Why Google’s New Policy on Professional Practices & Practitioners Makes Sense

Apparently Google+ Local (aka Places) has finally established a firm policy on how to handle Medical/Legal Practice and Practitioner listings that now requires that both the practice and the practitioners be listed. Linda Buquet has taken a Sky is Falling attitude to the change:

Big departure from what we are used to and this could make it really difficult to rank for Medical, Dental and Legal practices with multiple practitioners.

If in fact there is a new policy, I would suggest that actually having a policy in this regard is a positive step in the right direction. In the past some practices wanted to show just the practice (and they suffered from dupes) and some practices wanted to show the practice and practitioners (and they suffered mergings). It was not ideal for either approach and it involved a lot whack a mole for one and a lot of frustration for the other.

As I understand the new Google+ local pages, there will be a great deal more trust placed on the data provided by the verified owners of the listing. Thus they are less likely to be merged or changed. If that is the case, then the change (not really change rather a firming up) of the policy in regards to professional practices makes sense.

If there is only one way to do it and that way involves having practice and practitioner listings AND they do not merge, then for once we have a concrete target that both we and Google can strive for. So while it is a change, it really should make life easier IF in fact Google 1)puts in place the technology to support the practice & practitioner listings in the index without merging and 2)keeps that same policy firm going forward.

As Linda noted, tagging departed practitioners with a ““This Place is permanently closed”” tag is wildly inappropriate messaging. But other than that gotcha which Google should be able to solve, I am hopeful that there will be only one way to handle practice and practitioner listings and that way will actually work.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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40 thoughts on “Why Google’s New Policy on Professional Practices & Practitioners Makes Sense”

  1. I agree, Mike. For us in this dental/medical vertical, Google local listings are vitally important. Beyond visibility in local search for the general keywords dentist + location, online reviews are the modern day word of mouth referrals for these professionals by their patients. We clearly need definitive guidelines so that we can lead the honest, hardworking practices forward with sound advice and to off-set spammers. I will look eagerly forward to the news that you and Linda will bring in this regard. Thank you for directly speaking to this niche.

    Kelly Larson

  2. So when a patient goes to a multidentist practice has a bad experience with a hygienist, who do they review- Dr. A or Dr B?

    Google’s solution is a horrible approach. Multidoctor practices are doomed in Google+ Local rankings.

    1. @Kelly
      Clarity and equivalent functionality from Google ARE critical. Hopefully this will bring that. But I fear that with the full name disclosure requirements of G+ reviews, that online reviews at Google may be a thing of the past for more medical professionals.

      If the reviewer searches on the brand, they will be presented with three choices: Practice, Doctor A & Doctor B. Thus is they were rational they would review the Practice in your scenario. Will it always work that way? Of course not.

      I am not saying that there are not problems with a Practice + Practitioners approach. But I think having one approach that works will suck less than having two approaches that don’t.

      Having recommended to practitioners that they take this route in the past, I do not find that it has significant ranking impact.

      Google has been attempting to support this model for a long time but they were ambivalent and allowed practices to go either way. I am not sure that this is the only way that it could have been handled for sure but I am convinced that having ONE way is better than having two ways.

      thanks for the nod.

  3. This has been an issue in the Yellow Pages industry forever. Large scale medical (hospitals),dental, legal practices generally experience lots of turnover, keeping up addition and deletion of individual doc’s names will be interesting as for young associates at large scale law firms, good luck with that.

    PS..Mike, your blog continues to have stuff I find no where else, keep it up!

  4. +1 Chris and Linda on this ‘update.’ But at least it is some direction from the wizards behind the curtain. We’ll see where it leads us.

    This was the going Google sentiment on the subject more than 3 weeks ago – (last time I checked GP forum instead of here..)

    “Businesses with multiple specializations, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the hospital or clinic at large.”

    Turnover, misdirected reviews, misaligned dupes, multi dr multi specialty multi location issues are just 4 of the biggest concerns.

    I can’t wait to explain to a dentist why their G+Local page is ‘permanently closed.’

    Solution suggestion: G+ indivdual profiles attached to G+ local biz listings…not multiple G+ local listings for 1 location.

    Thank you to Linda & Mike for alerting the masses and keeping the convo going.

  5. @Chris

    This rule: “Businesses with multiple specializations, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the hospital or clinic at large.” is an old but extant rule and still applies. A practice can’t have one listing for teeth whitening and one for braces and one for cleaning. They can have one listing …. But each practitioner can (and now should) at that practice can have their own listing and can be in different practice areas. Look at it as an opportunity.

    Certainly there are tons and tons of issues in Places. Whether this will particular change will make things better is still TBD.

  6. Good point on the different practice areas.

    You’re right; opportunity. It is what it is and we ain’t changin it. Go forth & prosper.

  7. (Since their’s another Chris, I’m changing my username to Chris@Prodentite)

    So if there are 3 dentists at a practice, the client needs to claim 4 listings?

    1. ABC Dental Care
    2. ABC Dental Care: Dr John Smith
    3. ABC Dental Care: Dr. Mary Smith
    4. ABC Dental Care: Dr. Larry Love

    Wow. Talk about confusing the customer.

    1. @Chris@P

      (Since I have a do follow blog I have a strict rule against business names in the Author field… so I arbitrarily changed it for you).

      They need to claim them if they want to manage them.

      Depending on budget, what I recommend is that they claim the doctors and make sure that they are accurate but that they spend their time optimizing around the practice.

  8. If Google will allow a listing for the practice and each dentist in one account, can each listing now have the category “dentist”, for example? Are the listings then competing against each other or does having complete representation of the providers enhance your overall practice exposure? If so, should you fully optimize each listing?

    Mike, do you know how this will translate when all the G+ Local listings become G+ business pages? Wouldn’t it be great if they would bring all of the listings and reviews (if still viable) together onto the one G+ business listing? Ahh, could it ever be that straightforward?!?…

  9. Thanks for your insights Mike and I do agree having ANYTHING spelled out by Google is better than leaving everything to chance/guess, so it is better in that respect.

    However if you deal with Drs or Dentists all the time you KNOW that dupes do often hurt rankings and that duplicate confusion can cause Google to disconnect site and Place page which knocks you out of blended. So not being able to get rid of practitioner dupes is a very real concern.

    I blame my “sky is falling” tone, if that’s the way you took it, on something else. I think I am suffering from PTSD from the constant barrage of Google attacks on my frontal lobe. (Dupe. Dupe. Bug. Dupe. Take Downs. Upgrades. Bug. Bug. Dupe. Dupe. Upgrade. Massive Take Down Attack. Major Upgrade Alert. Mass Chaos. Dupe. Dupe. Bug. Bug.) So you have to realize I’m in a hyper-sensitive state and any major change right now is likely to send me over the edge! 😉

    Having said that – practitioner dupes ARE a problem, and will become more of a problem now that we can’t get rid of them. They will need to be managed. I think I just came up with a brilliant strategy for dealing with Dr, Dentist and Lawyer dupes. Need to think it through a little, maybe run it by a couple folks, then will change the dupe part of my training and will probably share it on my blog as well.

  10. This scares me, but at the same time thank the Lord for finally steering the ship instead of letting it drift about. The past few years I’ve had nothing but merges, dupes and headaches trying to fix listings for my practice. Now, the listings for all 3 docs come up individually and separately. When one page is viewed there are links at the bottom of the page showing links to pages for the other docs and a message stating ‘also at this location’. I’m actually looking forward to being able to make changes to my page/listing without worrying about what sort of S#!% storm it’s going to create.

    I’m still scared, though…

  11. @Kelly
    They would compete to some extent as they could very well be in the same category. I think what you will see in G+ will be that you can have multiple individuals being able to manage the multiple pages.

  12. @Linda
    Ahmen to the PSTD… it is a volatile and disruptive environment and that takes its toll for sure.

    You are assuming that Google will NOT deal with dupes. While they are likely to show up more, my sense is that they will continue to get rid of them via the Report a Problem process. It takes 3-4 weeks and has been a little slow of late but they do eventually take care of them.

  13. @Chris I would not use Practice: Dr Name combos like ABC Dental Care: Dr John Smith any more and only advocated that in VERY specific situations. Also in part (in appropriate situations) that strategy was to try to help prevent Dr dupes AND try to get Google to associate all the reviews for EITHER the practice OR the Dr. to a single listing.

    But again that was for very specific cases and I would not recommend now. AND my guess is now G will still create another listing for Dr John Smith even if you already created one for ABC Dental Care: Dr John Smith.

    So now if Dr dupes are unavoidable I would not use that naming strategy. I also would not CREATE Dr listings if none exist. Just be vigilant about finding them IF G creates them and then manage them in specific ways.

    We need to sched a call to discuss all this and my new strategy idea.

  14. Mike said:

    “You are assuming that Google will NOT deal with dupes. While they are likely to show up more, my sense is that they will continue to get rid of them via the Report a Problem process. It takes 3-4 weeks and has been a little slow of late but they do eventually take care of them.”

    No Mike that’s the whole point of this. Google support if you read the emails on my blog is saying they WILL NO LONGER remove Dr. dupes.

    Other dupes like scraped versions with a diff name address they will still remove but not multiple practitioner listings.

    But in my mind if there are multiple listings for a single business location, whether they are scraped dupes or Dr dupes, it can hurt ranking on the main listing. And they now say they won’t remove the Dr. dupes.

  15. Hi,

    Does the office have a Google+ profile page.

    Then what sort of page will each professional have?

    Also when a professional moves can their page be moved to their new office? Will their own Circles and history such as reviews move as well?

    Cheers. Andrew.

  16. I hope Google is reading this. More than anyone else they should be absorbing all the information from the practice side and the additional experience and wisdom from the YP’s that have dealt with these issues at an earlier stage.

    Then of course their is the Google side..about their happy talk mantra about “user experience”….

    and clearly the practicalities involved…but not practicalities from just the google engineering perspective….in order to create good user experience they should take in the perspectives of the practices and also consumers.

    After all what do consumers want to see. Those are the people who use search…click on websites and pinned results or ads.

    It was interesting to see the YP perspective. I’ll add something from a landlord perspective as I used to lease office buildings to lawyers, dentist and medical practices and had to deal with these “naming issues” and whom to list or not on lobby boards. Frankly that was a micro experience in creating identity.

    At certain points the lobby boards charged for every change and additional name that the business wanted to add, delete or change. Basic services were free and changes and edits involved charges. Excessive naming involved charges.

    The lawyers and the doctors and dentists could all afford the nominal charges…but at the same time it served as limited control on constantly making changes at every whim and fancy.

    Some of that goes back to giving the highest level of control and authority on the content of a google+local record to the smb that claims the record. If you start with that premise then a lot of the dupes and mergers might just fade away. If the significant emphasis on information is in the hands of the business itself it solves some of the never ending issues with problems on the back end of the cluster that provides the info on the front end of records.

    If google were to charge for extra changes and edits and updates….maybe that would work. I’m sure the professional offices could handle a nominal management fee.

    The professional firms have to deal with those changes and updates on their actual websites. Somehow in some way they are paying for that, whether they use outsiders to handle the content on their websites or if they are updating it themselves or with staff. There is a cost in constant change on the site. Why not charge for changing and administering the monopoly directory of all businesses across the web.

    Just my $0.02 suggestion. 😀

  17. @Linda
    I reread those emails and what I took away was that Google would not remove a Practice/Doctor A listing as a duplicate of the Practice listing ( ie they want one listing for the practice and one for each doctor). What I did not read was that they would not remove a duplicate of Practice/Doctor A listing if there were two Practice/Doctor A listings.

    Interesting suggestion. Definitely more than $0.02 worth.

  18. There is another way to read this. How many practitioners at this location would pay for adwords or other Google products to get their own calls and additional clients? Multiple doctors – probably; lawyers – probably; hair sylists – not very likely. Interested to see if an occupations willingness to expand their online spend is a proxy.

  19. Sorry Mike confused by your comment. Yes of course dupes based on diff versions of the practice name or practice address they will remove. Or various versions of the Dr name so there is only one Dr listing.

    So let’s see if we are on same page. (Ignore Drs no longer at practice and closed listings.) For example lets take one clean scenario.

    1 practice listing – 2 Drs at the practice.

    Google has created an accurate Place page for each Dr., and there is one for the practice – so there would be 3 listings for that location.

    In the past if you chose to, you could “try” to get Google to remove or merge the 2 Dr listings with the goal of “trying” to have a single listing.

    Now the way I read it they say they will not remove the Dr listings, so you are stuck with all 3 listings whether you like it or not.

    In that very pure example (realizing there are many other more complicated scenarios) are we on the same page? Is that what you think the support emails said too?

  20. @Linda
    Yes, we are on the same page.

    That is correct. They are saying practice and practitioner listings. I am saying that as long as they don’t merge Doctor 1 and 2, that is an acceptable policy.

    Whatever I say though, it is what it is.

  21. I agree that dupes have been a problem for a long time and will be glad to see them go (if they do). But it appears that no matter what the potential fix might be – these fixes are going to screw things up in a different way.

    Many of our professional practice/practitioner clients are reporting that their new customers had read all the reviews about them before finally calling to set up an appointment. Reviews are VERY important to them.

    Right now the way Reviews are worded, it says:

    Reviews by Everyone:
    – A Google User
    – A Google User
    – A Google User

    then at the bottom (below all the Google Users) it says:
    – Reviews from around the web


    So I have questions:

    1. Will these anonymous Google Users potentially get revealed if they someday sign up for the dreaded Google + using that email account? – Thus revealing their identity.

    2. Doctors (and more importantly THERAPISTS) are appropriate businesses for anonymous reviews. Don’t you agree? Lawyers too. So will their existing anonymity be preserved?

    3. If doctors, therapists, lawyers, etc… want to solicit (or very gently encourage since they are not really supposed to “solicit”) reviews should they point their clients to review them on directories that still accept anonymous profiles? If so, do these reviews count towards any ranking benefit on Google for “quantity of reviews”. Is there an update on this? Will this be changing?

    4. If just the firm or office will have a listing in the future (and not every practitioner gets a listing) then it might be easier for the potential customers reading the reviews do separate the good from the bad at the office. For example my wife loves our dentists office. They have 3 dentists – one of which she thinks is terrible. But she loves the other two dentists.

  22. 1)If “Google Users” that previously wrote reivews go to write another review they will be asked to either make their full name available on the previous reviews or make them private. Thus there could be one more way to “lose” reviews.

    2. At this point there is no option for anonymous reviews. My sense is that Google is assessing market reaction to that decision and could make a change but for the moment all reviews, even in sensitive industries. are public.

    3. I think that they should give their clients a choice and let the clients decide between anonymous and public. Review site diversity is very likely a ranking factor and has been for a while.

    4. What Google seems to be saying is that going forward there will be both practice and practitioner listings and that they will no longer take down practitioner listings even if the practice wants them to.

  23. Is there any source out there that draws the line between what constitutes medical, counselors, therapists, chiropractors, medical lab supply distributors, ect. Where does it start, and where does it end?

    1. @Ray
      Great question. My answer is that if Google is showing practice and practioners in the Maps/Local index then that constitutes the authoritative source that draws the line. It means that they have access to data that delineates the data and that they trust it and generally want it.

  24. @Mike
    I would like to thank you for your response! That is one of the more intelligible response I have come across thus far. And I also have to commend you on your blog. This is one of my favorite sites, and one I check daily. Thank you again, and keep up the great work.

  25. What if the practioners were all listed under the “brands” section? kinda fits?
    Just a thought.

  26. “Depending on budget, what I recommend is that they claim the doctors and make sure that they are accurate but that they spend their time optimizing around the practice.”

    This is what I have done for one of my chiropractor clients, but it seems that the listing(with only 5 reviews) for HIM specifically has cannibalized all the citations and now ranks #1 instead of the practice(with 47 reviews) which shows up somewhere on page 8.

    I have some thoughts on this. If Google wont remove practitioners, whats to stop us from changing the name of the practitioner to something like the practice, and then claiming dupe? if that works case solved. if it does not work, then what happens when someone changes the name to something that looks like a name, and then Google will not allow it to be “fixed” as they now see the listing as a practitioner instead of the practice.

    Is there going to be some address equivalent of NULL that we will all use to get the practitioners moved in the future so they are not associated with the practice? I vote the local post office, or maybe the nearest local Google office to your town, that might get a response if Google had a bunch of Dr. or Lawyers they couldn’t remove. from their listings.


  27. In theory, this seems like a good change. As has been noted above, in practice, it seems that the individual practitioner listings are largely eclipsing the practice pages.

    This can have troubling results, especially for many smaller law practices that might do fee-sharing based upon how the inquiry was generated.

  28. So instead of one google places account that law firm marketers need to create citations for, we now have to create them for each individual attorney in the firm as well?

    For medium to large firms that could mean 100s of Google places listings.

    I wonder if Google will alter their search algorithm to display only a main firm listing or the most relevant attorney listing for any query or if this is an opportunity for large firms to corner the market and monopolize searches that return a 7 pack?

    If I am managing a firm that is in Los Angeles, I now have the chance to create as many google places pages as my firm has attorneys. Having so many accounts gives me more opportunities to rank for more keyword phrases, right?

    Looks like the large firms have a great chance to benefit from this rule change while the individual attorneys may be left out in the cold.

  29. I am sure the intent is to have one +Profile controlling them all.

    Each professional can have a + Local Business page BUT they cannot Circle other +accounts, only the +Profile can do that.

    I am advising an +Organisation page for the office linking to a home website page.

    If the +Business Page links to a professionals own webpage I expect that will not be a high ranking link. If they link to an office website landing page I assume that not be a high ranking link either.

    The office will show for a Category search and a +Business page for a name search only.

    That is my read.

  30. Robert said “f I am managing a firm that is in Los Angeles, I now have the chance to create as many google places pages as my firm has attorneys. Having so many accounts gives me more opportunities to rank for more keyword phrases, right?”

    In my blog post I explained that duplicates often HURT the ranking of the main practice or practitioner listing. If you try to optimize all those listings IMO you are just competing with yourself. In most cases I think it’s best to minimize the practitioner dupes so they don’t conflict with or knock the main listing out of the rankings.

    However IF it’s a multi-specialty practice and if each atty has a different specialty, then yes what you say above could work as long as all the cats are different.

    Just my 2 cents, as I explained in my post, every situation is unique and everyone’s opinion on best strategy could differ.

  31. @Linda, I’m in agreement with you about the law firm example. It would be a better idea to focus marketing efforts on getting the main law firm listing first. When that is ranking well, then perhaps put some effort into getting an individual attorney listing ranked if:
    ~ their area of practice is unique
    ~ their personal name has some “brand value” where people might be searching for that attorney.

    Otherwise, yes, all those attorney listings will be competing with each other.

    Has anyone seen any new updates on this issue lately?

  32. Most of the conversation here has been about doctors and attorneys but there is another profession that this applies to real estate agents and brokerages.

    Real estate agents are generally independent contractors working under the umbrella of their managing brokers office.

    It’s obvious that we would want to get the brokerage office listed under the broker name but what would be the best way to list the individual agents?

    Would it be best to list them as ‘Agent First Name Agent Last Name – Brokerage Office Name’ or vise versa? For example, ‘John Doe – RE/MAX Office, Inc.’ or ‘RE/MAX Office, Inc. – John Doe’

    Additionally, the agents don’t really have a business name so would it make more sense to use a keyword in the company name like ‘Denver Real Estate – John Doe’?

    Real estate agents move around from office to office more that doctors or lawyers so would creating a branding for themselves apart from the brokerage make sense? That way if they move they can just go in and change their address and leave their company name the same.

    Are there any conventions that are being used that are working well?

  33. As has been noted above, in practice, it seems that the individual practitioner listings are largely eclipsing the practice pages.

    Is that if Google is showing practice and practioners in the Maps/Local index then that constitutes the authoritative source that draws the line. It means that they have access to data that delineates the data and that they trust it and generally want it.

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