Google Search Quality Issues Dogging Local Results

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The front page of Google is where the action is.  It’s often where a business has the first opportunity to present their brand, it’s where calls from potential customers start and discovery of a new businesses first takes place.  This is particularly true in local search results where your presence and the quality of the images shown are everything.

And yet there have been a number of search quality issues dogging local search results that make that first impression painful, difficult and sometimes impossible. These problems have persisted for many, many months and for whatever reason the Google search team seems unwilling or unable to fix them.

Here is a rogue’s gallery of these problems in order of longevity:

No Entry, No Way

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.37.10 AMThis problem was first reported in the Google Places for Business forums in early July.  In mid July Googler Jade noted “The gray circles appear in the place of deleted photos for a while before the photo can be fully deleted from our systems. This is taking a bit longer than usual right now.”  For some businesses the problem has been taking months and months. While there is a kludgey fix that works in some limited situations the problem still persists as you can see for the search for Hotels Chicago where Trump International seems to have barred the doors.

Hummingbird Poop

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.48.29 AMHummingbirds are tiny, fast, energetic and little noticed in the real world. The same was mostly true of the Google Hummingbird update in August. But it turns out that hummingbird poop is as unpleasant as any other poop particularly when it sticks around for months and gets crusty.

The problem in local, first reported in Linda’s forum and updated here, is that spammy local listings dominate head search terms and prevent the 7-pack from showing. Like this search for Chicago Plumber. Some spammer is getting rich. But worse, real plumbers are not showing in the results.

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Un-Knowledgable Graph

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.57.50 AMSeaworld did exactly what Google wanted of them. They upgraded their local listings to G+ Pages in early October. Unfortunately for them, it precipitated a bug in the knowledge graph that persistently refuses to show any images in the knowledge graph carousel/info panel but the generic placeholder image. It didn’t affect just one of their properties but all eleven on them.  Its hard enough to compete against Disney with an anchor tied to your ankle. This one has been attached for over two months.

Each of these problems has persisted for many months. In the case of the No Entry bug, for nearly half the year. It is ironic that when local support and local listing quality seems to be dramatically improving since the nadir a year ago, that general search quality issues are plaguing local.

Everyone expects the occasional glitch in the display of their listing, they just don’t expect quality issues that have such important effects on their local business to be on going for months and months. Knowledge Graph and Hummingbird may be general improvements for Google but those benefits seem to have not universally filtered down to local search.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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29 thoughts on “Google Search Quality Issues Dogging Local Results”

  1. Excellent rundown, Mike.

    Methinks one could do a whole separate post on “Google’s Local Search UX: How to Lose Users and Alienate Business Owners.”

    This isn’t a bug, but I’d say the reviews “popup” is akin to the problems you mention. Given how it buries businesses’ Google listings, one can probably assume the other shoe has yet to fall. But the UX suffers in the meantime – big-time. Both the bad UX and spotty search results create the same effect: people can’t find what they’re looking for.

  2. @Phil
    Great point about reviews and the UX.

    One also has to wonder about the Carousel in general and the differences in presentation… users are not likely to want to keep learning new interfaces.

  3. @James
    That is a weird one…. there are also problems with the listing. Its not verified but it is upgraded to social, you can see the posts page but not the about page…. that listing is caught some form of limbo for sure.

  4. Mike a lot of what is here is bad. what I will never understand is why there is a problem because Google includes a lot of reviews and localized directories or listing sites in localized/personal search. Isn’t that what users want? Seems to be the case since these directories and lead generators are generating more leads using that strategy than Google+ is. In the SERPs affected with these old authority sites just get listed on them and make an effort to get reviews. A lot of this also looks like it is maybe just a problem of managing Google+ and the new map embeds. Which just goes to show the Socialization of Search with all the fluff is not a trend that is going to change anytime soon.

  5. Spammy local listings are everywhere, and it frustrates me when I accurately report violations and only get about a 70% success rate on MM. Violations have been denied primarily by
    “Google Automated Denier” & “Google Automated Moderator” whatever they are? So my account looks ‘suspect’ when I get these types of things denied. In almost all cases, human editors are helpful with my reports.

  6. Nice set of comments Mike. There appear to be a growing volume of visible bugs that have not been addressed; or at least addressed quickly.

    I have a comment and question on a different area..but it is addressed to the hotel and restaurant world along with the world of other entities that fell into the carousel views that changed last summer.

    Are the businesses getting more or less leads? Can they tell where the leads are coming from? Are they being diverted into 3rd party reservation systems? Is their google traffic growing or shrinking? If they are advertising are adwords clicks and costs going up or down?

    Our own smb’s don’t generally fall into the carousel categories but we have seen endless glitches and problems connected with search and that generally means google (roughly 85-90% of search traffic).

    Some of the problems were significant in that they cut down on leads and then sales. Some were more minor in nature, and while they were aggravating they didn’t affect leads volume, sales or revenues. Ultimately the minor issues got fixed and with the fixes they didn’t necessarily increase leads volume or revenues in any substantial way.

    I’m simply curious. I don’t have hotel, restaurants, or other types of smb’s that fall into the carousel groupings. I have been speaking with restaurateurs. The overwhelming sense I get from the business operators…is simply that they don’t follow the search element of their businesses as closely as they might.

    They are in the dark. They don’t know how these changes are affecting their revenues.

    Does anyone out there have some data???

  7. I’ve lost my pic next to my web searchers, and I would say 98% of my business comes from google, and it’s hit me hard, any gives my time to wrap the Christmas presents

  8. Mike I think the bigger story here is that you finally upgraded the blog! Nice work! Regarding Google problems with listings are you really that surprised? Come on this company has never, not once, fully implemented the local directory in a bug free manner. We too are seeing old spam listings resurrected from the dead and many of the same issues you have already discussed.

  9. @Mark
    Thanks on the blog update.

    Surprised I am not. However, I see my “job” as documenting (and redocumenting) issues that are occurring so that SMBS and agencies know what to expect, so that I can track the history of any particular bug and to shine some light on problems that can and should be fixed.

    I have written about all of these problems before but I felt that a visual summary of them would bring wider recognition of these specific issues that really need to be dealt with as the effects on the particular businesses is large.

    Google for their oddities have been slowly, slowly fixing many old issues and slowly, slowly moving toward improved SMB experiences…. that being said their very way of building out products creates new issues all the time. Those new issues need to be dealt with as well.

    Google local will never be perfect, that is the nature of the beast. But here’s to them improving it, now!

  10. And it’s Google that is always at fault… What the heck is Yelp doing stating that a review that is not shown is “1 review that is not currently recommended”

    So if a restaurant is out of salmon, does that waitress say “The salmon is not currently recommended”? I’d likely assume there was something wrong with the salmon, not that they are “currently not providing the salmon” or “the salmon is still frozen” or whatever… A review that is not recommended doesn’t sound like a review that may possibly be gushing positives about a local business.

  11. @Andy Kuiper:

    Google Automated Denier is a bot that automatically denies all edits that you make with an account. Either a spammer or a GLE (Google Listing Editor) flagged your account, which triggers the bot.

    Google Automated Moderator is the mod bot that denies or approves edits according to a mysterious algorithm that is usually triggered after 24 hours without any human reviewing your edits.

    If you’re still encountering issues with your MM profile, contact and ask them to unblock your profile. This is pretty normal for MM, but it’s also a problem with since it actively discourages spam fighters from engaging with MM.

    There’s still a huge issue with spam POI deletions being denied by GLEs (who can’t quit fast enough, in my opinion), and of course, now that Places has segregated SABs from MM once again (see this forum post:, you now have to use the shoddy Report a problem on Maps to try to get Google to takedown spam. I’ve used that particular process extensively over a three year period, and it’s basically been broken forever. I have had about a minuscule success rate in dealing with spam on Maps, that of late, has dropped to zero. MM is about the only reliable tool that Google has to deal with spam, and with SABs gone from MM, that’s a huge chunk of spam not going to be dealt with.

  12. @ mike

    Hi the picture that come up next to the link to a web page once it came up but now it doesn’t, I’ve not changed anything it’s the google authorship picture

  13. It really frustrates me when things like this happen with Google – they are supposed to be this massive conglomeration, but they can’t even fix up their own glitches in a timely manner! In our business, if problems like this persisted for months on end we would be losing clients like no tomorrow.

    On the “Un-knowledgable Graphs” – I really feel for Seaworld. You do what Google tells you to in the hopes that it gives you a little bit of an edge over your competitors and in the end it screws you over! When will all these problems be fixed?

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