Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction

Google Local is a veritable train wreck for business listing management. The Dashboard is in a state of non functioning disrepair, the + Page path to listing management is full of bugs. The current business types supported by the feature set in the +Page environment is extremely limited. The rules for business listings in MapMaker differ from the rules for Places/+Local/Pages and bots there often run amok with listing data. Factor in the technical difficulties of legitimate listings going into “We currently do not support this location” purgatory and being lost for months on end AND the bevy of old issues like merges and duplicates and the wreck starts to take on epic proportions.

The problems are compounded by Google’s unclear complete lack of  guidance as to whether the Dashboard or the social local management environment is the future of their local interface. This adds a level of uncertainty for businesses small and large as to how to proceed with effective listing management. Should a business commit to the new G+ Page local environment? Is this Dashboard being phased out or is it just undergoing a renovation? There are “indications” that both products will exist going forward. Yet Google, rather than laying out a road map so businesses can plan in an intelligent manner, plays 3 card monte with press statements and or makes public utterances that lack clarity.

Has Google Local fallen prey to a failure of management or management turnover?
Is Local under funded?
Is it under focused?
Is it too complicated?
Is the project so big (and incredible) that its gestation period is longer than that of an elephant?
Did the Local team get side tracked by the forced march to social?
Has the strategy of release early and iterate often failed because Google local has forgotten the iterate part?
Are we just seeing a failure of execution?

Who knows. Google is not saying. The problem is that businesses need to plan, they need to keep moving forward on their marketing and unfortunately, for many, Google Local is a key component of that plan.

Here is how I see the situation and my recommendations for the next 60 days as to how a business should proceed given the many, many vagaries of the current situation and why I am suggesting that for most business the best tactic for now is to just sit tight in the old Dashboard and wait:

Google+ Page Management – The fact that Google has yet to figure out what to call these pages is but a foreshadowing of bigger issues. When the product was released in August, it seemed to indicate Google’s new direction. There was speculation (me included) that thought that +Page multi user management interface was the replacement for the Dashboard and was Google’s path forward.

The caveats soon piled on. Bugs in the merge process became all too apparent but even more significant was Google’s positioning of the limited functionality of the product. Google noted at the time that a full fledged version was in the works that would allow for automatic transition from the Dashboard and that features needed for more business types would be added. Service area businesses that attempted the transition soon found the problems and Google publicly recommended that they NOT transition.  When pressed Google suggested that multi location businesses wait and not transition. Brands with multiple locations are not well supported.

The product has been and is only suitable for single location bricks and mortar locations that need a social presence. At a recent Local University*, Google positioned the product as ideal for newly created businesses. That is a very limited subset of business reality.

The Places for Business Dashboard: This product currently has even more quirks than the +Page transition. Data changes take forever to reach the listing, features like video upload are broken, the analytics dashboard is practically useless and many fields that are available for input never show data in the listing. The list goes on.

Yet the product sports a renewed Offers interface, an upgraded Adwords Express AND a recently rebuilt bulk upload interface. The dashboard is account based rather than individual based. Certainly that is a superior solution for a multi-location brand yet it is steadfastly single user. It is the ultimate contradiction and any attempt at reading the tea leaves as to its future gives one a serious case of heartburn. But given the fact that parts of the product HAVE been upgraded its hard to conclude that it is in fact going away.

What Google Should do NOW: Communicate a plan. Nothing disrupts businesses like uncertainty. Show us the road map! Put businesses big and small in a position where, while they might not know when you are doing something, they know what you are doing.

My conclusion: I thought at the time of the +Page integration rollout that the dashboard would be integrated into the +Page management environment. I no longer have that confidence and really don’t know how the two disparate products will integrate. A new dashboard with increased functionality is likely on its way and hopefully better social management tools as well. What we don’t know is how the two feature sets will relate to each other and exactly how they should be managed, whether all features will be in a single interface or whether Google will segment functionality in some way.

If you have already made the move to G+ Page for Local on one or more of your listings, then don’t sweat it. However, I would recommend not moving more of your locations over at this time.

Google is unlikely to take my suggestion to map out a the near future for us. In the meantime, since we are only seeing a [broken] corner of the whole picture, it is conceivable to me that a wrong step now might require a business to back up and execute a complete redo down the road if you commit too early. Thus my recommendation to stay in the Places for Business dashboard for now. I also recommend that you periodically check into your dashboard to see if the listing has suffered any penalities, pending reviews or suspensions. Other than that I would suggest changing your listing as little as possible.

*In the spirit of full disclosure, Local University of which I am a participant and owner, receives sponsorship monies from Google.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction by

73 thoughts on “Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction”

  1. Please! Make it a paid service! I would gladly pay for my, or my clients, listing if Google promised to; 1) Not eff it up royally er, um “improve” my listing without asking me, 2) Warn me that winter is coming and give me notice and time to fix “discrepencies” before sending my listing out beyond the wall, and 3) Not treat me like a criminal who can’t be trusted to describe my own business and it’s location and service areas!

  2. The last few new businesses we’ve validated on Google Places all show “Pending” status when we validate. “Okay then, we’ll begin our process in purgatory. Yay!”

    Anyone else noticing this?

    1. @Jeffrey

      Are Service area businesses? Do they have their addresses hidden? Are they bricks and mortar? New businesses? Existing businesses?

      Pending has meant traditionally that a listing was going under human review. Perhaps more new claims or more new claims of a certain type are going into that state?

  3. @Mike

    They are new businesses bricks and mortar businesses with little other web presence (yet). At first I thought it was this lack of citations that might cause a pending status. But how can Google determine that at the moment of listing validation?

    Then I was wondering if this might be related to the new phone support for validation. Newbie SMBs being lured in to call to validate, then getting a pitch for paid services? I suppose anything is possible.

  4. No actually pending review for a few weeks is the new normal for new listings.

    As long as you can find it with a maps/phone search the listing is fine. It’s just the pending status is lagging in dash.

    I’ve been telling folks that for awhile now, then Jade confirmed a couple days ago at the G forum. She made it sound like it’s somewhat temporary and should get better soon?

  5. Jeffrey,

    Can’t find the thread I was looking for, but here’s another from Jade 1/3 that says:

    “I think that the “Pending” message is due to an expected delay in the updating of dashboards we are experiencing right now… this page has been correctly verified, and I would expect your dashboard to update within a few weeks.”

    There are several others as well.

  6. My business recently went into the “Pending Review” mode after being active for more than 7 years. In fact, we were the clear #1 for the last four years. Th status changed on January 11, 2013 and we’re still stuck with no apparent end to this nightmare. I checked my dashboard and a duplicate entry had been added at some point. I’m not sure when or how this happened – my only guess is that I tried to “claim” my business using Google+ and this somehow created a second listing. Anyway, I deleted the second listing but nothing has changed. Can anyone help? We’re a cleaning business and we rely heavily on this listing for our success. I can’t link our page because it doesn’t exist but here is my business info:

    Two Maids & A Mop
    6400 N. Davis Highway
    Suite 6
    Pensacola, FL 32504
    (850) 429-1969

    P.S. We actually use Google Express and pay Google roughly $700 per month as a result. However, we can’t advertise until the Pending Review status is resolved. So, Google’s bug is actually costing them money!?!


  7. Thanks for this – although it doesn’t create any clear course for me, it at least lets me know I’m not alone and crazy in thinking that Google is losing it. I always trusted them as a reliable service and received a lot of business through them.

    I recently moved to ringcentral and got a new phone number. I logged into dashboard to simply update the phone number and a month later my places page is still not active. I received the postcard and validated my listing. Now I have been in nothing purgatory for a month. In the mean time I started a g+ page and now all of the sudden there are two g+ pages for my business. To top all of this off, my google reviews for my business are gone, only to find last night they were moved to a listing for the original name of my business that was in existence for maybe 3 months, never listed on google and wasn’t even registered with the state. So now “non-existent original business name” has my reviews and a ranking on places when my validated and updated business has fallen somewhere I don’t even know. When I log in to dashboard and click “view” for the listing, it pulls me out to a g+ page that has an extremely limited amount of my info listed. WTF is going on over at google!? I’m so at a loss and have learned that trying to contact them for some clarification is useless.

    –of note, i’ve also found that many businesses were being called from super rude overseas call centers who would tersely try to verify information then hang up abruptly. it seems if you didn’t answer that phone call then you weren’t open for business during your listed hours and you were suspended. are you kidding me…?–

    1. @Andy
      A phone number change totally undermines the algo that Google uses to verify, show and rank businesses. While it happens in the real world, in the simulated world of Google it is a formula for disaster. Duplicates will continue to exist until ALL important upstream data is cleaned/changed to reflect the new number.

  8. Mike – “A phone number change totally undermines the algo that Google uses to verify, show and rank businesses.”

    As always you are right on point here. Think the same thing happens with tracking numbers? Dex as an example?

  9. @Mike
    Yes but as I have said its not the ONLY thing that goofs up Google. It is an important thing.

    Name consistency at the primary data sources is another. La Croix or LaCroix Google thinks they are two and thus “splits” the listing.

  10. Call tracking numbers have always been the BANE of SEO! I’ve spent time on both the SEM/PPC and SEO sides of the fence, and while call tracking numbers are wonderful and inconsequential in paid search, the wreck absolute havoc in SEO–mostly for the reasons cited earlier. What I hate most about Google is that EVERYTHING relies on their algo and there’s no ability to appeal any discrepancy (real or imagined) to a human. And of course, Google takes the heavy handed attitude that they’re right and the business owner (all too often) doesn’t know what he/she’s talking about. #SMH

  11. As frustrating as Google’s cluster f___ called local has been, it does give some peace of mind that I’m not the lone ranger here! One can only hope Google will get there act together soon, or that someone will take advantage of the opening and throw the crippled gorilla out of the way.

  12. Mike – just wanted to say a quick thanks for the time you have put in on this subject in addition to all of the one-to-one feedback I’ve seen you provide to users in the google product forums group. It’s like a TRIAGE UNIT in there.

    Unfortunately this boondoggle has a very real world impact on mainstreet usa… and on our industry as agencies. We are positioned to help people grow their businesses online and in *most* cases, my agency has the niche expertise to guide them with measurable success through their digital marketing. This is one area that has given us a black-eye at times and at other times made us look like absolute HEROES. It’s frustrating.

    I have a local business owner who’s worked her @$$ off to grow her student powered cleaning business and had over 40 reviews VANISH. Painful.

    her case will be in the support forum, thanks for organizing and giving the TC’s a centralized place to triage.

    Herb Jones

  13. This transition has created an immense amount of issuse overall but I feel like finally it’s getting better. I have to admit that local started to take a back seat in our overall SEO strategy because of the time to benefit ratio (not because it wasn’t benefitial, just way too much time!). Still not really sure why + and local are not yet more closely integrated, does seem like their getting little support.

    Thanks for your work on this, interested on your stance on this now after some changes have been implemented.

    1. @Chris
      It is now 6 months after this post was originally written.

      Support has improved dramatically, problems have declined, the new Dashboard clarifies where a business should be claiming and verifying their listing… that’s all good. While there is now a clearly communicated path (that is refreshing) it is taking an incredible amount of time getting there. When we do get there we will have less capability than we had before.

      Google has moved from a -D to a C+. At least they aren’t failing.

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