I need to rant, get it out, share my pain…
We work with a number of businesses with a distinctly local focus or service area. We perform various kinds of internet marketing services for them, but one of the easiest things to do when working with a new client it to make sure their Google Maps listing is correct, complete and active.
You’d think this would be a simple matter. Apparently, it no longer is. The reality I was living is was one where, if you had your address properly entered into your Places/Maps listing, then your business should show on the map when a search for your service or product + physical location was entered.
Here is what I learned today:
Google Places/Maps listings are now based on “factors” outside of a business’ physical address. How did I come to learn this disturbing information? I have a client whose Places/Maps listing has been stuck in Google hell for months. We have jumped through quite a few hoops and followed every instruction given to us by the Google Local Support Team as to what we needed to do to get their listing back on the map. Still, it took 3 months AND they are on Page 2 when you do a search for their primary service + the town where they are based. There are other entities, which are physically located far from the center of the town where my client is located, who show up on THE MAP before they do.
How can this be?
Google Maps search results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help us find the best match for your search. For example, our search technology might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer. (Emphasis mine – Read the full answer here).
So, is a map no longer an empirical tool?
In Google’s eyes, apparently not. According to the Local Support person I spoke with (who was not unsympathetic to my loud questions and general incredulity) get this – the reason my client is not showing up at the top of the map listings for the town they are literally in the center of is because the Google Maps algorithm is deeming other businesses as more relevant because, among other factors, they have been clicked on more. My head nearly exploded when she said that. It would be funny if nonsense like this was not actually putting small or local businesses out of business.
Our exchange went something like this:
Me: So, just so I am 100% sure that I am understanding what you just said – my client, who is located IN the town that we are using for the search term + town, is not showing up in the first few results, or even first page, on the map because other businesses get clicked on more often.
Rep: Yes. The other businesses are deemed more relevant because they have been clicked on more.
Me: Has the definition of a map changed while I was not paying attention? Is a map not supposed to be something that displays things based on geography & physical addresses?
Rep: Well, yes, it should, but since your listing was off the map for 3 months, other businesses are considered more relevant. You should really work on optimizing your listing.
Me: We were off the map for 3 months because you guys had technical issues that kept blocking our listing.
Rep: Yes, sometimes that happens.
Me: You do realize the supreme absurdity in what you’re suggesting, don’t you? In order for my client to show up on the map for the town where they are located they need to get more clicks. There are quite a few studies out there that show that the top 2-3 listings will always get the majority of clicks. And, let’s not forget about mobile searches! Search for a service + specific town and you will see 2 AdWords ads and then 6 or 7 map listings/links. It takes up essentially the entire first screen. Therefore, if we keep showing up on Page 2 of the map listings, how exactly are we supposed to get those clicks to help us be more “relevant” in our own actual town?
Rep: Maybe you could work on getting more reviews posted on Google. That can help.
So there you have it, Google has taken something most people take as a given when it comes to containing factual data, that is not open to any kind of interpretation – a map, and turned it into their own Frankenstein, consequences be damned. Who cares if real businesses are getting royally screwed out of traffic that they should at least have a shot at getting seen for ON THE MAP FOR WHERE THEY ARE LOCATED. I guess this is another example of the collateral damage that Google can’t be bothered to address or even consider.
This is not a rant about SEO and Google’s capriciousness in how it metes out penalties. How they want to structure their search results is completely up to them. Use any algorithm you like and and factors you like, no problem. But a map should be a map and SEO should not be part of any algorithm that chooses what displays on a map. Policies like this are hurting, and in many cases irrevocably damaging, real businesses owned and operated by real people.
You do have a responsibility for this Google. And if you really “don’t want to be evil” you should put some serious time and money into addressing these types of issues. With great power comes great responsibility.