Google is coming ever closer to world domination daily, so it’s not a far-fetched question: Can Google force your business to close? The answer is no, but a glitch in the Google Places system does make it seem that way. Google Places is an incredibly important tool for businesses, especially for those looking to target local audiences and turn them into customers.
Imagine spending a great deal of time, effort and money trying to optimize your business’s Google Places page, only to have someone else come in and maliciously report it as closed? On top of that, imagine weeks down the line having tried to unsuccessfully to correct the issue, only to have Google fumble with a solution that hasn’t helped you?
So, What’s Going on With Google Places?
Since last week, we have been hearing chatter and reading articles about a kind of sabotage: people going into Google Places and marking businesses as closed on their listings. In reality, many of these businesses are local and small companies that are open and likely losing potential customers due to this vulnerability in the Places system.
And just like when JC Penney was (allegedly) gaming the system, the New York Times was the media outlet to call attention to this disturbing new mode of spamming. One of the more interesting, notable parts of my experience when reading the article about this was the following:
An ad for Google Places adorns a New York Times article about issues with Places. This is truly irony at its finest.
Now to get down to the serious problem here. A Google Places listing can be vital to the success of a small business, and if that listing says “closed,” it can be incredibly detrimental to those businesses that might rely on local traffic.
Talking about one small coffee shop owner whose business was listed as closed on Google Places in his article for the New York Times, David Segal writes: “During that time, anyone searching for a latte on a smartphone, for instance, would have assumed the store was a goner.” He continues, “In recent months, plenty of perfectly healthy businesses across the county have expired – sometimes for hours, other times for weeks – though only in the online realm cataloged and curated by Google. The reason is that it is surprisingly easy to report a business as closed in Google Places, the search giant’s version of the local yellow pages.”
If you go to the bottom of a Places page, you can go to “Edit this place” and then report a problem, and mark as “permanently closed.” After that, it is seemingly up to Google to decide if you are correct. For closed businesses on Places, there is a place to report “not true” – but this could take weeks to months to be processed and changed on Places. This can be difficult and frustrating for local business owners who rely on these listings to bring in enough customers to keep their businesses afloat.
Segal goes on to explain what might be causing this recent trouble: “Search engine consultants say that “closing” a business on Google has become an increasingly common tactic among unscrupulous competitors.” He also notes that there are numerous reports on Google Help forums from small business owners who are feeling the effects of this recent issue. There are also likely people who haven’t even noticed the problem yet, he adds, as well as people who have fixed it themselves without reporting it to anyone.
Google itself became subject to the “closed” treatment when blogger Mike Blumenthal (with the help of only one friend) was able to report the search engine’s Mountain View headquarters as closed. Likely because of Blumenthal’s efforts, Google now emails those businesses whose doors have been reported as permanently shut. However, the New York Times article points out that even with this change, some of the business owners originally affected are still trying to reopen their virtual doors.
In addition to changing the system in late August so that an email is sent to the business owner when the Place is reported as closed, Google has also released the following statement on Tuesday, September 6th via its Lat Long Blog (in response to the New York Times article):
“About two weeks ago, news in the blogosphere made us aware that abuse –such as “place closed” spam labels—was occurring. And since then, we’ve been working on improvements to the system to prevent any malicious or incorrect labeling. These improvements will be implemented in the coming days. We know that accurate listings on Google Maps are an important tool for many business owners. We take reports of spam and abuse very seriously and do our best to ensure the accuracy of a listing before updating it.”
Hopefully, sooner rather than later, small and local businesses who have been affected by this new wave of competitor spamming will again see the multifaceted benefits that can come with an effective Google Places listing. These recent spamming incidents highlight the downside of a user-driven search engine; however, in an effort to make the web a better, faster and more convenient place for businesses and consumers alike, I’m sure Google will get on this problem and fix it as soon as is humanly (or Googlebot-ly) possible.
For any questions about Google Places, SEO, Google Places optimization, or anything else related to the interactive marketing space, please continue to visit our blog for daily posts about the goings on in the marketing and Search Engine Optimization worlds. For more specific questions related to your business, contact our Atlanta SEO Agency at 770-481-1766 .