The “report a problem” button that is found on a Google Places profile allows Google users to “close” businesses with the click of a button. While this feature does help remove closed businesses from the Google Places database, it is subject to manipulation and businesses are being incorrectly marked as closed each day.
Although Bing Local and Yahoo Local also allow end-users to report a location closed, the false closure problem has primarily plagued Google. The lower false closure rates of Bing Local and Yahoo Local is most likely not due to their superior algorithms, but instead, a result of lower search volumes.
In an effort to expose the Google Places algorithm, search consultant and blogger Mike Blumenthal and a friend recently reported Google’s Mountain View office as closed using the “Report a Problem” feature. A short time later, Google’s own place page reported the search giant’s Mountain View office as closed. This experiment revealed an unmistakable truth – the Google Places algorithm needs serious adjustment! If two individuals conducting a search engine experiment can close a multi-national company’s place page with two clicks of the mouse, Google must adjust the algorithm to reduce its vulnerability from user manipulation.
In late August, Google began sending email alerts to business owners informing them of the “permanently closed” status. Instead of merely notifying business owners that their business is now “closed,” Google should implement a closure verification system. This system could utilize similar methods to the initial verification process and would allow a business owner to confirm whether or not they are still open. If an owner failed to verify the open status within a certain timeframe, Google could confidently mark the business as “permanently closed.”
A quick visit to the Google Place’s help forum will prove that this false closure problem with Google Places is widespread. Until they modify their algorithm and implement a “permanently closed” verification process, Google can be sure that black hats will expose this weakness in the Google Places algorithm.