If you deal with Dentists, Doctors and Lawyers – hang on, because there are more changes brewing that Agencies and SEOs need to get a grip on.

I’m preliminarily sharing what I know with you guys FIRST. Then I’m going to Google for clarification and confirmation on some of this.

UPDATE: 6/26 – Just posted strategy and tips, so the practitioner dupes won’t impact ranking for the main practice listing. Overcoming New Google Places Duplicate Listing Problems for Dentists, Doctors, Attorneys

OK, so you guys know dupes are the bane of my existence, right? You’ve heard me say that a few hundred times if you are a regular reader!

If you’ve been doing Places optimization you also know they can kill rankings, splinter reviews into different profile pages and cause other problems.

When you have a client come to you that says “I was ranking A, B, C, now I lost my reviews and map marker – I don’t rank in blended any more, but now just rank #1 organic” – well one of the BIGGEST reasons sites and Place pages become disconnected in the search results, is due to duplicate confusion. (There are a few other reasons, but dupes are #1 IMO.)

So I used to always teach that the best strategy in most situations is to only have 1 main practice or Dr. listing and try to eliminate any extra Dr listings (or individual attorney listings).

Well now according to GOOGLE SUPPORT – they will no longer remove individual Dr listings from the index. PERIOD! Even if it’s a Dr. that’s no longer at your practice, they WILL NOT REMOVE THE DUPES!

UPDATE: 6/20 10 AM SEE BOTTOM OF POST FOR UPDATES

Following are snippets from 2 support emails I’ve received from Chris Ratchford from Prodentite. 2 separate clients, slightly different responses but the message is clear. (Personal details about his clients removed.)

Chris reported 2 dupes. One a regular dupe. The 2nd one, he said “This listing should be deleted since Dr. Smith is no longer employed here.”

GOOGLE SUPPORT REPLIED: After reviewing the listings you reported: (links removed) we’ve decided not to remove it from Google Maps. This is because one of the local Google+ page is for Dr. Smith whereas the other page is for ABC Dental: Dr. Jones.

If a business and medical practitioner exists at a location, we want it to be displayed on Google Maps in order to give our users the most comprehensive information possible.

Then later they replied they fixed the one that’s no longer at the practice as follows:

“The local Google+ page will correctly reflect that Dr. Jones is no longer operating at the stated location and marked “Place is permanently closed.” We realize that this may not be the ideal solution for some business types or situations. However, this is the most accurate representation currently in place of businesses that no longer exist at a given location, and we believe it is useful to users.”

So now, not only can you not get rid of Dr. dupes at all, but if a Dr. leaves the practice you need to mark listing as PERMANENTLY CLOSED. Wonderful! A patient who has not been in for awhile Googles Dr. Jones – sees the big yellow banner that says “This Place is permanently closed” and finds a DIFFERENT Dentist thinking the whole practice is out of business. Just brilliant Google!

I held off blogging this after the report above, in case one support person was confused or the situation was unique somehow. But Chris just got the following reply from Google from a different support person. The message is pretty clear. Practitioner listings will no longer be removed.

Thank you for contacting Google. We have taken the necessary steps to make sure that the duplicate businesses in question do not appear on Google Maps. These changes may take 4-6 weeks, but it’s also possible that they may take longer. We’re working to improve this process for users.

The following listings will be merged together to form a single local Google+ page: (3 regular duplicate listings)

The following listings will not be merged as at the moment we do not remove or merge individual practitioners. If the practitioner is no longer working out of that location, you can edit the details and mark that listing/location as closed.” (Re 2 Dr dupes they won’t remove)

This goes along with something I’d seen happening in the forum recently. Before Vanessa left she helped a couple folks that were trying to delete their listings as they no longer wanted their business to show at all on Google maps. They were begging to opt out and just have their Place pages deleted. Vanessa replied in essence, sorry but if it’s still in business and if it’s a public record we won’t delete it. If it’s closed you can mark it closed, but you can’t delete it!

SIDE NOTE ABOUT DUPES – Dan Austin made an interesting comment on Mike Blumenthal’s blog yesterday. He’s big on MapMaker and those guys often have the inside scoop about stuff the Places TCs are not privy to. Don’t totally understand what this means but will try to contact Dan to find out more.

Google’s Worst Customer Service Response EVER – Dan’s Comment (Long great comment, but here is just the part about dupes.)

“As for duplicates, that process is now on standby. Duplicates are no longer propagating to the Place page from MM, from what I can determine, so I’m just doing straight up deletions in MM (with the permission of the Place page owner) to resolve dupes. The training of Google Reviewers is to resist this interpretation, since they mark dupes as dupes, but if it’s no longer working…? That isn’t the only problem with database inconsistency. Still haven’t fixed the suite no. situation. Categories are a mess on MM, and don’t match what you see on Places. Etc.

As for deletion, Google never deletes anything, not even spam data, not even bad data…”

So there you have it. Big departure from what we are used to and this could make it really difficult to rank for Medical, Dental and Legal practices with multiple practitioners.

I’ll post this in the forum and see if I can get any more insight from Google. But my guess is this… they can’t control the scraping mechanism. (Or don’t want to because they want the biggest database of listings.) And as we know many legal and med directories don’t list the practice but list the individual practitioner so those indiv listings continue to get scraped. Plus in the race to get the most reviews and really from a practical view point I can see that sometimes, for instance in the case of a large medical practice, a consumer may want to directly review their Dr as opposed to the practice.

UPDATE: Just posted in the forum asking for clarification. Post there too if you have specific Qs or opinion. Doctor, Dentist and Attorney Duplicates Will Not Be Removed – Is this NEW Policy? Question for Google

Curious how this is going to affect pricing and strategy for those of you that deal with these verticals? I USED to charge $300 per dupe to try to get rid of dupes. Now you are going to need to tell a client, that really to do the job right you need to optimize listings for each Dr or lawyer because they can’t be removed. Plus if there are multiple listings with the same address, category and phone – you know some are going to get merged, which is another fun problem. :-(

So what do you think? Good thing? Bad thing? New problems?

PS Sorry if I sound like a crusty old curmudgeon.
Inside joke with Blumenthal. He totally gets it! ;-)

UPDATE: 6/20 10 AM

Mike Blumenthal wrote a counter post to this one and presents some valid points. Why Google’s New Policy on Professional Practices & Practitioners Makes Sense

I countered with the following comments over at Mike’s, which I want to share. Since this post of mine started the issue and I’ve detailed some lengthy replies over there, I want to be sure my readers see my comments here as well.

My comment #1
Thanks for your insights Mike and I do agree having ANYTHING spelled out by Google is better than leaving everything to chance/guess, so it is better in that respect.

However if you deal with Drs or Dentists all the time you KNOW that dupes do often hurt rankings and that duplicate confusion can cause Google to disconnect site and Place page which knocks you out of blended. So not being able to get rid of practitioner dupes is a very real concern.

I blame my “sky is falling” tone, if that’s the way you took it, on something else. I think I am suffering from PTSD from the constant barrage of Google attacks on my frontal lobe. (Dupe. Dupe. Bug. Dupe. Take Downs. Upgrades. Bug. Bug. Dupe. Dupe. Upgrade. Massive Take Down Attack. Major Upgrade Alert. Mass Chaos. Dupe. Dupe. Bug. Bug.) So you have to realize I’m in a hyper-sensitive state and any major change right now is likely to send me over the edge! ;-)

Having said that – practitioner dupes ARE a problem, and will become more of a problem now that we can’t get rid of them. They will need to be managed. I think I just came up with a brilliant strategy for dealing with Dr, Dentist and Lawyer dupes. Need to think it through a little, maybe run it by a couple folks, then will change the dupe part of my training and will probably share it on my blog as well.

My comment #2

@Chris I would not use Practice: Dr Name combos like ABC Dental Care: Dr John Smith any more and only advocated that in VERY specific situations. Also in part (in appropriate situations) that strategy was to try to help prevent Dr dupes AND try to get Google to associate all the reviews for EITHER the practice OR the Dr. to a single listing.

But again that was for very specific cases and I would not recommend now. AND my guess is now G will still create another listing for Dr John Smith even if you already created one for ABC Dental Care: Dr John Smith.

So now if Dr dupes are unavoidable I would not use that naming strategy. I also would not CREATE Dr listings if none exist. Just be vigilant about finding them IF G creates them and then manage them in specific ways.

We need to sched a call to discuss all this and my new strategy idea.

My comment #3

Mike said: “You are assuming that Google will NOT deal with dupes. While they are likely to show up more, my sense is that they will continue to get rid of them via the Report a Problem process. It takes 3-4 weeks and has been a little slow of late but they do eventually take care of them.”

No Mike that’s the whole point of this. Google support if you read the emails on my blog is saying they WILL NO LONGER remove Dr. dupes.

Other dupes like scraped versions with a diff name address they will still remove but not multiple practitioner listings.

But in my mind if there are multiple listings for a single business location, whether they are scraped dupes or Dr dupes, it can hurt ranking on the main listing. And they now say they won’t remove the Dr. dupes.

COMMENTS CLOSED. DISCUSS AT THE FORUM BELOW.

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