With the transition from Google Maps (aka Google Local) to Google Places, we saw a few changes in the way business listings are presented and administrated. Some of these features include stats reporting directly on the dashboard page, the ability to define a service area for businesses that serve customers outside of their own office and adding custom anchor text links to business listings. The new feature I want to focus on today is the new way in which rejected listings are handled.
There is now an alerts summary at the top of the page which indicates if any of your business listings require some sort of action. The most common type of alerts will probably be PIN verification and rejected listings. For anyone who has been working on Google local business listings for a while, the rules outlined in the Google Places guidelines are well known. It is also well known that Google has historically not been a strict enforcer of those rules. Well, it looks like those days are about to change. More specifically, I have noticed that business listings with keywords in the Business Name field are now getting rejected even if they’ve been active for months or even years. It’s a good step forward for Google’s continuing efforts at reducing Map Spam.
If you’ve had rejecting listings in the past, you might notice that while this looks familiar there is something new here too. In the past, if you had a rejected listing you had to delete it and create a new one. Now, there is an Edit link so that you could adjust the listing to fit within the Quality Guidelines. Once the offending parts are deleted or edited, the listing is reviewed and goes live again. Actually I’m not exactly sure if it gets reviewed manually by a real person, but I have seen a lag of a few hours between editing the listing and seeing it live again. So I can only assume that someone takes a look at it. The problem, of course, is that we are not told which part of the listing violates the Quality Guidelines. I understand the reasoning behind this – if the violations were clearly disclosed, it would be too easy to test the limits and figure out the best strategy for walking the line between having a slightly spammy listing and having a rejected listing. Since spammy listings often tend to rank well, it’s obvious that this is a line many would choose to walk. But since we are not told which part of the listing violates the guidelines, we have to make that decision on our own. If the edits we make result in the listing going live a few hours later, it would seem that we nabbed the violation in the listing. But I have seen some inconsistencies in that regard so far, so I think this system is not yet fully worked out.
A big issue I have come across in the past couple days is that while my rejected listings come back online after editing out the parts I thought might be in violation of the Quality Guidelines, the listings still appear as rejected in my Local Business Center (or is it now called Google Places Dashboard?) This is clearly a problem because a) I’m not sure if I really eliminated all the possible violations of the guidelines, and b) I can’t see statistics for the listing while it is in “Rejected” status. Hopefully this will be fixed soon, or maybe it’s just another way for Google to avoid giving a clear signal about what the violation really was.
So what does this mean for the SEO scene? Google is cleaning up its act – this is a clear effort at reducing Map Spam and that is a very good thing. More so, it looks like it’s actually working. At this point it looks like the most basic violations are being targeted first, like keywords in the business name. This makes me wonder if these status changes are actually being done by real people, since there is really no good way to find out the real business name in an automated fashion. Additionally, there are often complications like when a business has multiple locations or if the business listings are being used for something like a doctor’s or lawyer’s office where there could be many individuals listed at the same address.
But overall, this looks like a good step forward for Google and for all of us who use Google Places – both the business owners and the end users. Ultimately, this should lead to a drastic removal of spammy and keyword-stuffed listings. And that helps level the playing field for honest business owners while improving the user experience. Both good things, of course.