Google Announces Faster updates to local business listings
With the announcement of faster and more automatic updates to business place pages, Google has caused a turmoil in the local search world.
The issue here is not the speed or the automation, but really the source of the information that will be used to make these updates. Google intends to make changes to place pages (after notifying the business owner by email) if they receive data from third party sites or end users that seems to be more recent.
In an effort to assuage its business users Google touts this as a measure they are taking on behalf of busy business owners who do not have time to keep their place pages up to date. This sounds a little bit too much like positive spin.
More than likely this move is an effort to respond to the aged data Google has for unclaimed and under maintained business listings. As more and more users utilize local search and more competitors enter the field (ex. MQVibe) the recentness, relevance and accuracy of Google's search results becomes increasingly important to their ability to maintain market share.
This is where it becomes tricky. In it's attempt improve the quality of its search results to please end users, Google is risking irritating its business users who pay to advertise. Perhaps this makes sense in the equation of how search marketing works. After all, without consumer traffic, what does Google have to incentivize businesses to spend the time claiming and managing theirs listings or to spend money for paid ads?
It is also possible that this move is being undertaken to combat the rise of fraudulent (spammish) listings which are being created by less than reputable local search marketers. These listings often contain tracking phone numbers or are for "virtual" offices of out of state businesses with no actual local presence. Such listings and practices are an anathema to Google, whose ultimate goal is to "create a digital representation of the real world."
Ultimately it comes down to a matter of control. Businesses want to control how they are represented online and Google wants to control the quality and integrity of the data it presents to searchers. One would hope that there is some middle ground solution that can be struck between the two. A solution that limits the effectiveness of "black hat" techniques without punishing legitimate local search marketing efforts.
Despite all the frustration it may cause, perhaps this change is it.