Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

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

Google+Local Retains Community Image Upload But is Missing a Way to Report Abuses

Reader Dimitar Dimitrov sent me this email comment about Google+Local and the attached screen shot of the Google HQ:

Hello Mike,

I just a reader of your blog (and an SEO freak). I was messing around with the new Google+ Local or whatever they are officially calling it.

While me and one of my buddies were messing around with the official Google Listing –

We’ve spotted that anyone can upload pictures… any pictures! Check the profile and see for yourself 🙂

I’ve attached my mess in case Google fix it before you can see it 🙂

P.S: I hope Google will fix this bug ASAP…

My response:

Dear Dimitar:

Welcome to the world of Google Local. As they say this a feature NOT a bug.

This capability has long been abused on Google Places and the feature has migrated over to the new Google+Local Page. In Places there was an option to report the image as inappropriate. It does not appear that feature has arrived to Google+Local. I don’t know when that will take occur. In the meantime it is not clear what a business should do if he runs afoul of an ex-girlfriend or a malicious competitor with compromising photos.

BTW I love your sense of humor. My only regret is that my own library of images does not include such classics!

(Click to view larger)

Google Places Pages Are No More – But What has Changed?

Today Google announced the integration of business pages with Google + and the demise of their Google Place page. This is a change that has long been anticipated and one that simultaneously gives a business more control over their page AND dramatically enhances the review environment. Greg Sterling has a good overview of how specific details will change.

Effectively Google + has become a destination for local search and a shared local experience. And tasks that were accomplished on the Place Page like reviews will happen on Plus instead. This explains the missing review buttons on mobile and the desktop.

According to Greg Sterling “Not unlike some similar functionality offered in Foursquare, users will be able to sort and filter search results by several criteria, including “your circles,” which will reveal places “touched” by friends. Currently this means reviews and posts, but could extend to check-ins later.”

But while the display of the page has changed, many other parts of the local ecosystem at Google have remained the same. Google Places is composed of three parts; the business listing display, a backend management tool and a ranking system.

This change essentially moves the location of the business listing display, gives a business more control over the visuals and allows for more segmented social activity around reviews. However the current backend, the Places Dashboard will remain the primary location for input.

Here is what I posted at David Mihm’s recent article about the coming Place – Plus merger:

There is no doubt that Google is integrating (slowly) Places with the social backbone and the single login logic of their update. There has also been a trend away from highlighting the stand alone Place page… For example Google has pushed the Places result out the front page with the rollover option and made the Places page difficult to get to from Maps…

So when thinking about what is coming I segment Places into three components
1)The display (search result or otherwise)
2)The SMB management interface
3)The back end architecture that assembles Places listings, dedupes the list, attaches reviews to a listing (or not 🙂 )

Lets look at #3 first. This might be upgraded but it appears that the technology to automatically generate a business directory world wide will continue to persist and will survive any changes. Google is actively investing in the architecture with recent changes and tools & staff to fix the artifacts of its workings.

#1 – Certainly Google is interested in displaying search results where ever and when ever they make sense and can generate ad revenue. While Place Pages are perhaps being directly displayed less on the desktop they might still make sense in mobile. They most certainly would make sense in the context of Plus in the many ways that you point out.

#2 the Dashboard – It is likely that an SMB dashboard will continue to exist in some form or another. It will likely undergo a radical redesign so as to be able to provide a simple self service interface to Adwords, Analytics, Offers, Punchd etc. It makes all kinds of sense to add Plus to that mix for all the reasons that you point out. There certainly needs to be more reasons for SMBS to return to it but it seems unlikely that the primary interface for SMBS with Google will go away.

Essentially this has transpired. The Dashboard is still awaiting an update but Google has confirmed that it will remain the point of contact for creating a business listing.

The algo, while it will evolve to include more social signals, is still the algo and it will still rank businesses. It has been evolving right along but Google rarely throws away ranking algos rather they add and change the important elements.

As for the backend that assembles the listings, dedupes the list, merges similar businesses that too will stay. It is being improved and enhanced but over the past year signficant investments in this technology has been made and it will not disappear.

Google is still rolling out the change so the details of how all this will work are not yet clear. But they note “If you don’t yet have a Google+ Page for your business, we encourage you to create one now. And if you do already have one, hold tight for news on how to get it linked to your local listing.”

So while some has changed, and the change is important, it is incremental change and not revolutionary change. It is a change that will hopefully engage more businesses in claiming and keeping their “place” current and one that will hopefully engage more customers with the business.

But it is not a change that will fundamentally change (at least initially) how a business is ranked in the main search results nor how listings are created and assembled.

Google’s New Mobile Search Inadvertently Removes Review Button From Places Page

Google rolled out a very slick update to their iPhone App several days ago. Its fast and essentially makes Place page content almost instantly available. Google apparently upgraded the iPhone Safari app at the same and provided a similarly fast access to the Places data.

new iPhone Google Search App

Unfortunately as you can see in the Google screen shot above, in the app, in Safari search and on some Androids, the button to review a business is missing in action. Google has indicated that they are aware of the bug and are working on a fix.

In the meantime if you are using an iPad or mobile devices to access your Places page so that client can leave reviews you are in a bit of a sticky wicket. There are two work arounds until Google fixes the issue.

To get to a page that will give users the review button you can create a url like this that will work on an iPhone or iPad:

To generate the URL with the srcid code go into the dashboard and click on View and it will generate the URL.

Another tactic is to take the regular cid link and add the “open review box” code (&dtab=2&action=openratings) to the end of the standard Place page link:

This URL will take the iPhone or iPad directly to the mobile review form rather than stopping at the Places page which might be a better solution anyways.

Google Places Updates Guidelines Updates on PO Box Policy

Google has announced in the forums that they will update the Guideline to explicitly ban the use of PO Boxes in both line 1 and 2 of the address fields.

P.O. Boxes (and their UPS equivalent) have long been banned by Google for their use in the primary street address line of a listing. This came about due to the widespread abuses in the locksmith industry a number of years ago.

However, there are many businesses in rural America that can not receive mail at their primary location and Google has allowed the use of PO Boxes in the line two address field to accommodate them. Unfortunately this was open to abuse by spammers as well (I demonstrated how this hacked worked in late 2010 with the creation of Illusory Laptop Repair).

Early on in the evolution of Google Local, Google actually encouraged the use of PO Boxes by businesses that did not have a physical local presence. However their use quickly got out of hand.

Google first added the prohibition on the use of PO Boxes in 2009 after widespread abuses of the feature to create additional locations. In late 2010, after the November 2010 guideline update, they actively began removing rejecting listings that had PO Box in their first address line. Subsequently they added a nanny bot filter in the Places Dashboard that prevented the use of the words PO Box when creating a new Places listing that gave a Term Not Allowed error if the term were used.

In February of this year, Google went through several rewrites of the Guidelines to require that internal mail stops and office suites be placed in line 2 and this practice was reinforced by Google Places Community Manager Vanessa in her video summary last week.

The announcement in the forums that they will update the Guideline seems to have preceded the actual change to the Guidelines.

Here is the evolution of the guideline from 2009 till today with the changes highlighted:

Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. PO Boxes do not count as physical locations. Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Listings submitted with P.O. Box addresses will be removed. Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a P.O. Box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your P.O. Box information in Address Line 2. Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a mail box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your mail box or suite number in Address Line 2. (No change in wording, just a change in enforcement)

Google will be emailing all businesses that still have PO Boxes in their Places listing and asking them to remove the PO Box information. If the change requires reverification by post card Google is asking that the business request assistance via the following Google Help Troubleshooter path:

Select: I tried PIN verification for a single listing ? Yes, the listing already appears owner-verified

Are you setting up a brand new Places listing?

Try creating and verifying the listing using your physical location. If you don’t meet customers at your address, make sure you hide your business location. Places may give you the option to verify by phone.

If you cannot verify using the available options, you’ll need to request a manual verification using this troubleshooter path:

Select: I tried PIN verification for a single listing ? No, I am attempting to verify my listing –> The status is not Needs Action –> Postcard –> Yes

Once you submit a request via the contact form, please give the Google Places support team up to a week to get back in touch with you via e-mail.

Note: Users with a “P.O. Box” in Address Line 1 or 2 should have received an e-mail by now explaining this policy change and next steps (via the e-mail associated with your Places account).

Basic Places Practices Update: How do you claim an owner-verified listing?

A common issue that arises in the forums is the business owner that is unable to change or enhance their listing because they no longer have access to the account that it is in, perhaps because they lost the password , the employee that had claimed the listing is no longer employed or they had a falling out with their SEO company.

It is possible to reclaim the listing and last year I provided instructions on how to do so. The instructions are accurate as far as they went but there are often complications with a listing claimed into multiple accounts. For example the Place page might display unwanted photos or categories from the previous Places Dashboard. Worse might the fact the even though you had claimed the listing, you would still not be able to comment on reviews as the system thought that the other claimant was domininant.

With Google now offering additional customer service it is possible to solve some of the quirks and issues that arise with the reclaiming process.

Here are the updated steps:

1) Go to the Places dashboard/locations page of the new account and select Add another business.

2) Enter the phone number for the existing claimed listing, select “find business information” and go through the process of editing the listing that Google displays.

3) Change as little as possible initially and be sure to keep name, address and phone number the same.

4) Google will require you to reverify but you will be the dominant controller of the listing. As the last to claim the listing most of your data will be given preference.

5) It is preferable to claim it with an email at your business domain so if there is a dispute in the future, you will be recognized as the authoritative listing holder.

Suggested Additional Steps:

6) Get in touch with Google Places support using this form:

Select: Someone else has verified the listing.

This will have the previous claimant removed and prevent the listing being reaccessed from this account. This will guarantee that the new claimant will be the account that is able to respond to review. It will also prevent the other account holder from making changes to the listing. 

If there are still unwanted photos or categories still in the listing (from the old claim) communicate back to the Google support person that helped originally via the same case number and ask them to remove them.

Google support still has a long way to go but it has made progress and at least now common problems like this can be addressed.

Google and Your Business Wrapup – May 15, 2012

Vanessa Schneider, the Community Manager for the Google Places Forum, has taken the initiative to record a video series summarizing key points that have arisen in the Google Places forums during the previous week.

(Note to Google management if you are reading this: GIVE THAT WOMAN A RAISE! She is the best thing to happen to Places since… well…since the introduction of Places.)


Key Takeaways:
-The “We currently do not support this location” bug that erroneously affected a number of listing has been squashed (see this post for details)
-Google rolled out a new Offers and Bulk Upload tools
-The Places Dashboard once again supports the use of a URL (in addition to direct upload) for showing photos
-The bug that caused some Places videos to not show has been fixed
-If you are using a suite number it should be in line 2 of the street address field

29Prime – Would you Buy a Used Car From These Guys Let Alone SEO?

This is a cautionary tale to 29Prime’s remaining 8000 clients. If this company abuses their own Google Places listing imagine what they might be doing in your name.

Let me be upfront with my bias.. 29Prime is not one of my favorite companies. And I have in the past commented on their abuse of Google Place’s reviews to hide the reality of who they really are. But reader Dave Middleton pointed out that in addition to abusing Google Places’s review policy they are also abusing the Google Places Guidelines as well by adding a tagline to their business name in their Places listing:

Their claim of having served 20,000 clients, while an abuse of Google’s guideline against tag lines in the business name, is an interesting one. Linda Buquet pointed out one of their recent PR releases where they claim to have a current client base of more than 8,000 small business owners. The article notes that they were founded in 2010 (although their website notes a start date of 2007 and the domain was claimed in 2008).

If we take their most recent word at face value (Tough I know but..) and assume (for the sake of simple calculation) a May 2010 founding we can get a sense of their churn. They have lost 6000 customers a year. It would appear that they have lost 1.5 clients for each one still claimed to  be under contract.

Still curious I wanted to see who actually owned the building that they show on their website as their presumed location so I typed their address into Google Maps to look at the Streetview of their location.

OOOPS. Turns out they violated another Places guideline and claimed their listing at the local UPS Store. The address, 2233 West Balboa Blvd # 115, Newport Beach, is the same one used in their Whois record and their website. This was no accident.

Still not convinced about 29Prime’s ethical behaviors? The image of their HQ on their website appeared to have been photoshopped so I dropped it into Google image search to see what I found.

Surprise! They seemed to be “occupying” the Unisys offices at 9701 Jeronimo RD Irvine, Ca. They may in fact be at that location occupying some space but the building most definitely isn’t labeled as 29Prime and they are but a renter. Hmm, stranger and stranger.

To any client of 29Prime: If these folks can’t get their own marketing story straight, how can you expect that they will get yours straight? They are obviously violating Google Places guidelines, run the risk of being suspended, are gathering fake reviews and are photoshopping images on their website that have one intention, to imply that they are more successful than they really are. Their churn rate is at best disturbing. They are willing to “cut corners” (to say the least) on their own marketing, can you really trust them with yours? Or will your listing end up suspended like theirs is likely to be?

Just for the record here is the image from the website and an unretouched image of the same location reflecting the actual occupant. It appears that they didn’t even take the time to take an original photograph and just used the one from the Wikipedia article on Unisys. They did appear to have adjusted the colors.

How many corners can one company cut?
Continue reading 29Prime – Would you Buy a Used Car From These Guys Let Alone SEO?

Upcoming Getlisted Local University in Syracuse

Would love to see you at our next Getlisted Local University!

May 22 – Local University: Syracuse will take place on May 22, 2012 from 8am – 12pm OR 1pm – 5pm at Driver’s Village in Cicero. Your choice of identical 4 hours sessions. Besides the regular speakers (David Mihm, Mary Bowling, Will Scott and myself) the event also  includes John Carcutt, the Director of SEO for Advance Digital and co-host of SEO 101 on WebmasterRadio.FM, Lauren Hufnal, a Bing Evangelist at Microsoft and Joel Headley the manager of Google’s Consumer Operations for Places and . If you have questions for Google about Places, Places support and policies this is your chance to have your questions answered.

Eventbrite - Local University: Syracuse If you come be sure to introduce yourself to me.

Pricing for the Syracuse event is $129 and with the discount code of MB2012 you will get a $30 discount. To register now visit our sign up page or click the button to the right.

Minor Change to Review Presentation on the Places Page

Google has changed the date information attached to a review and switched from the actual date created to a rough estimate of when it was created. The actual date is still visible if you click through to the reviewer. The change seems to create a greater visual sense of whether reviews are coming in over time.

Now if they would just fix the problem of losing reviews. I find it amazing that Google is continuing to release new local products without fixing underlying issues like the problems they have keeping track of reviews and their lack of transparency in fighting review spam…