Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

Comments, research and information about Google Maps (Google Local)

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.

********

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.

Google Places Troubleshooting: Best Practice for Dealing with a Merged Listing

Google’s problem solving paths for fixing things that go wrong with a business listing have always been confusing. There are a range of possible options (Report a Problem, MapMaker, Troubleshooters, Places Dashboard) to fixing a problem  and there is the temptation to keep trying one after the other in an effort to get the problem fixed. Most SMBs and SEOs figure that getting a simple data error fixed should happen in near real time and think that if they just tweak one more variable then the fix should be in tomorrow.

The reality with Google Places is that doing more and trying more and not being patient will lead to more, overlapping problems as Google reconciles the many data sources that are affected by your repair efforts. This is true in most cases but particularly true with the most serious & deleterious artifact of their algo, the merging of two distinct business listings. Reader Susie made this recent inquiry:

It seems that Google Places is a fan of combining businesses.. We have been having a bit of trouble with our listing lately. Google places has somehow combined our business with another competitor’s… Our website and placement on google places will show up, but underneath our website our competitor’s phone number will appear. Keeping in mind that our addresses are the same (as it is a dock location) and we do have similar competing services………… How do we insure that our business phone number stays attatched to our website in the google places format and not our competitor’s? We have already tried switching keywords, posting pictures in order to differentiate our business, but that has not seemed to be working……….. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Nothing can be more frustrating and nothing needs a more Zen like approach than merged listings. Here is my advice on the best way to currently fix the situation:

@Susie

Step 1) Make sure that your name is short, that it is your actual legal name and different than your competitors. Change the Places listing to reflect this name. A long name, particularly one with the same keywords as your competitor can contribute significantly to the problem. This is critical long haul as your business name is one of the primary items that you have control over that causes merges and it is an important signal to keep your cluster intact.

Step 2) The only sure way right now to get a merge taken care of is to have Google split the two listings. Once it has occurred it is almost impossible to fix by any fiddling you might do with your data at Google. The recently added Fix a Problem troubleshooters on the Google Help page offers the best current option for a fix as it goes directly to a well trained staff that have the tools and the knowledge to solve the problem. Use the My listing has incorrect information option and take  the following path on the questions:

-What’s the status of your listing?
—I have verified my listing in my Google Places for business account.
-Have you tried the Report a problem link?
—Yes (or it is not available on my listing)
– If you have attempted to update your business’s information from within your Places for business account and have not seen your changes take effect within a few days, you can complete this form to specify your correct business information.

Step 3) Once you have filed your repair request with Google, do not keep changing things or trying to fix them with one of the other data input or repair options. Google will respond within about 10 days and it will take 4-6 weeks for the fix to become “permanent” and public. In the meantime STOP play with it. Be patient and wait. This is the most difficult part to understand and by far the most difficult to do. Google assembles the data for the Places index in a batch way, collating and reconciling changes over a given period before pushing out the new data. The Troubleshooter team has the ability to inject correctly unmerged data into this collation but it is necessary (hard to believe yes but necessary) to wait for the corrected data to show up in the next index push.

Step 4) You need to be sure that going forward that the signals coming from across the local ecosystem to Google’s algo send clear, consistent and distinct information about your business listing. Verify that your business name is listed properly with the primary list providers to Google in your country, get listed identically on every directory, local resource and travel guide that you can. Be absolutely sure that you use the legal business name (DBA) noted above. Clean up any errant records that might have a variation in name, address or phone number. Going forward, continue in your efforts to obtain these mentions of your business at your location as they will reinforce the view that Google has of your business as distinct.

Good luck and may the gods of fortune and patience be with you.

Branded Local Search Results: Google Vs. Bing

With the rollout of Google Search Plus Your World, there has been a great deal of discussion about whether Google’s actions are a basis for antitrust. I tend to agree with internet lawyer Eric Goldman’s assessment:

From a legal standpoint, I don’t think Search Plus Your World adds very much to the antitrust complaints against Google (and some of the complaints, especially Twitter’s, seem more like sour grapes than bona fide concerns). It’s just another example where Google is cross-promoting its services, which is not inherently wrong and often can improve the consumer experience. However, if Google can’t prove to us that each of its specific choices to integrate Google+ are in our best interests given the widespread speculation that they weren’t, Google creates a major wedge in the trust relationship with users–and invites judges and regulators to impute bad motives to Google if they want.

The issues revolve more around user trust than antitrust. The full impact of the change has yet to be felt in Local BUT a number of other recent efforts by Google to cross promote their own properties have started to impact local results.

Here is a branded local search for Barbara Oliver Buffalo. Google has made sure that Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry’s local brand and website are readily accessible from search. She certainly seems to be benefiting from Google’s brand focus.

However, her site, like many SMB sites, uses an embedded Google MyMap on the directions page and and offers an embedded YouTube video. She also has a very lightly used Plus Page. That hardly seems to warrant the high ranking that each of those pages have received. There are seven links to Google properties above the fold that lead to Maps, Places, YouTube, Plus and MyMaps. Clearly Google is also cross promoting their other properties but one certainly has to question whether the searcher is best served by these results.

I have captured a Bing search result for comparison purposes so that you can decide which engine returns the most relevant results for the branded search. Let me know which one you think offers more relevant results.

(click to see larger)

To see the Bing screen shot of the branded search for Barbara Oliver Buffalo….
Continue reading Branded Local Search Results: Google Vs. Bing

New Login Screen Makes Google Account Creation More Obvious

I am not sure when this changed Google seems have made the login screen to create new user accounts more obvious as to whether you are are creating an account with a gmail or a 3rd party email address. This is much improved interface design that will make it clear that you don’t need a gmail address to get a Google account.

The Untold Story of 2011: Google’s Significant Investments in a Google Places Support Structure

There is a story unfolding at Google that indicates a huge shift in their thinking about Places. Google, over the past 9 months has been making significant investments in creating support mechanisms for Google Places. Yes, you read that right. But just to be sure let me repeat myself: Google has been making significant investments in creating functioning support mechanisms for SMB problems with Places.

I never thought that I would be writing the words Good and Support and Google Places in the same sentence with a straight face but if current trends continue they are approaching that benchmark. Given that they literally had next to no support as recently as early summer, this demonstrates a significant resource shift and policy change.

Good support requires good processes, good people and good tools. And based on my observations over the past quarter Google has made significant progress in local on all of those fronts. Don’t get me wrong, there is still long way for them to go but there has been a tectonic shift on every front that indicates a 180 degree change in Google’s approach to the issues for SMBs interacting with Google in the free local space.

The History

Support, or rather the lack there of, the poor product quality and the inability to fix all too prevalent problems has been a common thread amongst critics, including myself, of Google Places for a number of years. I have penned a number of screeds on the topic and not one of them showed Google in a favorable light.

The problem has always been that Google would roll out upgrades to Places while never fixing bugs AND frequently providing no mechanism to fix the resultant bad outcomes. Even if these problems were the direct result of a Google decision there was no remedy. If it affected a very small percentage of businesses then you would have absolutely no hope of a solution at all. In fact often it wasn’t viewed as bug at all. In Google’s eyes, the sacrifice of accuracy for a few businesses to see the overall improvement of the index was a switch worth making. It was just the cost of being in the large data, local listing business.

A classic example was the problem of merged businesses. A merging between two distinct businesses into a single Places page was an artifact of the merge/purge routines built into the Maps algo. Two similar businesses, located nearby would become a single Frankenstein like record that showed part from one business dashboard and part from another.

There was no easy way for Google to separate the two. Certainly there was no easy way for the affected businesses to separate them. It required months of careful upstream cleansing of the local ecosystem for BOTH of the affected businesses. It affected a very small % of businesses but if you were the one affected it could be devastating to watch your traffic dry up as your phone stopped ringing.

At the end of the day, the affected business might make their way into the forums, beg, cry and whine. Perhaps their posting was flagged by a top contributor and if they were extremely lucky an engineer would ultimately look at the situation. But it could be months or more likely never. Unless of course you managed to get the case a fair bit of publicity and the shining light of publicity “encouraged” an engineer to take a look.

Clearly Google didn’t want to provide a fix or perhaps was unable to provide a fix at the individual listing level. It doesn’t matter, there was no fix.

But now I am beginning to see a new Google Places support structure emerging that (hold on to your seat…) actually seems to be working. And in a dramatic departure from past behaviors, it is one that acknowledges that the individual Place listing is worth fixing.

The forums: Continue reading The Untold Story of 2011: Google’s Significant Investments in a Google Places Support Structure

Google Offers Up a Step by Step Guide to Deal with “We do currently do not support this location”

Google has finally  provided some public guidance, if not a a long awaited fix, to deal with the persistent Places error state “We currently do not support the location“.

The forum comment provides a step by step procedure for assessing and coping with (but not solving) the issue. The listing nuking message, in the system for sometime, seems to have been occurring more frequently over the past 3 or 4 months. The work around offered is the one developed by the frequent contributor to the German Places Forums, Spinatmensch. If you want to see more discussion and experiences with the work around be sure to read the many contributor comments made in response to the suggested work around.

Here is the helpful step by step process that Vanessa, the Google Places forum community manager offered up in response to yet another question about the issue:

We currently do not support the locationI’ve had my places business page for over a year, and now it says the ‘location not supported’ when I click view page?

Topic of your question: “Location not supported” No address change since original place listing – what is the problem?

I’ve had my places business page for over a year, and now it says the ‘location not supported’ when I click view page? I haven’t made any adjustements to the page except to add photos periodically. I have even advertised with google the past couple of months, but didn’t this month. Does that have something to do with places ad not showing up?

If this continues, I will never advertise on google again for sure.

——————————————————–

vanessagene
Google Employee
12/14/11

If you’re seeing “We do not supper this location” on your listing:

1) Search for it on maps.google.com — “business name and city”. Sometimes the links from your Places dashboard aren’t synced properly, and you should always search on Maps first to make sure it is indeed removed — often it’s still live and there, you just need to look it up via maps.google.com.

2) If you don’t see it on Maps, go in to the Places dashboard and poke the listing by clicking submit (wait a little bit, in can take some minutes to appear). Then again, go to maps.google.com to see if you see it appear live.

3) If you’re still seeing the message on your listing, use the troubleshooter option, and our team will get back to you via e-mail:

http://support.google.com/places/bin/static.py?hl=en&ts=1386120&page=ts.cs
I have verified > Yes > “My listing no longer appears on Google Maps.”

Believe me, we know this can be frustrating for you guys, and we’re working to clean it up so you see less of this happening.

– Vanessa

The Growth of Google Places Claimed Listings

It was a year ago April that Google made the first public announcement regarding the number of claimed Places listing. The number came in at 4 million worldwide. Yesterday at the BIA/Kelsey ILM West conference, Jeff Aguero noted that Google Places now has 8 million claimed Place Pages (out of 50MM worldwide). It was just this past March that Marissa Mayer, speaking at SwSX, noted that there were 6 million claimed Places.

The ability to claim a business listing was first rolled out in March of 2005 with the launch of Dashboard precursor, the Google Local Business Center. These four data points allow for some interesting analysis of the “run rate” at which Google is creating a direct relationship with business locations worldwide.

Here is a chart showing the growth since inception (U.S. data is estimated).

Some thoughts about the graph:
Continue reading The Growth of Google Places Claimed Listings

Google’s Talkbin Special: $1/Mo. Per Location

Last week Google while rolled out new Talkbin features and also reduced its price for the month of December by 80% The monthly price for the anonymous feedback service was lowered from $25/mo per location to $5/mo. per location. Tonight in my inbox I received notice of an new promo, pricing the product at $1/mo. per location…. a 96% reduction.

The product, a very slick text based customer feedback tool, is positioned by Google as the next generation of customer service and at a dollar a month becomes a no-brainer for any bricks and mortar business looking to improve customer feedback.

Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Several weeks ago, I attended a Google GetYourBusiness online seminar and I was surprised to hear the speaker strongly encouraging SMBS to install a computer at their places of business to use as a station where clients, immediately upon completing a transaction, could easily leave a review on their Google Place’s page.

Last week, Scott Falcone sent me a link to a copy of an email from the Google Dealer Jumpstart Team endorsing the idea of review stations. Thinking that maybe the sales side of the house might not be on the same page as the Places team, when the question came up in the forums, I raised the issue with the Places support folks. Their response was that as long as there was no direct incentive involved, it would be an acceptable practice.

Clearly if training, sales and support at Google all say it is OK, then it must be OK to have on site workstations for the purpose of generating reviews. And one can infer from all of this is that the review filter would not block the review based on location (IP) alone.

Implications

Yelp and Tripadvisor long ago put in place bans on reviews generated onsite from the place of business. In the case of Yelp, the reviews get filtered. TripAdvisor goes so far as to flag/punish the business with a Red notice questioning the integrity of the hotel. Avvo will allow the practice by prior approval and an explanation as to the need. Google’s policy is clearly contrary to the industry norms. Allowing and even encouraging the behavior of using a review station is questionable at best.

While there is nothing against practice in the Google Places review guidelines it is a practice that I have discouraged in my consulting and writings.

Continue reading Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

An Imagined Conversation with Google about Reviews, 29Prime & Sock Puppets

29Prime is easy to spot as a deceptive local seo company that preys on unsuspecting small business folks eager to “be on the first page of Google”. Like many low-life firms of their ilk, they have a number of “aliases” (aka 29Live, 29Maps, 29SEM, 29Search, Locallistings.com etc, etc.) they use to make tracking them a little more difficult.

Their robo calls ring into my office no less than 4 times a week with pitches like “Select one now to claim your free listing on Google”, “We are Google’s 6th largest provider of data”, “We guarantee first page placement, “We are Google Authorized to claim your listing”.

As coffee break sport, I often select 1 on the dial pad just to hear the pitch and see how befuddled I can make the salesman by asking for verification of the claims… and of course to learn that free is relative. In this case it means $399 a month.

If there is any doubt in your mind about how despicable 29Prime is you can check out some of these online resources that should quickly convince you.

* their D+ rating at Better Business Bureau and the many disputes.
* More than one independent 29Prime is a scam website or
* this article about the roving reporter in Gilbert AZ claiming to have helped a small preschool get their erroneously charged $1500 back from 29Prime.

But this article isn’t about wondering how a business like this can continue to operate in our lax regulatory/enforcement environment. It isn’t about the myth of efficiency in the markets or how SMBs could continue to be duped by them. It isn’t about how is it conceivable that a company like Google has yet to have their lawyers muzzle 29Prime’s claims to be Google or act on their behalf. Or about how a company like this could be mentioned in the SF Chronicle as a top ranked Local SEO firm.

These are all interesting stories in their own right but not the focus of this article.

This story is about comparing how Yelp and Google handle 29Prime’s star rankings and present the results to the public. This story is asking how, after 4 years in the review business,  Google gets it very  wrong and Yelp seems to get 29Prime’s review standing right.
Continue reading An Imagined Conversation with Google about Reviews, 29Prime & Sock Puppets