Oct 312012

Merging of two separate listing and the appearing of duplicate listings are two of the longest term problems with Google’s local listings. They are basically the product of the same problem: the local data threshold. This threshold determines what percentage matching information should be present in order for new incoming data to get merged with data already existing in Google’s business information database. If this threshold is passed the data is merged. If it is not - a new cluster of data (listing) is created.

Here is an example that illustrates this better:

Home remodeling company “Bob the Builder” has a listing on Google+ Local (ex- Google Places). They are located in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Here is how the information in their listing looks like:

Name: Bob the Builder
Address: 11 Main Street #100, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701
Phone: 909-909-9090
Categories: home remodeling, home renovation, home restoration

Unfortunately, they also use another phone number to do business, and this is the mobile of the owner - Bob Sponge. Therefore, there are a couple of listings across the web that feature this phone number. The first one is on Yellowpages.com and looks like this:

Name: Bob the Builder
Address: 11 Main Street #100, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701
Phone: 909-555-5555
Categories: home remodeler

The second one is on Superpages.com and looks like this:

Name: Bob Sponge at Bob the Builder
Address: 11 Main Street #100, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701
Phone: 909-555-5555
Categories: home renovation and restoration, home remodeling

There are additionally 20 other listings across the web that feature the correct information (the same that is found on Google+ Local).

Here is what Google does:

1. It indexes these pages and finds that they are business listings. As these also feature structured data it is easier for Google to determine what is what (i.e. what is the business name, what is the address, etc).

2. Google collects this data and goes to its business information database and searches for matching information.

3. It doesn’t find exact matching information. But what it does is it makes a second attempt attempt to find partially matching information. What would happen if it didn’t take this additional step? Then practically every business in the world would have at least one duplicate on Google.

4. Google finds out that the match between the Yellowpages listing and the Google listing in terms of NAP (name, address, phone) is 66%. Additionally, it finds out that the categories are almost perfectly matching, so it also considers them a match. So the chances that the information is for the same business are very high, and Google determines that “well, we will simply merge this data with the already existing one.” In such cases, if you go to the listing on MapMaker, you would be able to see the two alternative phone numbers listed there.

5. The case with Superpages is a little more complicated, though. The address matches, and the categories too, but the business name is just a partial match, and the phone number is completely different. And here comes the doubt - should this information be merged, or should a completely new listing be created? And the answer depends on the situation and a few different variables Google takes into account:

A) Which is the website that features this information? Is it reputable? Does it have a history of storing wrong information? Does it have a history of storing fake information? What is its relevancy to the industry the business operates in?

B) How many matching records there are on other websites and which are these websites, i.e. are they part of the network of the primary source website, or are they sourcing information independently?

In this case, the answer to the first question is generally positive in favor of Superpages. It is a reputable site and it has editorial history of featuring generally good business data. So if Google was to take just this into account, then a duplicate listing was most probably going to be created. However, they are smarter than this, so they go on and check if this information shows up anywhere else on the web. In the case in question - it doesn’t. So what Google would most probably do is:

- Either ignore the information altogether, because there is insufficient supporting matching information from other sources,
- Or merge this data with the one in the listing, giving prevalence to the more prominent data, i.e. the data that appears more often across the web.

It would be most probable that the second case would happen if the Yellowpages listing’s data has previously been associated with the Google listing, because then Google would know that phone number 909-555-5555 is an alternative phone number of Bob the Builder, thus the match with the Superpages data would be stronger.

This is a simple example of how Google takes decisions in regards with local business listings data. A more complicated one would include a doctor, or dental practice, where each practitioner has a listing, and the practice itself also has a listing. A lot has been written about this problem in the last months, and here are some general best practices:

- Obvious one - claim each listing and make sure all the information is correct and up-to-date;

- Do not include the practice’s name as part of the practitioners’ business names, i.e. do not do this: “Your Eyes Clinic: Dr. John Nakamura”;

- Try to add different, unique categories for each practitioner and the practice, do not repeat them across more than 1 listing;

- Use specific landing pages for each practitioner and the practice.

Unfortunately, these might very well not be enough and Google might decide to still merge the listings. Why? Because it might not have enough supporting information that each of these is a separate entity, and thus doesn’t “deserve” to be merged with another one. The way to overcome this is obvious - provide enough supporting information to Google (create local citations), a.k.a. prove it that these are separate entities.

Why I actually recommend that you create listings for the practice AND each of the practitioners

If you don’t do it, Google will sooner or later do it for you. And you cannot escape from it, because many of the specialized medical/law business directories allow only for profiles of practitioners to be added. If you do it instead of leaving the job to Google, you would have better control over what is happening and you would be aware of when something is happening. The problem some would see here is that the practitioners’ listings could “cannibalize” the rankings of the practice, because Google might incorrectly associate part (or all) of the citations with the listings of the practitioners. This can easily be overcome if citations are created for each of the practitioners, in addition to creating them for the practice. Here is an example:

If the practice “Your Eyes Clinic” has only one listing on Yelp.com, and it is for the practice itself, the chances that Google would associate this listing (a citation) with a Google listing for some of the practitioners is much higher compared to the case where there are listings for both the practice AND for each practitioner on Yelp.com.


Creating additional local citations helps Google determine if a listing is for a separate entity, the same way it helps Google when you start clearing up duplicate or incorrect listings across the web. Doing it would not only save you from unwanted mergers, but also help in the rankings of each of the entities. After all who wouldn’t like to have the search results for “doctors Chicago” show 3 or 4 listings related to their practice - one for the practice itself (hopefully at the top), and a few others for each of the doctors?

  8 Responses to “Overcoming Google Local Listing Mergers with Additional Citations”

Comments (8)
  1. Great points on the additional medical/law practitioner/practice profiles - say that 3x fast.

    Saw that back in June on Linda Buquet’s blog & didn’t listen because denial is not just the longest river in Africa - had to learn that one the hard way..and still dealing with the ramifications.

    Definitely a best practice for that sector..at least until it’s not.

  2. Good advice. I’ve had problems with duplicates in the past with my provider info/listings. WIth Google’s new policy on having separate listings for clinic and provider, I’ve taken it as a new lease on life. I’ve been using the David Mihm’s Local Search Ecosystem infographic and your advice on cleaning up duplicate listings as a template, and doing just that.

    During the process I’ve been amazed to find that many directories have 4 or 5 duplicates for my particular business. So far everyone has pulled down the duplicates (except Yahoo….does anyone still work there?) and I’ve been able to edit the remaining, single listings to achieve continuity in NAP and business info. I’m sure it will take a few months for everything to shake out, but I’m betting it will pay off in the long run.

  3. Nyagoslav:

    One of my clients is a law firm and that’s exactly what we’ve been able to accomplish. Their main listing ranks #1 or #2 for some of their important keywords and then there are 1-2 listings as well for the same keywords with the individual lawyers’ listings. It’s pretty sweet. I used to think having all these multiple listings was going to be a pain but it turned out to be a blessing!

    Travis Van Slooten

    • Travis, I am happy you had positive experience adopting the same/similar tactic. I’ve been using it successfully for a few months now with some of my clients where it makes sense.

  4. But Google still doesn’t have any guidelines around practice/practitioner listings, and what is allowed for one may not be allowed for the next:


  5. Hi. Like this article a lot - thanks. But I’m not sure I follow your advice re practitioners and the practice. On the one hand, you clearly recommend creating “listings for the practice AND each of the practitioners.” But in your example, you write, “the chances that Google would associate this listing (a citation) with a Google listing for some of the practitioners is much higher compared to the case where there are listings for both the practice AND for each practitioner on Yelp.com.” - why does this sound like a contradiction to me? What am I missing? Thanks again.

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