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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google Maps, Small Business & Society – who’s crazy?

Is Google “crazy” to handle business listings in Maps the way they do?

A recent poster to the Manic Merging of Business Listings posted the following in regards to Google merging competing businesses:

Google map has merged my clients business listing with his next door neighbor’s business. Now, google map will take visitors to his competitor’s website yet under his business name!

This is crazy, and that they have no easy way to report the problem and fix it is very irresponsible on google’s end. How hard it it to have a system to report and correct mergers?
-Frustrated webmaster

@Frustrated webmaster

I would agree that it appears crazy. And a system to easily report mergers also makes sense. Correcting the mergers makes sense from my point of view, your point of view, the point of view of the local businesses BUT not necessarily from the point of view of Google. Google’s behavior, given their interests, is in fact totally rational. Perhaps not in my best interest, not in the best interest of the typical business, and most importantly perhaps not in the interest of society but rational.

Certainly the way that most folks think about a business listing…a single record in a database…it seems like it should be fixable. But Google wants no part of a system in which they are responsible for fixing individual records. Either the results are correct as a result of a scalable algo or they are not. If not, the answer is fix the algo not fix the record. Google views the cluster of information that they have about a specific business as the unit of information. They have a need to merge and purge duplicates into and from the cluster and obviously that needs to happen (from their view) automatically. If a “few” businesses merge at the expense of overall data quality Google figures that they have improved the system. That “engineering” view point obviously creates conflict with the business that was merged. It doesn’t however create conflict with stockholders.

Google views it as a systems level problem that has to be managed by software. They are not interested in a solution that offers perfection and 100% accuracy at any cost, they are only interested in a solution that offers (hopefully) increasing accuracy at very low costs. It was recently reported that Google generates $201,000 profit per employee. The Map’s staff need to sell lots of ads to reach that standard.

Google is the only entity that knows if the records are improving in overall accuracy. They do not seem inclined to share that information. We can only guess if the data is moving in the right direction or not. Certainly reports into the forums have increased and the types of problems reported out are of increasing scale (think locksmith hijacking) but those are anecdotal at best.

Managing business records by algo is cheap & managing by humans is expensive. Google, as a growing profitable corporation views cheap as in their best interest. The small business views accurate as in their best interest. But there is a third player in this scenario and that is society.

Google often uses the mythical user as their proxy for society. They often state their goals in terms of accuracy & quality of results for the user and they tout the user experience as their standard. But I would postulate that society at large also has the idea that these listings are finite and thus manageable. There is the general presumption of accuracy in the listings. If the public can’t safely find a doctor or trust the listings of the locksmith then the value of the Map’s listing declines precipitously.

The market might ultimately “fix” the issue by abandoning Google Maps or Google might actually get the listings working accurately. But there is a third scenario. The market has not always been the master in society and historically monopoly players have had to hew to more stringent quality and societal standards than others. That scenario could very well play out with Maps.

Society as a whole could say: This sucks and lets regulate the obligation of the main providers of business listings to provide rapid fixes to specific errors in a timely fashion. Or society could say: Increase the transparency and report on accuracy. On the other hand, Google and other third party providers could get laws passed which absolve them of responsibility (oops that has already happened)…We’ll see.

Google is doing what all corporations are doing, managing their perceived self interest in relations to Maps. They will continue to do so until either 1)it is too costly to do so or 2)their perception of self interest changes or 3)society steps in and demands a better solution.

The situation is certainly rife with conflict. But if Google doesn’t resolve the quality issues with Maps it may well move beyond my sniping at Google and into the larger societal and political arenas.