The upgrade to the Places for Business is an upgrade that is hard to get terribly excited about although it does give hope for the future and there are some plumbing issues that have finally been put to rest. The dashboard seems more focused on commerce than content and offers little in the way of allowing an SMB to really explain who they are and what they do.
Given that Google has had 7 (or is it 8 years?) to come up with a dashboard replacement it is hard to accept a replacement that contains fewer input fields than the broken dashboard that it is replacing. I have such high hopes for local and Google’s role in it that it is hard for me to find much excitement in the late arrival of such a limited product.
What is wrong, missing or otherwise lame with the update?
Categories: The removal of custom categories, while understandable from a taxonomic point of view, leaves a lot to be desired. Google’s limited range of categories leaves many businesses without adequate choices. This has always been more true overseas but applies to a large extent in the US as well. Google will now allow 10 categories and they are noting that they gather this information elsewhere on the internet. That however will put very small SMBs that can’t afford adequate SEO at a distinct disadvantage if Gooogle doesn’t expand the list of categories.
Hours: Updated 4/13
Google’s treatment of hours has long been inadequate. Is not an upgrade the time to finally enhance them so that they deal with split hours and other common variations with more elegance? This has long been a feature request and one that I am sure that Google is aware. There are still situations that are not addressed like the 24 hour towing service that needs to only show themselves open from 9-5 because that is when their office is staffed but generally they cover most situations.
Enhanced Data: Before they were disabled, the dashboard offered the option of including enhanced data for many years. Consumers need to know whether a business has a parking lot, carries a specific brand or has unusual capabilities. While that can now be included in a longer description it makes sense that Google, who seems intent on standardizing categories, should have a similar capacity in this arena. They don’t.
Videos: Video upload, long broken in the current dashboard is totally missing from this product. The only way that an SMB can get the option of uploading videos is to create a G+ profile, add a G+ Local Page and be forced to learn a totally new interface. Hello? I thought this was supposed to be simple.
Photos: The data pipeline, while improved, is still veeeery slow. We don’t know exactly how long a photo will take but initially it might be several weeks. Its still quicker to add a photo as an end user. And that just should not be.
Analytics: Argh. The feature and reporting set is mostly the same but one feature, custom ranges, has been removed. No inkling of any of the incredible mobile data that Google has, no integration with full analytics, no click to call data. In December, 2010 Google released, albeit for a very short time, improved analytics that actually included valuable information. We hope that the underlying reliability of the product has been fixed but the limits of the previous product are all too evident. SMBs deserve more and better information as to how visible they are and what people are doing once they see the listing.
Branding: The Places for Business Dashboard name will remain but it is becoming a business only input interface and it appears that the name Places is likely to be less highlighted as a consumer product. Given the phased roll in of the product SMB confusion is likely to remain. Even after the complete deployment it appears that there will be two slightly different ways to verify a listing, from the Dashboard and from the Plus page interface. Perhaps that distinction will go away over time but it will continue to confuse.
What’s Good about the Upgrade:
Rich Text Editor: Finally, the silly 200 character limit has been removed and you can actually add bolding and lists to your description. There is the ability to add links to your description but that is a feature that has worked erratically at best on merged G+ Local pages.
Hours: Updated 4/13 Perhaps the UI does not make the features as obvious as it should but Google’s treatment of hours is vastly improved. A business can have as many split hours on as many different days of the week as they desire.
Better Integration with G+: Google’s interfaces have been fragmented and impossible for mere mortals to understand. This creates a common editing environment that is consistent between the + Page for Local and the Dashboard. Although having more than one entry point is and will remain confusing, it is an improvement.
Better UI & User Feedback: The contextual feedback is well done. What the SMB still needs to do is clear and the goals, however limited, are articulated. Hopefully, the many bugs in the existing Places Dashboard in the input of field data have been quashed as well.
Improved integration with the backend: Early last year, with the rollout of the knowledge graph, Google shifted the underlying data structure of the business listing cluster from a web result to the more structured knowledge graph approach. This required all new data pipelines. MapMaker was the first product to get a direct input into the new system so edits in MM went live almost as soon as they were approved. The merged G+ Local Pages were the second to get the almost instant updating achieved by the improved pipeline.
The Places for Business Dashboard will now have access to the same pipeline and edits will move to the final listing with much greater speed. Edits that took several weeks should move through in hours or at worst days (photos are an exception). Many edits will still require moderation and that will vary by field as to how long they will take but, as is the case with merged G+ Local Pages, it will occur much, much faster. And the new Dashboard push speeds will eliminate the heavy reliance over the past year on MapMaker for needed edits.
Data Trust and Data Integrity: Over the 14 months or so, whether anybody has noticed or not, the new underlying data structure has lead to many, many fewer merged listings. Once a listing is created in the knowledge graph cluster it becomes trusted data and is less likely to merge. Now the data from the Places for Business Dashboard feeds that structure directly. While the data the SMB provides is less in quantity, it appears that it will be more trusted by Google and less susceptible to erratic updates from who knows where.
Conclusion: Can some of these faults be corrected? Yes and they likely will over the next few months. The architecture of the product appears to allow easy integration of new functionality. The improved plumbing will make life better for all although it is unlikely to be noticed by many. But it appears that the trend of moving the dashboard towards more commerce rather than the SMB provided content will likely continue. Even that wouldn’t be so bad if the analytics were better.
In this iteration of the upgrade the emperor is at best underdressed. A better name for the product might have been G+ Page for Local Lite. I am however hopeful that addtitional updates, now that the plumbing has been fixed, will come with some regularity and not on the 7 (or is it 11) year sun spot cycle.
Related Posts:Analysis: Google Places for Business - Upgrade or G+ Pages Lite? by Mike Blumenthal