Google Places – Hacked, Flawed Or Exploit?

by David Whitehouse
See Dave Speak SMX London

In these hard economic times, small businesses need all the help they can get, unfortunately a mistake made with Google Places is having a massive negative impact on The Old Deanery.

Disclosure: The owners of The Old Deanery happen to be good friends with David Naylor, and also happen to be my parents!!!

Sometime in late January The Old Deanery started getting phone calls from people in Bradford saying they were nearby and wanted to come for lunch, this was met with a bit of confusion as The Old Deanery is about 45 minutes away in Ripon! They got a second call last night saying they were nearby in Bradford and wanted to come for a meal – mentioning they had seen us on Google Maps. At this point I decided to check it out, the results were not good…

This is the Google.co.uk SERPS for “hotels in ripon” a term The Old Deanery is #1 for in the organics, and until recently was #1 in the local listings. (Please click to enlarge)

As you can see they currently don’t appear in the local listings, even if you click through to look for more local listings. So next I decided to try and find the place page for the Old Deanery, then I discovered the problem…

As you can see in the image, the address says it is in West Yorkshire, when in fact Ripon is in North Yorkshire and if you look at the map on the right you can see that it is locating it on Minster Drive in Bradford, instead of Minster Road in Ripon and then if you look at streetview you can see that there is just a group of houses, no sign of a Cathedral or a hotel in sight! My first instinct was that my mum had logged in and changed the address by mistake, but after checking both my login and her login I found that neither was the case.

Secondly I checked through all the review sites to see if any of them had the wrong address, but they all had the correct address, although in many cases they didn’t bother to include the county in the address.

This, along with a suspicious looking 1 star review (that’s a topic for another blog post), is having a big effect on business. Check out the impressions and clicks on the Google Places Dashboard, bear in mind the new impressions are for the wrong location and some people will pick up on that, those that don’t may click through, but they still won’t book as it’s not in Bradford!

For the first time since they started up they are not fully booked for Valentines day – hopefully this will change over the week – but I’ve no doubt that this problem has had a huge effect on business. <Sales_Pitch>By the way, if you’re looking for somewhere nice to take your partner and you live in or near North Yorkshire, you won’t be disappointed if you choose The Old Deanery – 74 people on Tripadvisor can’t be wrong.</Sales_Pitch>

I reported it last night, so hopefully Google will sort it out soon, but I’m still unsure as to why this has happened. Either:

1. Google made a mistake, I’m not sure how, perhaps they indexed the wrong address off some other website.
2. Google has been hacked and someone has changed it (again this is also unlikely that someone would hack Google and just change the address of The Old Deanery instead of doing something on a much larger scale).
3. Someone else has been able to create an owner verified listing and has changed the address – this seems plausible, as both myself and my mum appear to be owners of The Old Deanery on separate logins.

If it was Google’s mistake, then they definitely need to sort that out, and if it was a competitor changing the address, then Google really need to look at their verification procedures, at the moment it doesn’t seem that the procedures they have in place are enough. More so now that they are pushing maps to be increasingly important and encouraging businesses to advertise – they really do have SME’s by the balls at the moment, so it’s important they protect them from this kind of problem.

Just noticed whilst writing this, I’ve actually got two place pages for the same business, one under my logon and one under my mum’s – both of which have the correct address, although it appeared to be showing my listing instead of my mum’s (I could tell as they had a different title, mine is “The Old Deanery Hotel & Restaurant” and my mum’s is “The Old Deanery”). As you can see both have the correct address (neither say West Yorkshire).

My listing:

My mum’s listing:

So any ideas anyone? Thomson Local were recently in touch, is there a chance that this could have caused a problem (if their database feeds into Google)?

Update: As Mark has kindly pointed out below, it isn’t Thomson Local as they have the correct address, but Jon who commented below has found a site citing the address as West Yorkshire.

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