Google Local Business Listings – Will it ever be fixed?

If you “follow me” and read my blogposts (rants) you might have noticed I seem to have gotten myself into a “ranting niche” with Google Local Business Listings, and today when sitting down to write a blogpost it’s yet again Google Local that I have “a bone to pick” with.

Google Local Business Listings is Going Places (see what I did there)
First of all,  it’s now officially not called Google Local Business listings anymore, nope, it’s called Google Places.  Yep that’s right “great” name change. But if your read the linked article it’s also some new functionalities with this re-branding, albeit slightly boring updates.

In the last 6 months I’ve taken a particular interest in Google Local (damn it, it’s going to take some doing getting used to calling it “Google Places”), one of the reasons my interest has grown is admitately, entirely selfish. One of my largest clients (a hotel chain) are ideal candidates for local business listings. It was about last July we started optimising their local business listings and we saw immense growth, not just in traffic but in actual conversions. This has now become a central part of their search marketing strategy, in fact it’s kind of changed our the entire initial strategy. Local has been a goldmine for relevant traffic for this client and the focus has been turned to primarily local.

And no wonder, if you think about it, local listings now take up a good chunk of the natural/organic results. In fact, I would say you rarely get anything less than a 7 pack local result. According to my approximate calculations a “7 pack” local result on top of the organic equates to 25% of the total natural results space. Then, take into account the approx calculations that 80% of the clicks goes to the top 3 listings in organic (I’m not counting PPC  on this), doesn’t it then make you think it might not be much point in spending time in optimising for organic if the search term triggers local ?

Yet loads of SEOs don’t know how local business listings work and don’t take it into account when they do keyword research. As a side note, I would say to all of you, when doing keyword research, ALWAYS make a note of any terms that triggers local and at least consider adjusting your strategy accordingly. Saying that, isn’t it amazing that local results, although in such a prominent place, has no “real” support and more importantly has so MANY issues and cracks?  If it was a cup it would look like this:

In the last 6 months I have discovered (like so many others like me) countless number of issues with the local business algorithm and set up. And for your reading pleasure I thought I would have a little sum up a few of the more prominent issues:

Hijacking Issues
In January this year, we at Verve Search experienced a BIG problem with our client’s local business listings, where in fact their listing (which was pretty much ranking number 1 in every hotel orientated local search) had been hijacked and merged with some dodgy affiliates.  Which meant that this affiliate website was replacing us in the listings (all those number 1 placements) and was raking in the visits. Obviously I kicked off and wrote a blogpost on the hijacking issue and eventually got it fixed. BUT disturbingly enough I am still getting reports from people that this “hole” in the “claiming your listing” process is still very much there and loads of businesses are still getting their listings hijacked.

Tracking Issues
Even though Google Places (see I got there in the end) is a Google property it doesn’t get picked up in your Google Analytics (that would be too logical) and although they offer separate reporting in the local business account this just isn’t good enough in my opinion. It’s pretty much a no brainer that Marketers and site owners would want to know where their traffic came from, and which keywords generated the traffic. I want to know the difference between my local and organic traffic god damn it. But as we soon discovered if we wanted to track the local results we had to figure it out ourselves, with a little help from our friends.

Irrelevant Results
I have so many examples of this it’s crazy, the local algorithm seem to have an association problem and randomly puts in irrelevant listings such as this one, hmm first of all you might ask who would order pizza from “Hell”, but if you look closer you can see that this is the result for “courier London”, must be some association between delivering pizzas and couriers, but not a very accurate association I would argue:

Merging Issues
Now this one is super annoying. As most of you know one of the key algorithmically points for local is address and postcode. Now imagine this: You have several businesses under the same umbrella brand, although they each have their own brand as well, they are all based at the same address. In our example; a hotel, a restaurant and a bar. But there is no way in hell (mmm pizza) you can get these as separate listings in Google Local, as when you try they will randomly merge with eachother and sporadically give you the “Title” of the hotel but then maybe the URL of the restaurant and so on. We have been through every possible different combination to get all the listings live (separate accounts, separate domains, you name it!) but they still merge. Google why the heck can’t you have the same address and phone number (central booking) for two different businesses, agh.

2 weeks waiting for amends to be live
This time last year it usually took 2 days, tops, to get changed amended in your listings, now it takes at least 2 weeks to get changes live, although this seem to depend on industry, as our hotel client doesn’t take long for changes but a client in the courier industry takes ages. These prolonged times waiting for changes to take affect make testing and optimisation a freaking nightmare. Do they have granny bots doing the local crawling?

Support
As with most free products (like  Google Analytics) there is no official support for Google Local/Places, with the exception of their brand new online help section, and you could of course raise a thread on the official forum, but the chance of you getting an actual solution to one of the above problems by adding on the forum is rather slim. In fact you probably have a greater chance of getting hold of the pope. The only real chance of getting actual help is if you a) know someone at Google b) you kick up a stinker online c) there are enough of you complaining about the same problem to warrant anyone to actually have a look at it. And that’s only if it’s something they could actually change algorithmically. Option a) and b) is likely just to get your particular case fixed and the actual issue is likely to reoccur.


After going through all these issues you are probably thinking; “what’s the point of even trying out Google Places”, but I do (amazingly) still believe  you can generate significant relevant traffic, and the more of us that get involved and care, the bigger the army of people saying “hang on Google, don’t be so freaking lazy, sort out these basic faults will ya!!!”

Although, I have been told that I’m apparently “naive” for thinking Google would take note, no matter how much we complain. As I was in New York last month (for SES) I met up with David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal (both exceptionally brilliant Google local experts) for a Google Local chinwag, and Mike was adamant Google wouldn’t change their ways. A few hours later I did a Webmaster Radio show with Bas and a few other SEOs and the discussion once again went down the path of Google local. A few suggested that the only way it would ever change (and Google would take note of the quality of the local listings) was when (not if) they start charging for the listings. And most of us agreed the likelihood of the charging model being introduced to local is rather high (in fact with the launch of Google Places they have already introduced “enhanced listings“), and part of me is  hoping that a charging model will become reality, at least then we can demand quality!

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About Lisa Myers

Lisa Myers runs her own SEO & Social Media Agency; Verve Search based in London (UK). She is also founder of the SEO blog; SEO-Chicks.com and was co-founder of State of Search.