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Google Acting Like Merchant Circle With Nearby Places Move

using business names competitively

Check your Google Place Page today if you haven’t in awhile – the one with your business name on it, your photos, your reviews, directions, videos, contact information, custom made maps and etc. on it. The one you’ve claimed. Scroll down a bit, and you’re likely to encounter something that looks like this:
nearby places you might like

Yes, chances are, your competitors are now being given considerable space on the document you may have begun to think of as your Google Place Page. If, like most of us, Google’s September introduction of Place Pages led you to believe that this page belonged to you, you’re in good company. It was language like this that probably caused you to feel this way:

If you’re a business owner, you can add or update your business details through the Local Business Center. This allows you to make sure your (emphasis mine) Place Page reflects the most accurate, authoritative and recent information about your business.

It sort of sounded like you were in control of your claimed Place Page, and at that time, there wasn’t any mention of the fact that you’d soon be hosting your competitors on your company’s page. Understandably, Google’s latest rollout of the Nearby Places You Might Like feature is ruffling some feathers, but it’s doing more than that. The philosophy behind this move is taking on the odd quality of a deja vu…
Do you remember, back in October of 2009, when Mike Blumenthal published this screenshot he took from Merchant Circle?

nearby places you might like

*Note to Mike: in a blog post about swiping…excuse me, appropriating stuff, I hope you don’t mind my appropriating your screen shot. As readers may recall, Merchant Circle launched a campaign of using unclaimed company names in advertisements that listed not the companies’ phone numbers, but the phone numbers of things like affiliate model hotel booking sites. There was much speculation about how much of a kickback Merchant Circle was getting for this activity, and there was general loud agreement that this was a lousy, unsavory thing to do. Few were surprised that a company with Merchant Circle’s reputation would do something like this, but most folks agreed that using Company A’s business name to funnel traffic to Company B, without the knowledge or consent of Company A, is slimy behavior.
And there’s that deja vu.
Google has taken on a Merchant Circle aura by giving a big, fat paragraph of links to competitors on both the claimed and unclaimed Place Pages of businesses. All the while you are working to outdistance your competition and distinguish yourself on the local scene with both your offline and online efforts, Google is forgetting to ask your permission to advertise the other guys on what you thought was your Place Page. Matt McGee has succinctly asked the question, Who Owns Your Place Page? and, more directly, Mike Blumenthal has asked Google’s Carter Maslan the following question:

MB: If it isn’t a Landing Page over which they have reasonable control, what would incent an SMB to claim and control their listing?
CM: The primary reasons to claim your listing are a) ensure the accuracy of the core listing data, b) get insights into how and when people are finding you even before they arrive at your site/doorstep, and c) engage with the people searching for you by posting updates, photos, videos, etc.

Yet again, it’s the scenario I have so much trouble with of a corporation creating something with your business name and then expecting you to come a-running over to their ball field to play their game, by their rules, because they’ve swiped your name and you’d better make sure they aren’t misrepresenting you. I’ve complained about this mentality loud and long over the years, but even I am getting used to the highhanded manner in which Internet hot shots conduct their business affairs. Merchant Circle is just so highly ranked for business names and Google is just so huge…their policies end up setting the tone of the Internet and trying to fight their interpretations of trademarks, copyright and privacy seems borderline hopeless right now. Working on the web as I do every day, I feel a sort of numb acceptance of this. But what I’m not going to get used to any time soon is the semblance of hypocrisy.

goose gander

What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. I mean, taking into account Google’s apparent feeling about using, without permission, one business name to promote the names of other businesses, they shouldn’t have a problem with something like this, right:
google vs. bing

Wrong! When Google feels threatened by something like a Chinese company using the name Goojje, we read news like this:

Google accused Goojje of infringing on its trademark rights, saying the logo of the Chinese website could make users believe it was authorised by or linked to the US company, the Shenzhen Economic Daily reported.

You see, Google is afraid that someone might be led to believe that this switcharoo stuff with their name might appear to have been authorized by them. It might misdirect the public and lose Google money. They don’t want the competition using their name to achieve prominent visibility.
In fact, Google takes their competition so seriously that Search Marketing expert Danny Sullivan suggests that Google’s choice to run a first-ever commercial during the Superbowl only served to signal how afraid Google is of their competitor, Bing.
Thus, many of us will scent hypocrisy in the policies of a corporation that fears and tries to extinguish the fire of competition while at the same time forcing millions of small and large businesses to share space with competitors on what was originally presented as a win-win product for business owners and Internet users alike. Business owners are winning a bit less when Google is using their name to display the data of direct local competitors and has the clout to steamroll over any small business squeakings about trademark infringement and fair business practices. And, that’s just not nice.
Will the nearby places you might like benefit Internet users? To be fair, I can see how they might. If you’re looking for Chinese food in San Francisco, it might be nice to see a list of options. But it won’t be nice for the owner of San Tung restaurant who may have worked like crazy to get into the A position for ‘chinese restaurants sf’ in Google Maps, only to find that his Place Page now lists 10 of his top competitors.
I’d like to finish up by mentioning that Mike Blumenthal did ask Carter Maslan if, in Google’s process of doing user-acceptance testing of new features, they ever consider doing SMB-acceptance studies. Maslan’s answer:

We want both consumers and businesses to find the results useful in engaging with each other. While the implication is that this feature puts the interests of consumer and business at odds, owners often realize quickly that the Web of connections among places and people is both inbound and outbound.

I know how this answer strikes me, but what I want to know is, how does it strike you?