September 7, 2011
Business Closings On Google Places Not Always Correct
Google Places, the online leviathan´s version of the yellow pages, allows users to find businesses locally using devices such as smartphones. A Google Places listing contains the business' address, a description of the business provided by the owner, and links to photos, reviews and Google Maps.
Another feature is the ability to report problems with the business, and one of the options is to report the business with choices such as “this place is permanently closed.” Users can click on “reportedly closed”, then after Google reviews the problem they report the business as “permanently closed”.
Like any other site on the internet, this feature can be abused. The New York Times reports that the site contains millions of listings, and when owners close without updating their profile it is up to the customers to update the current information. However, some search engine consultants are reporting that unscrupulous competitors may be intentionally “closing” their competition on Google Places.
Linda Buquet of Catalyst eMarketing in San Marcos, CA told the New York Times, “I´d say it was in June that we started to see a big uptick in complaints about this in online forums. It might be that a number of consultants are now offering services like ℠nuke your competitor´ in Google Places. But it could just be a competitor, acting alone.”
The New York Times reports about a bed and breakfast in Naalehu, HI, Macadamia Meadows Farm, that was tagged as permanently closed. The owner, Charlene Cowan, told the Times, “For weeks, our bookings for September have been far lower than normal and we were wondering why. I can´t imagine a customer is behind this – if someone doesn´t like their visit here, they´d complain on TripAdvisor. I can´t prove it, but this seems like something a competitor did.”
To show how easy and ridiculous it is to “close” somebody´s business, blogger and search consultant Mike Blumenthal “closed” Google´s Mountain View, CA headquarters. Google was briefly reported as being closed. Mr. Blumenthal posted a screen shot of Google´s Places page as being “reportedly closed”, he said it only took two people to close the business, he and a friend.
Techland notes that Google doesn´t offer much recourse in settling the issue of a “closed” business. Businesses are only able to contact Google about their problems through online forums or web forms. Does it take an uproar in the blogosphere or an unflattering article in the Times to solve online problems?
Google has since updated their closing policy by sending email alerts to the reported owner of the change of status. Mr. Blumenthal told the Times, “The company really ought to give a heads-up when a business is tagged ℠reportedly closed. Google Doesn´t understand how much fear and discomfort businesses have about this. One company gets to decide if you´re open or closed in the online world.”
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