Google Local and the Continuing Lack of Clear Google Messaging

Martin Brossman, observing the recent pivot of G+,  recently noted that he: .. so much wish[es] Google would have communicated this in clearer ways to small  businesses. The businesses I meet are more confused than ever with the Get on the Map program, that then changed everything. Not communicating the changes in a way that makes sense to the local business. 

mixedmessagesblogThis has long been a problem of Google’s and a complaint of mine….their unwillingness to clearly articulate the uses cases, benefits and near future developments of their local product. Perhaps they were spoiled by search where SEO’s and businesses “just got it”.

The local communication issues have been compounded by the fact that local has always been a pawn in a bigger battle and not really having its own self standing importance to Google. It hasn’t been as important as search or Adwords or YouTube so it has been assigned to whatever division needed a boost at that moment… first Maps and then Plus and now Google Maps (again) and Adwords.

This has lead to a confusion in the market place. Just as the importance of local is dramatically increasing due to mobile, Google seems to be ripping out the plumbing and foundations of what is familiar with no declaration of what is to come.

Google has been “signaling” the separation of Local from Plus since 2013 with aggressive moves in 2014 and earlier this year. But smoke signals are not clear communications. And many missed the “message”.

In May of this year I noted that “while I think we will continue to see local data as an integral part of Google desktop search we may see even less of it elsewhere (like on G+) as Google uses local data (business listings & review content) to further their goal of positioning Google Maps as a dominant mobile destination”.

But I am an avid “watcher” of Google local and spend significant time reading the tea leaves. As Martin points out the job of communicating clear changes and benefits falls clearly at Google’s feet and they have, once again, done a terrible job of publicly articulating this to their audiences.

This problem is compounded by the way that Google handles local, its technical complexity and interrelation with search. This adds a layer of technical obfuscation to when and how local really benefits the small business.

85% of all local search traffic comes to SMBs from Google search. Even with the ascendancy of Facebook, Google far and away outstrips FB in terms of creating small business value in finding new customers. This occurs through search and Maps (and hardly ever through Plus) and yet this is a story that Google has never been able or willing to clearly tell.

In the recent past, Google has said “give us your data, goto Plus and you will have a page of your very own there”. But that was always a bit of a shell game.

The real value has always occurred in search. But the technical requirements of search optimization are so far out of the reach of the average business that it makes it hard for Google to really explain how to best benefit from where the most exposure takes place: in search.

It’s past time for Google to put forward a clear, no bullshit vision for local that SMBs can embrace and one that provides long term, consistent value.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Local and the Continuing Lack of Clear Google Messaging by

23 thoughts on “Google Local and the Continuing Lack of Clear Google Messaging”

  1. Nice observations, Mike: Google is not much of a communicator. Never has been. Of course that creates opportunities for others. 😉

    Clearly in Local that has always been the case. Always. Not in adwords, though. They’ve always spoken to customers. Always.

    Two questions about your post:

    1. Where do you come up with the 85% figure for Google search contributing to local search traffic?

    2. Would you further define what you mean by suggesting that adwords is now a part of the managing aspect of local…. written above…. here

    “local has always been a pawn in a bigger battle and not really having its own self standing importance to Google. It hasn’t been as important as search or Adwords or YouTube so it has been assigned to whatever division needed a boost at that moment… first Maps and then Plus and now Google Maps (again) and Adwords.

    1. Dave
      85% is an estimate based on conversations with other LocalU folks about traffic patterns. I have seen it run from 75- 90% of all search results (not just local). So 85% for just local traffic might even be low. In Europe it is higher.

      It would appear that Google Adwords and their support infrastructure have taken over that part of Google local. The support calls are often handled there, the new forum is there and my anecdotal observations lead me to that conclusion.

  2. Gotcha!

    On the communications aspect, our smb’s have all used adwords for years. Virtually all of our communications from Adwords are via email. They all show up in the main email tab (not social or promotions). Some are reviews about our past performance, the majority are some “come on” to get us to spend more. Virtually all of that is programmatic type “stuff”. I’ve learned to disregard all of it.

    Which means I don’t look hard at google emails….at least not in adwords. Can they, and would they be willing to set up a form of communications that would grab attention??? such as the change in G+ and other changes they have made along the line??? I wish they would. They don’t.

    Anecdotally, Google changed the way they presented account data on the day I was discussing one of our adwords accts with one of their advisors. Neither he nor I knew how to navigate around the changes.

    They hadn’t told us, they hadn’t written us, they hadn’t “anythinged” us. They hadn’t even told their own people about the change. Lets say he had 6-10 accts to speak with that day and there could be a couple of hundred people like him, maybe way fewer…but multiply 6-8 contacts by at minimum 100 of their adwords advisors. That would have been 6-800 calls with a googler and an adwords client that day and none of them would have known how to navigate around google’s new presentation.

    Across the board they suck at communications.

  3. While I agree entirely with what you’ve said here, Mike, I will throw this out:

    Google local support is one of the few areas in Google’s kingdom where you can actually pick up the phone and talk to a human and get something fixed :-).

    The down side of that is, of course, that we all need that support phone call so often to fix things that are broken in Local.

  4. @Michael
    Certainly their support is done well and is very helpful. But it doesn’t help 1)giving SMBs an idea of how to best use the product 2)make up for the change and uncertainly that has pervaded local with such frequency nor 3)provide a compelling reason for a business to interact with the GMB dashboard after the first visit and 4)it doesn’t provide a raison d’être for the product.

  5. What a clust3rf@ck. I have clients asking me: Hey, what was that link to my reviews? I don’t have a straight answer. This really is disastrous messaging and execution from Google.
    The irony that they have an entire program dedicated to reviews (Local Guides) yet make leaving a review so difficult. Frustrating, to say the least.

  6. Even the better-late-than never attempt to explain the changes was poorly executed.

    Title: “How will the new Google+ pages look like?”

    Board? Not “Announcements” but “Basics for Business Owners.” And not even pinned so it’s now buried.

    Even I almost blew right past it and didn’t read it because I totally thought it sounded like a user that was confused or wondered. I only even looked at it to see what the replies were and if anyone from Google had answered.

    Terry Simmons pointed this out at my forum:

    “In my opinion that post by Mamta B (Google) is very misleading.

    The post implies all these features are gone, but doesn’t make it clear that they are only gone from Local Pages viewed *within* Google+ and not *outside* of Google+

    Saying: “The following features are no longer supported for Local pages – Reviews, categories, directions, stars, photo uploads, interior photos, maps, hours, opentable/apps integration.”

    is just plain misleading.

    It needs clarifying that they are only gone from *within* Google+. They still appear in Maps, SERPs, within your Google MyBusiness control panel. ”

    Here it is the Google post again for anyone that wants to re-read from the viewpoint of an SMB that knows nothing about the G+ update – to see how Terry’s comments are really valid points.

    We need to get used to the fact that Google Local is no longer about the “page”. Consumers/customers will likely never see what’s left of that page now that all the links have been removed anyway.

    However the data and images we enter into GMB and the reviews are just as important as ever. It’s just that the main places that the data, images & reviews will show up for consumers (currently), is right in search, the Local Finder, the Knowledge Graph and Google Maps. Those are by far the most important places and have been for quite some time.

    That’s what should have been stressed.

    Many businesses won’t key into the fact that this is specifically tied into the G+ update, because most don’t even know anything about that. Reading the original post, it could sound to them like everything is gone, so why bother with GMB at all.

    I’ve already alerted Google about all of this and hopefully after next week when everyone is back in the office we’ll see a new more clear explanation pinned to the top of the Announcement board.

    But I’ll harp on this one more time.

    A little post in a forum is not enough. Less than 1% of business owners even go to the forum. And none of them read it every day and read every single post, so hardly any of them have even seen that post buried in “Basics for Business Owners.”

    When the new announcement is made, a big red alert linking to it needs to be made at the top of the GMB dash. BUT since most SMBs don’t log in that often – and others, now that they can’t even find their page, have likely given up…

    Google really needs to email all owners and page managers an announcement when major changes like this happen. They can just link to the formal announcement at the forum – once one is made that clearly explains in a way that even Mom and Pops can understand, that everything is not gone, just different and that GMB is still important.

  7. Linda

    I think that Google has an institutional blind spot around communications in general and Local in particular that has and will likely continue to be endemic.

    As you know I have been following this area closely for 9 years and these repetitive, let me shoot myself in the foot moments seem like Ground Hog Day Redux. Although with one possible difference…. Bill Murray ultimately redeemed himself in the movie.

    Given the recurring nature, we have to assume that either it is intentional or at least a function of systemic issues within local and Google.

    The crux of that systemic issue, from my POV, is that since Local is but an internal data point/feed and not a brand/forward facing product, it gets caught in the whip saw of institutional policies, politics and oversights.

    Its everybody’s red headed step child and everybody’s critical confidante but nobody’s first choice to take to the prom…. the Map/Mapmaker folks look at disdain at the SABs, the Plus folks are on a mission to forget the past, the Search folks know it all and will insert their own uneditable data at will, the Advertising folks look at it as a source of leads and the folks at the helm of GMB are programmers and geeks from the Geo World, not communicators.

    Until Google has a small business Czar or at least a local Ombudsman whose job it is to represent the interests of the local business owner within Google, these sorts of foot in mouth moments seem inevitable to me.

  8. A fine piece Mike, maybe your finest.
    Local is broken and fragmented but still remains full of potential-if you can get a clear run at it…

    Whats next Mike?

  9. I’ve been saying for years that the fundamental problem is that the marketing division at Google saw what the Maps division were doing and thought it was too good a marketing opportunity to pass over.

    The Maps team were/are effectively creating a Mapping service, the marketing team are trying to monetise it by effectively turn it in to a business listings product.

    Ask any small business owner and they consider it a business listing service, yet I well remember questions and answers in Product forums from a few years back where, the generic answer from a number of regulars was basically saying it’s a maps product not a listings service.

    I suspect there is a constant battle within Google between the Maps division and the marketing division, and we as end users suffer.

    Too be honest I’m amazed that Google hasn’t got a dedicated Business listings system with Maps incorporated in it, rather than trying to take over Maps completely.

    I say give Maps back to the Google Geeks and let the Marketers go create their own product.

  10. Thanks Mike for the background perspective and the observations. I attempted briefly to do the “Get Your Cities on the Map” initiative and was quickly frustrated by the unclear communication to me as a provider – lots of webinars does not mean good communication. The documentation was poor at best but I will say some of the videos were good explanations for business owners (like the Google Analytics piece).
    I’m with David – what’s next do you think?

  11. Actually when you think about it-its amazing to think that Local’s fragmentation starts at Google!

    Help us Mike ‘you are our only hope’.
    ; )

    @Beth can you post a link to the Analytics Webinar please?

  12. Thanks for the post, Mike Blumenthal. As someone who spend 7 years in IBM (1988 to 1995), I know how slowly large companies move. How much hard work it take to get changes to occur. I also believe in the quote, “speak truth to power” and will keep fighting to get Google to serve their customers better in constructive ways.

    I have even heard some say that from Google’s lack of communication they don’t care about small business at all. I do not agree. I believe the challenge is, the decision makers at Google are too far removed from the reality most of us live in that they can not see how far off course they are. One student studies the top Google people personal reviewing habit and notice they never get very far from Google headquarters. The other challenge I see is Google My Business, Local Guides, Maps and Google Street View (and formally G+) seem to be in separate divisions of Google. I believe Google has suffered from what I named in IBM as “cognitive inbreeding”. A risk of most very large companies. Where they don’t talk to other departments and they just validate each other not taking enough constructive feedback from the outside world. I have done my best to communicate this to Google, that I believe they need to get the divisions to work together more. This may be a systematic issue that is hard to change in such a large company. The other problem is if the company as a whole is doing “well” it seem harder to get their attention.

    I also want to add that I have been working hard, as a volunteer, to improve the Local Guides program and communicated the lack of clear communication of changes. I see that they have listened by these new videos that to me are a good start:

    I just tell people to keep clicking the feedback option every time they have a problem and give constructive comments on what they want changed or corrected.

    Mike my passion is for small and micro-businesses for I believe that is the backbone of this country. And I will keep communicating no matter how futile it appears for like I said I believe in the concept of “speak truth to power”. Also, Mike, I would love to have a hangout on-air with you sometime discussing this. I joined LinkedIn in 2004 and I have been helping small business since I left IBM in 1995.

  13. I totally do not understand what the point of this new G+ is. Yes, we’ve been reading about the divorce from Local, etc, for some time now, but I find this shift from a Business emphasis to Collections to be baffling. Not only does Google come off looking like a Johnny-Come-Lately (or rather a Johnny-Come-Very-Lately) to the Pinterest/StumbleUpon/ZooTool-type game, it’s putting front and center a feature that (a) is neither new to nor adds extra value to G+, (b) is of a saturated web genre already dominated by another company/brand whose situation does not look like it will be changing in the foreseeable future, (c) is essentially just “regifting” bookmarks, a basic PC user function that all internet users can already do in our browser (or in a myriad of other ways), and (d) doesn’t actually achieve any of the above even remotely close to or better than what anyone else has already done. I just do not understand what they are trying to do with it as a product as they’ve eliminated most of anything useful G+ had to offer. Before there was at least a sense or feel that the features were related, there was cohesiveness somewhat. But without Local, Reviews, and Business emphasis as a whole, there just isn’t much point to G+ now. It really just seems like wasted resources. Unless you really like lots photos of cats and landscapes.

  14. “Until Google has a small business Czar or at least a local Ombudsman whose job it is to represent the interests of the local business owner within Google, these sorts of foot in mouth moments seem inevitable to me.”

    @Mike, when are you going in for your interview ? 🙂

  15. I’m tempted to say that the instability of their local product might be even more damaging than their lack of communication.

    SMBs have no problem feeding their Facebook pages with fluff posts and new photos, even if there isn’t a clear, discrete benefit. They expect that people will see them, that Facebook didn’t change the interface much since the last time they used it, and all their posts won’t disappear next week. And maybe that’s good enough.

    None of that has ever been true about Google+, or a lot of the Google local product. You can upload photos to your My Business listing, but maybe they’ll cut all the photos into trapezoids next week, invert the colors on your logo, require a fingerprint for your login, make you pay $3/mo for every admin on your page, and switch the language on all your reviews to Aramaic just for shits and giggles. And then they’ll replace all your local listings with a new ad product, which means you were a sucker for investing into any of that organic local stuff in the first place.

    Meanwhile, Facebook might not generate even a fraction of the leads, but at least it’s reliable. The only major, negative shakeup in recent history was when they announced that unboosted promotional posts wouldn’t travel as far as they used to. And people lost their minds over that, because they expected a promise that Facebook wouldn’t restrict you from using your business page like just another Facebook page.

    Like you said, “Perhaps (Google was) spoiled by search where SEO’s and businesses ‘just got it’.” If you subscribe to the idea that good design means people can look at your product and make a pretty good guess at what it is, what to expect from it, and how to use it, then Facebook business pages beat Google My Business by a landslide.

  16. I’d like to see local present businesses in a more relevant way. In google maps, if I search for Starbucks perhaps sort by distance. Georadius is okay but actual driving distance is better (maybe even work out which Starbucks is less busy and easier to drive to). Also, based on driving patterns, consider giving us the Starbucks en route rather than away from the route. If google maps sees that I’ve been traveling northwest from my hotel to the conference the last few days, be smart enough to know I want a coffee shop between the two locations more than a location that is away from the driving history.

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