Checking Google Places Penalties

UPDATE: On June 24, 2014 Google removed the ability to search Google Places, eliminating this method of checking Google Places Penalties. Read more on recent local search updates.

As most everyone in the SEO business knows, Google Places has become one of the most important ways for small businesses to attract customers via inbound marketing. Google Places results are the top results for desktop searches, and they play an even bigger role in the results presented to mobile users. Local customers that are seeking a specific product or service are likely to use Google’s local search results to determine where and how to spend their money.
Penalties, or a sudden drop in rankings, for local results (often known as the ‘pack’ results) can occur when a Google business listing violates the Google Places Guidelines or loses trust as a verified business entity. Common reasons for ranking penalties can be keyword stuffing, duplicate listings, and using a PO Box or false address for a Google business listing.
Unlike many organic search ranking penalties, businesses are not notified when Google Places penalties occur, and troubleshooting even common penalties or automatic filtering of results for Google Places can be quite a challenging task.
Through research, experience, and testing, we have discovered a way to check the Google local pack results without some or all of the Google Places penalties being enforced. This helps identify that a business’ local rankings are in fact suffering from some type of penalty as opposed to just being beat out by the competition based on local ranking factors.

The Google Places 100 Search

The easiest way to perform such a check is to visit the following URL and perform your localized search: www.google.com/search?&num=100&as_qdr&tbm=plcs
This searches only Google places results (as noted by the &tbm=plcs in the URL), and sets the results to 100 per page (the portion to amend any URL for that is &num=100as_qdr). Alternatively, you could click on “settings”, turn off instant predictions and set the results per page to 100.
These Places search results are the results that are blended with the organic ranking results and used to form the local pack that is seen in many local searches. When you perform this kind of Google Places search with results set to 100, there is some type of penalty filter that is not applied.

As an example, take a look at the following screen shots of the results for ‘Seattle Chiropractor’.

Google Places Penalized ResultsIn this example, the first two results in both cases are the same. However, the third and fourth results are different. The “Places 100” search includes businesses that are left out of normal pack result rankings. These particular results are omitted from the regular search results because of some type of penalty or automatic filter. Specifically, the two results (Rainier and Abrams) in the “Places 100” search results seem to have what is commonly referred to as a duplicate listing penalty. If you perform search for the business phone number in Google Maps for either of these two businesses it yields at least one result with the same phone number and an at least a partial business name match, likely causing an automatic duplicate listings penalty.

We haven’t analyzed enough data to be sure exactly which specific penalties can be bypassed through the Places 100 results search, but we’ve seen it many times with duplicate listings and NAP confusion issues. We would love to get feedback from our readers in order to try to come up with a more conclusive answer. If you have questions or feedback on certain situations, let us know. As always, remember that DirectoryBug offers comprehensive audits, consulting, and local SEO training – Contact Us for more information.