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Google Starts Notifying Business Owners on Google Places Listing Changes

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Update, 14 Oct, 4:30AM EST: A few minutes before I actually post the article, Google sent emails to some of our clients notifying them that changes will occur soon. You can read more details on the contents of this email in the next post.

A few days ago I wrote about what we could expect from Google Places in the near future. Today Google announced that they will start sending notifications to the business owners when a change on their owner-verified listing occurs. While this innovation by itself is great and solves one of the most important problems in Google Places, it leaves some questions unanswered and many details unexplained.

The official article in the Google Latlong blog leaves some doubts that its authoor, Lior Ron, is not well acquainted with Google Places. He states:

Previously, verified business listings would always reflect the information provided by its owner – even if we received data about an updated name, address, or hours of operation.

This is utterly untrue, as Google tends to very frequently overwrite owner-verified data with third-party scraped or directly received data. Therefore I disagree that the next statement should really be announced as, per say, “news”:

But now, if a user provides new information about a business they know — or if our system identifies information from another source on the web that may be more recent than the data the business owner provided via Google Places — the organic listing will automatically be updated…

Probably what is actually interesting here is that, as the title of the Latlong post claims, the listing information updates could potentially happen faster. This innovation could have some negative repercussions, as data coming from third-party sources could be more inaccurate and more outdated than such coming from the verified business owner. Furthermore such potential speed up opens up an appetizing opportunity for spammers to exploit.

Well, let’s finally get to the real good news today:

…and the business owner will be sent an email notification about the change… Of course, if the business owner disagrees or has even more recent information, they can always directly log in to their Google Places account and make further edits.

Besides the fact that Google will be sending notifications, they claim that the business owner will be able to edit the updated information directly through their dashboard. This would be a brand new feature too. For now, if Google automatically updates your listing’s information as it appears in organic or maps searches, they will not update this information in your dashboard too. Hopefully we get both innovations at once, since they will solve two major problems with Google Places.

Although the article brings mostly good news, it seems to me that Googlers still do not fully understand the needs of small business owners and some of the persisting problems with Google Places. For many of the SMBs, Places is one of the most important marketing tools, not just online, but overall. Therefore, many of them keep strict track of what is happening with their organic listing and are very worried when incorrect information shows up. Furthermore, what the article claims – “we’ll take measures to keep their listing up-to-date if our system determines that the edit is accurate” cannot be entirely true, since more often than not their system associates outdated or completely irrelevant data with the business’s Place page. Hence my suggestion that I posted on the moderated forum for Google Places ideas:

Do not overwrite owner-verified data with scraped third-party data. If you find some inconsistency, send notification to the verified owner for them to approve if the third-party data is the more up-to-date one.

An idea that Google seems to have followed almost to the extent that I would have liked.

  1. Phil Rozek
    Phil Rozek10-14-2011

    Hey Nyagoslav, great catch and analysis (as usual!).

    In my opinion, this is a recipe for disaster. A few reasons:

    1. Unless Google’s “help” is a little more on the ball, so what if a business owner notices an irregularity and reports it to Google. Will Google actually do anything? I find it hard to believe that accompanying this quiet, meager change is the kind of HUGE, dramatic upgrade in “support” that we’ve all been wanting and needing.

    2. The business owners who really care about their local visibility in Google Places generally already have some means of staying abreast of the changes; they or their local-search pros usually know when something changes in their Places listing. Speaking from personal experience with my own clients, I can say that the “on-the-ball” business owners do one of two things when something changes in their Places page: (1) they take it upon themselves to fix it, or (2) they patiently pester Places “support” (sometimes they do both). Therefore, I think most of the notifications will come from the vast majority of people who’ve more or less neglected their Places page, all of a sudden realize that there’s a problem, and frantically ask Google to help. There is no way Google is prepared to handle all those people.

    3. I don’t picture Google telling business owners that, in addition to having to pay close attention to the accuracy of the “Dashboard” info, they will also need to pay attention to how they’re listed on third-party sites. After all, those and the data-aggregators are where many of the irregularities and bad data come from–and will continue to come from. Will a Google override of third-party data actually stop the inconsistencies?

    4. If Google really wanted business owners to “police” the information that’s floating around about their businesses, wouldn’t its efforts be better-placed in SCREAMING at business owners to find & claim their Places pages (or create them if they don’t exist)? I’m pretty sure that more claimed listings would mean fewer duplicates floating around, and less opportunity for bad data on third-party sites in the first place.

    I could be totally wrong, though; guess we’ll see (fingers crossed)…

  2. Nyagoslav Zhekov
    Nyagoslav Zhekov10-14-2011

    Hey Phil,
    Thanks for the great comment! I believe many of your thoughts are finding their answer in the next post :)

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