“Millions of people search Google Maps every day. A free listing on Google Maps makes it easy for them to find you.

Use Google Places to create your free listing.When potential customers search Maps for local information, they will find your business: your address, hours of operation, even photos of your shop front or products.It’s easy, free and you don’t need a website of your own.”

That is the introductory welcome that you will see if you visit www.google.co.uk/places, the home of Google Places. As suggested, millions of people do indeed look for local services, be it via google maps or just using the normal web search, but specifying a location.

Local search is big. Very big. Not only can search volumes be high, but the traffic is highly targeted and likely to convert well.

Anyone who has looked into local search will know the power that Google Places offer, especially as places listings are now very prominent in Google’s SERPs. For example, if you searched for ‘chinese restaurant soho‘ (as an example) you can see that there are a number of restaurants being promoted via their places page, which includes reviews from a variety of sources. It is definitely worthwhile spending time setting up a places page and investing time and energy to making it as rich as possible.

So far, so good. There are, however, real problems with the platform that stem from its ambition to pull in data from multiple sources and there are numerous examples where it is getting things wrong, which can hurt local businesses.

A common complaint is that of merging different listings – normally when mulitiple listings from one business (e.g. different physical locations for a restaurant chain) are ‘confused’. We have seen this in action with a client and it has proven to be a frustrating experience for all concerned.

Braxted Park is a stunning Queen Anne house where Browser Media used to be based. The family home has a range of different businesses, including weddings, a cookery school, golf, office space and shooting. It is this rich range of different businesses that has given rise to a living example of Google Places getting things wrong.

If you search on Google for ‘essex wedding venue’ (which is an important keyword for the Braxted Park Weddings business), you can currently see a Google Places listing for Braxted Park that is clearly muddled:

Braxted Park Google Places

The listing is merging data from the weddings places page and the offices places page and pulling in reviews that relate to the golf page.

This is not the first time that this has occured and a source of constant frustration for the estate, as many brides do not wish to get married in a golf club and there is a real risk that the confusion may prevent potential customers viewing the site.

A search on Google itself for issue of merged google places listings reveal that this is not an isolated occurence and it is clear that there is a fundamental challenge for the platform to get this right. Google themselves acknowledge the problem and have a help page showing some suggested actions.

There is no doubt that this is hurting some businesses.

The big question is what responsibility does Google have to get this sorted? There are processes to go through to try to resolve the problem, which we are currently doing,  but Google talks about a 21 day turn around which is a long time to wait when you have done your best to do everything correctly.

The fact of the matter is that Google Places is a free service. What responsibility does Google have to address such issues when they are providing the service for free? We are not lawyers, but we suspect that you have little recourse if you are not actually paying for a service – there is no contract and service level agreement.

We believe that most businesses would be more than happy to pay for the service, assuming that it was not riddled with problems and that any issues were addressed promptly and professionally.

What do you think? Would you be prepared to pay for an improved Google Places service?