If you're a small business owner and at least somewhat savvy to SEO, you've already claimed your company's Google Places listing. It's great that you've increased your visibility, but unfortunately you're not done. Thanks to black hat SEOs and nasty rivals, you now have to guard that listing.
Miriam Ellis explains the latest nasty business involving Google Places for her readers at Search Engine Guide. Basically, what happens is that competitors, often using sock puppet accounts, report through Google Places that a business is closed when in fact it isn't. Since Google apparently doesn't email the person who owns a verified business when it receives a report that the business is closed, your business could be reported closed by Google Places and you wouldn't even know it.
What makes it worse is that it doesn't take very many reports to close a business. Mike Blumenthal performed an experiment to determine how many closure reports it would take. The answer was two – even if you were Google. He used that many to successfully close “Google Mt. View” for a time.
Google is caught in something of a bind over this. Deanna Yick, Manager, Corporate Communications at Google, noted that “Every year, thousands of businesses open, close, move, change their hours, get a new website, or make other types of changes. We can't be on the ground in every city and town, so we enable our great community of users to let use know when sometning needs to be updated...we're aware that abuse – such as 'place closed' spam reports – can become an issue, and we're working on improvements to the system to prevent any malicious or incorrect edits.” It's true that Google Places displays UI messages that allow users to mark reports of businesses being closed as untrue, but that may not be enough.
Ellis thinks that any report of a business being closed should trigger an automatic email to the owner of the business, asking them to tell Google whether their business is open or closed. If Google receives no reply after a reasonable period of time has passed, they can proceed – but a reply from the owner stating that the business is open should lead Google to perform a manual review of the accounts that reported the business closed.
Unfortunately, Google isn't doing that – at least, not yet. So what can a local business owner or SEO do? Any SEO on retainer with local businesses as clients should be regularly checking their clients' Google Places listing for false closure reports. A responsible SEO should also tell their clients to check their own Google Places listing at least once a month after the completion of the SEO contract. This is one situation in which you need to be proactive; nobody else is going to do it for you. Good luck!
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