Google Upgrades Maps Forums – Will It Solve Support Issues for SMBs?

Today Google is changing the category structure and posting process in the Google Maps Help Forum in an effort to reduce miscategorization of topics and improve the quality of the help provided. All posts since the new forum was rolled out in January have been apparently been placed into the new categories:
Problems and Errors —> Map Won’t Load
For Business Owners —> Verification Issues
How Do I? —> Base Map Data

The move, while a big step in the right direction, will not really solve the customer support issues that Google faces in the SMB world.

In the current forums users typically mix questions across the categories and often cross post as they are unsure as to which category a query belongs. This move to upgrade the forums with more granularity has apparently been successful in other Google forums.

Google noted that “We’re hoping to also generate more discussion around the various features of Maps rather than simply providing a forum for transactional questions and answers”.

In the new layout, Google first asks users to identify themselves as either a business owner or not a business owner as to allow a choice to see all posts by business owners only.

The user is then asked to select one of the many new, more specific categories to post their question.   Google’s hope is that this will make it easier for them “to identify issues, find resolutions, and circle back in a more efficient way”.

-Maps User Categories:

Business Owner

Not a Business Owner

Topic Categories:

-Verification Issues
For business owners having difficulties verifying listings in the Local Business Center.

-Local Listing Issues
For users with questions about editing, adding, or removing business listings.

-Loading Issues
For users who are unable to use Google Maps because the map won’t fully load.

-Feature Requests
A place to share your ideas to help us improve Google Maps!

-Base Map Data
For users to discuss the current base map data for Google Maps.

-Driving Directions
For users to discuss best practices for getting driving directions, or to report driving direction issues.

-My Maps
For users creating personal, annotated, or customized maps.

-Street View
Discussions surrounding all things Street View!

Having spent a great deal of time in the forums, I think this change is very positive and will generally improve the overall environment of the groups and their usefulness. In many of the categories it will improve the ability of users to help each other and create more of a community feel as MyMaps users congregate or geeks talk of packet problems or firewall settings in the Loading Issues category.

But there is a limit to this strategy to improve the self help nature of the forums. When it comes to small businesses with problems in the Local Listing & Verification process, it is unlikely to be as successful as in the the other categories in changing the transactional nature of the Maps problem solving cycle. The reasons for this are several.

Firstly, SMB’s perceive, often rightfully so, that Google has an obligation to display their business information correctly.

Secondly, most SMB’s that I know are either so busy due to the struggle of surviving or enmeshed in customer support issues of their own to be willing to spend their free time in the forums. In the best of circumstances they are franticly executing their new promotion or paying their bills.

Most have an intensely focused and competitive attitude which precludes them lingering long to help others with similar issues. They have survived, as they perceive it, by their own grit, let others do the same. Most are understaffed, underpaid and even if they do understand that cooperation might produce better results than not cooperating they just don’t think that they have luxury.

By the time that they arrive in the forums they are not “grateful” for the free nature of the product but resentful of the imposition of energy and aggravation that they have gone through in their mostly futile attempts to get their listing looking right or ranking as they think it should.

These folks typically come from a world where the phrase “customer service” means talking to someone and when they are confronted with the deafening silence from Google in the forums, they just get more angry.

Thirdly, while the new format will categorize the problem to be solved more clearly, it will still not force the poster to provide enough information to allow another forum contributor to understand the problem quickly and point them in the right direction. The postings almost always lack city, business name or a link to the listing forcing the job of discovery onto the helper. This is time consuming and rapidly wears out even the most dedicated of forum followers. The problem results from the contradiction of trying to solve issues with the structured data of the business listing in the free form context of the forums.

Fourthly, the search system in the forums doesn’t provide answers to new questions it just shows previously posted relevant questions of the same ilk. Thus it requires massive effort on the part of the poster to pore through these many questions in search of the answer that often is not there. Nobody wants a lists of questions to their question, they want answers.

The help system needs to improve to the point of actually answering questions when and where they occur, in the LBC, to be effective. The new Verification troubleshooter is a baby step in this direction but not nearly enough.

Fifthly, many of the problems that drive SMBs to the forums are either features or quirks intrinsic to the Maps system and even if they can be identified, they just can’t be solved by others.  Mergings, duplicate listings, wrong telephone numbers, undeletable coupons, are mostly artifacts of Google’s technology. The problems that they cause can not be solved with a simple entry in the LBC but only by Google’s direct intervention in the account. The circuitous route of a top contributor to identify these types of problems to Google staffers who may or may not respond quickly is both time consuming and demeaning.

So while this upgrade is a welcome change, in and of itself, it will not change the reality for many small businesses hoping to find a solution in the forums unless Google themselves actually invests more people and time in the forum process, improves the types of issues that can be solved in the LBC and refines the help system to actually answer the range of real questions that exist.

Customer service, while it can be automated and scaled to a point, ultimately has a human at the end of the query that deserves a quick and correct answer. That responsibility should not be futilely shunted off to others or left to a solely algorithmic solution.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Upgrades Maps Forums - Will It Solve Support Issues for SMBs? by

10 thoughts on “Google Upgrades Maps Forums – Will It Solve Support Issues for SMBs?”

  1. Agreed. It’s a step in the right direction, but only a baby step. According to SMBs I’ve worked with, they are in need of a giant leap. They won’t go near a forum. I recently wrote a posting on my blog about Google’s struggle to add listings and user generated content in order to enhance value to listings and also increase their advertising opportunities, but at the expense of increased spamming and greater difficulty for consumers to find the listing they are looking for. Google is certainly in need of improvements in listing management, verification, and support.

  2. Mike: Until Google increases its actual responses, it is simple window dressing. The change in the look and reorganization of Google Groups for Maps looks slightly better and is slightly better organized.

    The Singular major problem persists. There is simply no Customer Service.

    I operate smbs. In certain cases I have contacted Google directly. I have yet to get a response. I have yet to see “clear examples” of spamming google’s lbc acted on by Google support staff.

    I see google spam working. I saw a business which changed its google record name from its real name to a spam name that included “local geography”. The result was a higher ranking in google maps.

    I reported it with examples of the real name. The record still sits in a high ranking in google maps.

    Why bother setting up standards and then not enforcing them. It is an invitation to spam. Your blog gets a lot of attention. This response is an open acknowledgement that:

    1. Spamming google records works
    2. Google isn’t acting on spam reports

    I can’t imagine an actual SMB that would operate in a fashion to its customers as Google Maps acts to SMBS.

    Complete indifference to the Customer Service requests to customers would result in the worst reputation one could imagine.

    This is even more remarkable in this day and age, when customer service responses on the web can destroy a business’s reputation.

    As I referenced to you earlier, when Google established two new requirements with regard to names, I went back and looked up the LBC records on a number of businesses that I had entered. I actually surprised myself, as I referenced to you. Every LBC record entered used an appropriate business name. I’m aware enough of Google’s algo’s to know that a variety of spamming techniques would have helped. I hadn’t done it.

    Now I see businesses blatently breaking those standards, benefitting from Google’s algo’s, being reported, and Google doing nothing.

    (Joel H’s response….from 11/27 is a clear example of non-customer service


    ” Joel H
    Google Employee
    11/27/09
    earlpearl – I think I’ve mentioned this before – we don’t necessarily take individual action on every report submitted. However, we do use the information to feed into our ranking algorithms. Those reports are always useful.

    My response is
    Why don’t you take action. You set up guidelines. It appears that Google neither enforces those guidelines, and in doing so, encourages twisted spamming reports.

    By the way, I continue to go into Google Groups and I continue to see SMB’s cry out for help. In a number of those cases these businesses reference that the problem has been ongoing for at least several weeks.

    In sum….nice window dressing change, Google. No substitive improvements on customer service.

  3. I couldn’t help note and copy this SMB’s comments from this morning with regard to Customer Service help from Google

    38 days and counting. Business listing still flagged, come on google pull your finger out! Report abuse

    robert3583
    Level 1
    10:29 AM
    Maybe google have bitten off more than they can chew. Zero support for business listing.

  4. Hi Earlpearl,

    Please note that some of users who post in the Maps Help forum have business listings that do comply with our Business Listing Quality Guidelines (http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=107528). The user you cited listing, currently does not comply with our guidelines.

    We hope that those who post in the forum are aware of our guidelines and follow them, but many do not and therefore encounter issues as to why their listing does not display on Maps, just like the user above.

    Best,
    Maps Guide Linda

  5. Linda-

    In this particular case perhaps Earlpearl is wrong but IN GENERAL, I would have to support him in his argument that Google takes the approach that he quoted of Joel above…where Google does not deal with individual reports of spam even though its impact is great.

    I understand Google’s goal of scaling solutions to fight these things, but smb’s for the most part are surviving day to day and can’t wait for your algo to catch up with their needs.

    A better approach (from my point of view and I think that of most SMBs) would be to manually “suspend” or “hide” spam from view in the results until such time as your algo can do the job. It would at least then appear that you care and would give you time to solve the real problem in good time.

  6. Linda:

    Thanks for the response. Having scanned comments today, what I noticed about that response was 38 days . That is a long time.

    I saw that the guy wasn’t in compliance. Is there a process that clearly spells out what a person needs to do to get into compliance? If not, it is probably beyond that of most business owners. If there isn’t a simple process it may well be beyond most smb owners. They aren’t webmasters.

    I suppose I should have chosen someone who has been caught in the “web” of algo problems and the problem remains in existance for a period of time.

    Those are the people who are left out in the cold by “lack of customer service”.

    Glad to see you “guyz” are monitoring the comments here. I wish you were monitoring LBC maps spam and responding as quickly as you responded to my comments.

    The one that blew me away recently was identification of a business that name spammed the google LBC records recently. Bingo…with that effort the business got into a 7 pac where they hadn’t been there before. I reported it. I referenced a very official name. I still see the business w/the spammy name sitting high up in maps. To me that is an open invitation to spam google records.

    I’ll give you a different issue in google groups for maps:

    Sunnywest asked for help on 11/25. This search:
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=luxury+scottsdale+resorts&revid=1620836695&ei=iakAS5gIiPaxA57SjbcL&sa=X&oi=revisions_inline&resnum=0&ct=broad-revision&cd=6&ved=0CFwQ1QIoBQ

    is turning up a plusbox.

    I offered suggestions. I added the caveat that I’m not a google employee. I referenced that this kind of problem had occurred in the past. You guys seemed to fix errant plusboxes via algo a while ago…but this issue has arisen.

    I refernced 2 ways to potentially fix it (on his own site and through possible “signals” from other sites…but I also referenced that Google will probably need to deal with it, especially if the “signal(s)” for the plusbox are coming from websites other than his own.

    (this comes from experience…..Imagine how hard “no IMPOSSIBLE” it is to get inappropriate “signals” removed from a 3rd party website….when nobody is responsible for it anymore). I’ve dealt with that.

    The misappropriate plusbox is still showing. Has the guy been contacted by google. Is there customer service? Is anything being done to fix the problem?

    My frustration is that the reorganization of Google groups for maps looks nice. It still doesn’t seem to generate customer service.

    Again, I’d like to see any of these smb’s survive without giving quick customer service.

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