As Google Updates Places, Could Some Merchants Find Their Listings Deleted?

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Last week, news reports told of a somewhat alarming email sent to certain local businesses with claimed Google listings:

Due to changes in Google Maps, we’d like to inform you that unless you review and confirm the information in your Google Places account, we will no longer be able to keep and show it to Google users after February 21, 2014.

As a result, on this date your listing “Pet Friends” may be deleted.

If you wish to keep your listing active, follow these three easy steps:

1.        Log in to your Google Places account
2.        Review and update your information
3.        Click the “Submit” button

The Google Places Team

The first thing to note about this message is that, despite initial indications to the contrary, it appears to be isolated for the time being to certain Google Places listings in Australia. Commentators on the Catalyst Marketing Local Search Forum have suggested that Google is attempting to clean up poor quality listings from third party sources in Australia by asking businesses to verify that their information is correct.

But it bears mentioning that, for the average business owner, such messages may present a significant challenge. If you don’t often check the email account associated with your Google listing, or if the message from Google ended up in your spam folder, you might not know that any action on your part is required. It’s troubling to think that this approach would be acceptable protocol for the Google Places team.

According to Google Business Community Manager Jade Wang, missing out on the February 21 deadline likely means the business has to repeat the phone or mail PIN verification process. In her responses on the Google and Your Business support forum on February 5, she wrote, in part:

We are making some changes to Google Places for Business and Google Maps so we can continue providing people with the best experience when they’re looking for local businesses. As part of this process, we’re asking business owners to review and confirm some of the information in their Google Places accounts so we can keep showing it to Google users. We know this will be a few extra steps for merchants, and we apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your time.

We have sent business owners affected by these changes an email entitled “Action Required: You have 3 weeks to save your Google Places Listing”.

If you did receive this email, don’t worry. Please log into Places for Business, take a look at your business information, update it if necessary, and click “Submit.” You’ll need to do this for all listings in your account by February 21, 2014, so they can stay on Google Maps. Otherwise, you’ll need to add your business information and undergo PIN verification using Google Places again.

Google’s email and Jade Wang’s message both suggest that listings may be deleted if no action is taken, which seems especially punitive unless the search company is taking care to send multiple notices, allow plenty of lead time, and reach out through various channels. I’ve seen no evidence that they are doing so. Moreover, Wang implies that other business listings in the same account may be removed along with whatever listing was originally flagged. Given that one’s Google listing often represents a major source of new customer contacts, deleted listings could have a major impact on a business’s bottom line.

This is one more occurrence that underlines the value of listing management services, as with the hotel hijacking case I wrote about a few weeks back. Local SEO consultants and service providers offer businesses the peace of mind that comes with knowing someone is watching the forums and industry news in order to act on policy changes and new developments quickly. Given the complexity of local SEO and the fast pace of change, it’s unreasonable to place the onus for listing management solely on the small business owner.

So too, this development speaks to the missed opportunity on Google’s part for simplifying and clarifying the listing management process. Some smaller companies like Merchant Circle seem far better organized when it comes to presenting a unified set of services with far fewer seismic upheavals like the rocky, fragmented transition from Google Places to Google Plus.

Of course, Google is playing to several important constituent groups, chief among them the users of mobile and desktop Maps, who demand a high level of accuracy and usability. If the company feels it must sacrifice the interests of the business owner to preserve the utility of Maps, it will.

But this is a false dilemma; in fact, the interests of business owners can be made to line up with those of ordinary users and with Google’s own interests. Mike Blumenthal predicted several months back that Google’s motivation to clean up its local platform would arise from the desire to sell paid products to local businesses. That’s a practical rationale Google should probably take seriously.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi. SOCi is the leading CoMarketing Cloud for multi-location enterprises. They empower nearly 1,000 brands to automate and scale their marketing efforts across all locations and digital channels.