Why Local Will Continue to Be Hard for Google – a Conversation with a Retailer

Google sends Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry near Buffalo a lot of business. She has doubled the size of her jewelry business and dramatically increased engagement ring sales over the past 2 years. Local search, organic search, Adwords Express have all worked well for her. Despite the ups and downs, the ins and outs and the many changes in Google Places search, Google has been the primary generator of web visits and phone calls for her business.

The contest isn’t close. Google sends 20-25 times more web traffic (and uncountable phone calls and store visits) than the either Yahoo or Bing and 60 times more than the any of the directory, IYP or social sites.

Yet when a review is lost by Google, that is what Barbara remembers. Not all the traffic she gets from them, not the calls, not the visits but the lost review. Even if it is one or two reviews out of 45, when one goes south she knows, she feels it and she remembers it with frustration.

Here is an email string that I had with her over the past few days:

Barbara: Hi Mike, So yesterday I had 45 reviews with a new one from Monday and today back to 43. Do they cut off old ones or just do that to p-ss me off?

Mike:  Google taketh and google giveth. Note these search results… your mug is all over them :) (referring to her having an Author photo)

Barbara: I see they also dropped 2 from my buddy at [a competitor] and the mug all over makes them [customers] think they know me when they see me so I am appeased…

Mike: You have a recent new review! from a Courtney D on Mar 16, 2012 -

Barb took my dream wedding ring and brought it to reality. There is no one better to trust than Barb with your precious gems or dreams! Thank you! 

Barbara: Nice, let’s see how long it stays up – she said with sour grapes.

Mike: The cup really is more than half full… if THE GOOGLE decides to nuke a review or two, at least they are still sending you a lot of business

Barbara: Just saying I get them and I am a bit protective.  I have been getting a lot of new customers for everything lately so thanks to THE GOOGLE and the MIKE.

Mike: I know you are protective. Losing one is like losing a close friend….

Barbara: Exactly.

Even if Google got it right nearly all of the time (and they have yet to achieve that standard), most small retailers will focus on the pain of the bad memories and mistakes that Google has made and not the many positives, even when reminded.

This conversation demonstrates why Local is so hard. And will continue to be hard for Google.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Why Local Will Continue to Be Hard for Google - a Conversation with a Retailer by

12 thoughts on “Why Local Will Continue to Be Hard for Google – a Conversation with a Retailer”

  1. Yep! I couldn’t agree more. business owners are so proud of the good reviews they get – especially if they’d gone through the sometimes exasperating process of soliciting their customers/clients for the review.

    Would someone please post Google’s actual factual process around the disappearance of reviews! Is it a “bug(s)”? If so, please tell us they are “working on it” or if it’s Filtering then please tell us how that process works and update the Guidlines so that we can inform small business owners of current best practices. Am I way out of line for wanting some clarity here?

  2. My clients have losts 100’s of reviews combined over the course of this year and I know for certian that they arn’t fake but real customers that they worked hard with. It is so discouraging to the businesses that they ultimately give up having a feedback system tied to Google and rely on tradional forms of gathering feedback on cards, or other websites (where the reviews dont get seen as often)

    And then the comments come like this one.. “If they are going to lose our real reviews we should just make a bunch of fake ones to replace them.”

    and my place by google’s rules advice starts going in one ear and out the other form them.

  3. @mike ramsey that’s exactly the true cost of the over-the-top spam filtering that’s in place. Over 50% of our clients are disgruntled with Google at this point and totally frustrated. Legit reviews keep getting filtered out. Another total bummer in the Google Places experience.

    @mike B – Thanks for that FAQ link. Just what I was hoping for.

  4. It is very sad that google drops off reviews that should be there. Yet when one of our competitors (who is no longer in business) left us a bad review on google, I cannot get google to remove the review. I have flagged it over and over and I cannot get google to look at the review. On the same google account he left us and two other appliance repair companies in the same city bad reviews, and left himself a good review. He also left himself six other fake reviews… but those don’t matter much now that he is out of business.

    So the moral of the story is…. when you want the reviews, google removes them. When you don’t want them… you can’t get rid of them!

  5. @mike, Jeffery & Ryan

    You all make my point. Christ if Barbara is upset over one or two imagine the rage that she would feel if she lost as many as Mike’s clients.

    Google handles reviews as data points that in aggregate provide context to the listing. Each business owner views each and everyone of them as personal validation. Until google fixes that SMBs will have the negative experience at the forefront of their thoughts.

    I always explain google’s approach to reviews and encourage folks to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep getting more.

    I am though continually surprised that SMBs haven’t yet figure out that the game isn’t review count but the credibility that real reviews bring.

    It is fascinating that google has yet to shake the SMB review blues while Yelp, that went thru an equally bad review fiasco, has managed to put it behind them.

    You have to believe that google is both aware And working on a solution. We can only hope that it includes significantly more transparency AND the right for an SMB to file grievances and have them listened to.

  6. Mike: This is a real interesting write up. I’m both a business operator and the SEO.

    The top part of your blog piece is true for our smb’s in general: Google delivers the business. And frankly as in the case of your client, Google sends lots more business than the other search engines or IYP’s and most other entities.

    Google Giveth

    In fact as an smb I worry about the over dependence on Google as a marketing/advertising source for business. I do it in a general sense. I never want to be too dependent on one source.

    If our visibility and rankings on Google tanked most of our smb’s would be in serious trouble. OTOH, try as we do, and as much as we do…in this day and age….it is frankly difficult to generate extensive lead sources as effectively as Google. Our businesses are very different than the jewelry store…but search and google are very dominant for many many different types of businesses.

    Google Taketh

    Oh my…reviews up…and reviews missing. Correct info–then incorrect info. Places….what a detailed oriented difficult world. Google doesn’t make it easy…as its explanations and guides as to how to get things done are not written for the normal lay person, let alone people with a lot of SEO experience or even Places Experience.

    There is no single source to easily get information. Frankly, if I claim a listing in places..why can’t they send me information on how to work through the idiosincracies with regard to Places. That would make sense.

    All in all….they do send more business than they have created problems…but when the problems occur they are the most confounded non responsive big black box you could find. UGH!!!!

    But all in all a very well rounded review of the pluses and minuses associated with Google.

  7. Thanks you you and Barbara for sharing your conversation with all of us. It’s very illustrative of the fact that handling of reviews appears to be Google’s Achilles Heel. You are presenting a balanced look at this, by pointing out that the good outweighs the bad in Barbara’s case, but how true it is that her feelings on the subject are likely reflective of nearly any local business owner who is paying close attention to Places. Great piece, Mike.

  8. Mike, thanks for the excellent post, as always. The email string with Barbara gave me déjà vu…

    Idea / question: would you say there’s anything to be said *against* Barbara’s putting all the reviews and reviewers’ names into a spreadsheet (or Word doc, or whatever), so that she/you can mark them up as hReview testimonials in case Google taketh the reviews for good?

    Obviously it’s unlikely the reviews will vanish for good (usually only temporarily), and obviously you’d never turn the reviews into testimonials on the website as long as the reviews are safe & sound on the Places page.

    But just in case the reviews do get beamed up by Scotty some day, it seems prudent to shell them away, so that you could at least mark them up on the testimonials page and get the benefit of those nice stars showing up on the SERPs. It would be a partial loss, rather than a complete one.

  9. First of all thank you for sharing this conversation with with all of us. Reviews don’t disappear so easily I feel , I mean I have had few bad reviews which too affected my business. But plenty of good reviews , which shows up on the search results definitely helped me get to a higher rank.

  10. @Phil

    Given Google’s less than stellar handling of reviews, it would make sense to archive them off line and use them for testimonials if there were to disappear from Google and the client is in need of additional testimonials.

  11. Yeah we keep backups of all our clients reviews (small businesses we work with) because I have seen this happen so often. However, most of the time I find the reviews come back but explaining it to business owners is a massive pain.

    Most business owners I know HATE Yelp because of their strong review filter and their own listing is loaded with complaints from business owners – http://www.yelp.com/biz/yelp-san-francisco. I think Yelp has made a mistake by not listening to the business owners and I think Google is much smarter and won’t repeat their mistake (I hope…)

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