Update: See my post 11 Tips to Optimize the New Google Questions & Answers to help plan your approach.
Google has announced and started to roll out Questions & Answers, a crowd sourced and business sourced Q & A product for local Knowledge Panels places listings. Tim Capper has a great summary as well that is worth the read.
Essentially the product is designed to allow Google to offer additional FAQ type content via the Knowledge Panel that answers consumers most frequent and “long tail” questions about a Place.
The product is initially rolling out on Android Google Maps only. At some point in the near future it will be available on all mobile browsers as well.
Here is Google’s description of the product that was provided during a preview of the product:
Questions and Answers allow business owners to answer questions directly from potential customers. Merchants can also anticipate FAQ’s by adding commonly asked questions and their answers.
Merchants and other users can both thumb up content to boost its ranking and flag content that is incorrect or spam.
Users have many place-specific questions that are going unanswered right now. By allowing them to ask the business owner and each other, we can help them make decisions more quickly.
Example questions our users have about places:
- “What dishes should I try?”
- “What should I definitely do/see?”
- “How much seating is there for large groups or special events?”
- “Is there space to park a baby stroller?”
- “What’s the lighting like inside?”
- “Is delivery or take-out offered?”
- “Which credit cards are accepted?”
- “Is this a good date night restaurant?”
- “Are service animals allowed?”
- “Can I bring my kids here?”
- “Where should I look for parking?”
- “Do I need reservations for a Friday night?”
- “Are there coupons?”
What does it look like?
Great in concept for Google and perhaps the consumer, but the devil is for sure in the details as to whether it will be good for the business.
Google has said that moderation will be much like reviews in being mostly automated with some human curation. If the product fails the failure is likely to be in the moderation and more importantly, spam moderation details.
If antagonistic competitors figure out the moderation rules, I see it as very likely that passive aggressive negative information could easily be posted. Will staff in India be able to understand the subtlety?
And of course there is always the “lets turn everything into an ugly promotional tool” mindset that many have that could pollute the waters with incredibly spammy content.
As the product is currently designed (it feels given the very limited release and limited interfaces more like a beta,) it puts the difficult task of monitoring directly on the shoulder of the business owner. They need to continually goto their Android Maps app and check to see if the questions are meaningful and if they need to answer the question or whether the consumer answer is adequate.
Posts and Websites “felt” very business friendly. This on the other hand will feel like a poke in the eye to most businesses. Being required to regularly go back and check the crowd sourced status of a listing due to fear of the “crowd” might be off base, is one more task that appears to offer little of value to the business and will take additional (and very limited)time.
Like reviews, I don’t doubt though that effectively embraced and managed it can help a business. I am just not sure most of them will see it that way.
On a more strategic level for Google, this product is one more piece of content that will be residing within the Knowledge Panel for the business… first NAP and photos, then reviews, reviews from the web, then Posts and now “Places Q & A”.
Like Google Destinations in the travel industry, it is an effort to create ever more granular content that will keep consumers within Google’s subtly “walled garden” and further limit the likelihood of their visiting your website.
Short haul it could increase conversions, if properly handled, and that would be a good thing… until the gate keeper starts charging more for the privilege or sends the traffic elsewhere.
Here is a FAQ with details that we know about Questions & Answers (assembled with the help of the many TCs in Google’s My Business Forum).
Q: Places? That sounds like back to future.
It is. Branding has never been Google’s strong point. Google has informed me that the product is called “Questions & Answers”.
Q: Will the product be used for “ranking”?
A: Who knows. Google loves data and they love good data even more. If it is good data, I could imagine that it might some day.
Q: Will the data be good?
A: Your guess is as good as mine.
Q: Who can participate in the launch?
A: This is a Global launch to all Android Users on Google Maps – so there aren’t any testers. Business owners and consumers are targeted for asking and answering.
Q: Is it visible in the GMB dashboard?
A: No, not yet.
Q: Are there any active notifications to the business owner?
A: Yes merchants get notifications through the Android Maps app.
Q: Do you get email notifications if you have a new question and do they go to owners AND managers AND Comms managers?
A: Owners and managers will get push notifications from Google Maps on Android if a question is asked or answered by a user.
Q: Is it visible on desktop browsers?
Q: Is it visible to iPhone users
A: No, only Android users on the Maps App (for now)
Q: Is there moderation of any kind?
A: Yes. Google will moderate some things automatically (bad words, gibberish), and users will also have the ability to flag. It will be a similar process as the photos/reviews flagging.
Q: Will the moderations work?
A: If it is like reviews and photos…. it will be opaque and frustrating to business owners but time will tell.
Q: Will the merchant receive any notifications as to the resolution of a spam or flagging report?
A: The review process is similar to photos/reviews. I.E no.
Q: Can a user delete question?
A: Merchant can’t delete a question from another user, they can flag it though.
Q: Can a user delete their own question?
A: I am not sure. I think so.
Q: What if there are competing/different answers?
A: Since the business would be logged into the GMB account when they reply, Google will display messaging that lets people know it’s the owner/business replying.
Q: How does Google determine the “best” answer?
A: We don’t really know. However like on Quora, there is an upvoting option and Google loves data…. if you test it let me know.
Q: Where and how will this display?
A: It shows up within the listing on the maps app for Android users
Q: Will it show in organic search on the desktop?
Q: Is there a limit to the number of questions and or answers?
A: There are no limit to the FAQ’s
Q: When will this be available to the iPhone Google App?
A: That’s not known at this point
Q: What are the rules on taking down a question?
A: Guidelines match reviews pretty closely — for factual questions, Google can take things down that are flagged as incorrect. The rules around spam and abuse are similar to reviews.
Q: Can businesses opt-out?
A: No. Don’t be naive.
Q: Can links be embedded in a question or answer?
A: No, no links allowed.
Q: How does Q & A affect ranking?
A: It doesn’t affect ranking. But Google loves data….
Q: Are you able to post or answer questions via the API?
A: Not currently.
Q: We have hundreds of businesses, how can we post common questions to all of our location listings?
A: Brute force, one at a time
Q: We have hundreds of locations how can we monitor questions.
A: Buy your staff Androids and man the bunkers. If you are lucky, since it is initially limited to Android Maps, there will be few.
Q: What’s to stop merchants from asking their own questions and then have their employees vote up the answers to the top
A: They could do that – nothing to stop them, though it would probably be better if they replied from the GMB account so that it would identify the response as one from the business owner.
Q: Are all business listings eligible for Q & A?
A: Any reviewable place will allow for Q&A.
Q: Will Google use these questions to add to attributes, add answers to Home etc?
A: It is not known at this time but Google loves data….
Q: How about age restricted businesses, Hospitals, financial etc. Will they have Q & A?
A: Any reviewable place will allow for Q&A – a very small number of businesses don’t support questions and answers.
Q: Can you see the Q&As on all platforms and only add new Q&As on Android Mobile?
A: You can only see Q&A on the platforms that you can add Q&A on. So at launch, they will only be visible on Android Google Maps.
Q: Is it available to everyone now?
It is still only publicly available to merchants. It will roll out to others this week starting with Local Guides.
A: I don’t know what to say.
I would like to thank my fellow TCs for their questions.Google Rolling Out Questions & Answers by Mike Blumenthal