Why and How a Local Presence Can Fade (Or Disappear!) In Google Search

Today’s blog post is going to address the underbelly of local search in regards to how Google can be affected by other websites around the web. When you search for something local (i.e., a restaurant, shop, etc.) on Google, it often results in a 7-pack or integrated 7-, 5- or other pack listing. You’ve seen these local results: A through G with a map next to them. These listings can also be referred to as Google Places, Google+ Local, Google Local listings and so on. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to the listings on Google as “Google Places” since that’s probably the most familiar term. What most people don’t know is how other websites (I’ll refer to these other websites simply as listings, they’re also called citations) can affect the rank of a Google Places listing.
In order to expand Google’s local results, they’ll essentially crawl other websites around the web to create place pages. Where does Google get this info? From several sources. First off, there’s the more obvious sources such as Citysearch, Yellow Pages and Yelp. You can find the connection sometimes when you visit the Google Places page of a business, and actually see links to these other listings under “reviews from around the web”. Often these are familiar faces from Yellow Pages to Angie’s List to HealthGrades.  

Let’s dig a little deeper.  

As a business owner, sometimes you’ll notice listings (in Google Places or elsewhere) that you never created. It’s up to you to “claim” the listing to ensure accuracy. This is one way for all of these review websites to say “Hey, we found out about you from somewhere else, we took that information and posted it on our website as our own content, you better make sure it’s correct because we’re keeping it!” I guess you could say you’ve been warned.  Make no mistake, many of these sites do this. They borrow your information from somewhere else, right or wrong.

What happens if you don’t weed out the bad listings?

So, here’s a scenario: Say one of your tracking numbers pop up on an online listing. Maybe you wanted to track calls from that Yellow Page ad, or it was the number you were using at the time when you got listed with the BBB. Whatever the case, it’s the odd man out. It doesn’t match your other listings. Let’s say the name on the listing is slightly different as well — most of your listings are labeled “John’s Blue Widgets & Services, INC.,” because that’s your actual business name, but this oddball listing just says “John’s Blue Widgets.”
Here’s where it gets hairy. You’re ranking well, but one of our lovely citations sources (listings) came across this oddball data about you and used it to create a second listing for you on their website. OK, now the wrong data is in 2 places. Big deal, right? Wrong. Because this new site has a partnership with LocalEZE (now Neustar Localeze) or InfoUSA, basically just warehouses of business information. They have many other partners as well and they share their databases with these partners. A couple of weeks later, there will be 30 of these online listings, on various website listings/citations, all sharing the wrong information. Go ahead, Google it.
Now, speaking of Google, here’s where it comes full circle. Google sees this misinformation, takes it and creates a new Google Places listing for you. Wow! Great right? Wrong again bud. Now they’ve got two nearly identical listings for you, same address, slightly different name, different phone number. This is a problem because now Google thinks you might be misleading them. Regardless of how Google got the information, it’s a second listing and different from what they originally had, so you’re gonna get punished.
Rankings drop. A week goes by before anyone really notices. You decide to contact someone about it. They need a week to decipher the cause, find the root and plan the right course of action. And when the fix is implemented, there’s no guarantee (as with any algorithmic listing) that you’re going to get back to your #1 or #2 ranking position. If you do get your original ranking back, even that could take a while — heck, you’ve been flagged. You need to redeem yourself with time and good behavior. Some positive reviews might help, but first and foremost, you have to perform the tedious task of hunting down every listing, every source you can find to claim, correct, merge or delete, and repeat.
Now is the above scenario the only way a Google Places Listing can be compromised? No. However it does create one of the ugliest situations to clean up. Other things to stay away from include trying put keywords in your business title, using a P.O. Box address (or any fake address), using tracking numbers instead of your main local phone number and posting a lot of fake reviews (among other items). At the end of the day, consistency and truthfulness are the key.
Most people will never experience this issue. But, yes, it does happen. Worst case scenario in this circumstance, your business (Name, Address, Phone number) will be flagged and essentially in purgatory, probably not to come back for a long, long time. Sounds grim, huh? Well hey, we’ve been there, done that and we can probably keep you from this grim path or at least help you come back.
Good luck out there!