The Long and Winding Tale of Trying to Fix a Merged Listing

This person posted this detailed log of his efforts to resolve his merged business before the new unmerging repair process was in place in the Google Help Forums. He had previously posted this information at Linda Buquet’s blog as a counterpoint to her article about improving Google customer service. It very much reinforces the issues that Matt McGee had and is having with his wife’s listing.

He suffered the unfortunate  but all too common reality of attempting to fix a merge prior to there being a formal process. He witnessed the results of having too many inputs into the system. While it is much easier now, it points out the near heroic efforts that an SMB will make to get this squared away and how the lack of a clear process from Google dramatically increased both his and their costs. And he still has a merged listing.

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PROBLEM:
We have had a Merged Google Places listing with a competitor since 9/12/11 that has yet to be fully resolved.

Our Places page:

Our correct information:
Morris Law Firm, P.A.
111 Second Avenue NE, Suite 515
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 388-4736
(877) 353-8408
(727) 388-9639 (Fax)
criminalattorneystpetersburg.com

BACKGROUND:
We are a law firm (please don’t hate us) in a large office building with a Suite number for a physical office.  A Competitor that practices the same type of law, in the same building and has a different Suite number that refers to a mailbox (PO Box).  They do not have a physical presence in the building (note that we believe this to be a violation of Google Places terms of service).  We believe that the similarity in address information, phone number, firm name, and category information caused the Google algorithms to merge our listings (and continue to merge our listings).  Also note that we are an AdWords Express customer.

HELP REQUESTED:
We are requesting any help available to get this issue resolved once and for all.  We are happy to provide any and all information to help identify the issues and even act as a case study for Google and those interested to help others in the future.

INFORMATION:
We have compiled the following timeline to explain the chain of events, actions taken, and results to date:

9/12/11
ISSUE:  We first realized that our Places page had been merged with the competitor. Competitor information replaced ours for the page title, URL, phone number, pictures (with our pictures), and address information as well as “Comments from the Owner” and “Reviews from around the web” and “At a glance” information.
ACTION: Panic set in. We attempted to make changes (ill-advised) in our Dashboard that resulted in having to be re-verified through a post card.
STATUS: Our listing showed different combinations of our information and our competitors.

9/27/11
ACTION: Contacted Google and later received an email stating the listings would be separated and would take several weeks to see the changes.
STATUS: Listing reverted to our URL and address, phone number still the competitor’s.

10/19/11
STATUS: Listing reverted to our phone number, pictures of the competing business went away. “Comments from the Owner” and “Reviews from around the web” still from competitor.

11/9/11
STATUS: Merged again.  Listing information same as 9/12/11 above.
ACTION: Emailed Google support.

11/9/11
STATUS: Received email from Google “Important: Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated” that contained competitor’s business information to be updated in our listing.
ACTION: We followed the instructions in the email to reject the pending change (Places Dashboard, Edit…Submit).  Emailed support and received reply saying they would look at it.

11/10/11
STATUS: Exact repeat of 11/9/11 above.

11/15/11
STATUS: Received an email from someone on the Google AdWords Team that consulted with the Google Data Quality Team and who was working to de-merge the listings.  Told that it would take a “few” weeks.  Later the same day the only merged data is “Reviews from around the web.”

11/21/11
STATUS: Received two (2) emails from Google “Important: Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated” – information in email was correct, EXCEPT that the phone number listed was our secondary toll free number, not our primary local number.  Also received an email from AdWords support stating that, “… the Data Quality Team has split your listing…” and would take 3-4 weeks.
ACTION: We followed the instructions in the email to reject the pending change.

11/28/11
STATUS: Received another email from AdWords support stating, ” the issue was resolved. It is no longer merged with the other advertiser.”

12/14/11
STATUS: Received another “Important: Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated” information in email was correct, EXCEPT it had our competitor’s URL.  Places listing showing “Comments from the Owner” including his phone number, “Reviews from around the web” linked to the competitor, and “At a glance” information from the competitor.
ACTION: We followed the instructions in the email to reject the pending change.  Emailed AdWords support.

12/15/11
STATUS: Places listing completely gone in all searches. Came back much later in the day after performing the Dashboard Edit…Submit. Still some merged data in the listing.

12/29/11
STATUS: Received two (2) more “Important: Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated”  that had all correct information except the phone number.  Competitor’s phone number still showing on our Places listing.
ACTION: We followed the instructions in the email to reject the pending change.

12/30/11
STATUS: exact same as above, 2 emails – again.
ACTION: Emailed Google support. Received a response they were working on it (again).

12/31/11
STATUS: Competitor’s phone number still showing on our listing.
ACTION: Attempted our own Edit this Place action (changed phone number to our correct number) and received a “Google Maps Edit – Action taken” email, though there was no change on the Places listing – still the competitor’s phone number. Also attempted for the first time to use the Google Places Troubleshooter (we had just noticed it as an option), then we received a “[#XXXXXXXX] Google Places for Business Help” email saying they were investigating.

1/1/12
STATUS: Competitor’s phone number still showing on our listing.
ACTION: Attempted another Edit this Place from another Google account.  Got the same “Google Maps Edit – Action taken” email, but still no change on our Places listing.

1/3/12
STATUS: Spoke with competitor who was going through similar Google Places pains.  He was going to move offices as a result.  Said they would be working to change Google Places address info and/or delete their Places page and start over.  Idea of competitor deleting his listing made us nervous as the listings may still be merged. Still wrong phone number for us.

1/4/12
STATUS: Received a new type of email, “Google Maps Problem Report received” – this time from Reporting a Problem on Maps.

1/5/12
STATUS: Received a “[#XXXXXXXXX] Google Places for Business Help” email from using the Troubleshooter. This one has a new timeline, “We have taken the necessary steps to make sure that your business information will appear correctly within 6-8 weeks.” Phone number remains wrong.

1/10/12
STATUS: Phone number correct on our Places listing.  “Reviews from around the web” still linked to competitor.

1/17/12
STATUS: Phone number reverts to being the competitors.
ACTION:  We use the Google Places Troubleshooter and Report a Problem link again.

1/18/12
STATUS: We receive an “Important: Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated” with the wrong phone number information.
ACTION: We followed the instructions in the email to reject the pending change.

LATE 1/18/11
STATUS: Received a “[#XXXXXXXXX] Google Places for Business Help” it says, “Thank you for letting us know about incorrect information showing on Google Maps. With your guidance, we’ve made changes to our data and the updated information is now visible on Google Maps.”  Our phone number now appears correctly.  “Reviews from around the web” still linked to the competitor.  Our Places ranking has been lost, we no longer appear in the 7-pack.

SUMMARY:

– Too many ways to report a problem.
– Changes are happening before we can attempt to stop them using the Dashboard Edit…Submit.
– We don’t understand where the changes are coming from.
– Fixes don’t seem to stick.
– There appear to be duplicative emails sent (“Important: Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated”)
– Support is better, but underlying Merge issues still exist.

Our opinion:
Claimed (verified) business Dashboard information should be real time and override all other information.

Any help or comments accepted and appreciated. Hope this timeline and information is helpful to those out there.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
The Long and Winding Tale of Trying to Fix a Merged Listing by

15 thoughts on “The Long and Winding Tale of Trying to Fix a Merged Listing”

  1. Wow. Talk about a pain in the you know what! I find it quite amazing how much value is put on Google Places, since their competitor was going to MOVE INTO A DIFFERENT OFFICE! Maybe they were going to anyway, but if they were going to move just based on having issues getting listed properly in GP, then that should be a wake up call for Google. Obviously, they are finally doing a better job, but still… I simply can’t believe that there isn’t a manual way to permanently override the algo. Hopefully, one day, the business owner’s info will be the real authority. If there is a discrepancy, then simply drop the rank of that listing. Or, hey, how about an email from Google letting the owner know that they found other info from a trusted source? Mike, what do you predict the biggest GP change to take place in 2012? If you are a commenter, what do you predict?

  2. @Jason
    The problem then is that you would be sending ONE more signal to Google and could still run into issues with merges and closings…. see my previous post for the current stand and take a position…

  3. @Eric

    Google is in fact sending out emails to let listing holders know that they have found “better” information and are going to change your listing. Unfortunately that process is NOT integrated into the Dashboard and if you miss the email you may or may not be screwed.

    Google now has a manual way of separating two listings (see previous post). Unfortunately the problems that this gentleman had were essentially prior to him finding that solution and he has yet to wait long enough for that solution to really work.

    Hmm… I have said before that only Easterners and Fools predict the weather…and that I think that a similar adage applies to Google… let me see, I am pretty much the fool AND the eastener so … I predict that the biggest change with Places will be …. CHANGE. The rate of change will accelerate as they integrate the product with Plus as they fix the many problems.

  4. Thanks for posting this one Mike. When this law firm 1st made that long comment at my blog, my eyes about glazed over. Such a cluster f#!

    Knew my best move would be to get this one in front of Vanessa and her team to try to put this poor hard working lawyer out of her misery. I can’t even imagine how much time and stress has gone into trying to get this problem fixed!

  5. @Linda
    It is unfortunate that he found the new process so late in the game… at that point there were already too many hands in the stew…. but he is a prototype for what the SMB will do to get their issues squared away. The many emails he was getting reflect that. The new Troubleshooters are a huge step in the right direction but they are still not visible enough nor do they function anywhere near fast enough… If Google can scrape this blog post and put it into the index in near real time, why should it take 4-6 weeks to fix a “simple” data field?

  6. Agreed Mike,

    FYI all Vanessa just replied and since her reply could help others with merging problems that may read this post wanted to add it here.

    Vanessa wrote ================================

    Thanks for flagging this for me, Linda — and @morrislawfl, thanks for taking the time to lay this all out.

    It looks like the listing is appearing as it should today:
    http://maps.google.com/maps/place?hl=en&cid=521112169435370933

    You mention that you don’t understand where the changes are coming from, and we are working to make these edits clearer. You can see the changes happening to your listing on Map Maker: mapmaker.google.com. There had been clustering with the other listing, but I see you’ve been in touch with Ashley, and she’s done what she could to clean things up. If you see this happening in the future, e-mail Ashley and she can take a look again. Unfortunately, I can’t promise that it *won’t* happen again. One thing you can try: every day, or every other day, take a second to hit Edit > Submit on your listing, just to be sure you’re pinging our system to let us know it’s up to date.

    Re: too many ways to report a problem. Yes, I hear you. The best thing to do if you’re the owner of a listing is to get in touch with us via the troubleshooters you used. We’re working to make those more prominent in the Help Center, so that other users know to use them too.

  7. Thanks Linda.

    Yikes! This is scary: Unfortunately, I can’t promise that it *won’t* happen again. One thing you can try: every day, or every other day, take a second to hit Edit > Submit on your listing, just to be sure you’re pinging our system to let us know it’s up to date.

  8. First, thank you Mike for taking the time to blog on this subject and provide the visibility, we appreciate it.

    Our phone number briefly reverted to the correct number, then just after Vanessa’s post on the Forum, it went back to being the competitor’s phone number from the merged listing. Can you believe?

    For the record, we’ve been on Google Places from very early on, and have only used by-the-books (and Google’s terms of services) methods in our listing. We aren’t trying any funny business and generally don’t mess with our listing, so it is gut wrenching when we see that with no action on our part that our listing is corrupt (merged).

    I’d like to add this insight regarding some of the comments/suggestions made:
    When we first started getting the “Important: Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated” emails with merged data from our competitor, our listing was ALREADY showing merged data before we could do anything. We then would use the Dashboard trick of Edit…Submit and it would revert back to (mostly) our data – almost in real time (this was around the late Nov-Dec time frame).

    More recently, when we receive the “Important…” email, and attempt the Edit…Submit trick, it has zero effect on the listing. The merged data remains. Mind you, we are checking the status of our listing and email so often that we usually catch the email and perform the Edit…Submit within 30 mins to 1 hr of the email, so something isn’t working as designed.

    (Also note that we have been doing the pinging that Vanessa suggested almost every day – we didn’t know that it was suggested as a fix until today.)

    Thanks again to all attempting to help

    PS – Is there a “Cluster of the Year Award” available from Google or Mike? I think we could be a winner…

  9. DANG IT! It already did happen again! New reply from the atty office:

    ===========================

    Vanessa – thank you for taking a look, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, our phone number is still showing as the competitor’s phone number from the Merged listing. Note that it had reverted to our number correctly between last night and now (2:15PM EST), but it is currently incorrect. When you say “e-mail Ashley and she can take a look again” – do you mean using the Troubleshooter? Otherwise I don’t know how to get in touch with Ashley…

    Additionally, we still have some merged data:

    The link at the bottom of the Places listing (below Reviews) links to the Merged competitor’s site on a 3rd party review site (Avvo.com) – “Reviews from around the web: avvo.com” It should correctly point to: http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/33701-fl-melinda-morris-1250362.html

    Please explain to us how someone clicking “Edit this Place” or using Map Maker (if that is even what is causing these changes) can override what we have in our Dashboard (which we have never changed). Or is it simply the clusters merging causing the updates to happen?

    Please help us stop the madness. This is a perfect example of what has been happening to us. Good one day, bad the next with no rhyme or reason.

    (Also sincere thanks to Linda and Mike B. for responding and providing visibility to this issue. We would love to help Google by using us as a case study and hopefully help others avoid this issue.)

  10. Mike: I went into the thread and reread along with rereading the article here and comments.

    The law firm is astoundingly patient. Their response is dramatically different from the anger and frustration that dominated interactions with Google for a long time. They are receiving comments from Vanessa within Google and must be readers of this blog and Linda’s.

    Still they have been dealing with this since September. Its now over 4 months. The issue has been identified. But it hasn’t been fixed.

    I have a strong feeling the record and its visibility isn’t critical to their business operations. Otherwise they would be screaming bloody murder.

    Other businesses though do live and die off this information. To experience 4 months of frustration on this process, even as the issues have been identified just baffles my mind. What I continue to see is a entire Google lack of customer service focused on fixing the problem.

    Instead the law firm and other businesses are subject to the complexities of Google’s algo’s and the time frame for google index updates.

    What is missing is that nobody is actually trying to directly fix the problem. Its simply not customer service. Its dependence upon the independent unregulated non controlled decisions of Google on how to present information to the world.

    Today: Search…and Google with its massive market control of the web are a monopoly on the process of finding information about businesses.

    Google is like the yellow pages/white pages and 411 all together. In the past all of these businesses faced some sort of oversight and regulation. Their critical impact on the commercial lives of businesses and individuals mandated that.

    It led to direct customer service.

    …..Remember its now four months.

    There is a fix. Its relatively simple. Its in the nature of most data carried by most industries and businesses let alone data carriers around the globe.

    Set the record as dominant and controlled by the data provided by the law firm. Who knows better than the law firm? Its their business name, address, phone number, etc. They have spent a lot of money securing all of those details. Those details are recognized everywhere else.

    The only place their NAP information isn’t accepted is Google.. More specifically the only place it isn’t accepted is a google algo unregulated unwatched uncontrolled, subject to errors, and incidentally, the monopoly source for accessing all information.

    I know one thing for certain, based on endless examples of this occurring. If the law firm leaked the information to the press such as the NY Times or the WSJ and the press reported the story….the problem would receive an immediate hand fix and would disappear.

    And that would be a form of customer service…not happy talk.

    Anyway, the members of the law firm have a lot of patience…..and we have another example of incredible frustration.

  11. @Dave – “The only place their NAP information isn’t accepted is Google..”. Very well put. I really wish that the last person to verify the account had the ability to override and control what information was showing.

  12. We have had this problem for about a year and Google won’t fix it. They say it will be fixed but is not. Me and the other law firm have joined up and are both e mailing Ashley with the same case no. to try and convince Google to use our user data instead of assuming we are the same company.

    Since the address uses a Floor number (Not a suite number) and a mail room sorts the mail, Google says it is the same business even though the other details like the phone number, are different. We both meet clients and have offices in several locations in the Inland Empire, as we both lease from the same leasing company. That is where the relationship ends.

    I think the work around maye be to add an identifier after the floor number, such as -A, or -B. So it would appear like #400-A.

    So I have added that identifier to the merged listings in my dashboard, and am now planning on spending the 20+ hours it will take to contact each data provider and hope they will also add the “-A” (typically, YP.com and Infousa will strip that data out and only use the floor number/suite number, or will remove the floor number completely, so impossible to make all data match across the citation sournces.)

    Bottom line, Google engineers who have actually owned a business, should take over the algo tweeks. The user data should be the ONLY data that displays, not some data Google “thinks” may be better. Problem solved.

  13. 100% Agreed as far as opinion. The merge issue is akin to a virus. If you have a business titled “Law Firm” and even if you are not in the same building, have a different suite number, etc., you still merge with other “law firm”s. I have had this similar issue for almost a year.I 100% agree with the opinion. User info is what should be the most important and citations should reinforce that, not the other way around. And there should be a way to tell Places to ignore or redirect old data that is about the firm that cannot be edited. Sort of like a 301 for citation listings you don’t have control over that are causing duplicates. Anyone?

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