Live from SMX West: Solving Problems & Seeing Success in Google Places

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Feb 28, 2012
More Articles by Janet


Over lunch I was just discussing with my table mates how frustrating we often find Google Places — many companies still have not created Google Places entries or don’t update them as they should. So I was very interested in this session, which overs how to solve problems and get the most from your Google Places pages. With mobile searches increasing dramatically over the last year, I only see the importance of Google Places continuing to grow.

This session featured Mary Bowling of Optimized!, Joseph Henson of Search Influence, Corey Morris of emfluence and Nyagoslav Zhekov of OptiLocal.

Nyagoslav Zhekov

Nyagoslav was the first speaker and he came all the way from Yugoslavia to present. Nyagoslav covered the basics of Google Places and started by focusing on how a Google Place is created. A listing is really more like a cluster of information that comes from different information sources, such as the  Google Places for Business (created by the business owner), Yellow Pages, scraped content from other websites, and other third-party providers.

Google has to decide when it receives information whether or not to merge information into existing clusters or to create a new one based on the threshold it determines, and Nyagoslav said that Google uses some factors to determine which data will be displayed: trustworthiness of source, recentness of the data, completeness of the data and number of sources displaying the same data.

Some of the data sources for Google Places include: (see also this fascinating graphic in PDF)

  • Owner-verified business data via Google Places (most trusted)
  • Data via business directories
  • Super Pages
  • City Search
  • Yellow Pages
  • Info Group
  • Yahoo Local
  • Insider Pages
  • Niche industry websites
  • others
  • Approved user generated content
  • Scraped data

How can you prevent problems with Google Places? First, make sure your name, address and phone are consistent across the Internet. Tools like Whitespark.ca help you find local citations and sources. Yext has a local search scorecard that can tell you what is missing on certain sites. Getlisted.org is a good supplement to Yext to get additional sites that Yext doesn’t cover. Finally, BrightLocal has a local SEO checkup that is helpful as well.

Also be careful which account you use when you claim or create the listing. You may need to share the account later with others to manage the listings. Be sure to check that email account often in case the sites need to contact you, and be sure to update your listing regularly.

Lastly, make sure you follow the Google Places Quality Guidelines.

Joseph Henson

Joseph was up next and discussed auditing and organization tips for Google Places.

Why can Google Places be a problem? Typically Joseph finds that it starts with inaccurate name, address and phone. The second issue tends to be inconsistency and duplication of citations and data feeds.

So how can you start an audit? Create a map for each location. Confirm your business name – is official DBA being used? Confirm your business address. You can check this at usps.com/zip4 to make sure it’s correct. Make sure you’re using one unique, primary phone number and ideally it should be a local number as the primary number.

Then analyze your Google Places situation. Is there one owner-verified listing per location? Is it filled out with a description, website, multiple categories, photos, etc.? Are there duplicate or merged listings that still exist? Create a detailed spreadsheet for each Google Places entry to track what needs to be fixed.

Joseph also recommended Whitespark to check inconsistency and duplicated data about you. Also check the data aggregators like InfoGroup, Localeze and Acxiom for incorrect or duplicate information. InfoGroup data can be updated or added for free at expressupdateusa.com and Acxiom data can be updated through mybsusinesslistingmanager.com. Localeze requires payment to make changes.

Joseph also recommended to:

  • Keep track of all of the login information
  • Use a domain-based email if you can

If you can, use microformats to format name, address and phone on your website to make them easier to identify when crawled.

Mary Bowling

Next up was Mary who discussed resolving data issues. She started off with a case study on data cleansing. With this client, she found near-duplicate listings, some locations that were PO boxes at Mailboxes, Etc. and such, and much more. She felt it was the perfect storm of data inconsistency.

First she had the client get physical offices for mail drop locations. That took about 30 days to complete.

She, meanwhile, made sure that the company’s website had a page for each location and that the were optimized. She discovered then that the company had eight OTHER websites — also with incorrect data!

She then seeded the correct name, address and phone data through Express Update, Localeze, and Universal Business Listings. Within 1-2 weeks, new Google Places entries appeared.

The Google Places listings (both good and bad) were under multiple Google accounts. ACK. She had to create new ones under one account.

After 30 days she only had 6 accurate listings in her control. There were more duplicates from the clean up effort, but the new ones were at least more accurate. Warn clients that sometimes things must get worse before they get better.

She then reported problems to Google to update the problems. She was able, however, to update many of the problems using Google MapMaker. She said there were many auto-rejections and human editors that may have been too quick to judge edits. It was very frustrating.

After 90 days, more listings began merging, but some still existed. Overall, the most important location is ranking much better for its target, though.

Corey Morris

The lasts speaker of the session was Corey Morris who shared a case study of Houlihan’s Restaurant. It’s a national restaurant chain with 85 locations. It is split between corporate and franchise ownership.

The first challenge is that Houlihan’s must have one account with multiple people accessing it. They also needed to claim all locations, even the franchises. There was little to no support at the local level, so verifications were going to be difficult. They had no history of past centralization efforts at corporate and no idea what franchisees may have done on their own.

There were also multiple data challenges, such as building, standardizing and scaling the data. There were also going to need to be constant updates to the data, such as locations opening and closing, social media links, changing menu links and more.

The Google Places System has its challenges, including:

  • Bulk verifications can fail initially
  • Closing and removing locations
  • Duplicate listings
  • Mapping and address issues near city borders
  • Problem resolution through support on first try
  • Automated data update notices and validation

The results were:

  • Great rankings, actions and overall performance across markets
  • Maintain and troubleshoot where necessary based on feedback from:
  • Google Places dashboard
  • Corporate contact feedback
  • Franchise or location level feedback

Some other general tips that Corey shared when dealing with Google Places human support:

  • Full disclosure of who you are, what you are trying to solve, and more – the burden is on us
  • Send screenshots and visuals
  • Continue to reply to the same support email conversation
  • Be respectful, polite, persistent, yet patient
Every project has different challenges. Make sure you evaluate all possible causes before you take action — else you might create more problems. And read Google Places Forums before you contact support!

 

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