Last Monday, the NY Times ran an article about how easy it was to mark businesses as either “reported to be closed” or “permanently closed” in Google Places. There had also been reports at the time that Google was actually sending out an email to claimed businesses that were marked as “permanently closed” although not to businesses”reported as closed”. The article in the Times occurred after months of reports of businesses being closed by competitors. Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry and Google in Mt. View both suffered the same fate (although for different reasons ).
Shortly after the article appeared in the Times, Google apologized and noted that a fix was imiminent saying “These improvements will be implemented in the coming days”.
I was curious what “coming days” meant. This time, rather than experimenting on Google’s Places Listing, I experimented on my own listing at our main office in Bradford Pa. Yesterday at about noon and five, my listing was reported as closed. The first click was from my desktop in Olean and the second was from the DC area. Neither click was local to Bradford as my IP shows as Buffalo which is 70 miles away. (Update 11:30 I have just learned that my DC connection was asleep at the wheel and clicked the wrong business.) It turns out that this business was “permanently closed” with ONE CLICK.
Within 12 hours of the second report that the office was marked as “permanently closed”.
It was not just marked as “reported to be closed” but “permanently closed” and no email notification was sent to the claiming business owner (me).
Things seem to have gotten worse NOT better. The listing did not enter an intermediate state of “reported as closed” and the business received no notification email.This is a business that has been claimed and active on Google Places long before it was known as Google Places. It is a business that has been at the same address since our founding in 2001.
Because I had been receiving so many media inquiries about the problem, I contacted Google last weekend to see if the problem had been fixed yet. I was hoping to be able to tell the media that Google had responded in the promised timeframe.
Here is Google’s response (bold mine):
I heard from Ethan that you’d inquired about the changes being made to our system to prevent malicious or incorrect labeling. We’re still working on the labeling improvements regarding this issue, and are constantly working on ways to improve our system on an ongoing basis.
Thanks for following up, and have a great weekend,
The good folks from Artfibers, a prominent yarn store at 266 Sutter St. in San Francisco, CA, made this recent post in the forums:
I own one of the oldest and best yarn stores in San Francisco — Artfibers. Six months ago our name came up in a Google search “yarn San Francisco”. Now we do not. It seems that Google is determined to destroy our business. What can we do?
After several efforts by myself and another poster to help they proceeded to only get angrier at Google. I penned this response.
To seabright.nyle from Artfibers in San Francisco.
I understand that you are frustrated. I understand that Google Local results seem crazy and unpredictable to you and that you are angry. I understand that your time is limited but you feel compelled to explain all of this to Google. There is a reason for all of this:
Google is from Mars and most small business people are from Venus.
Google has just rolled out another moderated forum where users can provide suggestions and opinions as to how to improve Google Places. Here is the full text of the announcement:
Ask us your Google Places for business questions
Thursday, September 8, 2011 | 10:51 AM
A little more than a year ago, we collected your questions and feedback on Google Places for business via a Google Moderator page. You sent us some great feedback, and we had a blast responding! Check out our video responses here on YouTube, covering things like features of a listing, Report a problem and ranking.
It’s important to us to continue hearing your great feedback — and we suspect you’ve had a lot of questions and ideas throughout the past year — so let’s fire up another Moderator page. Starting today and for the next two weeks, you can submit your questions and ideas, as well as vote up other submissions from users. We’ll answer some of the more popular questions directly on the page and post a new video or two to the Google Places YouTube channel.
Salahuddin Choudhary, who replaced Carter Maslan as a Product Manager for Places for Business in early June, has announced his departure from Google on his Google+ stream. He had been a product manager at Google since 2007. He noted: “Had an incredible 4 years and can’t wait for some of the amazing launches team Google has planned”. Prior to working at Google Salahuddin was an engineer at Apple and notes on his profile that he remains an Apple Fanboy.
The public announcement of Carter’s resignation from the position was on June 22. He joined Google in roughly the same timeframe as Salahuddin. He is now working on a new project, Camiolog, that will be “a video monitoring service that archives network camera imagery for smart notifications and easy viewing.”
While Carter was at Google, he was the voice of Maps/Places in the market Place. Not as present as we may have liked but accessible to interviews and available for show presentations. Salahuddin did not even have time to fill that role. Who will become the new public face of Google Places? It could use one.
The good news is that Google has promised a fix for the problem shortly:
A Google spokesman, Gabriel Stricker, declined to comment on whether the company kept a running tally of fraudulent closings. But he said Google was aware of the issue and was already working on changes, which will be adopted in coming days, to prevent what he called “malicious or incorrect labeling.”
Kudos to Google for acknowledging the need for acting quickly to put a stop to this pernicious activity.
The other good news is that both Linda Buquet and I were quoted/linked in the article.
We all struggle to achieve high rankings in Google local. It is not clear exactly how hard these businesses have worked to achieve these high rankings.
With Google Local’s ability to parse sentiment, their ability to create business categories on the fly and their desire to serve man you often will find local results that you didn’t quite bargain for. In my research looking for review snippets I was exploring searches in NYC looking for extremes. I managed to get side tracked when I came upon the results for these local searches.
I have caputured the results in an animated slideshow for your viewing ease. One wonders just what Brooklyn based Sal The Plumber did to have Google designate him as the worse plumber in New York City (and a One Box no less):
Update: One of the posters in the forum whose listing has gone into limbo noted that he just received the following email from Google:
Thank you for your patience during this entire process while working with me. We have been working on a technical issue that has affected many users. Unfortunately, it appears your listing has also been affected. This probably happened because your listing has gone through recent information edits and modifications. Have no fear however! We are aware of the incorrect information you emailed about and are taking steps to fix it. You should see the information appearing correctly within four weeks’ time. If, in four weeks, you are still experiencing this problem, please respond to this email. Thank you for your patience.
Update 10:30 pm:
There have been reports in the German forums of a user making as many as five changes to the record before the listing came back from the dead. I think it as likely the quantity and repetiviness is as important as the specific action or the order but who knows. CAVEAT EMPTOR. Why this has happened is unclear as is the impact of multiple changes on the state of your listing.
In the German forums the user added an update two times, he then shifted the location marker once, he made a slight change to the categories and finally a major change to the categories. He save after each interaction and on the 5th one, the record reappeared.
As I noted, I have no idea why this happens or the impact it might or might not have. If you are the poking testing type and do make numerous changes please report back.
At least one user that attempted the more aggressive approach has reported lost reviews.
There are a growing number of instances in the forums of businesses reporting that their listing is not showing in Places and their listing, when accessed via the dashboard, displays the foreboding message “We currently do not support the location”. There have been over 30 reports of the problem in the last 3 days.
I have a love hate relationship with the elegantly simple Google’s Adwords Express. One of the things I love is that for a business with more than 2 reviews and greater than an 4 star rating, it will show your star rating with the ad. One of the things I hate is that, unbeknownst to the business placing the ad, if the stars are clicked, it is a billable event and the searcher is taken to your Places Page NOT the web page that you had opted for when you purchased the ad.
On the Places Page, the searcher is subjected to seeing both additional ads AND a list of nearby competitors. Perhaps a reasonable trade off if the business was aware of the quid pro quo or could opt out, but neither is the case. Regardless it hardly seems reasonable that a business should be paying for the privilege of showing a searcher additional ads on Google.
There are a number of other issues I have with the practice besides the indignity of paying to have users to see more ads and learn about your competitors:
1- There are no analytics of the event. It is impossible to see how many ads that were clicked went to the Places Page instead of your website thus it is difficult to asses the value of the ad. A click on the stars shows in the Places analytic as an action and exactly the same as a visit to your website.
2- A corollary to the above is that there is no ability to track the campaign accurately. Since the click never makes it to your website there can be no measurement of conversions or goals in Analytics or the value of the click.
3- There is no indication in the Help files that you are paying when a user clicks on the star. I had to confirm the practice by contacting Google.
4- More importantly, as most Express users do not make it to the Help files, there is no indication in Places that your ad will show your review stars or that a click on them is billable.
5- When you place the ad, there is no indication that the user might be sent to your Places Page even though you explicitly selected the option for sending the user to your web page.
6-If a business has no reviews or a low star rating they are not paying this extra fee. How is that fair? Only better businesses are thus taxed?
With Adwords and location extensions you have the option to enable clicks to call. You pay if the searcher does in fact call. That is a reasonable option in that it is both a choice to turn it on or not and it is an event that is measurable and likely to lead to a conversion.
The other Adwords case where Google will show review stars is with the seller ratings extensions option. In that case you are also “automatically opted in to showing seller ratings with your ads”. (Where is a good copywriter when we need one? Does “opt” not mean choice? Oxymoronic at best.) In this seller ratings case however, when the searcher is taken to the product reviews, it is not a billable click. While it may disrupt your purchase funnel, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.
While a review highlighted Adwords Express ad is more visually attractive, the total lack of knowledge, control and tracking makes this one of those options that is easy to hate.
One of the changes in the rollout of the new Places Page last month was the inclusion of short descriptor snippets high on the page between the review count and the business description. The descriptor snippets, besides recently changing from a light grey to black in color, have seemed to improve somewhat over the last month. In the case of Barbara Oliver, the strange phrase “couldn’t have” has been replaced with the more appropriate “felt comfortable”. Note the inclusion though of the oddly spelled “jewelery”.
The phrases seem to have a variety of sources including a Place’s review corpus, in bound links and web page content. The algo that drives the process is not yet known but it is possible that it uses the techniques that Bill Slawski detailed for Google’s recently approved patent Keywords associated with document categories.
The results displayed, while often accurate, can, can still on occasion show unusual results. I thought that this screen shot captured some of those obviously weird results. Where exactly do you think these come from?
Google has been slowly rolling out their “Get Your Business Online” free seminar/website initiative worldwide. They first offered a similar program to SMBs in the UK in February 2010. Earlier this year, Google rolled out the program in Ireland and Canada and apparently updated their UK program. Some of the programs have had some fine print but the most recent incarnations seem to offer real value for those businesses that want a minimal and easy to start web presence.
In July of this year Google offered up the first US based “Get Your Business Online” in Texas in conjunction with regional and national partners. Their national partners include Intuit, the Association of Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, and Meetup. The website offered as part of the package (with one year free domain) is a 3 page only version of Intuit’s Websites SiteBuilder. The Intuit commercial product is a 5 page site and costs $7.99/month.
Last week Google offered the seminar/free website program in Burlington and Rutland, Vermont. The kick off seminars in Vermont were done with a large number of not for profit agencies and business development groups including the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Vermont Small Business Development Center Network and others.
With the domains Texasgetonline.com & Vermontgetonline.com and on the ground programs in those two states it seemed possible that Google would be rolling the seminar and free website program nationwide on a state by state basis. On June 25, Google apparently transferred 100 domains to their servers in the format StateGetOnline.com & GetStateOnline for most of the 50 states and an additional overarching domain USGetOnline.com. While the move is certainly a defensive domain acquisition/protection strategy, it seems equally likely that free website program could soon be rolling out nationally.
Minimally the effort should put to rest speculation that Google just wants businesses to have a Places/Google+ pages on their servers and no independent web presence.