The front page of The New York Times today features a story about a new scam hitting local businesses online: virtual “closings” in the popular Google Places directory.
Reporter David Segal explains that in recent months, numerous healthy local businesses have been labeled “reportedly closed” on Google Places through a site feature that allows users to anonymously update company profiles.
The false updates, which are being blamed on business competitors and dissatisfied customers, are either going unnoticed by businesses or taking a long time (days or weeks for some) to be fixed – leading to a significant decrease in customer leads. For example, a bed-and-breakfast in Hawaii that was reported closed on Google Places said that their bookings for this month were far lower than normal, which they attribute to their altered profile on the site.
Google said they are aware of the problem and are working to introduce updates in the next several days to mitigate it. Late last month, the site implemented a new feature that sends business owners an e-mail alert when the status of their business changes.
This story raises a lot of questions about the reliability of crowdsourcing local business information and the potential for real damage to customer leads when listings are altered. It also lends to the importance of business owners having a solid understanding of the local search space, and owning their social media channels and monitoring their online reputation so that they notice these issues right away. In my view, it’s another reason why business owners rely on Yellow Pages listings – the reassurance that they will provide accurate and reliable information to consumers.
Take a look at the full article here. And if you’re a small business owner, be sure to keep a close eye on your Google Places profile until Google introduces a permanent fix.