NY Times: Closed, Says Google, but Shops’ Signs Say Open

Google Places Reported Closed - Not True?An article on the recent spate of black hat closing flags that have been appearing on Places listings was published in the NY Times today by reporter David Segal. He is the same reporter that broke the JC Penny’s link buying story.

The good news is that Google has promised a fix for the problem shortly:

A Google spokesman, Gabriel Stricker, declined to comment on whether the company kept a running tally of fraudulent closings. But he said Google was aware of the issue and was already working on changes, which will be adopted in coming days, to prevent what he called “malicious or incorrect labeling.”

Kudos to Google for acknowledging the need for acting quickly to put a stop to this pernicious activity.

The other good news is that both Linda Buquet and I were quoted/linked in the article. 🙂

Other articles of interest on the topic:

News Flash: Google Mt View Reported Closed!

Places Blackhat Playground – Reported To Be Closed

Clarification re: Clarification re: closed listings on Google Places

Hit by Competitor Spam Reviews: The Plot Thickens

Update: Thanks to Jim Rudnick, a Hamilton, ON SEO, for the heads up that Google has responded publicly to the NY Times article on the Lat-Long Blog.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
NY Times: Closed, Says Google, but Shops’ Signs Say Open by

27 thoughts on “NY Times: Closed, Says Google, but Shops’ Signs Say Open”

  1. Mike,

    My daughter handed me our local newspaper “The Telegram & Gazetter” and said Google is closing business that aren’t closed”. The newspaper picked up David Segal’s article. The news made it to Worcester, MA of all places. It was great to see you quoted and stand up to Google. You and Linda are our online local hero and heroine.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. @Jim
    Thanks for the heads up… I added it above

    @Susan & Puresheer & Nyagoslav
    Thank you.


    What did you have in mind? (mwahahaha…. 🙂 )

  3. It’s just too bad that it takes NY Times to call out G on the issue to get a public response. Let’s hope that when G+ comes out of beta, that they have both platforms running smoothly. Mike, if there was just ONE change you would like Google to make to its Places platform, what would it be?

  4. To be fair this is one or two of the likely hundreds of thousands of businesses on Google. There are bound to be errors, some human caused, and it seems like google is working well to fix it.

  5. Mike: Almost simultaneous with the rash of attack “this place is closed” notifications I had contacted Google Places about a mistake, did it twice within a short time period, and saw a fast response in Places.

    That was in contrast w/ prior periods wherein it appeared that Google totally ignored the “report a problem” links on G Places Pages/ or alternatively the threshold was set so high…that it would take dozens or more of reports, plus possibly reports from many different sources to effect a change.

    Unfortunately the change was picked up by spammers/competitors and it got out of hand. Fortunately Google picked up some smart comments from SMB supporters and resolved to send emails as notifications to smb’s re the “is this place closed” notification.

    My question is will they send emails for all sorts of reports? Suppose people are reporting a change of phone number, business name, hours of operation, etc. on unclaimed listings. Are these changes being made quickly now? Will there be some kind of verification?

    It so happens a real business closed last week in my neighborhood. The closing got a bit of local press as it included landlord/tenant controversy.

    So today I sent notification to G Places that this business had closed. The note included a link to a local newspaper verifying the story. Assuming nothing happens I’ll send another message about this business having closed. I’ll include the website home page…..which tells us…..WE ARE CLOSED.

    I wonder what will happen on the Google end of things. Will a real Googler read the emails???? Will a real Googler go to the links?

    or will an algo dominate the processes??? Only Larry and Sergey seem to know. 😉

  6. Eric C has it right “It’s just too bad that it takes NY Times to call out G on the issue to get a public response.”

    On another spamming issue we have on a few occasions now had unscrupulous competitors posting inflammatory images to our clients places accounts (ie a dog peeing on a rug = a carpet cleaning client). So far Google has been very proactive in addressing these problems.

  7. Mike,

    Congratulations on the New York Times article and thank you for your tireless efforts to make life easier for the Local SEO community. Now if Moutain View will make haste on the 25 (err… 250?) things I hate about Google Places, we will all be in much better shape.

  8. @Jen
    Thank you! Do you still go by Maps Guide Jen? Very, Very nice to hear from you.

    Thank you

    Thanks but I will resist the nomiker of “rock star”. Cooperation always trumps in this field. I not would be in any position of communicating to google or the NYT without all the help that everyone has offered up along the way. So perhaps “rock group”.

    Google doesn;t need the NYTimes to get it right. They get it right more often than not and fix many a problem outside of the limelight. That being said the spotlight does speed things along quite a bit.

    It is a work in progress. Hopefully Google can find good middle ground where quality of the index continues goes up and SMB do not have to live in fear.

    Google does not divulge the frequency of these events so we have NO way of knowing whether it occurs to a large % of listings or not. Obviously it was large enough that Google decided it needed fixing.

    That being said to the affected business, regardless of the frequency, it can be devastating. The processes for verification and validation in cases like this where the outcome is so damaging, can be improved and should be. The first motto of Places should be: DO NO HARM

    The reality is that I think Google Places is a great product. In fact I think it is an incredible product. Who else has provided this type of power for local marketing ever?

    If I had to change one thing, it would be Google’s understanding, perception and responses toward the reality that SMBs face in their every day struggle. If every change were viewed through that lens everything that Google did would improve.

  9. Mike, Jim: I agree with the sentiments Mike expressed and Jim seconded.

    Now, how is Google proceeding going forward?

    Yesterday I sent a “report a problem” message about a real business that had closed. I included in the message an article from a real live news source. Yep…reality…not an algo. That article included about 100 blog comments about the closing.

    Today I reported the closing again. I sent a copy of the former business’s Facebook Fan Page. Lots of sad comments about the business having closed.

    Wonder how long it will take for Google to take notice and verify. Both notifications were sent under the same my google.com account.

    Based on prior tests, this account has a certain level of Places “Trust” regarding reviews and notifications. OTOH, this account did send a message that “google boston” had closed 😀 during the test to determine the speed at which one could “spam” the “Is this placed closed” effort just a short time ago.

    I wonder who is checking the “This Place is Closed” notifications these days: A bot or a human???

  10. Pretty sure they are doing human verification now. I had an old listing I created in Google Maps in 2007 that was still linked to my cell phone, even though I officially deleted the listing years ago from my account.

    I reported it closed about 2 weeks ago. The very next day someone from the 650 Google number called inquiring about the old business. It was clear they were from India. I confirmed my report, said it was closed, and that the number belonged to another business now.

    An hour later the listing was gone from Places.

  11. Nice job making things happen, Mike. Well done!!

    Now… for your next mission: Create some fake places pages for Google with terrible photos and categories. We can all sit back and wait for the listings to be merged and then give the NY Times a call. I’ll be waiting by the phone. 😉

  12. Mike,
    I just sent an email to Mr. Segal thanking him for his accurate reportage of this troubling situation and, also, praising his choices of you and Linda as information sources. You guys are the next best thing to the horse’s mouth. Sincere congratulations to you both!

  13. @Miriam

    Thanks. I know that David worked really diligently on the article to both understand the nuances and get the facts straight. He is a talented journalist.

  14. @ David Kyle: I’m currently testing the “Is this place closed” response time. Its only been 2.5 days.

    Day 1: I sent in a comment about a real place that had closed. I included in the message a link to a news article/blog w/ about 90 comments about the controversial closing of a local restaurant.

    Day 2.: I sent in a 2nd notification of the place being closed. I enclosed a link to their facebook page. All sorts of friends were bemoaning the closing.

    No change yet. Later I’ll send in a 3rd notification on the “report a problem link”. This one will include a link to the first page of the business website. The home page says….We are closed.

    I’m wondering: who checks the “report a problem” links/reports….a bot or a human??? 😀

    Just checking as to how Google has responded to the problem that arose when spammers found how easy it was to manipulate the “report a problem” link and flood Google w/ spammed “this place is closed messages.”

    Prior to making a change sometime this summer wherein Google created virtual instant response to “report a problem” messages….in the past Google never seemed to respond. I know I had reported a closed business for about 2 years w/out a response. Just wondering where they stand now….and one thing we know is that they aren’t going to report it.

    In a sense I don’t blame them. Revealing the threshold for responses is a virtual open door to spammers. Still I’m curious.

  15. Mike:

    No I haven’t done that yet. Was thinking about getting others to report it/ taking it to the forums, and other possible steps to try and get a measure of response.

  16. Of course this story hit while I was off on an unplugged vacation! 😉
    Just got back.

    When David from the NYtimes 1st contacted me a couple weeks ago, it was for another Google Places news story – a different GP problem I’ve blogged about a couple times. I helped him with that story, which still could go to print – not sure.

    Then I asked him if he’d like another Google Places story lead about a different problem that is negatively impacting small businesses and filled him in on this issue.

    I helped David with research for a couple weeks and told him he really needed to talk to Mike and get the scoop about the vigilante closings of the Google offices. Plus really wanted Mike to get some recognition for all the work he puts into helping our industry with Places issues.

    Have not had time to look at my analytics yet but I think the story was also picked up by NBC and other outlets, plus I got a request for a radio interview. So hopefully word will spread about this issue.

    I’m hoping one outcome that will come from this is that now when Mike, me and others blog about important problems that affect SMBs, Google may listen closer and react faster, knowing that Mike and I have easy access to someone at the Times that seems to have a real interest in this type of story. David has done other Google Places related news stories as well, including a recent one about the Locksmith spam problem. http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/s/david_segal/

    Thanks David Segal for picking up and running this story and thanks Mike for all you do!

  17. Mike:

    I did complete part 3 of the experiment. 3 notifications using the report a problem link, pressing the “this place is closed” choice. Each report included a message. Each message included a link to a confirming source: 1) a news article reporting the business closed
    2.) the facebook fan page for the business. Lots of fans bemoaned the fact that this business closed.
    3.) The home page of the website…and it says…we are closed….with a bit more of a message.

    One thing about this experiment….I can’t believe anyone with half a brain is reviewing the “report a problem” messages. Let me repeat that. You send Google a message and nobody reads it. Nice huh??? Not exactly a level of responsiveness, care or oversight that one might expect.

    I assume nobody is reading the messages. I also assume there is some threshold feature for these reports. As you suggested in your question, it could come from reports from multiple sources.

    Assuming there is/was a threshold it was dramatically lifted this past August or earlier. Unfortunately competitive attack spammers found it quickly and the rash of “is this business closed” messages started to sprout like mushrooms. Clearly Google needs to fix that glitch.

    Is there a threshold or not now…who knows. What does it take to get a response…who knows. The experiment will continue. 😀

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