Google Places Turns 1: What’s Working, What’s Not

Filed in Featured, Google, Local Search, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on April 22, 2011 14 Comments

birthday-cakeGoogle Places turned a year old this week, which is kinda like 10 years in Internet time. And, like many 10-year-olds, Google Places is getting to that stage between being a cute kid and a troublesome teenager. (Apologies to my 13-year-old son.)

It’s been quite a first year for Google Places — a year filled with both hits and misses. I’d love your opinions on the good and bad; first, here are mine.

Before I start, a clarification: I’m referring below to what used to be the Google Local Business Center and its associated Place Pages. The LBC became Google Places on April 19th last year; it wasn’t until October that the wider Places search changes took effect.

Google Places: The Hits

1.) Ratings and reviews via Hotpot

The biggest development in my mind over the past year has been Google’s emphasis and success with making ratings and reviews part of the Places experience. Since Hotpot launched in November, Google’s been promoting it wildly across the US and apparently to great success. Mike Blumenthal’s research suggests that Google now “owns” 20-40% of the reviews in some markets.

2.) Respond to reviews

Related to the above, Google made a nice move when it gave local business owners a tool in Places to respond to reviews.

3.) Monthly email reports

As I’ll point out below, the analytics dashboard in Google Places leaves a lot to be desired. But Google has done a pretty good job of dressing up this ugly duck in the form of a monthly email recapping the business data/activity from the prior move.

4.) Death to community editing

One of the most exasperating things about Google Places listings was that anyone could edit them! Last May, Google killed the community edit free-for-all. Hallelujah.

5.) Photo slideshows

Google has made surprisingly few feature additions/upgrades in the Places experience over the past year. One of the few additions is one that I like: photo slideshows from inside Place Pages.

Google Places: The Misses

bugs1.) Bugs, bugs, and more bugs

Is there a Google product that suffers from more bugs than Google Places? I sure hope not! I just wrote last night about missing analytics data in the dashboard, which has happened before. If you want to see how buggy Places is, browse through Mike Blumenthal’s blog archives. You’ll find more dashboard errors, lost reviews and so much more.

2.) Lack of development

As I mentioned in #5 above, there haven’t been a lot of upgrades and new features added to Google Places over the past year. Log in to your Places dashboard and it looks remarkably similar to how it did a year ago. That’s very un-Googley. And it also means that the competition has been able to get ahead of Google. Bing’s new Local Business Portal offers a number of features that should have Google quite jealous.

3.) Disappearing features

When Places was launched, Google announced five new features/pieces. It’s telling that three of those five are now dead:

  • Service areas
  • Google Tags (ads; recently killed)
  • Business photo shoots (I assume this is still happening. Anyone know?)
  • Custom QR codes (gone)
  • Favorite Places pt. 2 (dead)

4.) Analytics still lacking

Almost two years ago, I wrote that the LBC analytics data was borderline useless. It hasn’t gotten any better.

5.) Support still lacking

To Google’s credit, they’ve made some efforts in this space — like the monthly email reports that I mentioned above, along with some improved messaging in the Places system. But it’s still far from even being acceptable. There are few things in the local search space more depressing than visiting the Google Places Help forum to watch local business owners desperately flailing about, trying to find anyone who can answer a question about their Google Places listing.

Your turn: What did I miss here? What are your “hits” and “misses” regarding Google Places / business listings? The floor is open!

(stock images via, used with permission)

Comments (14)

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  1. Linda Buquet says:

    Great idea for a post and great points Matt!
    I’m going to expand hits and misses to add wishes.

    Hits – The inclusion of an image in the SERPSs after the October merged algo started.

    Misses – Nothing has been done about the huge problem of duplicates and the faulty data scraping mechanism that overwrites and changes owner verified business listings.

    This is one of the biggest reasons “local business owners desperately flailing about, trying to find anyone who can answer a question about their Google Places listing.”

    WISH #1 – Support for all. I finally got it – but wish everyone could have the benefit of my Places rep!

    WISH #2 – Fix the dupe/ scraping problems. One a listing is claimed and verified Google should not change it and add bogus outside data or keep creating dupes.

    Once a dupe is deleted by the owner, it should be black listed and not come back.

    Once a listing is RE-CLAIMED the original listing should not still have partial control over the record. (Examples: owner forgets original log in or biz changes hands. Or worse yet an unscrupulous SEO won’t release the Place page to the owner.)

    I did some detective work last night and have not posted in the GP forum about this yet, but here’s a REALLY SAD example of the last problem I mentioned.
    It’s the biz owner’s previous SEO that keeps changing his business name and site to include slanderous comments and also keeps trying to mark the business as permanently closed.

    In another case I recently blogged, about a client before coming to me, paid $1200 to his previous SEO to get him to release access to his Place page. The SEO was extorting him and threatening to ruin his Place page and ranking.

    But the dupe/merge issues that come up continuously on the forum are simply that the owner can’t change certain data or has bad merged additional data from a previous record they can’t get rid of. They have no idea the problem is due to a merged ghost dupe somewhere. Even if they find that out from a helpful volunteer, they can’t get the problem fixed, if they can’t locate the ghost dupe that still has partial control over the main listing.

    Sorry to get carried away on the duplicate and merging issues, but it seems all I do is struggle with dupe problems. Plus IMO at least 30% of the user problems on the forum are due to dupes, merging and/or bad scrapes.

  2. Andy Corp says:

    I would agree with Linda the ghost dupes and the lack of the ability to claim multiple references to the same business and simply hit the merge option is frustrating.

    On my wish list.
    1. The ability to add a phone tracking number as the main number of a listing. Yes still verify the companies main number but give the option to add a different number to call so one can track what the true value is.

    2. Have multiple logins to the same account. Just like you can share a GA account you should be able to share a places account.

    Nice post Matt

  3. Tim Evans says:

    Great post! I totally agree with Linda on the RE-CLAIMING issue. We had a local SEO company in Mansfield, TX who wouldn’t release a Place page to the rightful owner. What a mess! In fact, the SEO actually deleted the page because we wouldn’t pay their monthly fee. (Be careful who you hire to do your local search!)

  4. Randy Kirk says:

    Things have certainly settled down, and we can all be thankful for that. However, my wish list includes some very simple things:

    1. Why can’t we title the pictures and videos? Who wants to watch 5 videos at random.
    2. A 200 character description. Surely there is room in the great data base for a bit more.
    3. Is it just me or does the ranking seem to have become more random. I know we won’t be privy to the algo, but how about just a bit of direction.
    4. Certify Google Places Experts.

  5. Adam Marsh says:

    I wish I would have read Linda’s comments on dupe listing and re-claiming before I wrote my comments. I’ll save everyone time and just says I couldn’t agree with Linda more!

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Does anyone remember the 2 or 3 days in mid December that Places Analytics showed tons more info including a breakdown of mobile vs regular Maps searches? It must have just been a test, but those were some awesome 3 days.

    I wish Google would make that the standard.

  7. Lee says:

    Great post and comments – hard to believe it’s only been a year in some ways, although it seems like a whole lot more in others.

    I agree that the wild swings in rankings has been frustrating, and add that the way Google Places has handled reviews (appearing/disappearing, different sources, on-site endorsements, etc.) has been challenging too.

  8. Eric F says:

    Hi Matt – How do you sign up for Google Places monthly reports via email? Thanks!

  9. Are they still sending out the monthly statements? I have not seen mine in a while.

  10. Randy Kirk says:

    Come to think of it, me neither.

  11. Matt McGee says:

    I haven’t seen one of those emails in a while, now that you mention it.

  12. jon says:

    We claimed our business listing and it’s made our listing worse. After being stuck on review for the last two months it doesn’t even list our full profile even though it keeps encouraging us too. Our website would be on the front page for our main keyword if Google didn’t show places results first so this is rather annoying for us.

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