Google Places: What does the “new” Business Permanently Closed process look like?

In response to the NY Times article on problems with the process for showing a business as closed that led to spammer induced closings, Google announced that they had pushed a “fix”.

Through experimentation, Google’s comments and feedback from Google’s PR folks I have pieced together the likely “flow” for the current closing and the reopening process. These steps apply in the US but may or may not apply elsewhere in the world.

I am looking at this process from the outside so I may have missed something. If you have tested it yourself or have additional information please let me know:

User Tags Report a Problem – Business is Closed
One attempt at the “Report a Problem” process seems to be enough to get the ball rolling. In my closing experiment last week, we flagged two businesses. The strong one showed no change, the weaker one was “closed”.In my test, one click was enough to start the process but in some cases it may take more than one report.
The “Reported to be Closed” NO LONGER shows on the listing
This is one of the big differences in the new process. The listing in Places sits unchanged pending human review. This intermediate state of “reported to be closed” that used to shown has been removed and is no longer displayed. Source: Google Lat Long Blog
The closing issue/listing goes to the MapMaker team for human review 
There is now actual human review going on. Source: Joel Headley in a comment on Google+
The team determines if the business is open (from afar so mistakes can be made)
If a business has strong signals, the business is left open. If however if there are signs that the business is not real or the it has gone out of business it will be tagged as permanently closed. In my case, a business with a weak signal was erroneously closed.Given that this decision is made from afar, errors can occur.Whether multiple reports influence the issue is still unclear.
The “Business is Permanently Closed. Not True?” flag/link is attached to the listing If nothing else happens to the Places record, the business listing is deprecated and after some short timeframe is no longer displayed the main search results and ultimately (how long?) removed from the visible index.
If the business is closed and the listing is claimed an email is supposed to be sent to the claimant I have learned from Google engineering via their PR staff that there is a bug preventing the email from being sent some or even most of the time.Google has noted that “We’ve identified the cause and are working on rolling out a fix soon”. When that will be is not yet clear.
The business owner can report this is “not true” on their Places listing I reported my location as not closed 3 times. For me, this action precipitated  a call in less than 24 hours. Perhaps because I reported it as open more than once, we received two calls at our erroneously closed location from two different off shore workers inquiring as to our business status. We were asked a number of questions about our website and our categories.
The “permanently closed” tag is removed How long this process will generally take is not clear.The “permanently closed” tag was removed from my listing shortly after the first call and the total time marked as closed was less than 24 hours. However, I have a high profile and this may or may not be the normal response time.I have spoken with  Jessica Vanvelkinburg who has reported her business, Allure Salon & Spa, as not closed and has waited 12 days with no results.

The upshot?

The process is dramatically improved. That being said it still needs refinement. It is imperative that the currently buggy email feedback to the owner be fixed.

I would add that an automated phone call to non-claimed records would be appropriate as well. It is also critical that the “time to fix” an erroneous report be consistently in the 1-2 days timeframe and not in the weeks territory.

Given that the process is still evolving and not yet fully baked, it may still necessary for a business owner to check their listing periodically for the “permanently closed” flag.

It is not as easy to tag the listing as it was but there is still a chance that a listing will be erroneously tagged and that you won’t be notified. If you do report an erroneously closed listing as open, it is not clear that it will always be repaired in a timely fashion.

Better yes, much better yes. Good enough? Not yet.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places: What does the "new" Business Permanently Closed process look like? by

21 thoughts on “Google Places: What does the “new” Business Permanently Closed process look like?”

  1. Mike:

    As you know I performed a similar “close a business” experiment at roughly the same time you were doing this, participated in one of the experiments and “was asleep at the wheel” in a third experiment…wherein I sent in “this business is closed” message to Google on the wrong business. I too have been following this issue. I believe your description of the “flow” or how Google proceeds on closing businesses subject to usage of that link on the bottom of a Places Page is on target insofar as we understand it at this point

    All should recall that this became an issue this summer. Google evidently changed things this summer and suddenly use of that link became easy to reflect changes for business records.

    The problem arose because spammers and malicious competitors suddenly found they could easily use that link and get this business is closed messages on a business Places Page.

    That is deadly for some businesses. The closed message is prominent on the Places page. It had to hurt some businesses, turning potential customers elsewhere.

    More basically the information was blatantly false

    There is an element of further interest once the “this business is closed” message goes up on the Places Page. Its pretty powerful with regard to searches in Google.

    When searching in google.com a Maps insert no longer shows on the google.com results for subject business.

    With regard to your article if one searches for salons in Oak Harbor Washington….where Allure Salon, you referenced above, is located it doesn’t show in the 7 pac but has the #1 organic ranking. Search for Allure Salon & Spa Oak Harbor within google.com and its website turns up… no Maps Insert

    Google.com has coordinated with maps.google.com and is no longer showing the Maps/Places insert on the organic results.

    Lets face it….well over 90%….maybe well over 98% of google searches for local businesses take place in google.com not in maps.google.com or places.google.com

    I sent you a screen shot of a similar result for a business that really did close in Arlington Va. The screen shot shows a name brand search for that business with the website showing in google results…but again no map.

    Meanwhile, what I found intriguing for the search I sent you…was that Yelp got it right in the google results. The second organic result for the search was from Yelp and the title tag says CLOSED in conjunction with the business name.

    Sort of funny. Little Yelp, not that rich Yelp, not that dominated by Algo’s Yelp has a great result.

    Meanwhile big old algorithmic google is still struggling to get all the parts correct.

  2. Mike: I further investigated why Yelp got a correct result with regard to business that closed…..and why google has a clunky system that may or may not be working….and how Allure Beauty Salon in Oak Harbor, Washington has a closed google places business record going on 12 days!!!!! Sorry Allure.

    I checked with somebody who spent a summer working at Yelp. In the end he referenced that on the Yelp page for a business there must be a way to contact Yelp about changes.

    There is. A link takes you to a page to make corrections. You don’t have to be the owner. Anyone can do it.

    The page for changes is very different than the google report a problem page. The Yelp page lays out all info about the business within a form….name, address, hours, etc. It also has a button to push if the business is closed. It has space for comments.

    AND THEN THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE. The Yelp page states that a representative in Yelp’s HQ will review the message within a few days.

    C.U.S.T.O.M.E.R S.E.R.V.I.C.E No emails sent by algo that may or may not work. No internal algo’s that evaluate the “location strength” of a google places record….to establish a threshold relative to “how many times” it takes to effect a change.

    Just real people looking at real results. Also, though I didn’t check, I doubt Yelp would call a business and ask about strange things such as Google Places Categories. Seriously…take any business anywhere in any arena or service. Do you believe that there is an employee anywhere that may answer a phone that knows anything about the categories that a Google Places Record might have. That is a dumb dumb call.

    Have a problem with a web representation of a real business with a real location and real people??? Somehow I don’t think algo’s fix the problems very well.

  3. I got a call from Google yesterday. “There’s a problem with your Google Places listing,” I was informed.

    Yes, I know. My business was erroneously designated — by Google — as “watch repair” and I have been getting hammered with phone calls, some of them quite angry after I tell them we don’t do watch repair. “My phone said you did!”

    I’ve pulled our Google Places listing entirely. It’s just not worth the hassle.

  4. thank you mike. i am the owner of the example “closed business”. i have in fact never been closed in the last 3 years. due to this error I have gone from dozens of a new client calles a day to none. as a beauty salon who run on clientele being able to find you and your information this is devastating for my business as I am sure it is to everyone else was going through this problem. after almost 2 weeks I sincerely hope this problem gets fixed today!

  5. There are still several reports a week in the forum so not sure how much of an improvement has been made. I mean, I’m glad they are listening and taking steps but businesses still are suffering.

    Here’s one that just came in right now, that sounds like they can’t fix the problem.

    my google listing has been marked as permanently closed for almost 2 weeks I have clicked the not true 16 times!

    I didn’t check the link and have no time to investigate, just passing it on.

  6. @Jessica

    I see your listing has opened back up. Its unclear whether my MapMaker approval yesterday or this article was what did the trick… oh well doesn’t matter. Glad to see that it is back in the world of open places.

    @Charleen
    Places can be frustrating but as you have learned it really can send customers to a business. Rather than suspending your listing you should consider selling watches? No as my son says JK (just kidding).

    But it makes more sense to get the issue squared away no?

    @Linda
    It will take some time to “flush” inappropriately closed listings from the system. That could take some time.

    At least the “reported to be closed” are gone. But the real test will be in several months, once all back logs and impediments are removed and the system is active that we can tell if it is no longer a burning issue.

    @Earl
    I am with you. Until such time as the algo works, there needs to be more human intervention.

  7. Mike:

    Nice work on getting the Salon back OPEN. I saw on google.com that the map associated with the business was up.

    The sequence of closing a bus in places must be automated with the google.com insertion. It probably happens in conjunction with the status change. Also the record didn’t lose any data.

    Meanwhile I just sent in a “change status” to Yelp. Its supposed to have real people reviewing real sites and messages…unlike google…whose customer service department seems to be located in Olean, NY in your office.

    I’ll get back to you if Yelp follows up.

  8. Hi Mike :-) I’m not so sure an ‘automated’ phone call to the business to confirm open or closed is a good idea. If a business is unaware their Place page is closed, they may not respond appropriately… actually, they may not respond appropriately even if they were aware their Place page was reporting the business as being closed. Receptionists and anwsering services are prone to ‘not getting’ what’s going on.
    Andy :-)

  9. @Andy

    I don’t usually suggest process for Google… they have plenty of folks who can figure that out… my suggestion in this case was meant to suggest that they should make an effort to contact even those businesses that have NOT claimed their record… I am sure you right that there are better ways than I suggested.

  10. Hi Mike,

    We have a client and his business has been marked as “permanently closed” 3 times in the last month now. Is there any way to find out who is doing this?

    When it happens, we make a quick tweak in the account which solves the problem within minutes, but it’s frustrating to have to do this over and over. This client used to work with another SEO company so we have our suspicions.

    Any advice would be appreciated!

  11. @Colan

    Yes, a quick update in the dashboard will fix it BUT…. you also need to go into Map Maker and be sure that the flag is cleared there as well so that the flag is cleared system wide… then you need to be sure that the record is buttressed with strong signals so that someone looking in India can clearly see that it is open… fresh update at the data providers, recently updated website with NAP, ie any signal that Googlers can see that indicate a vibrant business so it doesn’t keep recurring.

  12. Thanks Mike. Map Maker does have the listing flagged as being closed. However, the listing in Map Maker has the clients previous business address which technically is closed at that location, but it must still be having an impact on the places listing being marked as closed.

    I figure the best course of action is to get the marker moved to the current business location in Map Maker, get it approved, at that time update the actual address and deselect the closed box. Does this sound about right to you?

    I don’t see any other way to update an address on Map Maker unless the street, city, etc. are available in the drop down menu, which in this case are not.

    Thank for your help Mike!

  13. Hi Mike

    Our Google Places listing is being vandalised all the time now and being marked ‘Permanently Closed’ incorrectly by somebody.
    What this means for search results is that we immediately drop from page 1 on Google maps to about page 6 – virtually invisible.

    When it first started back around September 2011 we thought it was just kids mucking around. Now it’s happening all the time.

    You can see on a graph of our search results when these inconsiderate people mark our store as closed as almost all traffic to our site stops until we realise that it has been done again and try and contact Google (which isn’t easy by the way).

    I have written to the Police (New Zealand) and they have written back saying that doing this to any site is legal. Yes Legal.
    My argument was that it is now continued vandalism in order to have an impact on somebody else’s business, but they didn’t see it that way.

    There’s no way that I can prevent this happening that I am aware of. I claimed the places / Maps listing several years ago, but it appears anyone can mark your business as closed – and hence cause your search ranking on maps to drop way, way down the rankings.

    This is really unfair on small businesses.

    Bryce
    New Zealand

  14. Bryce

    Google can and will put a lock on your record. You need to go to the Google Places Help fixit section: My listing has incorrect information. When it asks if you have tried the Report a problem link, report that you have. Say yes to “My listing no longer appears on Google Maps” and answer the other questions.

    Let me know if that doesn’t work within 10 days or so.

  15. Mike:

    Running into a “this business is closed” situation. Can’t speak to in total how many efforts have been made to get the business “unclosed”…but I’ve put in 3 edit on the Places page in 2 days through 2 different gmail accts. and have suggested a lot of edits from various people and going to the google “fix it” section.

    My only observation is that the filter that google adjusted last summer and last autumn appears to have been adjusted again with regard to closing/or reopening falsely closed businesses.

    Ah…spammers….you force us to take up so much time.

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