Small Business Alert: Google is from Mars and You are from Venus

The good folks from Artfibers, a prominent yarn store at 266 Sutter St. in San Francisco, CA, made this recent post in the forums:


I own one of the oldest and best yarn stores in San Francisco — Artfibers. Six months ago our name came up in a Google search “yarn San Francisco”. Now we do not. It seems that Google is determined to destroy our business. What can we do?

After several efforts by myself and another poster to help they proceeded to only get angrier at Google. I penned this response.

To seabright.nyle from Artfibers in San Francisco.

I understand that you are frustrated. I understand that Google Local results seem crazy and unpredictable to you and that you are angry. I understand that your time is limited but you feel compelled to explain all of this to Google. There is a reason for all of this:

Google is from Mars and most small business people are from Venus.

Let me explain.

Google solves big computational problems with algorithms. That is what they do, that is how they define themselves. On this particular computational problem of local search, they attempt to rank the 100 million or so world wide off-line businesses using on-line proxies. By that I mean that Google is looking to compare the importance of your business to another by looking across the Internet for signals that your real, substantial and significant Place in the real world has more prominence than another in your particular area of geography and specialty.

This is not small task that Google has undertaken. They use a statistical approach to improving the results and figure that if they can provide mostly accurate and relevant results and those are more accurate this week than last week than they are moving in the right direction. Computational and statistical approaches to the question of which businesses exist today and which are more important will never be 100% accurate. Your perception of reality and statistics rarely offer the same reflection of the real world.

You, on the other hand, think that your business deserves to be noticed, acknowledged and affirmed for the unique entity that it is. You feel that your business has earned this attention. Your business is often how you define yourself. When yours is one of the businesses that is affected by Google’s seemingly distant approach, you are justifiably angry.

But in this context your business is no more important to Google than a gnat on a the pettuti of an elephant is to that elephant. It might get noticed but it won’t change the general direction of travel. But it might also get swatted out of existence with the swish of a tail, regardless of ground truth.

You as a business owner can fight this tendency or you can take a more “go with the flow” approach.  I have been doing both for over 6 years. I can tell you from a narrow cost benefit approach, understanding the flow and going with it is usually the most profitable approach for small businesses.

You can try to get support in the forums, you can attempt to e-mail Google or call them and ask why your prominent off-line business is not more prominent online in their search engine. You can argue until you are blue in the face that they are “getting it wrong”.

The answer you will likely get IF you do manage to break through the veritable Iron Curtain of silence and connect with a human is the same answer that  Google provides in the Help Documents.

Google Maps search results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help us find the best match for your search. 

Google Maps and Google Places are free services, so there’s no way to request or pay for a better ranking. In addition, we do our best to keep the details of the algorithm confidential in order to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.

Their answer will make you will wonder if the people working there are any less computational and statistical than their algo. (I can assure you that they are.)

That leaves the “go with the flow” option. That means the “Google flow” or rather the flow as they have designed for they are big and you are little. You are the fly mentioned above.

This option means that you need to embark on an effort to learn how to make your business more relevant and more prominent in ways that Google (the machine, not the few humans behind the curtain) understands.

This effort will require either some time or some money. Perhaps more than you have readily available.

Either though is preferable to beating your head against that iron wall. Both directions will provide results. The latter though (the wall tactic) will provide just a headache.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Small Business Alert: Google is from Mars and You are from Venus by

22 thoughts on “Small Business Alert: Google is from Mars and You are from Venus”

  1. @Mike, well said.

    A quick look at SEO for their home page..

    Title Tag: “ArtFibers – Home Page” <- awful
    Meta Description: nada
    Text Content: zip (relevant keywords -zip)
    Menu anchor text: poor

    Google now has to be mind readers to know what this site is really about.

    "gnat on a the pettuti of an elephant" 🙂

  2. @John
    Yes their SEO is non-existent. Good point.

    I owe that quote which seems to capture the appropriate scale to Sherri Tonzanni from Sunrise Fl… 🙂

  3. Just read the whole thread and wow!

    I loved the “fly on the pettuti analogy”too.

    You explained so many foundational elements of how GP works that most SMBs have no clue about. Your replies and the owner’s comments just cover so many of the problems and frustrations business owners struggle with.

    I’m bookmarking this for business owners and making it required reading in my advanced GP training.

    Like you said, it really does help lessen the frustration of dealing with every little problem when you learn to understand how ‘she’ thinks, why she does what she does and you learn to go with the flow. As you know I have a REALLY hard time doing that and want to go to bat for every client on every problem. But when the problem is really bad fractured data, it’s a tough one to solve.

  4. You both are really FUNNY! lol… How about Google is Androgynous! (Hence Android?) Here is what wikipedia says: Androgyny is a term—derived from the Greek words ????, stem ????- (anér, andr-, meaning man) and ???? (gyné, meaning woman)—referring to the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. This may be as in fashion, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle, or it may refer to biologically inter-sexed physicality, especially with regards to plant and human sexuality Anyway Mike, that is an awesome post! Thanks! and Linda, I sent you a private email today as well.

  5. SEO is a necessary evil which small businesses often don’t realize is an ongoing effort. Bringing a site to #1 simply isn’t enough anymore – one must constantly engage / improve / monitor their SEO efforts to stay on top.

    Whether google changes the algo or a competitor outranks you eventually all sites will sink (or rise) on the SERP (search engine result page).

    With that being said a legitimate local business such as the one above shouldn’t have a problem tweaking the site a bit to at least be a part of the 7 pack (maps listings usually shown before the organic results).

  6. @Linda
    Hah.. .I thought you had given up too easily.

    I guess in the end it is just a matter of perspective.

    Although you know, dupes seem awful similar to leaving dirty laundry laying around the house, a mergings seem an awful lot like a bad repair job (I will just hammer this in, no one will notice). “We do not support this location”… the coat that was inadvertantly left at the restaurant because he had more important things on his mind.

  7. True, but

    SHE likes to change clothes way too often.

    SHE sometimes calls out the wrong name at the most inappropriate times.

    SHE gets lost easily.

    And as I often say, SHE is a whiley beast.
    (I’m sorry but “HE is a whiley beast” just does not have the same ring to it.)

    Another thing I often say that is not a sexual stereotype:

    Google Places is like an onion – Too many layers and often makes me cry!


  8. He won’t ask for directions, he just gives them, even if they are wrong.

    For me the fact that he would rather look at a good data feed rather than face reality seals the deal. 🙂

  9. I’m so glad you posted your response here, Mike. It is right on the money, and I sincerely hope will aid this suffering business owner.

    You have to be ready to play a new game. Without a doubt, the owner of the yarn shop played by the rules of the older, off-line game to get where she is today. She amassed a budget, made a business plan, rented a prominent location, promoted her business via print advertising/yellow pages, had events in her store and offered great products and great customes service that drove word-of-mouth business to her door and has been doing so for years now.

    Now she has to learn to play the new game, while still keeping her hand in the old one. She has to amass a budget, make an online business plan, invest in an awesome, optimized website, get locally profiled and learn to drive up her rankings so that she becomes as prominent and established on the Internet as she is in the real world.

    With the right attitude and time/money/both, any business owner can do this, and your explanation of how Google works points out exactly what the attitude needs to be. Well done.

  10. Great post Mike! I think it would be best for small business owners to train themselves in the art of on-line marketing or at least assigning one employee to champion it.

    Most will not have the budgets to pay reputable SEO companies, on the other hand they cant afford to gamble on some dude claiming to be an SEO guru who only chargers low rates because he works from home.

    All I can say is welcome to our world!

    Question: Since the new site links went live I have seen a huge drop in traffic coming from Google Places. Has anyone out there experienced the same?

    I have created a post on the matter where you guys can find more details.

    I would love to here if anyone else out there has noticed the same


  11. Thanks for the great post Mike. I have tried to explain over and over again to business owners why a smaller, newer business is out ranking them in local results when they have just made the shift to being an on-line business. Unfortunately like Miriam said, to add to the stress they can’t stop their past off-line marketing and in the beginning the on-line marketing is viewed as just an additional expense when it needs to be seen as an investment. Really appreciate your ability to break the technical down into layman’s terms.

    Much appreciated and Google definitely has to be a she, nothing else on this earth can be more finicky or stubborn but a she.

  12. HAHA!!! “your business is no more important to Google than a gnat on a the pettuti of an elephant is to that elephant. It might get noticed but it won’t change the general direction of travel. But it might also get swatted out of existence with the swish of a tail, regardless of ground truth.” – that is going down in my book of most accurate and entertaining quotes about Google.

  13. Thanks to Jim and Mike for helping out with ranking issues. I did some help previously for this user when there were duplicate issues and its nice to know eventually they got back into the search results.

    There was talk of some discussion ‘group’ which I asked to join in but as on holiday at the time did not follow up.

    Cheers. SQLPerformance.

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