Did Google just shut down your business? No really, check out your Google Places for Business listing and see if there’s bright red text under the name the reads “PERMANENTLY CLOSED.” Not taking the day off for a wedding, not gone fishing, but doors shuttered for all time. It’s happening to thousands of companies across the country due to a simple, yet alarming change to Google policy concerning duplicate listings. The impact on commerce, and the marketing community, has far-reaching potential.

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Google Local is Getting Scarier, Not Smarter

Is there any denying that the state of local search is in complete disarray? If there can only be one ‘authorized’ owner per business location, who gets to decide ownership? One of our clients has already experienced the Internet death that is a listing shutdown, and the process to resuscitate that address to new life could take some time. We’ve contacted the Google Places Team.  You can also get a Google Places rep on the phone, but the end result is the same – a ‘we’ll look into it’.  Evidently we have no choice but to wait for them to wade through ours and the hundreds of similar requests that will continue to pour in over the coming weeks.

Eliminating duplicate listings isn’t the same as targeting duplicate content.

How can an algorithm, or manual action for that matter, begin to discern all the businesses using the same address (with varying suite numbers) within executive centers, business parks, shopping malls, and corporate offices? We’re already seeing legitimate businesses removed from listings they’ve held for years. Leasing or renting, at least in this case, does not appear to make a strong enough argument for ownership.

New Evolution in Local Search?

The carousel is here for many verticals and industries – most notably restaurants. I’m speculating here, but the move to eliminate duplicate businesses from Google Maps could be an iterative approach to local search. Google wants to give the best results for users within contextual parameters. It stands to reason that they’d also like to provide listings of companies with their most recent address information and eliminate the possibility of a user showing up to a business no longer in operation.

Perhaps, in deciding to eradicate problematic listings, the Map Pack of local search could also be changing, or disappearing altogether for certain terms?

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Citation Cleanup More Important than Ever

We all have those clients that cannot make up their minds about the business name, switch locations every other year and have more phone numbers than employees. Those companies could stand to incur a hit to their local listing in light of Google’s new rule.

The implication is clear: if you don’t want your business to disappear on Google Maps and local search, own your listing and quit the bouncing around. If you have clients with multiple listings, cleaning up their citations now becomes your top priority. Get those old addresses out of there, update their social media profiles, verify their G+ info and bring Google Places in line. You may need to go a step further and begin looking at the address itself to see who operated out of that location previously. The last thing you want is to get into a war over an address with a ghost company and a behemoth search engine.

Get to work: every minute you wait is money out the door for your clients.

Instant Update: Sending a direct email to [email protected] that explained the situation for our client — that his business was open and operating in the real world at the location Google claimed to be closed — fixed the issue in about 3 days in Maps. So, if Google suddenly declares your office closed, shoot them an email and emphasize the error is more than likely costing you business — and by that I mean money.  

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