Google Places Basics: How does Google create and maintain/add location records for their “Google Places” database?

The question “How does Google create and maintain/add location records for their “Google Places” database?” was asked recently at Quora. I am reproducing my answer here so that readers who are new to the blog can get some background information on Google Places from a high level view:

Google obtains records for their business listings from

  • the major list dealers like InfoUSA,
  • feeds from trusted sources like CityGrid,
  • scraping trusted structured websites like Superpages or BBB,
  • scraping less trusted and less structured directories,
  • user input via their MapMaker product and Community edit of unclaimed listings in Maps,
  • across the web in general,
  • and business claimed records via the Places Dashboard.

This data is essentially triangulated to create the Places search result.

Every time that they identify a unique PHONE/business/address/ combo they create what is known as a cluster into which all structured and unstructured known data about a business is placed.

The data that can be normalized is normalized and matched against the same field from all the sources. If there are discrepancies Google will resolve which is accurate by picking the data from the most trusted and most recent sources. Strong preference of trust is given to data from their own claiming process which requires direct post card verification. If a listing is unclaimed preference is given to verified lists like those of InfoUSA and then to trusted feeds and on down the chain of trust.

They do often end up with two clusters that are essentially identical or only differ in small details. They run a merge/purge that merges these two clusters into one. This system uses not just geographic signals but language similarities as well to decide if two listings should be merged. Errors and lack of granularity in this function can lead to merging of two unrelated businesses that are located physically close to one another and happen to be in the same line of work. If the system fails to merge two records, a business listing might lose rank as the cluster data is split between two records. At this point in time there is NO formal mechanism to unmerge two merged listings although there are some off-Google techniques that might accomplish it. This is known among the cognoscenti as a “Cluster-F**k”.

Here is an article that summarizes their clustering technology

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Google Places Basics: How does Google create and maintain/add location records for their "Google Places" database? by

8 thoughts on “Google Places Basics: How does Google create and maintain/add location records for their “Google Places” database?”

  1. Mike – Nice get a peek into the guts of the Places mystery. In the linked article “Google Details Information Sources for the Business Listing “Cluster” you say that “some feeds are submitted through the LBC.” This caught my attention. Do you mean the .csv import for 10+ locations? Or is there some other mechanism (API?). If so, how does one gain access to this exclusive club of LBC data feeders? – Thanks

  2. Hi Mike,
    Unfortunately we have lots of cases & a particular one that was dealt with recently- there is 1 verified listing, another one which came to maps with wrong address. After editing the last one, edits were updated online with the new address. While verifying it (by postcard only) it actually created a third listing (!) & left the one to be claimed open for editing.
    As a result, the new one was suspended from the account however there is no other way we can think of to verify the one that we were trying to… so there are still 2 listings with the same info.

    Have you heard about a similar case?

  3. @abby

    That is the nature of the beast when you claim the dupes. I have gone to using the “Report a Problem” link or Map Maker to deal with them instead. That is Google’s currently recommended practice and while it might lose a citation or two, I figure that it is easier than the agro you are going through.

  4. @Mike

    of course we’ve tried that… let’s hope someone will actually do something with it (still on the same status). Anyway, thanks for the tips!

  5. @Abby – you had no luck using the Map Maker feature to find the most prominent listing?

    @Mike – wonder what this is going to look like in the future given Carter is now no longer at Google Places.

  6. @ Brent

    I did find it but made a comment on the prominent listing that there is another one that need to be removed… I hope it’ll work!

  7. Hi, I need to know how to identify the local sources of lists for Google in countries other than USA.

    How to identify their trust and authority with Google?

    Is there any mechanism or can one mechanism be developed to identify these list sources where Google sees the authority and trust value in local context?


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