The Face of Google Places

Edward A. Murphy, Jr. - AKA "Mr. Murphy"Google Places isn’t a person.  Why would it have a “face”?

First of all, who’s in the picture?

It’s not a yearbook photo of any of the moderators at the Google Places Help Forum.

It’s not a goofy doppelganger of Carter Maslan, the former head honcho of Google Places.

And it sure as heck isn’t Marissa Mayer, current VP of Google’s “Local & Maps” division.

Fresh out of guesses?

It’s Edward A. Murphy, Jr.

AKA the original “Mr. Murphy.”  Of Murphy’s Law fame.

You know Murphy’s Law—the saying that goes “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

You’re all too familiar with how it works in real life: the one day you decide you don’t need to pack an umbrella, it rains.

But you also need to remember that the same principle applies to your local rankings in Google Places—big-time.

For example, as soon as you tell 5 of your best customers to go to your Places page to write a review, they can’t find it because of Google’s latest “We currently do not support this location” bug.

Or a week after you finally get your Places listing into the top-3 for your big search term, Google shakes up its algorithm…and you’re back down to position #8.

Or you discover that a bunch of duplicate listings are draining your mojo, and you’ve reported the problem to Google (as you should)…but weeks go by and nothing happens.

I am not a pessimist.  You and I know that things often go well in life and even in the crazy world of local search—including Google Places.  When things do go right, we get more customers and prosper a little more.

But, for better or worse, we usually don’t notice the things that go well, or we don’t give them too much thought.  They’re not what frustrate us or keep us up at night.

Focusing on the obstacles in your way is not a bad thing.  Even worrying about potential problems—stuff that hasn’t happened to you—is extremely useful (within reason).

Without either of these faculties, you never would have been able to build or maintain your business in this competitive world.

Granted: you don’t need to do well in Google Places to get more local customers.  But if you aren’t visible there, you’d better have serious word-of-mouth attraction, a robust ad campaign, or an uncle who’s a Senator and who can pull strings for you.

It’s also true that complete bozos can rank at the top of Places—despite their ignorance, carelessness, or lack of ethics—but only IF they get lucky.  Easy come, easy go.  One reason you’re better than them is you don’t trust your business and your family’s finances to luck.

So…if you want to attract more customers through Google Places reliably, you need to stay concerned, constantly on-alert—even downright paranoid.  That’s the only way you can consistently avoid or get past some of the hurdles that Google, your competitors, and Chance will drop in your path when you least expect them to.

In this sense, how do you stare Mr. Murphy in the face and make it really hard for him to pull a fast one on you?  Here are a few ways:

  • Check your Places page and log into your Places account every few days, just to make sure everything looks OK.
  • Spot-check your Google Places rankings every week or so.
  • Sign up for emails from SearchEngineLand.com and pay attention to all the stuff related to local search.
  • Cultivate relationships with at least a couple of knowledgeable people you can talk with if and when you have a problem you really need to solve, a problem you really want to avoid, or a burning question you need answered.
  • Realize that even though Google Places is a “free product,” you probably won’t get many customers out of it unless you invest a little time, money, or both.
  • Remember that Google Places is constantly changing.  Even if you’ve been #1 for the past year, that may change any minute—in which case you’ll need to set aside at least a few chunks of time in order climb back up.  You should never feel too comfy.
  • Know that you never can completely avoid bad luck.  It’s always possible to get the short end of the wishbone.  But it’s also true that you can sway your fortunes by being smart (see above points).
  • Above all, keep hammering away at improving your local visibility constantly—even when you don’t immediately need a better ranking or more customers.  The time to start caring about local search is NOT when you desperately need visibility there.  Constantly beef up your website, ask customers for reviews, and stay abreast of what’s happening in and to the “local landscape.”  It’s easiest and most rewarding and most profitable if it’s a habit.

The only thing I can guarantee you is that getting and staying visible in local Google will always be a bumpy ride (though arguably not as bumpy as most forms of advertising).

But if you set aside a little time to learn about it, put work into it, and never get comfortable, my guess is you’ll do great and attract all the customers you need.

Best Google Places Troubleshooting Posts (2011 – Early 2012)

Having problems with Google Places?  Of course you are!

Like Frogger, Google Places is full of hazards and problemsLocal Google is a minefield of bugs, glitches, often-murky “Quality Guidelines,” sudden algorithm changes, and possibly unethical competitors. Tiptoeing your way around all the hazards requires luck or know-how.  If you don’t feel like playing Russian Roulette with your business’s local presence, then you’d probably prefer the extra know-how.

“But Phil, I’m not having any problems in Google Places…I just want to rank higher.”

Well, if you want to rank more visibly, you first need to make sure your wings aren’t being clipped by a host of particularly common hazards.  Even if you’re already ranking well in Google Places, you need to know how to identify, fix, or prevent these problems.  Just because you haven’t encountered them doesn’t mean you won’t.

That’s why I’ve rounded up 7 posts that help to troubleshoot some difficulties you might encounter—or maybe have encountered—in Google Places.

Taking a few minutes to read these posts might just be enough to get you out of whatever Google-related jam you’re in—or to prevent future troubles.

Problem: Merged Listings
If your Google Places listing has a bunch of incorrect info on it, it might be “merged” with another business’s Google listing.  Mike “Professor Maps” Blumenthal shows you how to deal with a merged listing.

Problem: Spam Reviews from Competitors
Are your competitors spreading lies or talking smack about you—on your own Google Places page?  Here are some great tips for handling spam reviews.  By the way, I suggest you read all the comments on that post; there are some great suggestions in there as well.

Problem: Sudden Drop-off in Rankings
If you’ve had a decent—or very good ranking—vanish all of a sudden, this post from Linda Buquet might light the way for you.

Problem: Frustrating, Unclear Error Messages from Google
Nyagoslav Zhekov tells you what to do when you have no idea why you’re receiving an error message from Google.

Problem: Other Puzzling TARFU Situations in Google Places
A “part 2” to the above post, this deals with other common Google problems you may encounter.

Problem: Duplicate Google Places Listings
“Duplicate” listings are a huge problem in Places.  They’re also one of the most annoying and tricky issues to solve.  An excellent step-by-step guide for how to unravel duplicate listings.

Problem: Worried about Getting Ripped off by SEO Scammers
In addition to being a crackerjack troubleshooter, Nyagoslav has some great tips for how you can sniff out and avoid unethical local SEO companies.

Any questions that aren’t answered by these awesome posts?  It’s hard to imagine that’s the case, but if it is, just leave a comment and I may be able to take a crack at it.

Got any suggestions for a great Google Places troubleshooting post I should know about?  Email me, tweet to me, or (again) leave a comment.