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September 7, 2011

Who’s Manning the Store: Securing Your Google Places Page

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In real estate they say that location is everything, which is true to a large extent. But the same also applies to digital space. That’s why there’s such thing as a search engine marketing industry. Location gets you seen, location can make you money, and location will make competitors desperate. In the case of Google Places, having a business catalogued as permanently closed can mean the loss of loyal customers, online traffic and revenue, much-needed revenue, in today’s economy.

Recently, fraudulent closings on Google Places have become  a commonplace tactic employed by business competitors, and it turns out it’s rather easy to do. On a Google Places listing, you’ll find basic business information: name, address, hours of operation, reviews, etc. At the bottom of the listing, there is a link to “Report a problem.” From there, you can report that a business is permanently closed, which for all intents and purposes, serves as an important function. What is being discovered is that if enough people report a business as being “permanently closed”, the business is closed, in an online sense of the word.

Same Tune, Different Lyrics: The Continuous War on Spam

google places logo

This is search engine manipulation, plain and simple, which seems to be the old and worthy adversary in Google’s war on spam. Fraudulent closing is just the new byproduct of that war, and relevance is once again the collateral damage. Except this time, the stakes are higher because there is a convergence between real and digital space. If a business is digitally closed, the perception of that business being closed heavily outweighs the truth.

Google apparently has a review process to oversee the presence of permanent business closures within its services, but is mum on exactly how that process works. Still Google has little to no safeguards for businesses to fend off acts of economic sabotage, with the exception of a “not true” button that appears. Is that enough protection? The simple truth is “no,” but Google is aware of the issue and will be implementing changes to Google Maps in the coming days.

Underestimated Malice: How Crowdsourcing Can Work Against You

Suffice it to say, Google has a lot of faith in the online community as being an honest and decent citizenry, but crowdsourcing walks a fine line.

I suppose it’s a good thing that Google believes in your inherent goodness, which is akin to their company culture that stresses don’t be evil.

This strength has become Google’s liability in this case, where Google depends too much on the crowd to provide content for others.

This is not to say that Google has misplaced faith in the crowd, Google just underestimates its malice, as is evidenced by reports fraudulent closings.

I’m not trying to make a blanket statement about unfair, unethical business practices or the competitive nature of e-commerce, let alone commerce in general. It’s not wholly about that. From an SEO perspective, the larger statement encompasses the ethics of using a loophole in Google Places to gain advantage over other businesses and their websites. Spam labeling not only has a detrimental effect on Google’s ability to deliver current and accurate information to users, it affects businesses, patrons and the relevance Google Places provides.

The Best Offense is a Good Defense: Fortifying Your Google Places Page

Here are a few takeaways to ensure your Google Places page is not only protected, but it is working to the betterment of your business. Regardless of the spam labelling, these are some good best practices to always use when optimizing your websites.

  • Lock It Down:  If you haven’t yet claimed your Google Places page for your business, my advice is to do so, and fast. This will ensure that your competition cannot make unauthorized changes to your page with fictitious information. And it’s free. If you already have a listing that hasn’t validated ownership yet, you can do so by going to your Places page > top right-hand corner > link that says “business owner?” > follow steps to validate ownership.
  • Optimize: Your listing should be in tip-top shape with all the pertinent content relevant to your business’ website because Google Places listings appear in organic search results. Here are some useful Google Places optimization tips.
  • Be Active: Engage with the online community. Google Places isn’t just a place for the basic information. Use Google Places as a “megaphone” for your business by posting new and exciting products, and other announcements. Being an active member is an excellent fraud deterrent.
  • Read Your Email: If by chance your business is reported closed, Google will try to verify with you that your business is, in fact, closed. Google will “permanently close” your business if you don’t respond.




2 responses to “Who’s Manning the Store: Securing Your Google Places Page”

  1. Nick Stamoulis writes:

    Local search is becoming increasingly important so it’s necessary to create and monitor local search profiles. Unfortunately, the way that they are set up does set them up to be easy targets for hackers. That’s why you can’t just “set it and forget it”. Great tip that you need to read your email. So many people miss important messages just because they didn’t take the time to open their email.

  2. Dave Fogel writes:

    Good info. I still have problems with Google Places keeping my old address on file. So now I show in 2 locations, which is a big pain. I even talked to them on the phone about it… and it is still there. Oh well. My old location is actually better for me on google places.



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