I know we share our issues with Google here from time to time, but we try to be fair. In that vein, they deserve some praise today for something they apparently started doing last night with Google Places (Mike Blumenthal is always on top of local SEO changes and his first post about it was late last night.)
Google Places – Problem with Your Listing Email
At 7:03 PM, we received notification for one of our clients from Google Places titled, “Google Places – Problem with your listing.” Here’s the relevant text:
Please review your listings
Hello from Google Places,
To help people searching for businesses like yours, Google is always working to improve the accuracy of local business listings. While reviewing your Places listings, we believe we found some inaccuracies that we’d like to correct, but we wanted to check with you first.
Please log in to your Places account to view our suggested changes. If we don’t hear from you before January 31, 2011, we’ll leave your listings up, but we’ll override some parts of the listings that you provided with data from other sources until you address these issues.
The Google Places Team
Give Google credit – they’re being proactive and letting businesses with verified Places Pages know they want to make changes rather than just doing them without notice or suspending an account. And they’re giving you until nearly the end of January – or at least are on the ones we’ve seen. Yet another reason to verify your business.
What the Google Places Dashboard Shows
Once you log in, each listing (if you only have one location, you’ll only have one listing here) that Google wants you to review will appear with a red “Needs Action” in the Status column, just like it would if you were awaiting a pin code to verify. Additionally, it will give you a notice saying that “Listing information may be incorrect.”
“Problems” Google Places Wants You to Review
Once you click on “Review and correct,” you’ll be taken to a screen for that particular listing showing the issues Google has detected. Obviously these are automatically detected by some program – you’ll see why I say that with a couple examples. Be aware these are just the first two we’ve seen and obviously won’t cover the gamut of all the issues Google Places is emailing everyone about.
Harmless change requested, but what’s really the big deal here? Would a human really care about whether “Drive” was spelled out or not? And does anyone actually use the Zip+4? Sure, being consistent with how you enter your physical address in every submission has long been a local search optimization technique, but looks more like a flaw in Google’s local algorithm to me. Regardless, no harm no foul on this one.
Two separate issues on this one:
- Article in Name. I know it’s blurred out, but the first change they’re requesting is adding a “The” to the beginning. Everything else is exactly the same. Really? Not a big deal, though – falls into the same no harm no foul category.
- Categories. This one is actually a bigger deal and not one that we approved. I left the categories unblurred to discuss one of the ones Google wanted to take out: nail salon. In reviewing the landing page of the site, I don’t believe the words “nail” or “nails” are used, but they do use words like “manicure” and “pedicure.” A human – or even an algorithm with a decent synonym / related words database ought to be able to pick up on this. I don’t think it should be flagged for change, but whatever.My issue is that you don’t have a place to provide feedback to the team about why you think the category is appropriate, like you do with ads that get rejected in AdWords. Seems like that would save both sides a lot of time. Also, you don’t have the easy ability to just accept some of the suggested changes, which again would make life easier for all involved.
What Google Improving Customer Service Really Means
Regardless of my quibbles, this is better customer service for small businesses, even if it’s automated customer service. Going from nothing to something positive is always an improvement! The reason? The increased focus on local search and related products like Hotpot by Google due to increased usage and monetization opportunities (not to mention their likely purchase of Groupon). That’s why they’re using live independent contractors to sell Tags and doing both phone and email customer service surveys. If Google’s going to try to make money off the masses, it needs to offer some kind of customer service – preferably by real humans – even if that goes against its DNA (again, an advantage of picking up Groupon).
And for those readers of the blog that are in the SEM business? It’s just another step by Google towards cutting you out and becoming their own ad agency.