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?

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!

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; and was co-founder of State of Search.

28 thoughts on “Google Local Business Listings – Will it ever be fixed?

  1. Lisa: really like this post. My experience with Google “Localplaces” is fairly limited to testing – as most of our clients have no physical presence. I would consider it essential for any business with a physical presence to get established in that 7 pack. Like you say, that is a huge piece of real-estate above the fold. Kudos, for you getting your client such a prime position there, particulalrly as it is a frustrating process; which is clearly full of holes. Not only can you jack a listing (as you have been victim of first-hand;) but you can also “squat” a listing and some more stuff too.

    I can completely understand your summary position – at least if we pay for it we can demand quality, however I’m not sure that would work from a user perspective. Imagining that first screen shot on my little laptop; I would be lucky to see any non-paid listing above the fold. Surely that would be enought to make anyone go to Bing?

    Actually… hold on… Google – please start charging for Places!

  2. I think charging for local listings would be such a blow to so many businesses. As it currently stands local/places is one of the few level(ish) playing fields in google for small local businesses. One client of mine that springs to mind is the pilates consultant, as soon as local becomes paid, she may find herself having to compete against the likes of David Lloyd, just to get any Google visability at all. A move like that would make 90% of the above the fold space paid, a major move against the idea that google provide results on any sort of quality factors.

  3. Had to laugh at the Hellpizza example. Noticed a facebook fanpage appearing in the map box 2 days ago promoting an African relief organisation, for a property related search query?! The relevancy of the map results is definitely deteriorating as the days go by, well depending on the industry of course (it may have a connection to the search volumes as well around the particular search phrase as well). Seems to always happen with a new fad in search.

    May just be my dealings with map listings (which frustrate the living hell outta me), but i do find that even though they occupy a large portion of the fold in results, i haven’t seen a decrease in traffic for certain client verticals i work with for location based queries that would make me panic at this point in time if i don’t have results listed within map results. They change so often for queries, it’s like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

  4. Lisa, great post illustrating problems with google local (places, damn!). I work with SME’s and local search often presents an unmissable opportunity for them to rank for search terms they’d otherwise have no chance of appearing in the SERPs for.

    One of the main issues is the relative ease of ‘gaming’ the results; small businesses with relevant local offerings are bumped off by listings little relevance (hellpizza is a great example) and manipulated reviews. Like @SarahCarling says many small businesses wouldn’t be able to afford paid local search listings, so perhaps for these businesses their only hope is that the local algorithm, which I guess is very much in its infancy, will grow and mature in the same way it has for the regular algo (where’s the Google web spam team for local?). Otherwise, spammy local listings will erode any confidence in the quality and relevance of the Google places (I said it!) listings.

  5. Lisa,
    The HELL Pizza link is hillarious, I’ve never come across anything like that.
    What is interesting though is how quickly a new site can rank in Google local in the top positions for a few days until it dissapears and starts climbing slowly slowly. This is an old issue and I can’t believe they still haven’t fixed it.

  6. Pretty sure the answer to your question is “no,” but I’m mainly commenting to say thanks for having an iPhone-friendly version of the blog. This was a pleasure to read this morning while working out. 🙂

  7. great post, I share in your agony! I travel around giving seminars and I discuss LBL (are those now Local Place Listings?)
    I wrote similiar posts and also discussed the SMB struggles in keeping with Google and their changes

    The average SMB has no idea who to turn to and doesn’t understand why their name shows up on the Map for Norman Oklahoma Gold Buyers but not Oklahoma City Gold Buyers and are simply just mad that they don’t.

  8. My observations are that business owners are confusing what they believe are intentional hijackings with what in reality are conflating content issues. Google made some very significant changes on or around March 19th of last month. Changes to their Maps algo that has resulted in very significant, multiple and painful technical issues. Conflating is at the top of the list, an issue that has resurfaced its ugly head after they fixed alot of the very same problem 18 months ago. How about deleting a listing from a LBC account (option)only to find the entire listing was deleted from Maps altogther? And there are plenty more that I can’t even begin if only for brevity sake. I will say this from experience and as a caution. Once you begin to make adjustments and believe that you are correcting these issues, you will more than likely begin a slippery slide of cascading events that will compound whatever previous postion you are trying to recover. “Only Google can fix Google issues”.

  9. great post, I share in your agony! I travel around giving seminars and I discuss LBL (are those now Local Place Listings?)
    I wrote similiar posts and also discussed the SMB struggles in keeping with Google and their changes

    The average SMB has no idea who to turn to and doesn’t understand why their name shows up on the Map for Norman Oklahoma Gold Buyers but not Oklahoma City Gold Buyers and are simply just mad that they don’t.

  10. All very real issues, thanks for the post. And how about the added wrinkles to the local scene of the new “nearby” search in organic, “nearby” search in maps (beta), the addition of “nearby places” to place pages (generally the competition), and the new addition of the service business function where you can define your service area! Just a few new ways to rank adding a gaggle of interrelated ranking factors. None of which have any way to track next to visual wack-a-mole. All these local functions were added recently and for at least one of my clients appear to have caused profound change in their local ranking going from 7 pack to page 2 ! Making slow careful well studied adjustments on that one. It will be interesting to see the details start to come out on these additions and how they do and do not interrelate over time.

  11. This local business listings thing is truly painful – it has paralyzed any attempt to create content that ranks for anything with a local keyword. Have you seen this post by Matt McGee

    I am starting to suspect that maybe the reason google is ignoring the illegal activity going on with their business listings is that if they tried to clean up this cesspool of spam, it might imply responsibilty/liability for keeping evil out. That would be a huge legal exposure. On the other hand – if google isn’t responsible for validating and protecting the identity of these business listings, who is liable when they get hijacked and abused? Google is offering a vehicle here for the perpetration of business identity theft, which is illegal.

  12. Good post Lisa.

    I have personally had experience with stupid results Hell Pizza.

    Google services are often spread too thinly and this highlights their issues

  13. Like so many things SEO, every little bit a business owner can do for optimization can help. I’m amazed at how many of my clients simply don’t know they have this free, valuable resource they can leverage.

    But ultimately they do, and they are pleased when they start showing more often in local search results, which they all depend upon.

    Thanks for outlining these points!

  14. Lisa – I don’t have proof, but I believe that in addition to hijacking, another nefarious tactic is to “report” a business as no longer being in business.

    This happened to small business near me — at the city center, in business for many years, and currently listed in all the phone books. But they were invisible in Google since they were listed as “closed.”

  15. I’m trying to manage over 1,000 properties on Google Places. My personal opinion is that I feel like we are a major player using a tool designed for corner shops:


    ‘active’ listings are reported as ‘we have no data for this location’…
    listings have just become ‘unverified’ en masse, no reason given
    all of our listings are now dominated by external sites
    multiple services at one site…not a hope of this working

    I really don’t see why we can’t own the online representation of our business, given that we actually own the business.

    Places is an excellent idea but terrible in execution. I would actively support a model where this is rectified if larger businesses susbidise improved functionality and support via charging.

  16. Great article. I’ve been struggling with my listing getting merged, changed, lost…you name it. No support, no help, no sense. You totally feel helpless!

    Great article, keep it up.

  17. I am seeing more blended results now instead of the original pack google listed. I believe google is just testing their place listings and seeing different ways they can optimize it, like boost. It will be interesting to see what’s next?

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