Google’s Place Pages Play Hide And Seek

Google's place pages missing

Yoo-hoo. Oly oly oxen free! You’re it! 3-2-1, ready or not here I come! Yes, this whole week has been one of playing games with Google’s new Maps interface – Place Pages. It all began with Greg Sterling being incorrectly informed that Place Pages wouldn’t be indexed by Google. This caused some scratching of heads, especially since Google was making the huge departure of crowning each Place Page with a unique URL. Chris Silver Smith jumped into the game with an illuminating explanation for all concerned that while Place Pages would be indexed, the configuration of the robots.txt would prevent them from being crawled.

The proof of this was in the pudding Google concocted when they linked to Burdick Chocolate Cafe of Boston in their post publicizing the launch of Place Pages. The cafe began showing up in Google’s organic results almost instantly and this set little wheels in motion in the masterful minds of my local search expert colleagues (they prefer to be called chumps), Mike Blumenthal, Dev Basu, Steve Hatcher, David Mihm and Andrew Shotland.

Playing in Google’s backyard, we decided to do a small experiment by pointing a few links at a Buffalo NY Jeweler Place Page with obscure rankings. Sure enough, within a day, we were all seeing the Place Page in Google’s organic index somewhere between the 3rd and 4th page of results.

And then the rankings began to drop.

And as of today, the Place Page for the jeweler is nowhere to be seen in the top 10 pages of Google and neither is Burdick Chocolate Cafe of Boston nor any of the other listings my colleagues and I were keeping an eye on.

What’s Going On?
To the tune of about 100 emails zipping back and forth across the wires, I’ve heard some interesting theories as to why Google’s Place Pages are playing hide and seek with us all. Which of these makes most sense to you?

– Google is backing away from potential allegations of monopoly. Wikipedia, local business indexes and other entities might cry foul over a conflict of interest, what with Google owning search and having the ability to award top rankings to its new destination/information pages. The pages were rolled out and began to be indexed and Google has just yanked them all back into oblivion before things get ugly.

– Someone at Google made a serious mistake in forgetting to noindex the pages. This theory hangs on the belief that the information initially given to Greg Sterling was the true intended policy but someone at Google messed up the robots.txt, allowing the pages to be indexed if links were pointed at them.

– Google does intend to include Place Pages in their index. Owing to freshness, the pages being linked to showed up fairly high in the index, have now disappeared and will reappear as Google does an adjustment that is well known to SEOs when working with new sites or new pages. By the time I finish this post, who knows, the Place Pages may have reappeared in the index.

Where Do Place Pages Belong?
Google has created a potential powerhouse of destination information for users with the introduction of Place Pages. With maps, reviews, UGC, citations, contact info, photos, videos and more, Place Pages could very well fairly deserve a place in the top 10 for businesses, cities, geographic features, etc. The UI is accessible and usable and really packed with useful data. Claims of monopoly and uhm…fascism…aside, Place Pages could really help a lot of people to get where they need to go and learn what they need to know.

On the flip side, rampant instances of business misrepresentation, 50-year-old outdated maps, incorrect driving directions and plain old spam have made Google’s local index historically weak and untrustworthy. When you add to this the utter lack of customer support in Google’s Local model, the public has reason to feel uneasy about Place Pages coming to dominate the SERPs. Of all the major local information portals, Google has the highest profile and the least sense of accountability, in my experience, and if Place Pages were to take up further room in the search engine results (remember, we’ve already got inches devoted to 10-packs, 3-packs and OneBoxes) then the overall quality of results and user satisfaction could potentially suffer.

This has been some week! A very big one for Local. Do you have theories about the Place Pages game? I’d love to hear them!

3 Responses to “Google’s Place Pages Play Hide And Seek”

  1. on 02 Oct 2009 at 2:12 pm David Mihm

    Google’s feeling about these kinds of results all along, as far as I can tell, is that they are search results and are not supposed to be indexed. I think a search engineer might have just made an oversight initially.

    I DO think they wanted, however, SMB’s to be able to link to their profiles (to incentivize reviews, show their friends, etc.), hence the more digestible, non-python-generated URLs.

    But unlike Knol I do not see this as a big content play for Google (or if it is, it would be a big shift in their Local philosophy).

  2. on 02 Oct 2009 at 2:13 pm David Mihm

    I should also say that I DO like the shorter URLs, I think that is an improvement for Google Maps, so kudos to the LBC team for pushing that through.

  3. on 02 Oct 2009 at 2:34 pm admin

    Hey David!
    Totally agree with you that the short URLs and the obvious ‘link to this’ option are a big plus. Toggling those arrow buttons back and forth was obscure and a hassle.

    The point you bring up about content is an interesting one. Does Google view this aggregate of data as content or not? Frankly, I’d find it hard to make a ruling on this. Much of it isn’t unique content (TeleAtlas has the map, reviews are being pulled from multiple sources, etc.) but sometimes, an aggregate of many sources can become a strong resource simply because of the wealth of data displayed on a single page. Hmm…you’ve got me thinking about that.

    Thanks for stopping by, David, and have a great weekend!

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