigns keep running up totals of money that I send to Google.

    This is a VERY unhealthy relationship ;)

    They like you. Can you get them to communicate with the rest of us; PLEASE!!!!

  6. @Sebastian
    Thanks for your observations…. It sure is variable, no?

    @Brent

    @Robert
    Yes, you were the first. (I fixed my oversight above). After you I saw a number of other reports. If I were a betting man I would bet that you and those reporting it are triggering a new level of trust verification. But we shall see.

  7. About the missing phone verification – an user at warrior forum points out that few months ago there was the same problem. He thinks that this is a way for Google to prevent spam when there are too many new listings. BTW I’ve noticed that claiming existing listing still can be done by phone.

  8. Seeing an odd shift today in our local google places accounts in that all local/ places results have gone away and only seeing one places results for a business that was not even in the top ten previously with all other results just plane organic results. Can’t be a permanent shift or else what’s the point of the google “tags” product.

    When we search “atlanta movers” (one of our main keywords) no seven or ten pack just one local listing and then regular organic listings….maybe they are doing a big update?

  9. Oh and FYI a google tech support rep (yes there is such a thing) actually emailed me your information to refer me to in order to fix some google places account issues we were having !

    Are you a secret member of the google team ….007 ;)

  10. @Plamen

    Since I could still phone verify in a trusted account, I agree with you that it is likely an effort to up the ante for a certain subset of listings.

  11. @earlpearl This is a bug and we are working on fixing on it. The Report A Problem link should be back soon.

  12. @Sid

    Thanks for taking the time to update us on Report a Problem. Any idea on when reviews will start working again?

  13. Regarding the 7-pack results, I tend to be seeing it for certain categories. And those categories are largely those that tend have a fair bit of aggressive spam. Escorts & lawyers. But on the other had some spammy industries like movers, limousines and locksmiths are showing blended results. Then when you try those ones in other cities you sometimes get a 7-pack there. So perhaps its just more testing going on.

    Other terms like Used Cars seem to be throwing 7packs in many large cities. Looking at organic results there I see a lot of big national car listing sites showing and not a lot of local used car dealer websites ranking in the big metro cities. In those cases when G does not see a lot of truly local inventory in organic they may throw a 7pack in so as to have local results. In smaller cities where those big car sites have not done their SEO as aggressively the local car dealer sites are ranking decently organically and getting blended local results instead of 7-packs.

    Those are my anecdotal observations.

  14. Just realized our hosting company has all sites down for over an hour so I guess seo is the least of our issues today. Not any good to have a site #1 if there is nothing to see when you click on it.

  15. As far a 7 pack vs. o pack appearing more or less. I have seen bouncing, but not a lean towards 7 pack.

    I had 3 that I were watching closing in the law, vet, and dentist field.

    They all switched to opacks…. 2-3 weeks ago, they all went to 7 packs and occasionally no pack. This week they are back to Opacks.

    Kinda funky. Well, really funky.

  16. some of our terms are hybrid some are seven pack and one of our terms is a “one pack” which I had not seen before. all terms are for very large city and very competitive words.

  17. @Sid:

    Thanks: so I was describing to Mike my perspective vis a vis this bug….

    I couldn’t communicate w/ Google via report a problem or by a review….

    meanwhile Google keeps taking my Adwords money.

    It sort of reminded me of the EX wife. :D

    But with that simple communication Google is far better than the EX :D

    thx for the feedback

  18. IMO
    I do agree that there is more occurrences of the google 7 pack showing up in the niches of my clients…(transportation, travel)

    will see wahts going to happen in the upcoming weeks mike…

  19. @Mike R and @Stever

    Thanks for the observations.

    @Kent
    Google has no interest in helping you understand “the system”.

  20. Frankly, I can’t draw any conclusions as to 7-pack vs. blended listings because of the variety. Stever’s observations are interesting and worth looking into further.

    With all this iffiness, it is certainly hard to know what to tell clients.

    “When I complete your Place Page, stand by the phone for a pin number call…oh…wait a minute. Ooops, sorry. I mean stand by your mailbox for a postcard. While we’re at it, let’s report a problem. Ooops, sorry, we can’t do that because there is no link.”

    Wonky to the nth degree.
    Great post, Mike!

  21. @Miriam
    Oh and when they send their customer to Places, they can’t leave a review but if they do, the business can’t always respond…. wonky is right!

  22. Quirks? Can’t help but think that my “plumber frankston” search is one of the quirkiest. I have a plumber who was top of the 7 pack results for a long time but now doesn’t show in the new results at all – even though they’re still number 2 in the organic. The really bizarre thing is that all the visible places results don’t have websites just the maps.google.com.au – feeling at a real loss as to why this would be the case. Maybe things are different is Oz but I have other clients, building industry, pet industry who even though we’ve seen some movements in placings, are still up there…ideas anyone?

  23. @Louise, I’ve seen the same thing in Canada and the USA, so it’s not particular to OZ.

    Again it might be a spam thing. Over-optimization and keyword stuffing in Places listing info triggers G to show a bunch of unclaimed local listings instead, even though there are claimed listings that even rank well organically below the 7pack.

  24. @mike , in UK most of the queries showing blended results. e.g – london letting agents.

    No more phone verification in the UK, we just created listing for one of our client , now we we gotta wait 5/6 weeks to get post card, imagine if post card goes missing then 5/6 weeks more.

    @Stever , Google map is almost spam free now. I can hardly see any spam. Google’s spam filter works like a charm . Spammy listing get caught very easily . i read somewhere Google is now using device fingerprint to detect spam. since October number of spammy listing gone down pretty much.

  25. Comment 6 @mike
    Yes it is variable but i do track these switches in 30 search phrases… i will have a “manual” look in these statistics to see if we are haunting a myth or reality ;-)

    Comment 15 @stever
    I also observed that actually those competitive categories “tend” more and more to switch back to the classic display

    Comment 27 @GLocalSEO
    “spam free” LOL :-D

  26. @Sebastian
    Let us know what you find

    @Glocal
    My sense is that the additional phone verification is a cranking up of their trust verification and that not all accounts and users are seeing it. Many are but not all.

  27. I noticed that it is only allowing me to verify by postcard. This was for the multiple listings that have appeared for my business on google maps but are not merging. There are 3 in total, and I am waiting for a postcard or all 3!

  28. I very Rarely Post in this Forum.

    but when I do I am always sure to tell mike he is doing a great job at keeping us search marketers in the loop

    “Mike your doing a Great Job”

    However I find this latest chicanery that google is playing quite upsetting

    I like many of my Search marketing brothers use the google places as a giant selling point.. I find it difficult to build value in a buggy places program that you now must verify via snail mail ( I wonder if you can phone verifiy for google boost )

    …I field phone calls from clients all week long about “Where did my reviews go” and so on and so forth most of my CSR phone calls are about something google did to their profiles not something my company did to them…

    I am disgusted with google and I am glad I am not the only one…I do agree trip advisor is solely looking out for themselves as we all do..I am just excited that company the size of expedia is willing to go on record as to googles monopoly..I am all for monopoly and monopoly money..but everyone knows what grandpa is going to do when you get up to get some popcorn or a bathroom break he just plops down a hotel on boardwalk and takes money from your stash you keep in nice little piles under the board…

    Perhaps thats a little over simplifying the current situation

    but thats how burned up I am about it..I am all for spam reduction but these endless campaigns against spam always take down the giants..back when I was a young sprat in the SEM mix there was a little search engine called alta vista it was all the rage…then alta vista went on a witch hunt against spam and it tarnished the results and people left…thats all anyone cares about is quality results..

    I equate Google to the Titanic its not unsinkable fella’s Despite your attempts to chigger in with the cell phone companies if you anger SMB and medium sized business’s they will leave… Dont forget who made you what you are google..its those millions of people who spend money on adwords this is simple attempt to control market share via google boost
    You can do whatever you want google but how long until the paradigm shifts how long until you hit that iceberg

    /Rant over

    my question is

    People have been trained that google is king and its your best ROI

    I need to show the customers I sell to ( Contractors ) Results and FAST
    is bulk uploading the new hip thing to do or will that just spin me into a even further despair…A land of duplicate content and endless penalized listings

    also I have never bulk uploaded due to the fact that the listings are not verified and can be edited online…so is the process time consuming or even worth my time…is the post card a better route…

    /shoots of rescue flare

  29. Hi Nick@Skyline I enjoyed your review. very constructive and well written. Big G is ignoring SMB’s and focusing on spam too much. the best way to fight spam would be make ranking tougher . that would discourage spammers, spammer always take short cut route .

    stopping phone verification would hurt SMB.

    Thanks for reminding us altavista, You are right google is taking similar approach.

  30. What will google tags be about if the main terms for some of our google places account only show in organic results? Why pay for tags if tags are not showing up as they do not show up in organic results?

    I like tags but our main term dropped the 7/10 pack last week and now is a 1 pack with a company that never showed in the top ten

  31. The implications of the different local search result types are pretty significant considering that they tend to show very different results.

    We’ve performed a two extensive SERP case study’s; one at the end of November, 2010 (after Instant + Hybrid local was released) and one last week in hopes to understand what causes the display Hybrid-local, Places or Maps (7/3/1)-pack.

    It’s a lot of data to pour over, but our findings are amazingly consistent. I’m conferring with a 3rd party and we’ll likely be releasing the results.

  32. David I would love to see the results of your data collection for local search. It seems based on the few terms that I have looked at that google has almost cleared its “cache” memory on its servers on specific terms and these terms no longer show a local 7/10 pack. The “About xxx,xxxx results” or how many items google found that match your search query show a very low number for the terms that no longer have 7/10 pack. The odd thing is for the terms I have looked at that dropped the number of results from maybe 10 to 15 million down down to couple of hundred thousand and also dropped the 7/10 pack for that term are not showing the correct number of results (the term that yields only 200k results should in fact yield a couple million) hence my thought that google seems to have cleared its “cache”.

  33. Maybe I’m behind the curve on this, so excuse my potential show of ignorance. I am getting results on search where the actual ranking of the organic appears to be based in part on prior search. If I change browsers, I get a different result. Is that already a known issue?

    Also, the last few days appear to be seeing a shift towards more pinpointed local. This has been going on for a while, IMO, but it seems like a major shift recently. Where I might have gotten Places coverage on page 1 for two or three zip codes in Los Angeles, I now seem to be getting only one, and the page 1 results seem far more grouped by actually being in that zip code than by other ranking factors. EG, an account that was ranking with 6 Google Reviews on page for all of LA, now is on page 3, and lots of folks with no reviews have jumped ahead.

    I’m prepared to be shot down.

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