The Untold Story of 2011: Google’s Significant Investments in a Google Places Support Structure

There is a story unfolding at Google that indicates a huge shift in their thinking about Places. Google, over the past 9 months has been making significant investments in creating support mechanisms for Google Places. Yes, you read that right. But just to be sure let me repeat myself: Google has been making significant investments in creating functioning support mechanisms for SMB problems with Places.

I never thought that I would be writing the words Good and Support and Google Places in the same sentence with a straight face but if current trends continue they are approaching that benchmark. Given that they literally had next to no support as recently as early summer, this demonstrates a significant resource shift and policy change.

Good support requires good processes, good people and good tools. And based on my observations over the past quarter Google has made significant progress in local on all of those fronts. Don’t get me wrong, there is still long way for them to go but there has been a tectonic shift on every front that indicates a 180 degree change in Google’s approach to the issues for SMBs interacting with Google in the free local space.

The History

Support, or rather the lack there of, the poor product quality and the inability to fix all too prevalent problems has been a common thread amongst critics, including myself, of Google Places for a number of years. I have penned a number of screeds on the topic and not one of them showed Google in a favorable light.

The problem has always been that Google would roll out upgrades to Places while never fixing bugs AND frequently providing no mechanism to fix the resultant bad outcomes. Even if these problems were the direct result of a Google decision there was no remedy. If it affected a very small percentage of businesses then you would have absolutely no hope of a solution at all. In fact often it wasn’t viewed as bug at all. In Google’s eyes, the sacrifice of accuracy for a few businesses to see the overall improvement of the index was a switch worth making. It was just the cost of being in the large data, local listing business.

A classic example was the problem of merged businesses. A merging between two distinct businesses into a single Places page was an artifact of the merge/purge routines built into the Maps algo. Two similar businesses, located nearby would become a single Frankenstein like record that showed part from one business dashboard and part from another.

There was no easy way for Google to separate the two. Certainly there was no easy way for the affected businesses to separate them. It required months of careful upstream cleansing of the local ecosystem for BOTH of the affected businesses. It affected a very small % of businesses but if you were the one affected it could be devastating to watch your traffic dry up as your phone stopped ringing.

At the end of the day, the affected business might make their way into the forums, beg, cry and whine. Perhaps their posting was flagged by a top contributor and if they were extremely lucky an engineer would ultimately look at the situation. But it could be months or more likely never. Unless of course you managed to get the case a fair bit of publicity and the shining light of publicity “encouraged” an engineer to take a look.

Clearly Google didn’t want to provide a fix or perhaps was unable to provide a fix at the individual listing level. It doesn’t matter, there was no fix.

But now I am beginning to see a new Google Places support structure emerging that (hold on to your seat…) actually seems to be working. And in a dramatic departure from past behaviors, it is one that acknowledges that the individual Place listing is worth fixing.

The forums:

Historically the forums were a place for problems to go die a slow agonizing death… where problems would be written about but never solved. I would estimate that for much of my experience over the past 5 years in the forums less than 1 post in 5 (maybe as low as 1 in 10) would even get a response and a solution was available on less than one in fifty. If you check today you will see a much higher rate of posts being answered and many, if not all, have solutions. On some days the response rate can approach 100%. What has changed?

Staffing in the Forums: For the first time in my memory, there has consistently been at least one Google staffer and often more in the forums. Vanessa, who came on board in late summer, has responded to both top contributors AND directly to posters with reliability and persistence. She has stepped in and solved the types of problems that top contributors were incapable of solving as they involved direct Google intervention in the cluster. She has been alert to bugs and has, in several situations, stepped in quickly to be sure that a potential disaster was averted. Equally important is that it appears that the folks in engineering actually listen to her and that information is making it back into the forums.

Additional Volunteer Faces: One or two volunteers can hardly be expected to cover the hundreds of specific issues in the Places forums. For much of my history in Maps, there were very few regular folks providing support to businesses in Places and even fewer that had access to Google as Top Contributor. But Vanessa (with Joel Headley’s support) seems to have been instrumental in elevating more people to top contributor status (for example Linda B and Nyagoslav as well as others) so that the load is much more spread out. These additional TCs not only are more able to respond to the many queries but are able to alert Google to a need for intervention AND a fix.

Additional Paid Staff: In addition to Vanessa’s obvious public role, there are a new Googlers appearing in the forums from their Troubleshooter group on a regular basis of late. If Vanessa is not available, they are now filling in both privately to assist top contributors and in the public forums. A Google Press person noted to me upon inquiry:  I’m … able to confirm that we’ve invested additional resources in the Google Places forum to ensure that specialists can help answer users’ questions as needed.

The result? In the forums most posts are being responded to and in situations where a TC is unable to solve a problem a Google staffer is stepping in and providing answers and more often than not a fix.

Other means of elevating problems:

Report a Problem: With the exception of map based problem reports, Report a Problem, which came out in late 2009, always seemed like a deep, dark well for the burial of Places issues. I, a careful watcher, actually thought that the input was in fact being fed into the algo for large scale solutions and was not going to a human at all. It was either that or the largest joke that Google had ever perpetrated to get folks with Places issues off their backs.

But sometime around mid year (or perhaps earlier) that started to change. Dupes, erroneous categories and some of the other oddities (but not merges) of a Place’s listing, when reported via this mechanism, were starting to disappear within a few weeks. And despite the terribly inappropriate automated email responses, it seemed that there was something, or more likely someone, at the end of the those reports. This feature, not available in all countries, was recently also rolled out in UK, Germany, Finland and Sweden as well.

Troubleshooters: The troubleshooters, released this fall, are a self guided system that drives users through a precise description of an issue and in the end, generates a report that is sent off to Google. When first released, I feared that they were one more “piss in the ocean” effort that would collect data for engineers to determine what big data problem to solve next and would not solve the issues of individual businesses.

It appears however that not only has Google put in place backend procedures & software that can cope with issues like merged listings, it has actually staffed it with people that can operate the software. Issues are not only responded to on an individual basis but reported back out in a meaningful way when solved. It appears that there are in fact US folks at the end of the Troubleshooter system and they understand what is involved in customer support. When asked about the program Google PR said that “we’re experimenting with additional ways to offer Google Places users assistance with their accounts“.

Here is a report from a business describing the timeline of an issue that showed up in the forums shortly after the release of the Troubleshooters. Previously this sort of anecdotal testimonial had been unheard of:

Wow! pleased to announce my horrid merging mess appears to be fixed! Also revealing a whole new serp layout too with the maps and thumbnails! see it here http://tinyurl.com/3nvelt6  This is record time, I have been trying to get my badly corrupted places fixed since Oct 2010!  For you SEO pros heres my timeline for the new “fix a problem” link:

Oct 22:  filled out the form for my listing has incorrect data and submitted it.
Oct 24   Received an email from google advising they had fixed the data according to my submission and to wait 2-4 weeks for results. Meanwhile the incorrect listing remained live and my dash went to “We do not support the location”
Nov 2   My dash Listing fixed and live, only thing missing is my hours, but I can certainly live with that!

Implications & Inferences:

First and foremost there seems to be a broad understanding on the part of everyone at Google from the top down that they can’t move forward without some sort of support structure in place.

Recall that Google has shifted high level executives to focus on Google local. This shift may have started under Eric Schmidt with Marissa Mayer’s assignment to Local last October.  But soon after Larry Page took the helm in April, Jeff Huber was elevated to the inner sanctum  with a specific local portfolio. At a lower executive level,  I think it significant that Carter Maslan left Google Places this summer and it seems that Lior Ron, of Hotpot fame, appears to have taken on an increased role in setting the goals for Places. We can’t know for sure but these changes preceded the many shifts in support levels. I have to believe that they were likely instrumental in providing the necessary budget and in paving the way for making support in Local a funded priority.

As I noted at the beginning of the article good support means more than just good people, it requires good tools. I know that many problems that were once the sole province of engineers can now be solved by staffers like the folks in the Troubleshooter trenches. It appears that internally the necessary software tools have been developed that allows those without CS degrees to delve into the bowels of a business cluster and straighten out much (but not all) of the mess that is sometimes created by the algo. On the public side, the April, 2011 rollout and recent interface improvements of Mapmaker have given some of that power to the greater mapping community as well.

Too Soon to Declare Victory:

One can’t, by any means, declare victory by or for Google on the service front. Google is just beginning the process of adequate support of the SMB in Places. There is plenty left to do and plenty of messes to still clean up. Here are some of the outstanding issues:

The way that Google has implemented Places on the technical side means that any changes in the algo continue to affect Places listings in often unpredictable ways with new bugs and quirks cropping up on a regular basis.

There is still an incredibly circuitous route for an SMB to get help when going from the Places Dashboard thru the help files back to the Place page report a problem and onto the Troubleshooter.

It still takes a number of weeks for the “report a problem” process to see any affect and despite some improvements the communications back to the SMB are often less than understandable.

It is necessary for an “index push” to fix the display of many problems on an SMB’s Places page, oft times delaying final resolution of a fix for a month or more.

Reviews are a huge source of problems and frustrations and as yet, perhaps because they exist in a separate index, the problems there continue. It is an SMB flashpoint and one where Google really needs to double down on both the technology and support.

It isn’t always clear which problems should be solved in the Troubleshooters and what is the best path for specific problem resolution. Some problems like bad photos are done on the Place page, others are best done via Report a Problem and still others are most quickly solved via the Troubleshooters or MapMaker. I have trouble keeping is straight and I do this every day. No SMB can be expected to decipher it.

The Future of Support in Places:

As I noted, good support requires good processes, good people and good tools. Google seems to be on track with good people (Vanessa truly gets support and from my few interaction with the Troubleshooting staff they do as well). The tools are at least being made available internally and externally even if they are not yet easy to use. MapMaker is particularly powerful but still opaque example.

The processes are still an issue and there appears to be a huge disconnect between what happens in the Places Dashboard, where these support efforts should be focused, and the disparate support mechanisms (forums, things on the Place page, the troubleshooters in the help file) that are now in place.

Conclusion:

Compared to last year at this time, when everyone was wishing for any Google Places support in their stockings, it seems that we can now move on to asking for improvements in these process and tools. Google seems to finally be putting in place mechanisms to solve the many problems that they themselves have created. Hopefully the support that we are seeing is more than just a test and is a foundation for not just solutions but quick ones.

Long haul, to compete on main street, Google needs great service. It ultimately will be one of the things that distinguishes them from the many players in the space. It is also a “feature” that they dare not to bring into their coming battle with Amazon, Facebook and Apple.

Hopefully what I have seen over the past several quarters will not only help SMBs market their businesses more successfully and with less pain but will give Google the necessary tools to effectively compete in the local space in the future.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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76 thoughts on “The Untold Story of 2011: Google’s Significant Investments in a Google Places Support Structure”

  1. While I haven’t been following the history of Google’s local search support as long as you, Mike, I believe this is not a strong beginning having in mind the scale of Google Places for business. Yes, Google seems to be investing more staff and (probably) cash in the product, but they do that at a much higher level with (ex-)Hotpot, which is a secondary product (if we consider Places the primary one). Yes, Vanessa is great, Aruna and Joel are also very helpful, but the internal support structure for Places seems to be very disconnected. And last but not least, even the best support structure would not be able to handle properly a full of bugs product in the long term. I put significant time in the Google Places help forum, I could say the same for Jim Jaggers currently. Vanessa is trying to clear up whatever possible, but we are all human beings and some day (pretty soon I foresee) we might stop doing that at the scale we do now. And then will the Google Places (for business) experience go back to its previous state?

  2. Great post Mike. Lengthy just like the long list of Google Places errors but a lot easier to digest. Its good to know Google are putting real people behind desks to find solutions to the costly errors that keep coming up.

    I still find Google Places really frustrating however, we are seeing progress. Onwards and upwards for 2012.

  3. @Matt

    Your and my cynicism was “earned”. The years is the desert, as it were, were painful and frustrating for all concerned. The refrain “we don’t do support on free products” still rings loudly in my ears and the frustration of attempting to help thousands of screwed SMBs wore on my nerves. It will take time for many like us, that have been here since the beginning, to see through that doubt, and for good reason.

  4. @nyagoslav

    The gains are precarious that is for sure (Google is testing?) and as you point out, by no means perfect. While the forum type help might not be sustainable, what I am seeing reflects a huge cultural shift on the part of Google… budgets for support people of free products, training for those people, the time spent internally to develop tools are all indications of a sea change occurring at the highest levels.

    Do I think that Google will attempt to scale and do it cheaply? Absolutely. Do I think there will be setbacks? Yes. Is the fundamental architecture of the listings beast buggy? Absolutely. Can they overcome the many obstacles? Who knows.

    The challenges are many but I think they have no choice. The venom in the well of the Google image in local coming from unhappy SMBs was spoiling the well. They can’t very well sell to SMBs on the one hand while screwing them on the other…

    Whether they can overcome the inertia, a system architecture that seems woefully outdated and the exploitive nature of TC support, time will tell.

  5. @Gavelect

    Yes the list of self inflicted troubles in Google Places is long and annoying…sorry I did not make my story shorter… I just didn’t think folks would believe me if I didn’t provide a long list of related facts. 🙂

  6. Great, deep, insightful article Mike. True students of Google and local google should read this.

    The students of Google itself should read this as your deep research and familiarity with Places is a microcosm how google often works on many issues.

    I’ve been inside the forums for years, like yourself. But unlike you I’ve always been a sporadic visitor. You have developed a deep deep understanding of the external processes we see, but also you have been able to put together little pieces of information that indicate how the internal processes of Google seem to work.

    Simply articulating the difference between a fix that could be effected at Joel or Vanessa’s level versus a fix that had to escalate to an engineer is a critical distinction that you pointed out. Everyone who follows Google should be aware of the process you pointed out.

    Large scale problems occur in Google from time to time. Often they sit and linger forever. Fixes only seem to occur across the board when Google is embarrassed by major media exposure and/or the spread of the flaw within the SEO world and then the larger world exposes Google to serious embarrassment. That has invariably gotten Google to “throw engineers into the fray” to immediately address the problem.

    Without that “embarrassment factor” Google proceeds at its own pace impervious to the problems it causes others.

    Everyone should pay attention to that aspect of the analysis.

    I believe Nyagoslav pointed to a potential issue in using and relying on unpaid Top Contributors. Clearly there are lots more like ‘Nyagoslav” himself, Jim Jeffries and Linda who you mentioned plus others.

    When I’m in the forums now I see their comments on lots of requests.

    But what if a TC goes missing, gets ill, gets too busy, or changes perspective. They are all volunteers. If they fall out does Google have enough of the communicators, such as Joel and Vanessa, to handle the volume of questions? I suspect they don’t. When I’m in the forums now I see dramatically more questions get responses from TC’s rather than directly from Google employees.

    It appears the ideal of real direct customer service is still not there, at least in my experience dealing with so many other businesses.

    But as you articulately point out there has been tremendous progress.

    Great article!!!

  7. @Earl

    The TC tactic of problem resolution is both exploitive and inherently unreliable for any kind of guaranteed solution rate. I did notice that on occasion when the TC contribution dropped the paid staffers picked up some of the slack… whether that was by intention or accident is unclear.

    Google will also face the frustration of rising expectations. These changes, which are keeping a lot of SMBs reasonably satisfied, to some extent hide the still creaky structure that is Places and Places support (as Nyagoslav points out). If Google just does this by half measures they will be swamped with the dismay of the rising expectations vs the reality of mediocre support. I don’t think they can afford that scenario either.

  8. @ Mike – Regarding “They can’t very well sell to SMBs on the one hand while screwing them on the other…”

    I think that’s the key issue here.

    A client of ours has a nearly five-figure monthly Adwords spend, and we were having significant issues in Google Places, with nothing but speculation to go on.

    It was really frustrating for me, as I’m the one who has to answer to that client about why they aren’t listed in Google Places yet. The client’s frustration made perfect sense, as they have such a large spend in Adwords (with support a-plenty), and when it comes to Places, it’s like shouting into the Grand Canyon.

    When Google is making money hand-over-fist with their Adwords product, you’d hope that they’d allocate some resources to one of their prime SMB products. At the very least, customers with large ad spends (something they love, obviously), should be able to talk to a real, educated, and helpful person to help them with their issues – but I’m not saying that those without hefty Adwords spends should go unassisted.

    Glad to see they are making a commitment to improving their support structure. It can’t come soon enough.

    Great post, Mike.

  9. Great summary of the improvements.

    On the spam-fighting front, there also appears to be positive movement. Reports filed recently actually got notice & action, with spam listings deleted. A very nice holiday gift for some local businesses. 🙂

  10. @ Mike – lol no need to apologise for the lengthy post, it is insightful, I also assume you could have made it 100s of pages deep.

    I know I could if I had the stamina and dedication you have shown to consistently bring the issues to light.

    Sometimes I have felt like throwing in the towel however, clients will not allow 🙂 however, they do look at me as if I have horns on my head when I try and explain to them why a local competitor phone number is showing up on there listing, eeck.

    The funniest one (If I can call it that) is when one hotel clients phone number was showing up on a local Domino Pizza listing.

    The hotel was being inundated with calls for margherita’s Pizza’s.

    Its about the only time I have ever found Google Places to be slightly amusing.

    @Scott – if you have more than 10 listings try a bulk upload using an email account through the clients domain. This works faster than any other way but keep it squeaky clean (in terms of no keywords in title etc) as its so frustrating when you wait a couple of weeks for the listings to be rejected due to something that is in my opinion trivial.

    If you do not have more than 10 locations still use the domain generated email address. My apologies if you already know this. Good luck.

  11. @ Gavelect –

    Thanks for the insight.

    I ended up removing the listings from the suspended account, and started the process over with a new email account on the client’s domain. I was doing everything completely squeaky clean.

    No issues yet. *knocks on wood*

  12. Wholeheartedly agree with all your points Mike and thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed summary of the issues.

    And while I agree with Matt and there is still a long way to go, I’ve seen such HUGE strides lately that I’m very hopeful – and extremely thankful for any and all improvements. And I know there are lots more on the way.

    Before I was a TC when I helped in the forums, I usually felt impotent. Now I can go to right to Vanessa and to see her go right to an engineer, get a problem fixed immediately AND explain the resolution to the user. Seems almost like a miracle to me! I’m in awe every time it happens. It feels so good to actually be able to make a difference and get problems fixed.

    However as others have said, having a handful of volunteers and staff trying to nip a multitude of user problems in the bud one-by-one bud is not very sustainable. Part of their efforts need to also shift to fixing the myriad of back end core problems, so support requests are reduced.

    Want to stress that the new troubleshooter seems right now to be the best way to go to get direct support. It goes directly to a live person at Google and I’m getting back great reports on turn around time and resolution. (Messaging and flow are being gradually improved over time, so it’s getting easier to find the right path.)

    At any rate, every single effort to expand and improve support is much appreciated by me. PLUS the change in attitude toward SMBs and support is improving, so that’s encouraging as well. I think that’s an important key. Because the attitude and commitment change needs to be there before any positive actions are taken.

    Admittedly wearing my rose colored glasses today, I believe the attitude change is underway and we are seeing the very beginning of some of the positive actions that are just starting to be planned and rolled out. If there is positive re-enforcement for the changes they are making (more happy users >> more new Places claimed >> more new Adwords $$) then I think we’ll continue to see more resources devoted to support and hopefully fixing some of the core problems.

    Really need to say, having Vanessa on the team is just a Godsend. I see her fixing a myriad of problems, pushing for change and trying to improve things every single day! If with all Google’s power they could find a way to clone that woman about 5 times, we’d be in great shape!

  13. This is a landmark article from you, Mike, and may long be remembered as the post that signaled a changing tide. What a thorough overview you have provided, and while I expect we will still be grousing about Google with frequency, reading your piece has left me with a real feeling of hope!

    End of the year thanks to you, Mike, for another year or the best reporting on Local on the whole web! Your generous documentation of your thoughts and findings is second to none.

    Happy Holidays!
    Miriam

  14. @Gavalect

    I think that you are not yet done with the towel throwing (and hair pulling, and hair greying, and and and) BUT now at least there are mechanisms to deal with most of the many issues. Whether SMBs still think you the devil for these issues when they take 6 weeks till the next index update… but I think if we help set customer expectations it should be ok

  15. @Scott

    I come from the school of thought (and long time merchant brainwashing… I swept floors instead of getting an allowance) that everyone deserves good service and a positive experience not just those that spend tons of cash. Apple and Amazon have figured out how to cost effectively scale great service for everyone and Google needs to do the same… here’s hoping.

  16. @Linda
    While all you say is true and essentially what I said in the article (if not quite so cheerily) I am NOT looking forward to yet one more forum transition into a product that is half baked…. and we lose accumulated knowledge to boot… boo hiss boo hiss…

  17. @Miriam

    We shall see whether I am a polyanna or a prophet. It certainly has been a long time coming… in the past whenever I would get ready to write a Google feel good post, they would come along a pull a bonehead move that inevitably would push the good news off my radar. This one I let sit unfinished for almost 6 weeks just to be sure I was seeing straight. 🙂

    The advantage of that was the birth of a good title. 🙂

  18. @Mike

    I agree with you 100% on that – especially when Google is vying for SMB’s attention and more importantly, ad dollars.

    But we all know that someone working the counter of McDonalds has more customer support experience than Google does. Yahoo, Bing, and even Yellowbook offer the ability to reach a human when you’re stumped.

    However, when essentially no support structure exists, you’d think that they would at least provide some semblance of support to the people that keep their lights on and their coffers full.

  19. @Scott

    Yes you woulda thunk…. but alas not so… I think at last rapid development of too many products with too little time for bug fixes and support has come home to roost…

    At the end of the day if Google hopes to compete with Apple and Amazon (and Facebook) they need to be perceived as having comparable service quality… a long slog from here but not without precedent.

  20. I’m glad to hear that things have improved in the forums, so maybe I’ll go there. I have client listings that just dropped off the face of Local that were in the A spot. No changes were made to the listings so not sure why this has happened. Until Google Places stops pulling stunts like this it’s not going to have the SMB on their side. It is beyond infuriating to have your listings disappear into quicksand with no word at all on why they’ve suddenly junked them.

    1. @JennaG
      The one thing that Google will never talk about is ranking. The reasons for a precipitous ranking drop are many; your listing is being penalized, has been erroneously closed, merged with another listing, developed a duplicate, the map view has changed, the competition has changed… and more.

  21. As I see it – you have been a major player in this success – holding their feet to the fire and kindly detailing the ethical obligations they hold. Kudos to you – kudos to Google. I know I know! Too soon to declare victory but I’m sure you’ll keep poking the giant until they get it right. Happy Winter Solstice my friend!

  22. We still have much to do, but it’s heartening that product and tools improvements and the diligent work of the operations & support team (and great people like Vanessa & Joel) are translating through to positive impact.

    The feedback of this community, good and bad, is appreciated and makes a difference.

  23. Vanessa rocks in the GP forum…. but I think the hat tip has to go to top contributors like you Mike, Linda & Nyagoslav. I have no idea how you guys find the time to help so many desperate SMB’s in the Google Places forum. I wish I had more time to participate and my plan is to help out more in GP for 2012 – gonna commit 20-25 mins a day. I can see the real benefit of being rewarded “top contributor” status and having the ability to bring attention to some support request threads.

    Overall, I have found that Google Places support has really improved in the last 2 months. I found anytime there is something I cant get fixed via the regular report problem link, if I can get Vanessa to look at it then it gets fixed ASAP. It’s almost always duplicate listing problems or owners who don’t have control over a listing.

    I still wish they’d offer a paid “support” option. SMB’s and local SEO’ers would all be happy to pay for live support.

  24. You´re right Matt: “Too Soon to Declare Victory”
    There´s no doubt that Google has been working hard on showing more personal results based on user´s location.

    But what I don´t know is why this option -Google Places- is not available in all countries around the world. They are focusing just in large big countries but not all.

    Maybe they are waiting to fix all the “bugs” and then applying **wish**
    🙂

  25. Our experiences have been of nightmare levels for our clients when it comes to trying to get errors and issues addressed with google places pages. We have seen no improvement as of yet.

  26. I had a pretty interesting interaction with Google lately involving a report I made on a local restaurant that closed down near me.

    I reported the closure earlier this year and heard nothing back. I checked a few days ago, and noticed that Google had denied my edit, not much after I reported it. So, I reported the closure again.

    Within a day, I received an email asking for more information, and if I knew anything about the business that might have moved into the location that the old restaurant was at.

    I responded with links from 2 Yelp reviews mentioning the closure of the restaurant in a review of the old restaurant and in a review of the new one that replaced it. I also included a mention from the local newspaper website about the new restaurant that included the address information. I provided a link to the new restaurant’s location and directions page, which had their address on it, as well as a link to a local directory, which had a “what’s new” page mentioning that the new restaurant had taken over the old restaurant’s location.

    That may seem like a lot of work, but I wish I had been able to include that kind of information in my original report about the closure. I’d love to see up-to-date information in Google Maps about the businesses around me. Someday I may even stop at that new restaurant and eat there. 🙂

    Within a few hours, I received a response that Google had accepted the closure and had added the new restaurant.

    It does seem like Google has gotten more serious about following up when people report closures.

  27. @Charlie

    For Places to work in any given country Google needs both good base map data AND good base business listing data. In some countries they have one or the other and sometimes they have neither.

    Maps and business data both experience distance decay attributes… the further you are from a large population and lots of commerce the less existing digital data there is.

    Sometimes the existing list or map data providers don’t want to or refuse to work with Google.

    Obviously creating those data sets from scratch which Google has been doing are no small task.

  28. @Jeff

    Thanks for stopping by.

    As you know I have been a strong critic of your (ie Google’s) past policies and your willingness to sacrifice the individual business listing on the altar of big data…

    I also have long felt that the support staff were underfunded and not given appropriate tools. The self help tools likewise.

    I too am looking forward to continued changes that make your products more reliable and the day when a single click from an obvious location can solve a problem.

  29. @Yousaf

    “Too soon to declare victory”…. we are seeing the beginning of a trend that required a huge shift in institutional thinking… that being said it is way to early too understand if they do in fact have their act together and understand how to tie all of this into a nice, neat easy to use support environment… we have seen a willingness to change… now the hard work for them comes.

  30. @Raleigh

    The system that Google uses to create and show a listing is incredibly complex and prone to failure. The same can be said of the mishegas of support options.

    Because of the complexity at the core of Maps, bad listing outcomes will result. The way that you used to get problems fixed in the past are no longer valid. As Bill pointed out above, the same activity that was futile 9 months ago is now working… you need to assess each situation your businesses are confronting and go at it anew using the new tools. If you do that, listings are fixed within the timeframe for a reindex… still too slow but better than the never of the past.

    Also I am saying that the changes, only now visible to the public, most importantly reflect a change in attitude at the management level. So far the implementation has failed to address the still massive UI issues and thus the benefit of the changes are not yet equally distributed. I see many of them because I have a privileged position in the forums and because I can compare to how terrible they were for so many years. Like I said, Too Soon To Declare victory.

  31. @Matt

    Usually, at the end of the day, duplicate issue problems are a result of the SMB having 3 different business names or having move recently or using two different phone numbers and Google, in their vacuuming act, sweep that data into the index.

    The new Troubleshooters are the way to go.

  32. @Bill

    Yes I have seen the exact same results. Core mapping issues were resolved but listing issues could sit in limbo for an eternity. Now, they can be resolved fairly quickly… the only grump I have is that the UI to Mapmaker sucks!

    1. @Andrew
      Thanks and same to you.

      PS
      I think that my turn of a phrase, given my sex, is totally gender appropriate… hers on the other hand really raised a few eyebrows and creates quite an image in my mind’s eye. 🙂

  33. @Bill: That is a great detailed report on your actions and the 2 sets of responses.

    The 2nd response is encouraging. Thanks for filling us in.

    Dave

  34. Thanks @Andrew!

    @Andrew! @Mike

    You both have missed my many references to feeling impotent. Maybe that’s why I have a hard time keeping all my balls in the air. 😉 Maybe she’s really a he! Ho, Ho, Ho! 😉

  35. @Linda
    Other than your sideways mention of hard, I doubt that the past fierce defender of Google Places as an unpredictable she could ever assume the role of a he… Ho, Ho, Ho not withstanding…

    Merry Christmas to you and all.

  36. Mike: This is a theoretical question:

    If you were to give Google a grade of somewhere between 0 and 100. Zero represents No customer service. 100 represents complete customer service. For complete customer service I don’t mean solving every issue to every questioner’s total satisfaction (ie an SMB contacts G Places and asks a google REP–>How do I get to be #1 in G Places for NYC doctor, lawyer, florist, or god forbid #1 for NYC locksmith)–>obviously questions that can’t be resolved the way the questioner wants…

    But I do mean responding to every question, either by email and/or phone. The kind of customer service they give in adwords or the kind of customer service anyone else gives.

    Okay, explanation aside, how would you historically rate G Places Customer service during this long continuum in which you have been involved in the Places Forum?

    What grade would you give it at early stages? I was there fairly early. My grading would be in the lowest 10 percentile range. I reference some of the comments in your article back to those days. I’d add some memories about comments by frustrated smb’s threatening violence (remember those 😉

    Customer service response has dramatically improved this year….and more dramatically so in the latter part of the year.

    What grade would you give it??

  37. @Earl

    I think of the issue more broadly. I think the scale needs to be “total customer experience” not just customer service.

    Let’s compare Google to Apple.

    Apple has a model that tries to delight its users from bottom to top. Great product design, great buying environment, great sales support, pretty reliable products and pretty good support and service. The process scales from the one off buyer to the business or school buying 100’s. And a process that works consistently across all of their product mix. But where Apple is willing to add resources for consulting and support when the client engagement warrants it.

    Google’s ad hoc approach creates highs here and lows there, terrible inconsistencies and erratic outcomes…. as someone above pointed out a loyal adwords customer gets terrible results, bugs and service in Places… it makes no sense.

    I think the issues are systemic at google from their code base on up… so it is hard to pull out PLaces and evaluate on its own. It does seem that they are working on them… too early for me to give a number sorry.

    I do however agree with you. It is still not very good.

  38. Mike: Your response is far broader than my question. Your response makes me think of two things:

    1. It reminds me of the “rant” by the google engineer, who suggested that the “platform” existent in Amazon is preferable and more effective than an ad hoc approach existent in Google

    2. We have a business that has some of the successful things associated with the Apple experience you described…and we have lots of businesses that don’t have those characteristics. Its very hard to replicate that experience.

    One thing is that Apple had a head start having created a distinctive product(s) (Mac’s) that had a cult/quality following….long before they branched out into other areas. They also had a history and success in creating the distinctive products (Mac’s) and creating a mystique about them. Then, as I’ve been reading, Jobs was the genius behind the successful development of a slew of following products, each with those wonderful traits.

    Getting each subsequent step down is not magic. Its usually implementation, study and tweaking. Its a lot of internal work, none of us on the outside see.

    Certainly trying to emulate the complete terrific customer experience is a terrific goal.

    Maybe one has to have a “platform” or certain standards in mind rather than working on everything on an “ad hoc” basis.

    To get back to my question…what grade now???

    In the early days I’d have given Google a grade near ZERO. Today its way higher. I’m not sure as to the grade. Its a strong improvement with the various elements of upgrades as you have described.

  39. I have only been delving into the goings on with Google Places for a few years so relatively insignificant to some people, however the change in support has drastically improved!

    If this is the new way of thinking (I genuinely hope it is) and if the improving support trend continues to grow, 2012 should be a great year for Google Places!

    Fingers Crossed!

    1. @Gav
      Don’t break out the champaign (or other celebratory drink of your choice) just yet, better is not yet good and directional movement is not yet arrived at a destination. I am optimistic, not because the service or backend product is that good, but because the folks in charge seem committed to better.

  40. I read this article with some hope. I have been dealing with the Google places people for about a month trying to fix an incorrect hours listing for my business. Everyone tells me that it has been fixed and to be patient. Meanwhile, my customers are getting the wrong information and I am losing business. I am ready to go to legal action next . . .

    1. @Cindy
      Speed, due to the delays between index pushes, is not yet an attribute that can be ascribed to Places. As EarlPearl points out, better than nothing support has still not achieved even good let alone great. Given that Google started at such a low point, it is the trend I am marveling at.

      For whatever reason (perhaps a large update coming?) index pushes have been coming at a 5-6 week interval. Issues like updating hours still needs an index push to correct. The last one, as far as I can determine was around the first of december. That means that your hours issue won’t be corrected till the first week or so of January. That certainly does not constitute great support by any stretch.

      Glasses in the world of Google Local search can be seen as half empty (all the business you are losing) or half full (the increased exposure)… Unfortunately Google’s issues that so frequently plague Places tend to remind of the former and all too often blot out the reality of the latter.

  41. Cindy: I looked at your record and your website. I checked hours. Why don’t you go into your G Places record and add a note about your hours now until Google corrects it. Add 24/7 hours or your holiday hours in the comment box inside your places record. It will show just under the hours and be pretty visible.

    Its not a solution to the google glitch…but it is a temporary fix.

  42. No Cindy, what Earl is suggesting is not on your Place page and it’s the easiest fastest bandaid you can put on the problem for now.

    You have a post on your Place page that says:

    “Free Coney with Crossroads ticket from same day!”

    Change that to “Now Open 24 Hours – Free Coney with Crossroads ticket from same day!” or whatever…

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