I have been spending a lot of time analyzing businesses that have had ranking drops since Pigeon and have noticed a serious trend in businesses that dropped in ranking after Pigeon rolled out that have duplicate Google Places listings that have the “permanently closed” label on them. I wanted to share 4 case studies that explain some of the findings I’ve seen.
Some things you should know first:
- The Permanently Closed label appears on businesses that are marked as closed on Google Places. They should only be used if the business or practitioner was actually there at some point and was eligible for a listing. This is a really important note because so many cases I’ve seen have listings that are marked permanently closed that never existed there to begin with.
- I’ve dealt with way more than 4 of these cases so my sample size is much larger than what I’m going to be detailing in this article. Linda Buquet over at the Local Search Forum has also troubleshooted some of them with me and has found cases of her own.
- Ranking on Google Places is never about just 1 factor. All the businesses I’m referencing had other issues that prevented them from ranking high as well. I’m not in any way stating that this issue was the only thing stopping them from having success with ranking on Google Places.
- Before Pigeon, I never saw any situations where permanently closed listings seemed to impact ranking
- Permanently closed listings are indexed by Google and in many cases outrank open listings in the same vertical (which makes no sense to me).
- In MapMaker the label says “Placed Closed” but on Maps and Google Plus the label says “Permanently Closed” (they are the same thing)
Case 1: A Business that Relocated
A personal trainer in Katy, TX moved over 2 years ago but kept the same phone number. Their business name didn’t change (not a re-brand) so the only difference was the address. When Pigeon rolled out in July their ranking tanked and they disappeared for their main keyword:”personal trainer Katy TX”. They had 2 listings on Google Places: 1 for their current location and a second for their old address which was marked permanently closed.
Step One: I contacted Google support via this form to request that reviews on the old listing be moved to the new listing. I selected the following options on the form:
- My Page is for a Business with a Physical Storefront, or which serves customers at their locations
- Another Type of Problem
- Reviews are associated with the wrong local page
Step Two: Once the reviews that were on his old address listing were moved onto the new listing (more ranking power), I proceeded to make sure the listing got the relocation message on it. The relocation message is a hidden gem because it is something on the back end that connects the 2 listings. Where this message appears keeps changing. Early in 2014, you could only see it on Classic Maps. Later in 2014 it was showing on New Maps and on the Google Maps app for Android as well. As of the time of writing this article, it is now only showing on neither Classic or New Maps but you can see it if you search in the local-only search results (not sure if there is an official name for this).
To see the relocation message today:
- Go to https://www.google.com/search?safe=off&tbm=lcl&gl=us
- Search the business name and full address exactly as it appears on the permanently closed listing
- If the listings are attached properly, you will see the “relocated” message instead of “permanently closed
To get the message applied, I pressed report a problem on the permanently closed (old location) listing and under the notes field for the address I specified that this business was not permanently closed but that it relocated to 2004 South Mason Road and I asked them to put the relocation message on the listing. The only way to get this done is to use RAP or contact the Google My Business team via email. Do not try calling their support team to do this (they won’t have a clue what you’re talking about) and the MapMaker team can’t help you do this either.
About 2 weeks later, the message appeared on the listing and instantly the ranking shot up. They are now ranking in the local pack like they were before this mess.
Case 2: A Business that Relocated and Re-branded
A private investigator in New York City used to go by a different business name at a different address. They moved and rebranded years ago and were ranking first or second in New York City for most private investigator terms. When Pigeon rolled out in July, their ranking dropped (to page 2-3). They have a listing marked permanently closed for their old location + name. Their phone number remains the same.
Why I believe the old, closed listing is of such importance is that the words describing the listing in the “people talk about” section are the new business name and the keywords they actually want to rank for. This section is almost like an inside look into what words Google is associating with your listing (outside of the categories you’ve chosen). American Eagle is the name of his business after the rebrand yet it’s appearing on the listing for his old business name (ESS Laboratories).
Secondly, his 3rd party review sites are attached to the permanently closed listing. I’ve found having 3rd party review sites attached to your Google Places listing is a huge positive ranking factor. How you see that they are attached on the permanently closed listing:
- Go to https://www.google.com/search?safe=off&tbm=lcl&gl=us
- Search the business name + exact address for the old location
- Click the business when it comes up in the search results.
- This will pull up a search results page that has a knowledge panel for the listing and near the bottom you should be able to see the 3rd-party reviews attached to it.
The solution for businesses in this scenario is more long and painful. Obviously NAP clean-up on the major directories should be the first priority. As I’ve experienced many times, it can be really difficult to get rid of listings on some sites for rebrands due to each site having different policies and ideas on the topic. There isn’t anything you can do to remove the permanently closed label so I would take cases like this and consider them like brand new businesses. The time frame for ranking will be just like a new business – much longer than a business that simply moved. I stripped the phone number and website off the MapMaker listing as an attempt to un-associate these 2 listings but it made no impact.
Case 3: A Business with Invalid Listings
A dog trainer down in Florida hired us recently and had 2 listings with the permanently closed label on them. He is a Service Area Business (SAB) so as per the Google My Business guidelines, his address shouldn’t even be showing to begin with so he shouldn’t even have this issue. The 2 listings were for PO Boxes that he had listed himself at a long time ago. Google’s rules haven’t always been as clear as they are today so many service area businesses used to list themselves using PO Boxes or virtual offices. When the guidelines changed many of theses businesses would go back and close out these listings to try and make sure they comply with the rules. However, these listings should not be marked permanently closed, they should be deleted.
Step One: To get the 2 permanently closed listings removed completely (instead of marked closed) you first have to open the listing on MapMaker. Make sure you add sufficient notes to the edit explaining that you are only re-opening the listing so you can delete it after. Reference proper sources for why the address isn’t real or why the business was never there to begin with and why you want the listing deleted. Use the tips I reference on my post for removing spam from MapMaker. Flash and DdDave give you some awesome tips in this thread to make sure you understand this correctly. As DdDave points out: Deleting it removed it from the database, but marking it as closed keeps it in and flags it as closed. If the business did exist but is not longer is business, it needs to stay in the database so the next time Google comes across information about it the listing does not get re-added as if it was a new listing.
Step Two: Once you submit an edit to re-open the listing in MapMaker, post immediately on the MapMaker Forum to get your edit approved faster. When I got the listing for this business re-opened their ranking spiked instantly. The day their listing was open, the closed listing started ranking instantly in the 3rd position. The next day when the listing was removed completely, the ranking for this category vanished all together. This only happened for the category that the listing shared with the permanently closed listings. The other categories they have on their open listing rank just fine.
The 2 listings now lead to 404 pages when you open them, however they are still indexed by Google so we are waiting to see what happens next time Google crawls the pages and removes them from their index. The impact of deleting listings that were marked permanently closed is still to be determined.
If you aren’t convinced that permanently closed listings impact ranking yet, we’ll look at my last case.
Case 4: A Business with a Closed Practitioner Listing
We had a dental clinic in New York that had 1 practice listing and 1 practitioner listing. The practitioner listing was for a dentist who no longer worked at the practice. The practice listing ranked great in a very small town on Long Island until Pigeon hit. After Pigeon they completely disappeared.
The permanently closed practitioner listing appeared to have a lot of ranking value attached to it and also had several reviews on it that were over 4 years old so it shows that the listing has been in Google’s database for a long time. Age is definitely a ranking factor with Google.
As an experiment I convinced one of the MapMaker RERs to open the old practitioner listing to see what would happen. The listing instantly spiked to the first position for almost every keyword. The practice listing was still nowhere to be found (note: they use the same phone number on both listings). We kept it open for a few days to make sure the ranking would stay the same (it did) and then closed it again. Once it was closed the situation went back to what it was before -with nothing ranking well.
For this case there isn’t really a good fast solution, kind of like case 2. If the doctor that was at your practice is the one that holds the ranking power (they have more reviews or citations etc.) and they leave your business, it’s kind of like rebranding and starting over. I think the “permanently closed” label on a practitioner is a really dumb message since the place is not closed at all but just has a public-facing practitioner that no longer works there. I have shared my opinion about this with Google several times.
Have you noticed similar patterns with permanently closed listings? I’d love to hear your feedback. Please feel free to leave a comments section below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.