How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Places Automatic Updates

Thursday’s announcement that Google Places would autmatically update Places data more quickly if Google thought they had more trusted information generated a fair bit of dismay. The words used to describe Google’s action, while occassionaly positive in nature, generally reflected fear and anger:

Unnecessary, Bugs me
Headache, Impending doom
REALLY CONCERNS ME
BACK ASSWORDS!!!!, STUPID!!!! STUPID!!!! STUPID!!!!
Clusterf***, Very dangerous
This is terrible, Absolutely scary, insane decision

Like death and taxes their is a certain inexorable nature to Google. I have noted in the past that most SMBs are from Venus and Google is from Mars and so it is easy to misinterpret Google’s intent. Sometimes you can fight the reality they have created but usually it is wasted energy. On occasions such as this it might be worth plugging in the universal translator and trying to not just understand what the machine is saying but seeing what you can learn from it.

The computational machine that is Google Places doesn’t pull data out of thin air. The data that Google has in their cluster about your business comes from someplace. In this case it is coming from a source that Google trusts more than they trust you or at least they trust enough to want to corroborate it with you. Whenever Google is willing to share that information with us, there are insights to be gained.

OK, you say, what can I possibly learn from Google mucking with my listing? Well lets look at a few scenarios.

1. You or your client get an email addressed to an old email address suggesting updates to a listing in an account that you forgot about.

It’s a good opportunity to figure out the password, clean out the data and delete the listing from the account. You don’t need it. If it hasn’t snuck up and bitten you yet, it will. That’s where the 8th, 9th and 10 categories are coming from as well as that photo not in your dashboard.

2. You get an email suggesting that an old business street address from 4 years ago is the correct one.

Whoah dude! You missed changing some important citations all those years ago? Maybe you didn’t realize that they would stick around this long, maybe you just didn’t know. Get out there and whack those moles. You will end up with a stronger record and more citations, you can stop the wrong address from creating a second listing for your business at the wrong address. Maybe now you will understand why consumers are complaining about ending up on the wrong side of town.

3. Google is suggesting a change in phone number or business name to your current listing.

Hmm… what trusted source did you forget to update when you changed your name or phone number? Why aren’t ALL of your upstream listings EXACTLY the same?

You can complain, you can bemoan Google actions, you can fear what is is coming next. It won’t change much. My suggestion?

Figure out what the Google machine is trying to tell you and and go out and get it squared away. This is the way the machine talks, plug in the universal translator and get to work.

Learn to stop worrying and to love the automatic updates.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Places Automatic Updates by

36 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Places Automatic Updates”

  1. Mike,

    Amidst all the negative talk about this change, your perspective here is a breath of fresh air.
    We can either learn and grow from this and clean up our citation sources or we can complain and moan every time we get an email about a change from Google.
    This is also a good opportunity to get some insight into Google’s machine and gain understanding on what citation sources they value.

  2. Hi Maik.

    Ok, thx for that perspective. But why is Google acting so cumbersome? If they want to provide a verified owner with emails about other data, that is not consistent with the data the owner provided, why not showing the origin of that inconsistent data and provide helpful suggestions on how to correct NAP and other stuff at resource xy?

    Most users don’t know about the concept of Google Places Pages in detail, don’t know about citations and don’t know of tools (whitespark citation finder, google search for phonenumber, etc.) to identify those wrong citations.

    The email states “Google will soon update your listing data on our consumer properties such as Google and Google Maps to more accurately reflect the latest information we have about your business.”

    “Latest information we have about your business.” If they have it, why not show it in the emails or the dashboard?

  3. Thanks for your article Mike. I thought the same thing when I read the email.

    Sure, it can be annoying that Google’s going to muck up your listing, but there is some valuable info to be gained (and fixed) by Google’s email.

    I won’t be mugging you any time soon. ;)

  4. I totally agree Mike – it’s going to be incredibly helpful when I take on new clients to isolate and correct incorrect information on other sites. Then we can prioritize what Google’s actually paying attention to!

  5. @Nico
    The question you ask: “Why is Google acting so cumbersome?” is a good one.

    Maps was started by geeks, repaired by geeks and is kept updated by geeks…. nice geeks but they truly have a tin ear on the business relations side of the things.

    I agree that there are a number of other ways that Google could have done this very same thing. I have long advocated that the Dashboard become a truly useful place and that is the ideal place for this.

    @Shawn
    Thanks

  6. My assumption on this one is that they are having issues with ‘claim and forget’ accounts, where the user claims the business and then does not keep it up-to-date. It will be interesting to see how their algo for dealing with this develops and how much last update / update frequency of the claimed business plays into Google’s decision to use the 3rd party data. Right now, it seems that overriding the 3rd party data is as easy as going into your account and updating it. I do think this is primarily for all the claimed and abandoned listings out there that are mucking up their data.

  7. @Matt
    I think you are correct although I think it might be more than just the dead accounts. Those are certainly an on-going problem if they are untouched for years and the system never changes them or worse never gets rid of the listings.

    One assumes that Google has tested the process (it came out last fall so they have had time) and that at the end of the day, the index is in better shape than when it started.

  8. Ahhh Mike, always the voice of reason. You are right and I over-reacted but in part it was due to the poor way this new feature was announced.

    The announcement made it sound like they were INSTANTLY making the changes right away without your consent and without confirming with you 1st. And it sounded like the edits were going to be instant and automatic. So I assumed you’d have to jump through hoops to change the info back, after the fact. That’s how it read!

    “…the organic listing will automatically be updated and the business owner will be sent an email notification about the change. Without requiring any effort on the part of the business owner, we’ll take measures to keep their listing up-to-date if our system determines that the edit is accurate.”

    That reads – we’ll update 1st, inform later. That also said to me we trust users and other sources of info more than the owner of the verified listing.

    So in part my initial over-reaction in my blog post was based on the info from Mars, which I don’t think was well communicated.

    In the initial announcement they didn’t explain that you would receive an email saying the changes would be made LATER and there would be a way to block the changes if they were incorrect. Had they explained the process, my initial reaction and blog post would not have been so harsh.

    Then even in the email there is vague communication that users don’t understand because I keep getting emails about it. In the email it says:

    “If the above information is not accurate, please sign in to Google Places. You may prevent any of these changes from being made on your Place page and listing by selecting “Edit”, and then pressing the “Submit” button to confirm the correct information about your business.”

    To me it’s clear what to do. But users keep emailing me saying “but when I log in the info is correct so how can I edit what they want to change, if it’s not even there!” So some SMBs don’t even understand the email either. That makes them frustrated AND confused.

    I know Google reads your blog so I’m going to throw out an important suggestion.

    Google should run major announcements and emails like this by a couple TCs so the communication can be flushed out. This would be a way to run it through the “universal translator” to be sure Venus will read the info the way Mars intended to say it, so there are no communication problems.

  9. @Linda
    I couldn’t agree more. They really just don’t do a great job of explaining what they are doing even when they are doing a great job. What a shame.

    Just a note, some of the updates did occur immediately.

    Yes, their instructions are often confusing and the edit/submit one falls into that category…. they should also include a flag in the Dashboard to alert folks of what the differences are so as to precipitate a positive choice between the alternative data that could be reported out.

  10. This question stems from a notice that I received for a client: Since NAP is critical to this effort, what are the consequences of changing the phone number in this format:

    (123) 456-7890

    to this:

    +1 1234567890

    Does that have any affect on rankings when all other citation sources will have the (123) 456-7890 number?

    Also, although very “readable” for machines and copy/paste into Skype for calling, that’s a bunch of gibberish for someone searching on their smartphone……

    Thoughts?

  11. Some updates DID happen right away? Shoot, better go check my listings.

    I know it’s the SMBs fault if they miss these emails and I know they SHOULD understand and control their business data, but many are bad on both counts and to top it off they are from Venus and don’t understand Mars.

    Example one of my clients is having lots of problems, partly due to NAP issues. He has me coordinating everything with his staff and design team. He keeps emailing that he wants to be sure they all know what I’m doing so they don’t accidentally change something on the site or other online marketing that negates all the work I’m doing.

    I’ve stressed NAP consistency and explained how many of his problems stem from that. I corrected NAP on Place page. I fixed his site to match. Even hired Jack to do some stuff in map maker to correct his data. BENT OVER BACKWARDS to try to get everything aligned.

    Then he forwards me the G change email just as an FYI and says just in case it’s something you need to know, Google is going to change our name and address. He didn’t even think it was important, just sent as an FYI. Bang. Head. Desk. I feel certain that other clients got the email and didn’t even think to forward it to me.

    The other issue is what if PART of the change they suggest is correct and the other is not?

    What if I’m OK with them changing # to suite and adding zip 4 but DON’T want them to mess with my name because the format they have is wrong? Again, I know what I’d do in that situation, but am sure most SMBs would not.

    Seems like check boxes in the dashboard would be good. Click to approve each of the following changes to your listing.

  12. @Linda
    I would never trust Google to make the changes for any client. You ALWAYS want to go into the account and change what YOU want changed.

    That way the Dashboard and the Place page match and if you need to make changes elsewhere you will know that.

    As the clients & SMBs… it is a difficult system designed by Martians. That is the reality that we deal with and why you and I help in the forums. I didn’t say I thought it was good design… it isn’t.

  13. Mike:

    I have a problem with this. Among my accounts are two old businesses that relocated. Besides being in business for a while they have older websites. They started getting optimized a while ago.

    In both those cases, a strong old signal tied to old locations messed up the accurate google records to the claimed listing with the accurate address. At some point duplicate records started showing. They pulled searchers to the wrong addresses. Additionally they weakened the accurate records.

    I found the problem signals. I contacted those webmasters repeatedly. Nothing was done. I offered to buy the websites. No response.

    The records couldn’t be updated or cleaned. I’m lucky though. It appears I have more than one way to get to google including a personna within google places forum that gets a response by their personnel even if they don’t tell me about it. I specifically identified the problems within the g places forum and google personnel made a change. Again they never informed me of the change. Regardless the old mistaken records vanished.

    Did the cluster algo restore strength to my records? How the hell would I know. Google doesn’t communicate.

    Here are the issues from my point of view:

    1. It takes a sophisticated knowledgeable webmaster/owner to know if there is a problem and where it is. You know lots more about Google Places than anyone else. That is a universe of ONE. There simply are probably a handful of experts that can and will find those problems. That is miniscule.

    2. Will google places respond to issues that need to be corrected of the nature that I described????? That is a BIG QUESTION. We don’t know. Their updated systems might be more responsive but we don’t know that.

    3. The astonishing vast majority of business operators are at a loss. They have no knowledge about this level of sophistication. On top of that there are only a handful of experts that can deal with this. You will find several of them within the google places forums, but how many people with issues go there.

    4. Finally, on top of the dramatically few who have this expertise there are a lot of business operators who have turned their optimization over to businesses that will do their best to screw this stuff up, ignore it, give the smbs false information, etc. I’m referring to the ReachLocals and Yodles along with others that wouldn’t or couldn’t touch with this with a ten foot pole.

    Additionally there is the issue of relying more strongly on current or so called trusted third party sources for information more significantly than the claimed listing.

    Look, in a competitive environment, what is to prevent a malicious competitor from spending a couple of hundred dollars to screw up a bunch of competitive records.

    It occurs. I’ve experienced it. I’m sure, others have.

    In sum, the vast majority of businesses with problems are going to end up on the wrong side of this issue, IMHO.

    Google needs to dramatically improve its direct communications on these issues, and be more clear and quicker with regard to the fixes.

    I believe its a scary situation for many businesses.

  14. @Earlpearl

    On the old addresses did you go to Localeze, InfoUSA and Acxiom and remove the bad listings?

    I assume that Google analyzes the outcome of their efforts (in a statistical fashion for sure) to understand whether the index is better or worse. For those affected it is negative but on average the index is probably better off as a whole.

  15. @Mike:

    >>For those affected it is negative<>but on average the index is probably better off as a whole<<

    If a listing is "waving in the breeze" and unclaimed, I support the second part of your sentence.

  16. My communication was garbled. It should have read as follows:

    “For those affected it is negative”

    Substitute “with claimed listings” for “affected” in that sentence and that is the attitude that Google needs to adopt.

    “but on average the index is probably better off as a whole”

    If a listing is “waving in the breeze” and unclaimed, I support the second part of your sentence.

  17. Very intelligent discussion going on on this post as well as the original one on this topic.

    The automatic update policy makes we wonder – if I have a client with some problems with his listing, will I get a faster update to his Place Page if I act as a user, instead of logging into his account and trying to alter things?

    Has anyone else thought about this?

  18. @Miriam
    We don’t know exactly which and what user generated content Google prioritizes.

    Certainly some things are primarily processed through that avenue.

    At the end of the day, the cluster is the cluster… everything goes in and then Google decides on what comes out.

  19. Hi Mike,

    Even though I supplied an ‘impending doom’ to your descriptors, I’m actually taking this as a promising sign. After a big merging problem I launched a new website, took on a new DBA and new phone # and set about adding/changing that info in all the usual directories. My Google email was letting me know that my Place Page was being updated with the new business name. So, even though I’m still frightened, it’s nice to see upstream data is being accumulated and becoming trusted (I assume it’s trust) by Google. In the process my Place page has moved from page 6 or 7 to page 2 for relevant searches.

    I deleted the old listing and thankfully everything in my listing is in my dashboard. Man, I hope I don’t curse myself talking openly about this. ;)

    BTW, I’m dating myself but great job on the picture/theme! :)

  20. @keith
    Thanks for noticing. I often wonder who, if anybody, understands some of my references.

    I ran Dr. Strangelove AND the universal translator by my family members and none of them recognized either but I figured someone might. :)

  21. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for calming my “update jitters” a bit. I think the universal translator reference did the trick (though a reference to the Gorn truly would have made my day complete).

    What would really counteract the clumsy communication (sorry for the alliteration!) is if Google just started including a few bullet-point steps for business owners, along the lines of “do this first, check that, then whip out your tricorder and check this other thing,” etc. Specific steps meant for business owners to be able to digest FAST. Kind of like the specific measures you suggested. Maybe they could be under some devilishly stylish header that reads “Takeaway Message for Business Owners” (I’m sure they can think of better wording).

    I mean, I completely agree with what Linda said about how Google should communicate its intentions and the significance of its changes more clearly, but I think it needs to go even a step further: Google really should tell business owners what to DO.

    Business owners should have to spend *less* time squinting at the greasy gears of the Google machine and trying to figure out its workings–not *more* time. A short “to-do list” from Google, written in plain English, would help a lot of people every time one of these big announcements comes out.

  22. I actually welcome this change with open arms. The silver lining I see in this is that those folks who are using spamy business names, may get smacked down with this update. Sure, many of them will catch it and just go in and edit their listing to keep the spamy name, but I know a number of people out there who have no idea who controls their listing, but they have ranked forever with “City Keywords” as their business name.

    The other advantage to this, as you pointed out, is it keeps you on your toes and may alert you to citations out there that are unclaimed, haven’t been updated, or you simply didn’t know about. And even if you can’t figure out where it’s coming from, Google at least gives you an out to edit the listing and basically opt out of their automatic update.

    I haven’t seen a lot of clients get notifications, so I am hoping we are in the clear. That being said, it may just be the calm before the storm and we will get smacked with a slew of them all at once.

  23. I guess the questions in my mind are:

    1. What is a “trusted source”? Could it include info given in Google reviews?

    2. How widespread and frequent do they anticipate such updates to be? If it’s say, one update per year to 5% of listings on average, is that an acceptable situation (not that we have much choice about accepting it).

    In both cases I think it adds a whole new element to that fledgling service we call Reputation Management.

  24. To the best of my knowledge Google never gets the structured data for the things they are changing from reviews.

    We can only surmise what trusted sources are but they would be list providers like Localeze & infoUSA, reliable directory sites like Superpages and Yellowbot, trusted websites like the BBB and AVVO etc.

    We have no clue as to the frequency.

    @Mike
    I would assume that they will be “rolling” through the system over some period of time. So one listing would see the email this quarter and a different one next quarter. But we don’t know and I would love to hear if the ones that missed it this time, get a letter in the future.

  25. I agree they’ve not used data from Google reviews before, but with the “demotion” of non-Google reviews on July 22nd, the gradual rise of G+, etc., I don’t think we can rule out Google using info supplied by the “Google Community” in some format. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zagat becomes one of the trusted sources.

    Otherwise, have things really much changed much from the previous situation where it was advisable to make sure your structured data and all citations matched exactly?
    But I wonder, if Google is now going to (proactively) update your listing with info from a citation source, how does it decide which data is right if there is more than one citation to choose from?
    Obviously if more than one citation agrees then it is a stronger case for change, but often one citation is scraped from another.
    And if the GP listing owner successfully disputes the 3rd party data, I would be intrigued to know how Google is going to “flag” that external data source as something that should be ignored. Or maybe Google now has the power to update the citation’s structure data at source as well ;-)

  26. Thanks Mike for humbling everyone.

    I have personally found that Google’s new update a couple accounts is correct and something we have been trying to fix for a while, so this update so far is working for us.

  27. @Simon
    Certainly they could be getting NAP information from any trusted source including review sites. It is thought for example that they take NAP information from Citysearch (a review site) and for sure they would use Zagat data. Just not from the review themselves.

    @Mathew
    My goal is to move the conversation along in a productive way. I do not mean to offend (at least most of the time :) ) and hope that it wasn’t taken that way.

    I think that the update should always work for everybody… its just a matter of understanding how to best take advantage of it.

  28. Mike,

    I haven’t had the chance to read all the feedback for the change, but from what I hear it was mainly negative. That makes me very amazed as for me, this is one of the best things that Google has done in very long time. I think the problem comes mainly from the vague article posted on the Lat Long blog. There are many unclear and even wrong things in it. I am not sure if the person who wrote it is involved in the issues of Google Places. A very good example of him not understanding the nature of these issues would be the quote:

    “Previously, verified business listings would always reflect the information provided by its owner – even if we received data about an updated name, address, or hours of operation.”

    This seems to be new to me? Previously it was exactly the opposite – Google did not ask the business owners when it was overwriting their data on Google Maps. And THAT is the thing which is making this change so important. Google starts asking the business owners if they want this (usually outdated) information coming from third-party sources to appear on the front end of their Place page.

    And I don’t really think the process of changing this information is going to take shorter time, as stated in the article. It is going to take pretty much the same time – until the next update. So as stated in the notification emails Google started sending: “once it’s updated in the next few weeks”, i.e. it will still take a few weeks for this information to appear on the front end.

    So practically the only new thing is: Google sends notifications before they change something on the Place page and gives the chance to the business owners to agree or disagree with this change. If they disagree, they can pretty easily stop the process.

    How is that bad? And moreover, how is that worse than before???

  29. Kinda odd.

    Client got the email last week saying Google wanted to make some changes. Minor NAP formatting issues but I didn’t want them changed so hit edit submit to decline them.

    Today he got the exact same email saying we want to make the following changes. But this time the NAP exactly matches the way it’s been in dash and live all along. So kinda of a waste to send the email since they aren’t wanting to change anything this time. Maybe it was an oops.

  30. Mike,

    I have also noticed that since Google Places began to pull in outside reviews (just the links) again, it is imperative for those review sites to remain consistent with all of the information as well, even the link. Folks with a 301 redirect who use “http://myurlhere.com” instead of “http://www.myurlhere.com” need to be sure that their review pages use the same linking…. Just as they would for any other inbound links (even from social media.) I have found that this seemingly minor adjustment makes a world of difference for your Places page.

    What are your thoughts?

  31. @Mike: Here is the Big problem. Let’s say I go to a data provider like superpages, and list my address as 5th Street. 28th Floor. But the data provider automatically changes it to 5th St, Fl 28. Then another data provider like City Pages, has a different way it changes the data.

    They are all different. So now, Google creates two listings out of thin air. We have no way to make every listing match exactly the same. Shouldn’t it be enough that the name and phone numbers match? IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to make every Fifth, or 5th street the same.

  32. @Panzer

    Google is more than able to handle minor differences in NAP data. If they weren’t there would be many more dupes than there already are.

  33. @Mike. Thanks Mike. But what about when it is “Fifth Street” as opposed to “5th” street. I keep having a data frag with this. And have no control over what provider uses numbers versus letters. Google will still create a stand alone listing from this cluster. This is despite the fact the business name and phone number all match up. I had forgotten to address that variable above.

  34. @Panzer

    You need to get a life and worry about more important things. Google is not stupid, they know that there are vagaries in address details and they handle it very well… not perfectly but well enough.

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