16 MAY 2011 6
Google Places is a great service that can provide an immense boost to the popularity of your offline business. If you run a brick and mortar venue, I strongly advise you to sign up for an account and have your shop listed.
However, just like all great services, Google Places comes with its downsides. Here are three of them.
The worst impact is probably on Adwords advertisers. The whole right hand side column on the search results page is shifted down by hundreds of pixels to make place for the map on the upper right corner. Visitors with a low browser resolution will see the ads way below the fold. Also, as you scroll down the page, the map remains in a fixed position and overlaps the ads column. Users with a 1024x768 browser screen can see as little as three ads from a total of ten or more.
Since positions 4 to 10 are shifted down the page, cost per click bids for the first three spots will increase dramatically since they are the most visible. It’s one thing to have your ad placed slightly below the fold and another not to have it seen until the user scrolls down.
This is a downside of the service as a whole and shouldn’t impact individual Google Places users.
This hasn’t been tested nor thoroughly documented yet, so take it as an open question. Google Places is definitely great for helping users find nearby brick and mortar businesses. Let’s take the (fictional) example that I was running an IT support shop located in Hamilton. A user in Hamilton searches for “IT support” and lands on my page. Great. But what if another user from Ontario searches for “IT support”? It would be natural for offline businesses to be shown first, but would my page’s rank be significantly worse because Google “knows” I’m located in Hamilton? Would my rankings be better if I hadn’t used Google Places in the first place?
We haven’t tested this yet, but I feel the concern is legitimate and you might want to do some split testing if you aim at a wider market.
There is not much an unethical competitor can do when it comes to lowering your search engine rankings (Other than re-posting your content all-over the Internet hoping Google will trigger a massive duplicate content penalty, but that rarely works).
When it comes to Google Places, your competition can post false negative reviews that can lower the credibility of your service. Unfortunately there is not much you can do about it, other than contacting Google and explaining that whatever your “fan club” wrote about you isn’t true. If the reviews are cleverly written and don’t look spammy at all it can be quite hard to have them removed – Google might give your reviewers the benefit of doubt and just leave their opinions there.
Again, I do endorse the service (we at Lifeline Design use it). This article is only meant to let you know about some of the potential pitfalls if you sign up with Google Places.