What Would a Local SEM Do?

This tale of woe was posted anonymously to several threads yesterday. We have no way of knowing, given the poster’s intentional anonymity, the veracity of the post. She left no email address or other identifiable information. For all we know, the story is totally fabricated.

But if it were true, I am curious how you would have counseled this person if they had come to you at some point in the process.

Here’s “Out of Business’s” story in his/her own words and no editing:

Let me tell you a story of how Google local put me in debt. First we have to go back… 2 years ago, Google gave my Local Business listing the #1 place for my service and location. Today, I wished they never had and here’s why:

Finlly, people that were searching for my services were finding me- and rightfully so! After all, I’m not only the best on my location, but one of the best in my industry, credited with multiple awards and years of expertise. At the time, I was so happy with Google that I would have kissed their shoes. They gave me the means to connect with clients where my limited resources could not.

My home business grew to more than I could handle by myself. I needed to hire help, but to do so, I needed to get an office. I hired an attorney to draft up a business plan and we shopped it to the banks. Our pitch was simple “We need this much to expand- we’re making twice as much so it won’t be hard to pay back.” The loan was approved.

I paid thousands for all the right licensing, hired 2 employees and moved into a warehouse. As sales increased and I expanded my inventory. Here’s where it turns bad:

We moved into a warehouse lot with similar businesses. We all shared the same street address but different suites. One day, callers started complaining about products that we didn’t even carry and services that we didn’t perform. Turns out, one of our competitors had managed to rack up multiple negative reviews on his Google local listing and it had somehow MERGED with our listing.

Now, dealing with damage control isn’t so tough. We explained to callers that they had the wrong number and gave them the correct one. The icing on the cake- when our business came to a screeching halt- was when we found that our phone number was nowhere to be seen. No one called for our business. To put it lightly, our phone lines had become the enemy.

For nearly 2 months, we struggled with finding new customers. We passed out flyers but that proved to be ineffective. We heavily relied on Craigslist advertising. In fact, that was our ONLY source of revenue.

Google was no help. They would not even entertain the idea of listening to us. What baffled me the most was how a company that employs 20,000 people (that’s right, twenty-thousand) didn’t have a single person to answer the phone. Here’s Google’s phone number, call them and ask them about anything and see what happens: (650) 253-0000. They will shut you down like a light.

Like a broken record, Google’s android receptionists repeatedly chanted the anthem of: “We do not offer tech support for ‘free services’. We do not offer tech support for ‘free services’. We do…” Ok, as a professional I can understand that a business would not give free support for a free service, but I was willing to PAY. Alas, there was no one at Google that would take my money. Then I remembered that I had paid Google thousands of dollars in Adwords, a $21 Billion dollar company and they couldn’t help me.

Finally, I ended up deleting my Google Local listing. I created a new one and waited a week for my conformation code. After verifying the code I searched daily for my listing to appear. About a week later I found it… It was on page 4. I’m sure you can figure out what happened in the proceeding weeks. We liquidated.

There’s an old proverb: “Don’t put your eggs into one basket”… Whether that’s true or not, I know that basket is not Google.

Thanks for debt,
Out Of Business

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
What Would a Local SEM Do? by

13 thoughts on “What Would a Local SEM Do?”

  1. Interesting comments on the lack of Google service levels when customers have problems.

    The parable is simply one of spreading your risk / exposure to any singular form of marketing.

    Just as banks are concerned about the over reliance on one, large customer, so businesses should be concerned about the over reliance on one form of marketing.

    Google is a fantastic resource for driving business, but it requires a constant “what if” approach to strategic planning.

    What if my listing disappears
    What if a rogue individual peppers my listing with bad reviews
    What if Google opt for paid listing
    What if Google decide .com is more relevant than .co.uk

    The one clear message is that if things get messy, no-one from Google will be there to wipe your backside for you.

    Google is a single channel, buttress it, reinforce it with other channels and expect the unexpected and see if you are still standing.

    Don’t they call that scenario planning? The banks don’t seem to be very good at it……

  2. Mike: I believe this story is totally fabricated. If the “anonymous” person found your blog, they also could have found google groups and commented there. Its possible it could have generated responses. In fact you might have responded.

    Nevertheless its an excellent parable. It could have happened. Businesses expand all the time on a premise or concept that is weak. In this case the weakness was that the “hypothetical” business was totally dependent on one source of marketing in their own words; google maps.

    On top of that, the “advertising source” is free. I wail about Google’s lack of customer service….but the maps phenomena is free. I believe its wrong on a lot of levels, but to date no strong power has pushed Google to set up a customer service dept. for problems in maps. Regardless of that, the algo that might rank a business 1st in maps is Google’s. Its a secret. Its “somewhat” discernible but there is no guarantee.

    We have set up several businesses. We also buy businesses. Its tricky. Before expanding one better scrutinize the heck out of that business to ascertain weak points. In this case the weakness was being too dependent on one source of “advertising”.

    Its additionally tricky in that Google rankings are both “free” and search is possibly the dominant form of “advertising/market awareness” for a business. I believe I saw that there are more advertising money going into search/internet in Britain this year than television.

    Whoa!!! How is a person/business to be found if one’s internet visibility is erased, when internet visibility is the source used by most potential customers (paid PPC).

    A business needs wider exposure. Its that simple.

    Thanks for printing the story. I’m sure its a parable and not true. Nevertheless its a great lesson.

  3. Mike,

    Perhaps a parable, but filled with basic business lessons.

    1. Do not build, expand your business based upon one source of free marketing. Many small businesses fall into this trap. For example, how many businesses rely only on word-of-mouth? Why? Because it’s “perceived” to be free, and it’s easy.Diversify your lead generation.

    2. Whenever a business tells me they’re the “Best”- got all the awards, blah, blah, blah… I get nervous. Who cares what the business says about themselves. “Best” is determined by your clients who vote with dollars. Are you delivering a perception of value? Can you back it up and deliver? If you “got game” on value delivery in the marketplace, why only tell it on Google?

    2. Yes, Customer Service does reign supreme, and you should support your “Free” parts of your marketing funnel… But,here’s a business tip: When you build your business model on Google results, don’t lay the blame on 20,000 Google employees who can’t/won’t answer your question. Maybe you should hire a Local SEO specialist?

    3. Free has a price. Are you willing to pay it?

    4. Google “Freebies” allow tremendous low-cost start-up leverage, but you better have the right business partners on your team to watch your back.

    Bottom-Line: DIY Google Freebies are not for business amateurs. Hire a SEO AND Marketing Pro to help you.

    Also, what bank would have floated this business loan without a personal guarantee? TARP money hard at work?

  4. Fabricated or not, the story is chilling. I am a novice at all of this, own my own shop and have managed to get a good spot on the Local listings of Google. Hiring an SEO is a good suggestion and yet not as easy as that may sound.
    I am a florist..yes the one that is in Sunrise Fl…there are many “florists” out there that really are just order gathers , sending them thru a wire service and calling themselves “florist” yet have no flowers in their cubicle, but the public does not know that..they rely on Google..after all, they are listed as a florist because Google has them listed so they have to be legit…?
    The same goes with SEO’S…There are many out there that have “read” a book and think they are the new expert in town…SEO’s are not all created equal.Does Google have any responsibility to “screen” or test their listings? I dont know but I know there are scammers in every industry and they can be found on the search engines.
    I think in this scenario, that Google does need to support it’s “free” services and that the consumer or the business owner should not have to jump through hoops to get answers. And there should be some test of accuracy or authenticity to some of the listings….
    Being new to this, I certainly dont know the answer but my experience with Google has been a love hate relationship so far..when it works ya gotta love ’em…but when the suck..well I want a divorce…and the porsche, house, kids, and dog!

  5. I saw this comment the other day, and I think I saw it posted on Matt McGee’s site too, or some other Local SEO blog. I’m a little skeptical on its legitimacy, due to the anonymous method it was posted and it being posted, word for word, across multiple channels. However it does tell a potentially true tale of relying too heavily on one source to deliver your customers. Diversify, diversify, diversify your marketing.

    Even within internet marketing, and even within Google itself, you need to diversify. Google Maps listings are not the only source of local traffic. The organic search rankings, showing right below a 7 Pack for a local search, can produce significant traffic. In fact it rivals the Maps traffic and can eclipse it if you play the long tail game well.

    Pay Per Click is incredibly effective too. Though not free, it can produce a very nice return on investment. To capture a wider audience it can even be used in conjunction with the same search terms you already rank well for in Maps or organically. As earlpeal calls it, the “trifecta of local search” (maps + organic + ppc).

    When the Maps 10 packs first started to appear, and up till about 6 months ago, the general public was not really using it. I had talked to many people and business owners who said, “oh those things, yeah, I never click on those”. They were skipping down to the organic results. A combination of poor data, spam, and most business listings still unclaimed and providing little info made Maps listings not very useful, so they were ignored. Now it’s different, there has been a sea-change within the last few months on user behavior as familiarity has set in, combined with more businesses having claimed their listings and more useful data being displayed within a listing.

    Small businesses are scrambling now to improve their listings in maps. It’s making lots of small local businesses, who’ve basically ignored the internet up till now, aware of the need of having a decent presence in search engines. The declines many are seeing from yellow pages is spurring that on too. However many are singularly focused on Maps.

    Maps are still a bit of a wild west, new frontier and will be fraught with drastic change as Google refines the algorithm and until a sort of equilibrium is reached. Any business relying on it will at some point feel the pinch when their listing drops off the scene.

    The cynic in me wonders if the wild shifts in Maps rankings is part of Google’s master plan. Give them all a taste of what’s available there then roll out the pay model (local listing ads) and let them duke it out with their wallets.

    Oh Hi! Welcome to the interwebs. We are Google, a very big basket. All your eggs are belong to us!

  6. I agree with Stever. Diversifying on Google would have prevented this, fabricated or not.

    It is amazing to me how quickly people are willing to paint themselves the victim.

  7. Hi All
    Sorry, have been on the road for the past few days.

    I did a search on the phrase “Let me tell you a story of how Google local put me in debt.” and this person has also posted at:
    Small Business SEM twice

    As well as Covington Creations & SearchEngineJournal. Most posts were in the October 20th timeframe. My poster appears to be from the Atlanta, Ga area.

    In typical and ironic fashion, Google is right there (smack that algo on the side of the head, please) on the above search proclaiming:
    List your business on Google, free!
    Photos and more, fast and effective

    If I were to summarize the above comments:

    Obtain the knowledge to do it right (either hired or not)
    Recognize what you don’t know
    Develop a plan
    Diversify your activities
    Don’t be pennywise and pound foolish, spend where appropriate
    Take responsibility
    Refine and Revise the plan

    Whatever the motivation of the poster, whether catharsis, revenge or some sort of marketing campaign, I have enjoyed and learned from your many thoughtful responses.


  8. I would like to know how the respondents to this post could determine that the poster was a female? I am not the poster, but I have met someone in the Atlanta area who has struggled with a similar story, though I do not believe they are linked. The individual I am familiar with is struggling with an issue that seems more to do with infringement regarding domain name trademarks and a local suburban city business license office licensing two other businesses with similar names. When reviews were negative regarding one of the copycat businesses, he was somehow lumped in with them and his business was damaged; thus, he was placing most of his blame on Google.

    I personally am happy with Google, largely because they employ my son in their San Francisco office. In addition to that, Google is making my business venture very attractive at the present and that is fine with me!

    1. @Gilin

      I am not sure anyone has identified this poster as a woman…I used both male and female pronouns to describe her.

      I am glad that Google i working for you and that your son is gainfully employed. That being said, the above story is illustrative of the need for multi-channel marketing.

  9. I agree with Mike’s comment regarding the story being an illustrative of the need for multi-channel marketing.

    Whoever is ignorant enough to rely on just one single source of new clientele is determined to fail. I have been in the local advertising industry for 10 years, I can tell you this for fact after watching the evolution of the local advertising industry and consumer’s search habits. Why was she/he so dependent on Google Maps?

    For years I have been telling folks in DFW to diversify your online marketing mix. There is a desire by most to do it right, yet very few actually do. The proper mix used to be: Maps/Directories, Natural Search, and PPC…. it is now: Maps/Verticals, Organic/Natural, PPC, and Social Media/Reputation Mgmt.

    You are either doing it right and not subject to going Out of Business or you are simply just participating in local marketing.

    Why after the change did she not consult with an expert?

    They always state that you must “control the control-ables” yet they apparently thought the only potential source of new clients was Google LBL?

    Most businesses lose 1/3 of its clients every year, this is why it is imperative to have an effective online and offline marketing strategy. Don’t rely on one source.

    The HOLISTIC Approach is where it is at!

    Mike Stewart

  10. While I am not sure whether or not the story is true, I can identify with the “suite” in your address issue, somewhat.

    What I have found is that I am getting duplicate listings because different data providers list “suites” differently.

    For example, while infoUSA uses “#” to denote “suite,” localeze uses the full “suite” and Axciom uses “Ste.” as per USPS’s standards.

    To add to the problem, some directories list suite in the same line as the street address, while others list it as a second line in an address.

    Does anyone have any preferred/good method to make sure this suite/#/Ste issue is consolidated or not an issue?

    1. Yaros

      Great observation. I had seen the 3 difference suite designations but had not ever tracked them down to their source.

      My practice, given that Google is the primary referral, is to do it the way Google needs it. My experience with Google is that having the suite # on the second line can sometimes confuse the geocoding. That leads to either splitting listings or listings that can’t be found.

      I am not sure that it matters whether you use Ste, # or Suite but I have always gone to Localeze, InfoUSA and UBL (as a proxy for Axciom) and made them all the same to avoid any chance of Google duplication of the record,

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