If you own SEO at a multi-location brand (or an agency that works with them), it can be hard to sleep at night.
Once upon a time, we were approached by a multi-location retailer about a Google My Business (GMB) problem. Apparently, at some point, Google updated the phone number on a decent percentage of their GMB pages from the local store number to their national customer support number.
They had discovered this because their customer support calls — and cost — had gone through the roof virtually overnight. The problem got fixed, and things went back to normal, but I doubt the person managing their GMB program ever got a good night’s sleep after that.
Over the years, most of us in the Local SEO world have become accustomed to Google updating GMB pages, even those that have been claimed, seemingly on an algorithmic whim. We’ve noticed this is particularly common with images:
The old “change your dealership photo to a cat picture” trick
If you’ve seen any of our Local SEO presentations in the past year or two, this shot is probably familiar, but it’s so good I can’t stop sharing it! Nor can I stop sharing a more recent example we call, “You Want a Slice With That Jeep?”
And because a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s take a look at this luxury apartment building turned Porta-Potty depot:
When Google shut down MapMaker earlier this year, a metric ton of images in the Local Knowledge Graph got changed. And while I am sure Google’s engineers did a ton of testing, what we’ve seen over and over again is that Google often doesn’t know exactly how changes to one part of its systems will affect other parts. It’s one of the reasons we Local SEO types have jobs. It’s also the reason why we find ourselves a bit cranky in the morning.
This issue was happening so often, we actually built a tool to monitor front-end GMB changes because we were pretty sure that GMB’s dashboard was not alerting us to a good portion of updates that were getting published.
Auto-generated retailer department GMB pages
Often, the problem is not that Google updated a GMB page you have already claimed, but that it creates new pages for you that you don’t know exist. This issue can be acute for multi-location retailers that have, or appear to have, multiple departments. Over the past year or two, we have seen Google auto-generate department GMB pages, often with disastrous results. Following are a few special ones.
The image below shows a typical GMB page for a store with multiple departments. Often, these “stores within a store” are legitimately created by the brand and can be great when it comes to ranking for local, category-specific queries.
But if you click on the “Costco Hearing Aids Center” link in the Department listings, it takes you to an unclaimed, clearly auto-generated GMB page that is marked as “Closed today” — this screenshot was taken at 12:00 noon on a Wednesday.
What’s that you say? I’m losing business based on a GMB problem I didn’t even know I had? It’s hard to hear GMB alert me to that issue without my hearing aid! Or, maybe they will never actually alert you to stuff like this, but you might notice your customer base has started skewing towards people who can actually hear.
Here’s an unclaimed Target Photo Center listing with no phone number, address or a website link — but hey, at least it’s open.
And it’s not like Target’s SEO team is asleep at the wheel. GMB is likely not going to alert them that this listing has even been created. And there’s not enough time in the day to click on every GMB listing for every Target store to see where it leads.
In Target’s case, at least Google is polite enough to not give out mistaken data. But when it auto-generates these department GMB pages, it also often auto-generates the linked website URLs, which is not always a recipe for success. Check out the website link to this auto-generated Sam’s Club* Optical Center:
This Website link takes you to an old Optical category page on the site which provides a not-so-great user experience (good thing most visitors need glasses and won’t be able to see it well):
I could go on for a while with examples, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the only one. So I asked a bunch of other SEOs on Twitter (where else would they be?) how many had had GMB updates go live without their approval over the past six months:
78%. That’s not a rounding error.
Burnt GMB offerings
Most SEOs I spoke with who handle large accounts see a huge percentage of listings that get “updates” notifications from the GMB dashboard each month. One quoted 920 out of 1,080 pages they manage. Often, these are just suggested changes to “Offerings” or “Amenities,” which are likely not huge deals:
Another told me that up to 30% of their GMB listings change in some way every month. And while I suspect that Google alerts us to most of these changes, that still leaves a huge number of updated GMB pages that we never know about… until a client sends a “WTF” screenshot….
How to monitor your GMB pages for updates
Thanks to Google releasing a GMB API last year, there are plenty of great third-party tools for keeping track of changes to your GMB pages. Here are a few:
Good night and good luck!
*Full disclosure: Sam’s Club & Yext are clients of Local SEO Guide
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