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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction

Google Local is a veritable train wreck for business listing management. The Dashboard is in a state of non functioning disrepair, the + Page path to listing management is full of bugs. The current business types supported by the feature set in the +Page environment is extremely limited. The rules for business listings in MapMaker differ from the rules for Places/+Local/Pages and bots there often run amok with listing data. Factor in the technical difficulties of legitimate listings going into “We currently do not support this location” purgatory and being lost for months on end AND the bevy of old issues like merges and duplicates and the wreck starts to take on epic proportions.

The problems are compounded by Google’s unclear complete lack of  guidance as to whether the Dashboard or the social local management environment is the future of their local interface. This adds a level of uncertainty for businesses small and large as to how to proceed with effective listing management. Should a business commit to the new G+ Page local environment? Is this Dashboard being phased out or is it just undergoing a renovation? There are “indications” that both products will exist going forward. Yet Google, rather than laying out a road map so businesses can plan in an intelligent manner, plays 3 card monte with press statements and or makes public utterances that lack clarity.

Has Google Local fallen prey to a failure of management or management turnover?
Is Local under funded?
Is it under focused?
Is it too complicated?
Is the project so big (and incredible) that its gestation period is longer than that of an elephant?
Did the Local team get side tracked by the forced march to social?
Has the strategy of release early and iterate often failed because Google local has forgotten the iterate part?
Are we just seeing a failure of execution?

Who knows. Google is not saying. The problem is that businesses need to plan, they need to keep moving forward on their marketing and unfortunately, for many, Google Local is a key component of that plan.

Here is how I see the situation and my recommendations for the next 60 days as to how a business should proceed given the many, many vagaries of the current situation and why I am suggesting that for most business the best tactic for now is to just sit tight in the old Dashboard and wait:

Google+ Page Management – The fact that Google has yet to figure out what to call these pages is but a foreshadowing of bigger issues. When the product was released in August, it seemed to indicate Google’s new direction. There was speculation (me included) that thought that +Page multi user management interface was the replacement for the Dashboard and was Google’s path forward.

The caveats soon piled on. Bugs in the merge process became all too apparent but even more significant was Google’s positioning of the limited functionality of the product. Google noted at the time that a full fledged version was in the works that would allow for automatic transition from the Dashboard and that features needed for more business types would be added. Service area businesses that attempted the transition soon found the problems and Google publicly recommended that they NOT transition.  When pressed Google suggested that multi location businesses wait and not transition. Brands with multiple locations are not well supported.

The product has been and is only suitable for single location bricks and mortar locations that need a social presence. At a recent Local University*, Google positioned the product as ideal for newly created businesses. That is a very limited subset of business reality.

The Places for Business Dashboard: This product currently has even more quirks than the +Page transition. Data changes take forever to reach the listing, features like video upload are broken, the analytics dashboard is practically useless and many fields that are available for input never show data in the listing. The list goes on.

Yet the product sports a renewed Offers interface, an upgraded Adwords Express AND a recently rebuilt bulk upload interface. The dashboard is account based rather than individual based. Certainly that is a superior solution for a multi-location brand yet it is steadfastly single user. It is the ultimate contradiction and any attempt at reading the tea leaves as to its future gives one a serious case of heartburn. But given the fact that parts of the product HAVE been upgraded its hard to conclude that it is in fact going away.

What Google Should do NOW: Communicate a plan. Nothing disrupts businesses like uncertainty. Show us the road map! Put businesses big and small in a position where, while they might not know when you are doing something, they know what you are doing.

My conclusion: I thought at the time of the +Page integration rollout that the dashboard would be integrated into the +Page management environment. I no longer have that confidence and really don’t know how the two disparate products will integrate. A new dashboard with increased functionality is likely on its way and hopefully better social management tools as well. What we don’t know is how the two feature sets will relate to each other and exactly how they should be managed, whether all features will be in a single interface or whether Google will segment functionality in some way.

If you have already made the move to G+ Page for Local on one or more of your listings, then don’t sweat it. However, I would recommend not moving more of your locations over at this time.

Google is unlikely to take my suggestion to map out a the near future for us. In the meantime, since we are only seeing a [broken] corner of the whole picture, it is conceivable to me that a wrong step now might require a business to back up and execute a complete redo down the road if you commit too early. Thus my recommendation to stay in the Places for Business dashboard for now. I also recommend that you periodically check into your dashboard to see if the listing has suffered any penalities, pending reviews or suspensions. Other than that I would suggest changing your listing as little as possible.

*In the spirit of full disclosure, Local University of which I am a participant and owner, receives sponsorship monies from Google.