Small businesses are learning the hard way why it’s so important to manage your online reputation. The New York Times just ran an article about Google Places pages showing up in search results as “permanently closed”. If you are not familiar with Google Places you might want to read this. Google Places is Google’s version of the yellow pages and appears on the map when a user searches for a business locally.
Most businesses need only claim their listing and fill out a few sections describing their business category, hours of operation and a description of their business to be able to show up for local searches. There is a bit more to Google Places especially the offer section as well as Adwords Express but I’ll talk more about that in another post.
Google does a good job verifying that you are indeed the owner of the business however, when it comes to closing a business that is where things become a little frustrating.
Since most businesses that are closing down can’t be expected to take the time to make this known in Google Places, Google rely’s on customers to notify that a business is closing. If enough customers say this business is closed then Google inserts the “Permanently Closed” tag on the Google Places Profile.
According to Mike Blumenthal a leader in local search, it only took him 2 times to report that Googles own Mountain View location was closed for business after being frustrated with Googles cavalier attitude toward the fraudulent closings.
This gives unscrupulous competitors or disgruntled employees leverage that can be devastating to a local business. It would be the equivalent of a few customers calling in to your local Yellow Pages and being able to delete your Yellow Page ad. Not a perfect analogy but you get the point.
Google claims to have a verification process but given the large amounts of complaints on Google forums this claim fails to hold water. Google does send an email notifying the business owner of the permanently closed status, however in a lot of cases most of those email addresses were created just to edit their Places page and then quickly forgotten about or rarely checked.
Given the amount of attention on this, I expect that Google will come up with a solution soon. Regardless it is another example of how businesses cannot afford to neglect their online presence any longer. If we as business owners don’t take responsibility of our online identity then someone else will.