Linda Buquet at Catalyst eMarketing recently posted a story about hundreds of Google Places listings marked “Awaiting Removal.” A commenter did some sleuthing and discovered that these listings appear to be held hostage by a company called 411 Locals (link to ComplaintsBoard.com).
What Went Wrong
This isn’t the first or last time we’ll see something along these lines. The story probably went a little like this:
Act 1 -A business owner is contacted, and promised lots of leads for $200 or so a month. They will be made #1 on Google, although few details are given about the process. Some mention of partnering with Google might be made. The business signs up, and leads start coming in – everything is great.
Act 2 – The business owner is interested in how this is working, and starts to research online marketing (maybe he/she runs across Small Business Shift!) There could be a decline in leads (as Google changes and things become more competitive), or the owner may realize that they are continuing to pay $200 a month, even though very little work is being done since that first month.
Realizing the money is being wasted, the business person cancels the service. But when calling to cancel, a threat is made – the Google Places listings will be removed! Or the tracking phone number will be left on the listing, and redirected to a competitor!
Act 3 – The business owner is furious, complains, leaves negative reviews, but has very little power. Contacting Google does nothing, because their support is so poor. He ends up spending hours reading in forums or working with a consultant to straighten out the problematic Google Places page, and losing business in the meantime.
How To Avoid It
The key takeaway here is to own your own listings. Google Places still only allows one account to be listed as the owner. When looking at other local listings or social media accounts, some allow multiple admins (Facebook, for instance), but the main account should always be yours.
When I suggest the account should be yours, I don’t mean your personal account, or main business email. In order to be able to let an agency/consultant help, it’s smart to create an email and account just for these listings. This is particularly important with Google – if the Places page is linked to your personal account, giving a consultant access will provide them with access to all your other Google services, which for some people is a tremendous amount of information.
All the above also applies to analytics and paid marketing accounts. If you use your website provider’s proprietary analytics, the data may not be yours – and upon switching companies will be lost. This is a great argument for using a 3rd party, such as Google Analytics (free) or GetClicky, as the data can be very valuable. In regards to paid marketing, such as Google Adwords or Facebook Ads, it’s a similar situation – if you don’t have access to the accounts, you probably don’t own the data. Some providers do this intentionally, but it should be reflected in the price, because one of the great benefits of running paid online advertising over time is not accruing to you.
At times it still feels like the Internet is a bit of a wild west. There are not enough sheriffs to police the bad apples out there, and plenty of newcomers to be taken advantage of. Many of these problems, however, are easy to avoid – and one of the first steps to take is to make sure you control your accounts.