When Google first released details about their integration of Google+ into Google places, there was an initial hope that this would cut back on some of the inconsistencies, irregularities, and downright flaws of the largely automated Google maps/places platform. Though Google places was a unique concept upon conception, and still a centerpiece of anyone’s web presence, it has the potential to confuse as many users as it helps to make contact with you. The largest flaws or irregularities come in the form of duplicate listings and unconventional or fraudulent reviews.
At first, the issue of duplicate listings seems like only a minor inconvenience. However, even before the transition to Google+ Local, the fact that Google takes data from all over the Internet to auto-generate listings opened up an irritating scenario where there are multiple duplicate (but unrefined, unedited, and sometimes incorrect) listings appearing alongside the correct one. This floods the user with (almost) identical options during a local search, potentially confusing them, and making them see your firm in a way that suggests a lack of organization and clarity. Some users may decide to use a competitor, because your business is (seemingly) spamming Google with listings, or otherwise, they see a crude duplicate as inferior to a standardized, sculpted listing of a competitor. This problem is only magnified with the Google+ integration, where duplicate listings become duplicate business pages, with incorrect pictures, wrong information, or missing reviews.
Many people had hoped, in vain, that the transition to Google+ Local would make each address (or at least each address+building/office number) have it’s own Google+ page, essentially eliminating the potential for duplicate listings. This is not the case, and instead of solving the problem, this has only made the issue more confusing and potentially damaging to a brand in the eyes of a prospective client.
While duplicate pages are still rampant, it remains unclear if the reporting system for duplicates has any more weight that it did previously. Though there is no visual evidence to support this hope (as the reporting system looks largely the same), it would help immensely with the issue, as over time businesses would weed out duplicates from existence.
Beyond the issue of duplicate listings, Google+ Local brings a new unwanted variable to the table. Google places has has done away with its “star” ranking system. It has replaced it with a Zagat style ranking, where 30 is the max ranking. While to casual users, a red “30” seems like a bad 30 out of 100, I can only assume users will rapidly realize the truth, that 30 is the highest result possible.
Does this mean you should not bother with Google+ Local? Absolutely Not! Google places, despite its flaws, is still one of the key pieces of managing an online presence. Considering that the platform is free to use, and very customizable and robust when things go well, it would be foolhardy to ignore its potential. Diligence is the key, and even though time is valuable, a good Google listing is more so. Continue to send error reports to report duplicates, build a good set of reviews and ratings, and your hard work will pay off.
That is, until Google decides to ‘innovate’ again…at that point, all bets are off.