Completely And Utterly Farcical Google Local Verification Procedures
Posted 02 July 2009 - 03:23 AM
Now as part of the latest chapter in this story, that by comparison makes War and Peace look like something to be dusted off in one sitting on the toilet, I've lost my rag.
Here's the Chapter entitled - Do I care about local.
1. First of all the Core Business is verfied by post cost.
2. I add another element of business to the same account (without conceeding the raw details, you need to trust me that it's not spam and a real business and conforms). Which has it's own website.
3. I submit the initial profile and get the message "We are calling your business to verify".
"Hold on a minute, where are my options to select the method".
"phone rings in business....answers, why the hell is Google calling me, must be a scam?"
Back in the land of the SEO, I click on Google Local Logo to force return to homepage showing all Google listings in the account.
See that account can be verified by SMS.
Knowing that National telephone operator cannot send SMS, go back into Google account and add Mobile Number to the additional details.
Google tells me that the number needs to be in a format that in fact corresponds to the national telephone operators formatting, and is therefore not appropriate for the mobile number. This means that it is not possible to enter the mobile phone number into account, and therefore the SMS option is completely and utterly redundant.
So, here will be the workaround:
1. Try and explain to client what needs to happen.
2. Get one of their staff to take a laptop with wireless internet to the place where the business telephone number resolves too and login to Google Local. Request the pin and do it from there.
And this is the best the brains from the biggest SE on the planet.
It's a complete and utter joke, what's next.. a stool sample?
Posted 02 July 2009 - 04:12 AM
Maybe I missed the point. I normally do. Fuzzy head today.
Posted 02 July 2009 - 05:26 PM
Posted 02 July 2009 - 07:25 PM
Is this always a problem?
1. Try and explain to client what needs to happen.
2. Get one of their staff to...
Once was transferring a domain for someone who no longer had their log in details, let alone remembered who was their registrar. After carefully trackign down and confirming a bunch of identifying information with both the registrar and the client, I let client know that they'd be receiving a confirmation email THAT AFTERNOON from the registrar, and NOT to delete it. I was specific about the email needing to be responded to, or the process would need to start again. That evening the client emailed to ask when I could take care of it, as they'd already deleted "that spam." :scratchhead:
There are always going to be times when the client simply doesn't get it.
Not Google's fault.
Posted 03 July 2009 - 02:30 AM
But when you are not even given this option for verification, the alternative is just laughable and gives me more weight to support my thinking that Glocal is G's attempt to cut out the middleman in the online advertising world.
I'm now going to be forced to try and hack with the Local system to see if I force the option I want.
Really Stupid Google.
Posted 03 July 2009 - 02:44 PM
I want to preface this by saying that you are one of the reason I've continued to urge, admonish, praise, plead with and focus my attention on G. Local. It's good people like yourself who make me confident that Google is full of good people and that they can do better!
In my opinion, here are some of the things that I think are wrong with G. Local.
The Creation Of The Index
This was done without the knowledge or consent of business owners. It's my impression that that majority of them remain unaware that their business contact information is being represented, and frequently misrepresented, by Google Local. Local business owners approach business from a YP mindset in which they must authorize any advertising (free or paid) of their business and are not only aware of anywhere that their company's name and contact info appears, but that they also have total control over the appearance and accuracy of that data. Google's approach of amalgamating an index based on third party data providers has not only created the problem of conflated records with bits and pieces of incorrect and outdated data from multiple sources, but has created what I see as the very serious problem of all of this happening without the business owner's knowledge of consent.
Should The Business Owner Become Aware
Now, let's say the business owner should somehow become aware that Google is representing them with their local applications (the 10 pack or Maps). Danny Sullivan recently gave a tongue-in-cheek presentation regarding the hoops a business owner would have to jump through to figure out not only that they need to claim their listing but, also, how to claim it. It takes 3 serendipitous clicks in Maps just to get to the point where the user is asked the question Are You The Owner? Claim Your Business. It's buried and obscure and is doubtless one of the reasons that so many of the listings in G. Local remain unclaimed and vulnerable to both community edits and competitive hijacking. The need to claim your listing has not been well-publicized by Google and the mechanics of doing so are simply too complicated. A lack of thought has been given to human Usability (I'd love to see G. Local hire Kim for an audit!)
The verification process itself has been fraught with difficulties. Between lost postcards and very disturbing problems with Google's automated phone system having problems with certain kinds of phones and certain numbers of the key pad, and then not even offering real confirmation at the end of a successful phone call that the verification has been completed, the whole process is not satisfactory or user-friendly.
A Wiki Approach To Real World Data
Google reps have stated that they view Local as a wiki effort that can be created and policed by the public. I have come to the conclusion that this is absolutely the wrong approach when it comes to the accuracy of real world business data. Wiki works for Wikipedia because few people are going to be spammed out of business or die if there is inaccurate data in Wikipedia. But when it comes to business data, leaving it open to competitive hijacking that business owners have reported has deprived them of up to 70% of their income...well, that's a real-world consequence of a mistaken wiki approach to the scenario. The inaccuracy of emergency services has been of special concern to me and the Google Maps Help Group has recently had visits from doctors begging Google to correct errors before someone dies. That's totally serious and, in my opinion, all the reason Google should need to realize their approach to local is not right.
Lack Of Accessibility And Accountability
I recently wrote this post detailing the public's overwhelming dissatisfaction with the fact that Google is representing their businesses publicly but providing absolutely zero way to contact them about errors. Response in the Google Maps Help Group (should business owners serendipitously manage to find) is sporadic at best. In my book, if you take it upon yourself to represent real businesses, you are also taking on responsibility to be accessible to those businesses, but Google has given the local business world no way to speak to them about errors, loss of massive income due to inaccuracy in Maps and other real world problems that have been created by Google's local index. Most recently, Google has even removed the one very small option they provided for people to fill out a special form to report errors in emergency services data (hospitals, poison control, women's shelters, etc.) Maps Guide Jen Chin had shown me this page last year after I discovered that 3 local doctors and the major local hospital in my area were all being misrepresented by Google. At that time, Google would allow you to alert them to this type of incorrect data and their page stated that they tried to correct such instances within 48 hours. Now, even this option has been taken away and I consider this to have created a situation of public hazard.
Google is not being held legally accountable for this misrepresentation of emergency services, nor the loss of income created by inaccuracies in their index. I don't think that's acceptable, for any business, and I am totally dissatisfied with the lack of transparency, accessibility and accountability present in the current situation with Google's local entity.
I believe that Google can do much better than this and will continue to read and write about this in hopes that Google will change their approach and policies. I want them to succeed.
Edited by SEOigloo, 03 July 2009 - 02:49 PM.
Posted 03 July 2009 - 05:37 PM
I don't quite agree with all of that but it's hard for me to judge it based on the little parts that I've seen . Again, since I don't work on the Local Business Center, this is all just my personal opinion.
Here's one part in particular which I don't fully understand: is it really worse for a local business to have incorrect information (eg wrong phone number) listed than not to be listed at all (not automatically added)? I got my company listed in the Swiss LBC right about when I left my company and started at Google. The company wasn't listed automatically, so I had to go through everything to get the listing added. Personally, if I had known that the company was already listed (automatically added), I would have gone there and done that much earlier. If I had heard that the information there was incorrect, I would have been even faster. We had other incorrect listings (local yellow pages and a "paper" business directory) and we learned about them very quickly. When someone wanted to call our business and reached something else, it usually encouraged them to try harder and to tell us how the listing was incorrect and that we should try to get it fixed asap. So if for instance the local LBC had our company listed incorrectly, this would have gotten us to claim and fix it much faster than it actually took us (even with my Googlemania) to do it on our own. How much business did we lose by not being listed (and instead, even paying for AdWords)? It's useless to think about it because you can't really put a number on lost opportunities. My company "could have" done a lot of things if we had known about them . Oh, boy, the things we could have done
I know I was probably a bit more versed with this internet stuff than the average small business owner (not to mention hard-headed enough to keep on trying if it didn't work right), that's certainly a difference. That said, as a user, if I search for say [flowers] I usually want to find local flower shops. If it only showed me the 2-3 in Zurich (20 miles away) that manually added themselves instead of the 10 that are in my town, I'd be unhappy with the results. If the one local entry which I pick has the wrong phone number or address, I might pick a different entry or I might (if I wanted exactly that shop) search for the real phone number and tell them about it. To me, this is no different than if they didn't pick up the phone (versus a company that did). Do I try again later or do I pick a different listing? It's a lost opportunity for them, but in general if a small business does not take advantage of the opportunities presented, the sale may go elsewhere.
I always root for the small guy because I know they have to juggle a million different things (I certainly did). I can fully understand that they're too busy or unknowedgable of things they could handle with little effort, that's life. That's why I think it makes sense to have them listed automatically, even if that means that a small part of the listings have mistakes in them. Most of the great flower shops in my town don't even have a website because they don't know how to do it or if it would really bring them something (lots of small businesses don't want many more customers - you'd be surprised at the number of small businesses I know that are afraid that a website would bring them more paid work, they don't want to expand, they want to stay at the same scale). I certainly don't want a LBC filled with the "elite" flower shops of the area, the ones who are internet-savvy and have a snazzy expensive website, the ones who make you pay twice as much for flowers that aren't even half as beautiful . I prefer the LBC to contain small businesses who would otherwise not be present in Google's search results.
I agree that emergency service providers are a bit different than normal small businesses. I also agree that bugs in the processes should be fixed, if they aren't already. That said, I'm not privvy to any of these details, so I can't really comment on them.
Anyway, that's my personal 2 cents . I'll gladly pass your feedback on to the team when I get back from vacation
Posted 04 July 2009 - 06:55 AM
"Google's approach of amalgamating an index based on third party data providers has not only created the problem of conflated records with bits and pieces of incorrect and outdated data from multiple sources."
As a business owner, if mine is being represented incorrectly in the index I would want to see some kind of justification and trasparency.
a) the supplier of that information (this I can do)
B) the agreement and consent that I gave to that supplier to provide details.
c) the agreement that showed my consent that it could be shared with Google.
d) the verification by me that the data being displayed was corrent.
Let's assume the case of company that is going through a very aggressive marketing spend for a new domain, trying to build brand awareness. If that business is selling toys, and they are appearing in Google local against keywords associated with, say alcohol, that's pretty damaging. Now let's just say that this example was actually valid, are the existing mechanisms to correct the problem adequate?
On the point of conflated indexes, from what I've seen some of those important citation sources have a very commercial and advantageos way in to getting businesses listed in the Google local, all of which I'm not exactly comfortable with.
Posted 04 July 2009 - 03:08 PM
I read your reply with great interest! Thank you for such a thoughtful response to my comments.
Is it really worse for a local business to have incorrect information (eg wrong phone number) listed than not to be listed at all (not automatically added)?
Imagine you are a local business owner and you've invested considerable time and expense in getting your business correctly listed with the Yellow Pages and correctly advertised in local papers, magazines, perhaps a few online directories.
Then, a 'publication' with the visibility of Google comes along and incorrectly lists your information, without telling you about it and without giving you a way to contact them. Suddenly your calls drop off and you don't know why because people are simply getting a wrong number when they try to call you and aren't telling you about it. They are too busy and simply move onto the next listing.
In my corner of the world, a local futon shop sued the Yellow Pages for incorrectly listing their phone number one year. It nearly ruined their business. It had that much of an effect, and I have heard firsthand from business owners that incorrect Maps data has lost them as much as 70% of their phone calls. It's that bad.
So, I have to say, yes it is worse to be incorrectly listed in Google than not listed at all because not being listed at all means things are still in the control of the business owner whereas being incorrectly listed by Google means having your fate in the hands of a company that is intentionally refusing to let the business community contact them. The owner's business data is being held hostage by someone they can't get through to and the responsibility is suddenly being dumped on them to find some way, on their own, to remedy the situation. Sometimes they figure out how to do it on their own, but as the Maps Help Group attests, many times there is no known fix for their problem and the outrage and concern I have seen expressed over this is very real. People don't see this situation as appropriate business conduct on Google's part, and I have to agree with that.
If a small business does not take advantage of the opportunities presented, the sale may go elsewhere.
I agree with you totally on that, John, but the problem is, 90% of the small business owners I talk to are still wholly unaware that the opportunity of Google Maps exists for them. And then, if they do discover it and their initiation to it is a huge hassle with errors they aren't sure how to fix and a company policy of inaccessibility, I just don't believe that's winning any love for what Google is doing.
And it could win love! That's what makes me so passionate about this. I think Local could be awesome but the mindset of the creators would have to change. Local is different. It isn't Organic. It's real-time and has to be staffed by people, not simply handled by an algorithm. I have heard nearly every one of my colleagues in Local Search championing Yahoo for having phone support for their local app and condemning Google for not doing the same. I think Google needs to take that seriously, but they have left most of the folks that I know (including SMBs) with the impression that because Google is the big guy, they don't have to act with consideration for the welfare of businesses and I would love to see Google create a better feeling about their position than that. I know you would, too, John
Edited by SEOigloo, 04 July 2009 - 03:25 PM.
Posted 04 July 2009 - 03:17 PM
Now let's just say that this example was actually valid, are the existing mechanisms to correct the problem adequate?
In a scenario like you are describing, with tremendous effort the business owner might be able to track down where the confusion is coming from and by altering the original source of the wrong data, get Google to eventually pick up the corrected data.
The trouble with this is the 'tremendous effort' part. I've watched Mike Blumenthal walk through finding various errors in the 3rd party data from which Google pulls, and the steps involved strike me as being complicated beyond the means of many busy small business owners.
The real question is - whose responsibility should it be to make sure that Google's index is accurate? Google's or the public's? Because it is Google who created the index and Google who is profiting handsomely from it, my definite answer is that it is Google's responsibility. In the case of the incorrect emergency data that is causing public health dangers, I was told by a Maps guide that Google couldn't possibly contact all of the hospitals and doctors they've indexed to make sure the contact information they have published is correct. In other words, Google doesn't have the time...yet, they are expecting you to have the time, or doctors to have the time, or someone else to have the time. Again, I see this as a wrong attitude and a bad approach to the idea of Local. It's a philosophical problem.
Posted 04 July 2009 - 04:17 PM
The problem is that Google wants to have scaleable solutions, which involve automatic algorithms. Local cannot be handled that way. If Google does not want to handle Local as it needs to be handled, then it should just opt out. It is too big and dominant to leave a people-damaging, erroneous system in place.
It struck me that it is somewhat ironic that Google will on occasions add humans into the process. The spam team has put major effort into identifying even small businesses that may be selling paid links and manually reducing their Toolbar PageRank reading to get them to change their behavior. That was a situation where presumably Google felt its bottom line would be affected if it did not handle these 'errors'.
The effect they are having on some local SMBs is devastating. Despite their tagline, they certainly seem to be 'Doing Evil' here.
Edited by bwelford, 04 July 2009 - 04:18 PM.
Posted 05 July 2009 - 01:28 PM
I'm sure Google isn't meaning to do evil. I'm afraid they're coming off as irresponsible and uncaring, though. I visit the Google Maps Help Group and the amount of confusion and distress on the part of the business owners, contrasted with the sparse response from the Maps Guides doesn't paint a responsive or concerned picture. I'd really like to see this change. Yet, while the help group is good, I honestly don't think anything short of a customer service dept. to back up Maps will cut it.
Posted 05 July 2009 - 03:01 PM
Is it really worse for a local business to have incorrect information (eg wrong phone number) listed than not to be listed at all (not automatically added)?
1)I think it's always best to use accurate facts.
2) Misinformation will lead to frustration on the searchers part and annoyance and they might give up searching for the accurate phone number when frustrated. They may even hold it against the business for being "unprofessional".
What are we asking here? Simply to have some kind of responsible timely feedback from LBC. Something that streamlines this whole process? Biz owners might not have the time to have lengthy convoluted communications with G. Esp. in this economy where their collective noses are to the grindstone. G doesn't want to spend their time helping solve this problem either, for now, apparently. This isnt' rocket science - put people on it. Rise to the challenge of making a system that you initiated work better for goodness sakes. :scratchhead:
Posted 05 July 2009 - 03:30 PM
Posted 06 July 2009 - 02:05 AM
Posted 06 July 2009 - 01:06 PM
With regard to the question...is it worse to have wrong information in Google Maps...I'd say YES. Its particularly more frustrating with Google, in that, if there is a mistake and you report, and you work through various methods to correct it, you have no verification if it in fact will be corrected or when.
I've been a small business operator/owner, have sold directly to small businesses (I was a commercial real estate broker in a major US market place--at one point specializing in retailers and retail spaces), have developed a massive data base (massive for me--I built it on my own) of businesses in my market, and know countless small business operators. On top of that my ex wife was a big shot in the local region advertising society and a local big shot in advertising agencies. I'm somewhat familiar with how SMB's treat advertising.
When the information available in search is wrong...here is what happens.
A)Someone calls off of bad information in an SE. They get the wrong number. They skip the business and go to the next one.
B) Someone calls several competitors. One number is wrong. They go directly to the competitors. One never has a chance to compete for the business.
C)More egregiously, if you have a hospital or emergency facility and the phone number is wrong, or some other element of the contact is wrong--it could lead to horrible results.
I can sense how the process is complex. Google and the other SE's that built versions of Maps/Local obtained data from other data sources initially and aggregated/melded this information. The information was at times conflicting. Businesses in certain data bases had closed. Other businesses had moved. Phone numbers changed.
Collecting and verifying data is extremely difficult and time consuming. Having done this, I can only say that obtaining 100% accurate contact information is difficult to do and more difficult to ensure that it is correct.
Relying 100% on an algorithmic method, which is what Google does, for verification of accuracy is clearly going to lead to errors. Most traditional data collectors have relied on some level of contact and interaction to correct and change data. Eliminating that method is a big mistake in my experience.
Other SE's particularly Yahoo, allow for personal interaction and a level of customer service to correct mistakes. It speeds up the process. It allows for better data. Its deeply more satisfying than the method used by Google.
Simply, a business person may submit correcting information and just doesn't know if it has gotten through to Google and if and when it will be changed. That is incredibly frustrating.
In the meantime, since the Google method for editing/correcting information is slow.....the business simply loses contacts and potential opportunities for business.
Correcting information in the Local Business Center is complex. Small business owners are simply not equipped to do this effectively. I know plenty of them. Cripes I do it, and it confuses me. Virtually all SMB owners I know have always farmed out virtually all of their advertising. The only thing they might have hands on experience with is placing traditional YP print advertising--and frankly there everything is done virtually in house by YP personnel.
The complex methodology with NOT easily accessable directions on correcting information is not conducive to effecting changes.
Google currently owns a MONOPOLY on search visits by users. Therein lies the problem. It commands most visits, and when the information is wrong it is the critical starting point for correcting information. When the information is wrong--the business loses a majority of potential searchers.
In one instance I tried to help a third party business with consistent wrong information showing up in both maps and the plus box. This process went on for about 1 year. At the start of the process a Google employee said they would get back to the business when an inquiry/complaint surfaced in Google groups for business owners. One year later, following consistent inquiries...a Google employee had not responded.
Meanwhile, over the year, the information was being wrongly shown in both Google Maps and Yahoo Local. Over that time, there were consistent complaints from potential customers who were being directed to the wrong address. Not a single time did the complaining person ever attribute the wrong directions to the bad information in Yahoo. Not once.
Ultimately, by reading and rereading the patents on Google Local (providentially provided by our friend, Bill) we determined why the mistaken information was showing up (an algorithmic reason) We addressed this issue and never got a response.
Ultimately after about 1 year or longer Google seemed to universally correct the problem. Meanwhile many potential customers went to the wrong address because of a non response.
More than anything else I would suggest two elements that desperately need correction:
1. Simplify making changes, give these changes more weight over sources of information from data sources, and give some acknowledgement that the changes will be made.
2. Provide a level of customer service and response. Yahoo does it. It is quite satisfying.
Posted 06 July 2009 - 07:01 PM
Say Denver flowers. I think about 1 and 1/2 years ago a florist in Denver complained bitterly in google groups for maps/business owners about 1 business that was given a onebox for this search phrase.
It drew a lot of commentary at Mike Blumenthal's blog and here
One business was a winner with this phrase...and others were clear losers. When google takes a generic business search phrase for a product/service/industry and combines it with a local jurisdiction only to create a onebox then Google is ultmately playing search God and determining business winners and losers.
There are other alternatives.
For instance, say someone searches for the phrase Denver Flowers. The searchers intent could be for a particular business with that name in Denver or alternatively for any number of florists in the city.
Realistically we don't know, and certainly Google doesn't know.
Google could show two results imported into google.com from its many resources. Essentially it could present 2 variations from Maps.google.com.
One alternative could be a SMALL version of a onebox. In view of no formal name for this phenomena, Mike Blumenthal calls it a "branded onebox". It is small, far smaller than the onebox. Secondly Google could present a 10pac or 3pac, whatever is appropriate, wherein the other competitors in that industry also show.
That would be an inclusive review of alternatives and would cover all options.
Frankly, we operate a bunch of businesses, all with local competitors. In some cases we have benefitted from a onebox. When we receive this treatment and additionally have the first or first and second organic listings we absolutely dominate the total percentage of clicks on those phrases (we run ppc). In other cases where one of our businesses is shut out by a onebox for a competitor we get a horrible minority of clicks to the site for the phrase.
In my view, google is playing commercial god by emphasizing the onebox in lieu of the alternative I suggested above.
Finally, if you haven't done this I would go back to Miriam's very descriptive post about lack of response in google groups for Maps (Google maps) and read the commentary from people/business owners not getting a response from complaints here. Its very powerful. Day after day one can go into Google Groups forums for maps and see the same type of coments made by new people with problems. In some cases, you see the same people looking for a response for a couple of months. Its pathetic. Also, I would read Miriam's comments about Google quietly removing a mechanism (that wasn't easy to find) wherein it made immediate changes on behalf of hospitals and emergency facilities wherein the information in Google Maps was wrong here . Google had established a quick fast response mechanism...and then quietly dismantled it.
Google clearly doesn't want to directly respond to anyone vis a vis its map product.
Frankly John, when I created a short url for twitter referring to the hospital blog piece by Miriam, I labled it http://cli.gs/we-dont-care . I tweeted about it and referenced it to only a couple of seo type people. I was surprised at how there were a surprising number of responses and retweets. It would only take tweeting this to a lot of hospital tweeters and other concerned folks and I suspect it create quite a loud and unhappy response.
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