ALERT May 4th 2012 – If you are here because your Place page disappeared or you are getting the “we do not support this location” error, the post below will not help, it’s from an older issue. Please see the top link in this thread for info about a current bug. Google is working on a fix.

Instead of putting a big red review button on Place pages, Google needs to have a big red button that says “BETA! Warning – use at your own risk and do not rely on Google listing accuracy or up-time for your business!”

What other company on earth can tell customers, “Sorry we had a ‘hiccup’. Your business may recover in 6 – 10 weeks.” SERIOUSLY! Who can get away with that? Free service or no, Google Places needs to get it’s act together! (Important info about GP update cycles, critical theories about bugs, the Places “sandbox”, pending review and more toward bottom of this long post.)

UPDATE: 8/11 Google replies to this post. Full update, bottom of this page.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is the current state of Google Places for Business right now, IMHO! (A little SNARKY, but TRUE!)

;-) CLICK TO SEE GOOGLE PLACES PROBLEMS – FULL SIZE ;-)

Note this is not just a rant, although rant I surely will! There are some important insights in this post about the inner workings of Google Places, info about current bugs that affect numerous listings and critical info you need to understand about the Google Places update and database refresh cycle.

On Friday I discovered a blog post by Lora Baker, a Local Search Specialist over at Parallel Path, that really disturbed me but gave me important insights into a wide variety of problems that are continuously reported on the Google Places forum recently. Lora started noticing problems on some accounts mid July and discovered some clients had no impressions as of July 19 and even when typing in “business name city st,” these listings are not displaying. At least two listings that were experiencing this dramatic drop in ranking were running Boost/AdWords Express. So since the only possible way to even TRY to get Google Places support is through an Adwords Express rep, she called for help. Following is part of the convo. Please head over to read the full post and comments, I’m only grabbing the most important snippets.

Google’s Local Hiccup

Me: Hello. I am running AdWords Express and as of July 19, my local listing seems to have gone into Google Places purgatory for no reason. Will you please take a look at my account and help me understand what is going on?

Google: Great. Let’s see here –did you make any changes to the account on that date?

Me: No, I haven’t made any changes to the account for awhile. I am, however, running the paid ads that you are selling.

Google: Yes, there was a hiccup on our end that day. Don’t worry, it is nothing you did. You should see your local listing come back online within 6-10 weeks.

Me: Oh ok -6-10 weeks huh?

Google: Yes, basically your ad was reset in our system. It is now going to be just like a new listing, so you need to go through the cycle.

Me (trying to keep calm and collected): I see. Ok. Can you please confirm for me that I didn’t do anything to cause this hiccup?

Google: Yes, I can confirm that your listing is experiencing a hiccup and will be back online in 6-10 weeks.
Me: OK. Should I create a new account and reclaim the listing?

Google: Oh no. Then you will just be reset again.

Linda says: I can really relate to the way Lora starts this post and it’s a sad testament to the state of Google Places:

“Managing local listings for clients is the type of job that leaves you feeling like a superstar one day and a complete moron the next. I have experienced the highs and lows of local listing optimization for clients over the last 3 years – including inexplicable sudden drops in the rankings, duplicate listings appearing from thin air (taking months to get rid of), missing hours, wrong phone numbers (coming from who knows where), missing reviews, missing descriptions, missing additional details, etc.

Be sure to read the rest complete with screen shots.

Part of my reply to her blog post:

Listing reset? Start over in the cycle? Takes 6 – 10 weeks??? WHAT???

This is the 1st I’ve ever heard of any of this but I bet it accounts for a lot of the problem reports in the forum. So on one hand its good to know so if it happens to us we’ll know it’s nothing we did.

DANG THOUGH – It makes me not want to even do this any more! I’m almost afraid to touch a listing for any of my new clients in case it appears their listing went from bad to worse once they hired me. So damned many bugs!

How can they call that a hiccup? These poor businesses sometimes live or die by Google and for a hiccup to cause listings to disappear for that long is almost criminal. I’m LIVID!

Devil’s Advocate Note to Google because I know you are reading this: Could Lora have heard something wrong? Possibly, but I doubt it. Could the rep be wrong? It’s possible. HOWEVER there is supporting evidence from tons of users in the forum (info below) that some type of bug happened around July 18,19. There was the pending review bug, many listings disappeared and have still not recovered, some users had their stats go to zero or their listings became uneditable. That’s also right after I 1st discovered and reported the missing descriptions bug which over a month later has still not been fixed.

Google – SINCE YOU DO NOT TELL US ANYTHING, OUR ONLY OPTION IS TO SPECULATE AND TRY TO READ BETWEEN THE LINES TO FIGURE THESE PROBLEMS OUT!

I’m not sure all of the problems below are related. I know many had problems during the pending review bug because they followed advice in the Google Places forum and hit submit, without making any changes. The “advice” said this would reset the listing. I’ve also had Google support reps tell me this. Any way you cut it, hitting submit without changing anything should NOT make a listing disappear for weeks. IT’S A BUG. Here is part of one report from the forum that also confirms there was a bug and it could take weeks to resolve.

Have been in business for 4 yrs & have always been in the top 1-3 on Places, but now my listing has vanished. Help!

I am a single employee business owner supporting a family of 4 and now I cannot find myself even when I clink the link to see “more local results”. My listing is simply gone.

Yesterday, I called Google regarding a question I had about AdWords Express (which is set-up/activated through the Places Page). He was very friendly, so while I had him on the phone I asked him if he had any thoughts on the downgrade issue. He said he was aware of it and Google was not penalizing anyone who attempted to update their listing while in pending status, rather the glitch caused those listings to be significantly pushed down from their original positions.

He assured me that the downgrade was not permanent and that my listing would eventually return to its previous spot in the coming weeks.

When I get frustrated about Google Places bugs, Mike Blumenthal always tells me “patience is a virtue” when dealing with Google Places problems. He offers some sage advice in this thread.

Mike Blumenthal Google Places Help Forum – 8/6/11
I generally use the 3,3,3 rule when assessing google issues that they have acknowledged as not right…

Sometimes it gets fixed in 3 days as it was a minor issue.

If not 3 days then 3 weeks as it takes time for the index to update and catch the changes

If not 3 weeks then 3 months as it is is a serious problem and takes significant coding, debugging and reindexing.

Google does not function on business time as we know it. Their fixes, annoying as they are, arrive due to the time frames dictated by internal demands and update schedules.

After watching Google Places for 6 years I have come to the conclusion that most problems get fixed sooner or later… that is not very comforting to you as you are experiencing the loss caused by one of their bugs.

But SERIOUSLY, how can the biggest company in the world have a product this big be this bug-ridden and take this long to fix problems? I just can’t even fathom that this is allowed to happen.

Below are some important insights into a couple of related problems that may be plaguing some of your listings. Following is a snippet of a reply from a Google rep. This is from my 7/6 BUG thread in the forum that’s ongoing and now is 3 pages long. Andrew’s particular comment was about the pending review bug that hit around 7/18 when many hit submit and then lost their listings. Their listings have still not come back. SEE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS & THEORIES AFTER THE QUOTE.

BUGS in the Google Places Database – Update & Edit Problems

SQLPerformance (Andrew) 8/4/11 wrote: Would I be right in surmising that users put in Pending Review about this date have issues with a new release of a checking algorithm coming up with new issues on an entry? Is pressing Submit with no changes pushing the ranking down the pages as the user has not corrected any issue? Is this a feature or a bug?

And got this reply (he indicates it was from a Google rep):

Pending review has little to do with search ranking algorithms. Instead, they are content review. In some cases, if there’s a pending review for multiple weeks, it’s a result of content not matching what we expect and going to manual review. This will drop the record (not necessarily the listing) from our local index.

This can happen even with no change. The content review is triggered on submit. There’s a known flaw in that we sometimes review the same flag twice. This is a pain for people with trigger words in their listing information. Unfortunately, it won’t change is the near term. But, we’re working on an improved review process for all listings, which will improve this interaction.

SUMMARY and THEORIES

So what can we glean from all the info above that could be helpful going forward???

GOOGLE PLACES UPDATE CYCLE – Google does not tell us how often they update Places (reindex or refresh the database). The consensus a few months ago seemed to be that updates happened every 2 weeks or so. Recently it seems like it’s more like a month. But according to what reps have said above, it’s a 6 – 10 week cycle now??? So if we have buggy things happen in listings that we hope will be fixed in the next update, we need to adjust our expectations (and tell clients) it could take 6 – 10 weeks? That’s a long time for a business to wait if it’s affecting their ranking and ultimately their bottom line!

NEW LISTING SANDBOX? BUG RESET LISTING & IT HAD TO START OVER from ZERO- OK again, since G does not tell us anything we have to TRY to jump to our own conclusions. Check out this quote from above: “Google: Yes, basically your ad was reset in our system. It is now going to be just like a new listing, so you need to go through the cycle.” To me it sounds like he’s saying it takes a new listing 6 – 10 weeks to go through a cycle before it ranks (Places new listing sandbox?). But the listings that had this “HICCUP” were RESET to start over at ZERO, just like a new listing? Is that the way you read this too???

NUMEROUS POINT in ANDREW’S QUOTE FROM GOOGLE – There are so many little tidbits to digest in that comment. How pending review works and why it happens. The fact that content review happens on SUBMIT, not just because you edited something. Can’t figure out this comment “This will drop the record (not necessarily the listing) from our local index.” Drop the record, not the listing? Also, he says they are working on an improved review process? That’s good to hear. Wonder when it will happen and if they’ll tell us anything when it does?

Here’s another poor small business owner that just posted today. (Doesn’t his post remind you of my image above?) The poor SMBs just keep posting these sad stories about layoffs and not being able to feed their families.

My description disappeared, my additional details has disappeared, my name won’t correct and I went from #1 to #200

Ok, so my name is wrong, my description isn’t there and my additional details have disappeared. PlacesProJay don’t tell me it’s takes two to four weeks, This has been going on for months and other people are saying you guys have a bug with the new rollout for places – well, your bug has caused me to go to #200 from #1 for furnace repair behind people with no pics, not verified, no reviews, no descriptions (i.e. nothing) and I have had to LAY people off. You did this in the middle of my busiest time of year (summer A/C season) and there is no one that can help me. I have cancelled my adwords business, it’s just nuts.

Why can’t you help us – why can’t you guys fix ‘bugs’ – why do you tell us how important it is to add all the information and then when we do you PUNISH us.

Granted these small business owners should not be relying solely on Google for traffic.

HOWEVER if Google is going to put Google Places and local listings at the top of the search results and create grand media blitzes designed to get every business to create a Place page, they need to be held accountable for: A) Making sure the product works and offfer TIMELY fixes when it breaks. B) They should be required to post updates, just like any good ISP or other providers do about outages, updates, bugs. C) They need to offer support – because this buggy product should still be in BETA!

Taking a badly needed carpal break.
Look forward to hearing your thoughts below.

UPDATE: 8/11 Hey Guys, Joel Headley from Google has made a couple replies to this post on Google+

Critical info you need to know in my latest post: Important News about Google Places Update Cycle and also Missing Descriptions