Google Maps Adds Contact Form for Verification Issues

Yesterday, I criticized Google for removing the Verification Issues Topic from the forums. Verification issues  are a very obvious point of friction between the SMB and Local Business Center Google Places management area. Verification after the phone call or post card is requested, goes wrong often enough that a number of SMBs are left without an active listing and not a clue as to how to proceed. The forums never offered a great way to solve the issue as only Google could “fix it”.

Yesterday, after my post, Google correctly pointed out that they were now offering up a direct contact form for resolution of verification issues as “The reason we ‘took away’ the verification forum”.

I stand corrected and laud the fact that there is actually a contact form in place!

I decided however to see, if I were an SMB, how easy it would be to actually find this form. I conducted an experiment. I claimed a listing to see where and when Google offered up assistance to the SMB when requesting verification. Immediately upon requesting the postcard Google offered up this (so far so good although not where or when the SMB will need help): Continue reading Google Maps Adds Contact Form for Verification Issues

Google Places – Will Customer Service Decline Further?

As part of Google’s rebranding of the Local Business Center to Google Places, they have created a new help area and a totally new forum area for uses of the Google Places center.

The forum move is particularly dramatic and likely to be very disruptive.   Google has archived the very active threads relating to LBC issues and replaced them with a single thread.

Here are the threads in the new forum:

Discuss how to optimize your Place page

Discuss adding new features to your Place page listing

Discuss Google Places issues with other users

These threads replaced:

Archived: Local Listing Issues

Archived: Verification Issues

On the one hand, breaking out the recreational and business users of Maps makes sense. The removal of categories dealing with the many problems that users confront in the Google Places center rather than fixing the issues or answering them seems very counterproductive. The verbiage of the the last new forum group is particularly illustrative: Discuss Google Places issues with other users. It seems to make perfectly clear, that despite the many problems and issues with flaggings & the verification process that only Google can solve, a user will not be able to expect help from Google.

The changed name and the fact that no link exists to the forum from within the Google Places work area means, that at least for a while, the volume of requests for help will be quite a bit lower. It will also make the job for those contributing their time in the forums more difficult. The old forums, although archived are still accepting posts and do not yet redirect to the new areas.

Given that more businesses will be participating in paid aspects of the business listing process, it would seem that their expectation of service will only increase.

Google’s quest for a scalable support solution seems to have a taken a step backwards. If the new Google Places offers significantly better advice when problem with the ever mysterious flagging occur, fewer issues with verification then perhaps or significantly few bugs, Google could get by with a lower level of customer support. It is not at all clear to me that this has happened. New features yes, bug fixes? Probably not.

Until such time as the process of entering a business in the Google Places process is much smoother, Google will only further anger the many participants of the product that run into roadblocks. I used to think that Google “just doesn’t get customer support”. My new thinking is that they get it just fine, they just are not interested in providing any.

Google Rebrands LBC as Google Places and Adds Features

Correction 8:50 am: Google “inadvertently included the wrong screenshot on the press site – the image of the dashboard featuring the option to add a map and download KML. We’re always testing features internally and may or may not release them; we didn’t intend to indicate that we were launching these features”.

Google announced earlier today, the rebranding of the Local Business Center as Google Places. As part of this rebranding Google has:
-Expanded availability and rebranded their fixed price enhanced listing feature as “Tags”. It appears to have moved from a test to a permanent foray into a simple fixed priced ($25/mo) SMB product.

Added the ability for business owners to more easily generate KML files and Location maps for their websites from within the Dashboard.

-Added the ability for business owners to generate a business specific QR code from within the Google Places (LBC) interface

-Announced the availability of Business Photo Shoots where “businesses in select cities can now request a free photo shoot of the interior of their business which we’ll use to supplement existing photos of businesses on Place Pages.”

Google also noted that over 2 million businesses in the US (4 million worldwide) have claimed their listings with Google and that 20% of searches on Google are related to location (somewhere close to 2 billion a month) . That amounts to roughly one in every 7 businesses that have claimed their business listing.

While the announcement may seem to some a simple rebranding or a minor upgrade, it may be more than it appears on the surface.

More business marketing and engagement: By creating a single brand that unifies Places Pages and the claiming process, Google is attempting to make the process more obvious to SMBs. They are also offering an overview webinar and outreach on the business photo shoot participation. Clearly over the past year, Google has been making an attempt to educate and engage SMBs in the claiming process and that seems to be accelerating.

Formalizing one leg of their monetization strategy: If you assume that only 15% of the businesses that have claimed their listing participate in the “Tags” enhanced listing product, it will generate over $180 millions annually in just the US. As part of this rollout Google also re-introduced their Service Area feature that was rolled out earlier in the month. This feature really has to be understood as part and parcel of their monetization strategy rather than part of their relevance or ranking algos.

Rolled out several Google Places (LBC) features: Google is formally embracing KML, QR codes and attempting to make creating a business map more obvious. These endorsements are significant in their own right. The broadspread adoption of QR codes could bridge the mobile and business marketing worlds accelerating uptake of both. Over the past few years, Google’s development pattern has been to upgrade their Maps product and then rollout additional features in rapid succession. I believe that this could very well be the case here.

Google Maps: The Good News; Rogers MN Has Been Found

I love Google Maps even though it seems that most every day with Google Maps is a Good News, Bad News sort of day. Do you want the Good News first or the Bad News?

The Good News is that Rogers, MN, the poster child for lost Google towns, has found its rightful place in the pantheon of American towns…it is once again visible on Google Maps after being missing for 27 days and some odd hours. The police, fire department and Cabelas can all be found and life can once again return to normal.

Like Rogers, Imperial Beach Ca can also now be found.

The Bad News? Wickliffe Ohio and Woodstock VA are still counted amongst the missing.

Google Maps #2 Map Provider in US- #1 Mapping Site in US? Google Maps API

This talk, The New Meaning of Mapping, was given last week by Michael Jones, Google’s Chief Technology Advocate, at theWhere2.0 conference. Previously he was Chief Technologist of Google Maps, Earth, and Local Search and was originally responsible for development of the technology used in the creation of Google Earth. The presentation includes a number of interesting nuggets

  • Google Maps is #2 mapping provider, Mapquest #3. #1 Mapping provider in the US is not Google Maps, nor Mapquest but the Google Maps API
  • How do you make the Map a place of business? Need to move from lack of information, to information, to actionable information.
  • More people use Google Earth on the iPhone than on the Mac

  • If you have any doubt about Google Mapping ambitions be sure to watch the chronological video of Street View driving to date at 12:08 into the movie. Google clearly sees Mapping as the place where business will take place going into the future.

    Will the Real Google LBC Ad Please Stand Up!

    I am not an Adwords expert and do not follow closely the issues around brand integrity etc with Adwords. I do know that Google has been criticized in the past for being too liberal in allowing others to leverage a brand and also they have been criticized (although exonerated) for allowing deceptive ads to be shown.

    I find it ironic that they should in fact suffer the same fate with their ads promoting the Local Business Center. When you do a search for something like Google Maps Place Rank you are now shown ads that look like they might be from Google. What do you get from these Google Wannabes (both are in fact owned by the same company) for $299?

    We GUARANTEE GOOGLE APPROVAL & INCLUSION OF YOUR LISTING!!

    Impressive claim eh? When I showed the ads to my wife (a small sample indeed but the only civilian at hand), she was angry that Google would claim the top two spots for themselves.

    It does appear that these ads do violate Google’s Trademark policy. I guess someone at Google should report this violation to Google so that potential users of Google’s LBC are not deceived.

    Yelp Announces Transparent View of Filtered Reviews to Increase Trust

    I received this email from Yelp today announcing increased transparency around filtered reviews, the end of the “Favorite Review” option for advertisers and a SMB advisory council.

    Here is the email that was sent:

    ——————————————————————
    This Week: About that Review Filter…
    ——————————————————————

    A few weeks ago, we directed you to a detailed explanation ( http://bit.ly/=
    YelpFilter ) of the process Yelp has in place to only display reviews written by the most established users. Known as the Review Filter (or spam algorithm), it’s been a big part of Yelp’s explosive growth over the las=
    t 5 years.

    But keeping Yelp a trusted resource for 30 million people per month isn’t an easy task, and we’re constantly exploring ways to keep Yelp truly helpful for both business owners and consumers. Today, we announced ( http=://bit.ly/bSLwHb ) that we’re now providing users with the option to view those filtered reviews.

    We’re hoping that giving people the ability to “look under the hood,”so to speak, will offer additional validation and transparency to the mechanisms that keep Yelp useful and relevant to consumers. Have your own thoughts about this? Email us at outreach@yelp.com and tell us what you think!

    In addition to be able to view filtered reviews, Yelp is eliminating the “Favorite Review” option for advertisers and creating an SMB advisory council. From their blog post:

    Additionally, in an effort to more formally integrate feedback from the business community, we’ve created a Small Business Advisory Council whose members will provide Yelp management with guidance and perspective regarding the concerns of small business owners.

    Being able to view all of the information that is being kept about a business is a valuable and useful option. It is something that Google Maps should provide in regards to their cluster. It would help immensely in dealing with niggling problems that algos so often create. A decent interface to this information allows a business to see and understand why a listing is the way it is. It would be better yet, if there would be some sort of review and correction process that would additionally allow the SMB to request that the status of this information be changed. Maybe, just maybe, the algo was in error.

    Kudos to Yelp for beginning this process.

    Google to Offer Local Business Center Webinar to SMBs

    The Google Maps team will be offering a brief 45 minute webinar about the basics of the Local Business Center with a focus on Local Business Center for small businesses. It will cover:
    – adding and verifying your local business listing to Google
    – creating a great listing
    – frequently asked questions

    You will need to sign up on this form so that Google can send you an email invitation. Sign-ups close Friday, April 9, 2010.

    Since last year with the rollout of the Favorite Places campaign, their Favorite Places Poster Campaign & sponsorship of GetList.org Local U, Google Maps has been involved in more efforts to reach out to SMBs and educate them about the Local Business Center and its potential. Its a welcome communication strategy that can only increase SMB participation and understanding of Local.*

    Full Disclosure – Google Maps is one of the primary sponsors of GetListed Local Univeristy of which I am participating instructor and organizer.

    Newest Getlisted.Org Local U to be in Cleveland June 30th

    Getlisted.org Local University is rolling into Cleveland at the end of June! In partnership with the Karcher Group, NEOSA and Anita Campbell, it promises to be a great event.

    The Karcher Group, a strong web development & marketing group in the Akron/Canton area, contacted us in January shortly after Spokane was announced. Anita Campbell, an incredible small business consultant and blogger, agreed to help out shortly after and Brad Nellis of NEOSA, North East Ohio’s premier technology promotion group, has also stepped in as a major sponsor. All three have been great in developing this session and it’s incredibly exciting for me to be able to work with them.

    Local University: Northeast Ohio (aka neo) will take place on June 30, 2010 at the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, featuring two identical half-day sessions (8am – noon and 1pm – 5pm).

    To sign up, head over to the GetListed.org/neo page to reserve your seat. If you use the discount code mbNEO you will only pay $79.

    If you’re coming in from out of town, the Holiday Inn of Independence, OH is offering a special rate of $89/night for conference attendees and provides free shuttle service to the venue. Simply mention that you are attending GetListed.org Local University when you make your reservation.

    As with our Spokane and upcoming TwinCities events, we are committed to educating the small business community in each city we visit. 10% of all ticket sales for this event will be donated to a local educational charity. If you’d like to nominate one, please email us at neo@getlisted.org.

    I hope to see you there.

    Developing Knowledge about Local Search