Google’s Favorite Places Discriminates Against Some Local Businesses

Filed in Google, Local Search by Matt McGee on December 9, 2009 19 Comments


That’s one of my recent tweets, inspired by seeing early reports of local businesses getting their “Favorite Place” decals from Google. It’s also inspired, I suppose, by a bit of envy … because my wife, a real estate agent, is probably not going to be honored like these other local business owners are. In fact, I doubt very many real estate agents will be honored, nor plumbers, nor any local business that attracts phone calls more than in-person store visits.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the “Favorite Places” program is a pretty smart idea on Google’s part, and as I said in this post about Google PlaceRank, I think it’s a Good Thing for local businesses to show off those decals prominently. But the problem is with…

How to Become a Favorite Place

Google’s help pages describe how to become a favorite place:

“The list was determined based on the popularity of a business’ Local Business Center listing, as determined by how many times Google users looked for more information about a business, requested driving directions to get there, and more. Google users “decided” based on their actions, and we sent the decals.”

And there’s the problem: It’s all based on how Google users interact with the Local Business Center listing. But some local businesses are very limited in that. You don’t usually need directions to:

  • real estate agents
  • fence installers/repair companies
  • plumbers
  • roofers
  • construction companies
  • appliance repair shops
  • carpet cleaners
  • janitorial services
  • landscapers
  • snow removal companies
  • many more

People won’t click for directions for those local businesses, and they may not click on anything. They’ll just pick up the phone and place a call, and Google has no record of that (for now, at least).

A Real Estate Agent Example

As I say, I happen to know a local real estate agent pretty well and have access to her Local Business Center stats. Here’s what they look like as of an hour ago:

(Sorry for blacking out some numbers; there are other local real estate agents who read this blog and I don’t think they need to know Cari’s exact LBC stats.)


That covers May 1, 2009 (when Google began storing this data) through December 7, 2009. Cari’s LBC listing has impressions that are in 5-figures (i.e., above 10,000). The number of actions is 3-figures. But in more than six months, only four times has someone clicked for directions. Four times.

Final Thoughts

As it stands now, Google’s program is biased toward local businesses that need foot traffic to survive. Maybe a rethink on the qualifications is in order, or perhaps a separate designation for local businesses that rely on phone calls more than clicks for driving directions.

No one ever said marketing is fair, and I know the playing field is never really level … but it sure would be nice for all small businesses to have a shot at getting Google’s blessing as a “Favorite Place.”

Comments (19)

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  1. Jason Hyman says:

    I wrote something similar this afternoon. let me know your thoughts.

  2. Stever says:

    This is just another example of Google’s fundamental view of local and where Maps fit into that. They place too much emphasis on physical location as though the spot on the ground is all that matters.

    Service based industries, where the business goes to the customer, gets the short end of the stick again and again. Contractors who work out of service vehicles but must use a home address as business location, but maybe they live on the outskirts of town. Some of whom are not comfortable using home addresses must use some other form of virtual address, but are not allowed to use PO Boxes. Others that actually have an office with shop or storage area but again are way out on the outskirts of town because they are located in an industrial park where those industries have traditionally set up shop.

    These businesses are commonly located just outside major metro’s because their need for space for extra vehicles and a shop to store equipment, tools and repair things, makes doing so deeper in the city prohibitive where rents are higher and sprawling space is hard to find. Also being out on the outskirts puts them within easy reach of the major highway networks so they can easily reach into and around the city wherever the job may take them. So we see contractors either setting up in industrial parks outside of the city or at home in rural areas where they have a bigger yard and a large garage, which you can’t easily get in the city.

    Meanwhile national lead generating companies and national chains are setting up hundreds, in some cases thousands, of virtual (fake) locations inside cities across the country to get rankings in Maps not having to worry too much that people will notice they are not actually located there, because in those industries people don’t show up at the business location. So the local guy, who’s not local in the eyes of an algorithm that cannot see beyond a point on the ground, is getting forced to play the fake location game or not play at all.

    I’m getting off track on the Favorite Places theme of the post here, which I do think is a cool program, but I also feel it’s related to Google’s over emphasis on point based locations.

  3. Jason Hyman says:

    @stever I agree totally. I briefly touched on some criteria to appear on the map.

  4. Brian Combs says:


    You’re making an assumption that a lack of driving direction requests can’t be overcome by other factors. You may be correct, but I don’t think we really know that for sure yet.

  5. Aaron Weiche says:

    Matt- Some of your thoughts here were the sames as my first reactions. Down to the fact my wife is also a Realtor!

    I REALLY like the introduction of this and see great value in the mesh of real life, web and mobile.

    That said, my biggest hope is that this first 100k of invites/place is just to test the waters and work out the kinks. Opening this up to any business that wants to take the time to apply or request it would be a great idea. If G can get past being the “selector” and just be the utility, I strongly applaud it.

  6. Matt,

    Add to the list of those who feel like chopped liver: consultants.

    My phone barely rings anymore unless I’ve scheduled client phone meetings — everyone emails.

  7. William says:

    You seem to be missing the point of this promotion. Businesses that are selected as Favorites are mailed a Google sticker containing a QR code that visitors can scan. If no visitors come to your location, how does the business benefit by displaying a QR code? How would that code send traffic to Google? Why should Google send a code, intended for use by visitors, to a place that by your admission does not get visitors?

  8. Matt McGee says:

    Thx for the comment, William, but you seem to be missing the point I’m making. I don’t care about the QR code. Maybe 1 in 100 people walking down Main Street USA will have the right smartphone with the right OS with the right barcode software for the QR code to have any benefit whatsoever.

    The real benefit, today, is just the ability to market yourself as a business that Google loves. It’s instant credibility. And by using metrics that favor certain types of small businesses, Google is effectively shutting out many/most service-based small businesses. THAT is the point I’m making here — Favorite Places is a cool idea, but it discriminates against a lot of small businesses that don’t operate under the idea of a “place” of business. That’s why I said at the end that it would be nice for them to rethink the qualifications, or come up with some new designation that’s open to all small businesses.

  9. Ryan says:

    From Twitter:

    @colberding: Google listed Station Four as a favorite place and sent us a window decal with a unique barcode for mobiles. Now we just need windows. #s4

  10. Mark Oliver says:

    Locality Search for some businesses is all about the customer finding the product exactly from the address where it is sold. Then location is everything. Restaurants, Petrol Stations, Accommodation, Dry Cleaning, etc. I don’t think developing a program for that niche should be seen to discount business that deliver services. It’s just different and very useful to both client and business.

    But, how does Google determine how to distribute Favorite Places Placards? You would have to assume this is an active experiment. When it works, everyone will be able to apply to get one. I wouldn’t worry if this month a real estate agent doesn’t get one because the clients are not interacting in the right way. That will sort itself out.

    The bigger worry is about reputation management. I find it interesting that when you read most reviews they are very positive, but the customer forgot to tick the stars. A good review then looks like a bad review when weighed up across an aggregate total.

    Some how Google must get better quality processes to manage reviews.

    BTW: Has it ever been determined whether posting a negative review could be an act of slander that would end up with a court settlement for damages?

  11. Stever says:

    @Mark, You may have heard of the case in New Zealand, right next to you, where a business owner may be facing 7 years of jail time for altering information in competitors Maps listings

    Earlier this year a company in New York paid a $300,000 court settlement for leaving fake positive reviews about itself in many places all over the web.

    I see slanderous negative reviews being left by competitors in many industries and if it has not happened yet it’s only a matter of time before there are court cases over those kinds of activities.

  12. John Preher says:

    Well I own a TV repair shop, and I do mostly in home service, only about 30-40 people a year come by my shop, because I have no store front for customers, all techs go out to the home. We still managed to become a favorite place on google and get our window decal.

    • Matt McGee says:

      That’s great to hear, John — congrats, too. I’ve heard stories of a couple other service-based businesses getting the decals, too, despite limited need for users to click for directions, etc. Leads me to believe there’s more to the grading/scoring than what Google has shared.

  13. John Preher says:

    Thanks Matt, I was really shocked actually, but thought it was pretty cool to get one.

  14. Chris Ruoff says:

    One of my customers, an Attorney in Austin, TX, received the package from Google favorite places.

    It came with a letter and the plastic display sticker…

    In the letter it said that between July 1 and September 30 Google users found your business online 853 times!

    We like the recognition.

  15. Don says:

    Although it is hardly fair… it is hard to see it as discrimination… I am sure it will improve like most Google functions.

  16. Thos003 says:

    Was researching why they switched from google business center to google places. Perhaps you are correct in saying they are putting too much emphasis on the piece of dirt the business stands on rather than the business itself. I do have to debunk one of your myths in that I work for a pest control company that received a “Google Favorite Place” decal. So there is hope for service companies to get them. But it makes it a lot easier to get a favorite place if you have 10,000 plus customers in your market. We get most of our web traffic from searches by name, “Bulwark”.

    But I have still be extremely bothered by google ignoring the fact that we are a service company that goes to the customer’s homes. So in areas where our physical address isn’t in the major metro we won’t show up for the metro search. Seriously google! Let’s take Charlotte NC for example. About 10,000 customers. Over 100 reviews on google maps, and we don’t show up for Charlotte Pest Control because our address is in Mathews?

    At least Yahoo shows results for locations not within the city proper but within the metro area.

    They did add a “Service Area” section for business listings, but for what? A little tag on your profile that outlines your area.

    And yet I still use google… Not sure what is worse, the abuse or me going back to them.

    I’m just a Pest Control Guy

  17. Matt McGee says:

    Thomas – curious to know if the Favorite Place decal you got has helped business at all? Do people care? Do they notice? How have you used it for marketing, if at all?

  18. Caroline says:

    Google dropped our listing from the letter-named lineup, where we had appeared often as A or B in our city, as we had a PO Box. A few years ago, Google had finally allowed small businesses that worked out of the home to “opt out” of having to post their addresses by checking a box. (From what I remember, they were one of the last listings to do this.) Now they have reversed that action, and our business cannot be found at all in the grouping. This has happened to many small businesses who have a PO Box or a home address. I have been paying for a PO Box because of listings like Google.

    Once your business is “out of the lineup”, especially from Google, businesses are often ignored by many. This is hurting small businesses that have to advertise online.

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