Is Google Local Really this Broken? Who's in Charge? What's the Solution?

Linda Buquet

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Mike Blumenthal just wrote what I consider to be the best and most important post of 2012.

It's a no-hold barred expose of the train wreck Google Local has become (and has been for a long time.)
He succinctly lays out the most important problems Google Local has and gives recommendations for how businesses should handle the current problems and lack of direction. He's also trying to push for change or at least get communication from Google regarding what the plan is to get things on track.

Here are just a few choice snippets, you really need to head over and read the whole thing.

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 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...

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 has forgotten the iterate part?
Are we just seeing a failure of execution?

There is a LOT more, need to go read the rest here.
Mike goes on to make recommendations for businesses and consultants as far as how to proceed since everything is murky and unclear right now. He and I agree it's best to WAIT and not upgrade/merge/verify Google+ if you have not yet.

Jade stopped by the forum yesterday and said she agrees waiting is probably the best idea too.

Mike also calls out Google and asks for SOME type of communication - a plan or a solution.

I totally agree with everything Mike says. Here are my comments:

Mike you really boiled it down well and summed it up in a way I don’t think anyone else could. You know me, it would have taken me 10 pages to write that.

I’m constantly amazed that the train wreck is really as bad as I think it is. I sometimes wonder if my perspective is skewed to the negative, because due to helping in the Google forum, I see so many of the problems and disgruntled users. It’s just so hard to fathom a company as big as Google could have a product this crippled and broken.

I wonder all the same things you do. And as closely as you and I both work with Google every day, I still can’t put my finger on what’s wrong or answer the questions you asked. Underfunded? Forgotten step child? No one really in charge any more? Focus shifted to +? Just too complicated, crippled and tied up in knots at this point to fix?

I try very hard to be positive and am by nature an optimist. Every now and then I see a little glimmer of light and try to latch onto it. But then it goes away. It’s been really gray for awhile now – like local has totally been put on the back burner. Things just seem stalled and I agree, Google needs to step up with some communication to let us all know there’s light at the end of the tunnel, there is a plan and things are going to get better.

Since Jade will be reading this I feel the need to say something at this point. Due to her position she’s sort of seen as the ‘face’ of local. Jade I know how hard you work to try to help where you can, so none of this is a reflection on you. You aren’t the head of engineering or support or on the review spam team or in charge of policy making. I know many times your hands are tied and assume you may feel as frustrated and impotent as we do.

Weird to say this as much as I work directly with folks at Google every day, but I don’t even know who’s running the ship currently. Do you Mike? Who’s ultimate responsibility is local now? I think it would be wise for someone very high up at this point to step in and let us know there IS a plan and local IS a priority and things ARE going to improve!
Other comments are starting to come in and I anticipate this post at Mike's may get more comments over time than any other, due to all the pent up frustration so many have been feeling for so long.

Google we REALLY do need to see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. I wish whoever the heck is in charge, would respond over at Mike's and gives us some hope!
 

Linda Buquet

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Re: Is Google Local Really this Broken?

Phil Rosek, just wrote a great follow up to Mike's post.

How the Google+Local Train Wreck Is Good for Business | LocalVisibilitySystem.com

I agree with everything Mike said in that post…with one exception: A “train wreck” implies unmitigated disaster. What’s going on with Google+Local doesn’t quite qualify as one of those, in my opinion.

Rather, I’d say that the problems in Google+Local are – in at least one strange way – good for business. The problems provide a swift kick in the pants to pay attention to other parts of your online local visibility.

If have been or are rightly afraid of wrangling with Google’s shortcomings and bugs (some of which are more like Starship Troopers -type giant insects), you have a little more impetus to do things like…
Way to look on the bright side Phil!

Another way to say it is work on the things that ARE in your control because Google's problems just aren't.

The Serenity Prayer comes to mind... :)
 

Phil Rozek

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Jul 26, 2012
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Hey Linda,

Thanks for the post!

Yeah, Mike?s post is definitely one of the ?desert island? posts of the year.

I?m not a particularly glass-half-full kind of guy, so my post is anything but a sunny take on Mike?s (not that you or anyone else probably thought that!). Obviously, too many business owners are getting screwed over, and I don?t have faith Google necessarily will do the right thing (even if ?the right thing? just means communicating a little better). But I just think people have more options than they might realize.

I?m thinking more along the lines of ?serenity now? from Seinfeld :)
 

Dave

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Nov 19, 2012
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254
Linda: I think a couple of things are interesting:

1. About 1 year ago Mike wrote a summary piece at the end of 2011 praising the improvements within google, specifically the systemic improvements w/regard to "customer service" and how there were systemic fixes for the first time. The Untold Story of 2011: Google Local Search

It appears that is significantly broken now. His most recent article is a veritable 180 degree turn with regard to conditions.

2. You, and Mike, and plenty of others tend to take Google products for Local more seriously than does Google. In his article and you acknowledged this significant litany of Local elements that don't work well, or only work sporadically without rhyme or reason. There are serious questions about what they are doing or will they communicate, and if they are putting resources into these issues.

I'll tell you something that works connected to the Local Dashboard: Adwords Express. Adwords works also, extremely well.

The services that bring in the money work well, Google Places is the "red headed step child" that is relatively ignored.

Local generates around 30% of traffic per a google "big shot". Local Search drives mobile search. Google has scraped the web information from around 100 million smbs around the world, created its own pages about those businesses in the Places Index and highlights that information to respond to searches. Google has marketed and reached out to smb's to "claim" those listings, but today it seems that a claimed listing is essentially asking for a headache.

Those searches on local generate a hellova lot of clicks on ads. Google creates a lot of content around the scraped info on the web, the input into those pages from smb's but primarily puts out a mess of data. A lot of smb's are feeding google data for its search engines and its Adwords/PPC engine but their own information is often a mess.

The smb's and their agents, the SEO's/SEMs are continuously frustrated, yet their input contributes to the big Google money machine.

Its a shame. The current best advice, per you, Mike, and Jade is WAIT.

Meanwhile the smooth working adwords machine takes in in excess of $100 million/day.

The answer to a lot of the issues is that Google puts its resources into the Adwords side of things, and Places is a tool to that effort.

At least that is my $0.02 :D
 

Phil Rozek

Local Search Expert
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Jul 26, 2012
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+1 Dave's comment. The contrast with AdWords is painfully true. As someone who's worked with AdWords since '06, I can say it's as well-run and effective as ever.
 

Linda Buquet

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Thanks for weighing in Dave. I agree to some degree. Since AWE is a paid product they can afford to put more resources into it.

But I think it goes deeper than money. I mean granted G+ L is free - HOWEVER I use a TON of free solutions every day like Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo mail that seldom ever have problems.

I think if the original LBC had been built on a solid foundation to begin with and better decisions were made along the way… If it worked half way decent, as it SHOULD, then I think they COULD afford to support it better.

The upgrade path also was obviously not planned well. I think they got behind the 8 ball on social, then pushed out a reactionary solution too fast, that was not well thought out.

I think now it's just become such a convoluted bandaided mess with disjointed cobbled together pieces that don't quite fit, therefore it's taking WAY more resources than it should to make it all work smoothly at this point. And I kinda feel like they are starting to give up.

The more I work with Google and see how things work on the inside, the more I appreciate how VERY complicated this whole local piece is. Many problems we deal with live in multiple divisions that all have to come together to agree on a solution. Plus often times policy makers have to get involved. Plus you can't fix this part because it's connected to that other part that's also broken in a different department, so you have to wait for that fix 1st. Which makes for a lot of catch 22s. So I understand how problematic this local beast is. Heck Marissa Mayer walked away from Google local and then said Yahoo isn't going to try to tackle local, cuz it's such a tough nut to crack.

So I get that it's hard. But it should not be THIS hard and we need to know there are plans in the works that will make it better.
 

Eric Rohrback

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Oct 3, 2012
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I'm not sure it is much deeper than money. My views kind of align with Dave and Phil's by saying that Local is relatively ignored because it isn't that big money product. As a sports guy I like taking All Google's products and breaking them down like a college athletic director. Adwords is the football team, because it brings in the revenue. Local seems more like the track team. Adwords gets constant attention from the media, and local only gets big attention when something catastrophic or extraordinary happens.

Ok... maybe that was a iffy analogy, but you kind of get the point. Point is, I think Local doesn't get the proper attention it deserves because it isn't a huge revenue stream (although it potentially could be), yet it leads SMB owners into Adwords. I think if Google put more time into fixing the issues within Local they would have a much more appreciated and liked brand name. Business owners are frustrated because they feel like they're ignored. Why can't Google put more time into a product that impacts so many small businesses?

I understand it must be a daunting task, but something's gotta give here...
 

Linda Buquet

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Yes I agree and you make some good points.

I feel strongly though that if local WORKED well and was not so buggy and business owners were happy and people like Mike and I were always singing Google's praises instead of pointing out all the problems - there would be more happy businesses that would want more exposure and naturally turn into AW and AWE customers.

But the way it is now you have a bunch of business owners in the forum saying either: "I WANT to advertise on AW but can't because my listing is broken or missing." OR you have others saying "I've been a loyal AW customer for years but if you can't fix my local listing (or won't stop blocking my reviews or won't give me support or whatever) I'm pulling the plug on my ad spend!'

The way all freemium models work is if the product is good and works well, a large percentage will upgrade or want to buy the paid product. The more happy freebie customers you have as users, the more are that are out there singing your praises, the more paid customers you are going to end up with! (I know Google Local isn't really a "freemium" product, but the analogy kinda seems to fit.)
 

Linda Buquet

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More Local experts pile it on. Many other good points are shared.

1st up Chris Silver Smith?

Google Local Is Now A Train Wreck ? Nodal Bits

But, the even worse problems that Mike points out are where the system simply doesn?t function correctly. That?s where this whole thing becomes a giant wreck. It?s not without irony that we note that parts of Google?s local systems behind the scenes are referred to as a ?cluster?.

There are failures in the verification process. There are failures in connecting old Place pages to new Plus pages. There are mystifying issues where changes to business information result in loss of the listing, suspension of the listing, loss of reviews, etc. Naturally, businesses can screw themselves up by doing things that are wrong, but many of these things could be prevented by Google in the first place.

But, the most painful thing of all is that there are many processes which are simply malfunctioning in allowing businesses to manage their data, and it?s not clear if/when Google will fix them?
Next up Andrew Shotland weighs in...

Are SMBs Impossible To Serve Well, Google Et Al? - Local SEO Guide

So when I see Google seemingly not investing enough in a coherent product for SMBs, I only partially blame Google. Part of this just seems to be the nature of the beast. As I said on G+, if we went back ten years and substituted ?Yellow Pages? for ?Google Local?, we?d probably be hearing the same complaints. Still a train wreck, though.
 
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Linda: I think a couple of things are interesting:

1. About 1 year ago Mike wrote a summary piece at the end of 2011 praising the improvements within google, specifically the systemic improvements w/regard to "customer service" and how there were systemic fixes for the first time. The Untold Story of 2011: Google Local Search

It appears that is significantly broken now. His most recent article is a veritable 180 degree turn with regard to conditions.
These two posts do not reflect a 180 degree turn with regard to conditions. And most certainly not about my position.

One was about support and the article stands the test of time. The other was about poor implementation and slow improvements in the listing management software and the poor communication by Google.

One article is not a 180 degree turn from the other. Both were and are accurate about their respective topics and reflect the uneven changes at Google.
 

Linda Buquet

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Yep I agree Mike. I'm not really seeing a 180 either. Last year's article was true then and the new one is true today.
 

Dave

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Well I don't mean to put words into your mouth, Mike, but I would say that the following represents the change between late 2011 and now, late 2012, as defined in your articles:

The perception of optimism versus the perception of pessimism, or at least the description of a dramatically broken "google places" in late 2012 versus the perception of a "google places" having a lot of systemic fixes as of late 2011.

I know over the last few months I've mostly given up on trying to correct problems via the dashboard: We lost owner responses on reviews. I tried the suggested fix via Jade, it didn't work. Small item in our accounts for the most part as there were "basically thank you's to folks. But the thank you's had names attached to them. Now of course the names of many of those reviewers were wiped out by a google change, and our personalized responses have been wiped out...and I can't figure out who those nice people were.

We had a business response to what I think was a direct attack via a competitor. The Google "fix" didn't work, but I was able to generate a new response.

We can't upload videos and new pics go up sporadically. Information goes up sporadically. We had google+ connections....and now we don't.

Things that used to work don't work.

Andrew Shotland and Chris Silver Smith wrote interesting follow ups to your article. Andrew themed his around the fact that its difficult to service small businesses, and had previously referenced that for a small business dealing with Google was like dealing with the old YP's. Chris, who used to work at the YP's chimed in acknowledging Andrew's reference to difficulties in servicing smbs. I can acknowledge that on a two fold basis, having created a mini directory, that was excruciatingly difficult to update and keep accurate and to the general sense of "servicing" smb's as a former vendor to them.
But what is extraordinarily different between Google and all these other entities including the YP's is that Google's reach is infinitely larger and more extensive than any other source.

Its the monopoly on eyeballs with regard to information available via the monopoly attraction to eyeballs, the internet.

It has enormously more impact and is dramatically larger than any other source in that regard. Its frustratingly broken now, its a dark black hole of lack of communication, its systemic system of "service" is still handled by volunteers, and behind that an obviously thin staff, its clearly experienced an overwhelming volume of issues during the entire past year, and it appears the problems are growing rather than shrinking.

Its very tough on the smb side,and its unfortunately rough on the user experience side as google pushes out highly visible prominent google products that don't work and give misinformation.

And its the monopoly. That is the rough part.

and once again....my $0.02 :D
 

picsintl

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Jul 26, 2012
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Well, now that the dam of frustration has burst, there is no need for me to rant about what is broken. I'll just chime in - like at a wake - about the good times we had and can remember...

First off, after months of hearing my complaints about everything that is in this thread - my Mom, who lives 500 miles away, and one of my dearest confidants, told me to apply to Goggle for a job to fix it. God love our moms.

Well for what it's worth. I've paid a big price for this change. I've had to lay off nine people starting this past summer. I estimate I'll lose out on 200-300K in the next year due to the fact that I cannot in good conscience promote or sell (and in too many cases - renew) local optimization efforts, until Google brings some stability to this ungodly mess.

To introduce myself, my company was established as a web design and marketing company in 1996. Fluent in SEO and PPC, I first noticed around 2008 how this new and wonderful addition to Google search affected my barber (5 people walking in for a haircut, each day, after I added him to Google Maps). At the same time I joined a weekly BNI networking group, and each week heard from my clients exactly what they were getting back from Google local. That kind of feedback was incredibly valuable to know what the "maps" could deliver. The results for small business were startling and all good.

Diving into Google Maps full-time, I started charging as little as $150 to simply open a local account for them as part of other SEO work I was doing. I soon separated it as its own service and kept raising the price up, up, up to well over $1,000 per year. As some can remember, Google Maps back then felt like SEO circa 1995 - jokingly easy to manipulate. Well sure enough, as time progressed, the job got tougher and tougher (the same thing happened to regular SEO in the 90's), and so by 2010 Google more or less understood they had a genuine tiger by the tail which was being manipulated way too easily. I used to kid myself early on that I was "smarter" than Google for apparently noticing before they had - that Adwords was not needed by a local business if the Google Maps were done right. Good times, good times indeed.

As most of us knew, Google would one day figure it all out. And we could see them begin to "chop down the tree", slowly, by rearranging the local SERP's by minimizing, or outright dropping the 3, 5, and 7-packs, then moving the maps, then blending the results, and then changing the wonderful red pins to dull grey. The stats inside the accounts showed 50% reductions in activity. What was left, was still worth trying for, but yikes.

Looking back now, they didn't really cut the tree all the way down - it still "stands" but they hacked it to death. Out of poor strategy and decisions, or on purpose, it's anyone's guess why it was done so poorly and destructively. And so here it now sits as Google + Plus Local. Useless to help a business who needs it (unless you're one of the lucky ones who is unmolested through all this), and useless to those trying to encourage a favorite business, via real, helpful reviews they'd like to see published.

Thankfully, the majority of my customers are untouched and doing fine through all this. But sadly, many who came for help since April are regretting ever trying. I've had a few refund requests and those and the unhappy phone calls that accompany them are something (in 16 years of business) I rarely ever get. But you can only blame someone else so much. You can only ask them to hang on for so long. I now blame myself, for holding out so long in the belief that Google would fix this, like they had always done before.

Well, if you've got this far, thanks for listening. It's been therapeutic for me to chip in some thoughts to this very important thread (and if you want to complain I've taken too long to say my bit - I will remind you - what else were you going to do, now that we are all sitting around waiting for Google?)

In closing, I'll raise a symbolic glass and say cheers! Here's to hoping our "+" size headache ends before Justin Bieber turns 50 :)
 

Linda Buquet

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts picsintl, on this sad state of affairs.

But sadly, many who came for help since April are regretting ever trying. I've had a few refund requests and those and the unhappy phone calls that accompany them are something (in 16 years of business) I rarely ever get. But you can only blame someone else so much. You can only ask them to hang on for so long. I now blame myself, for holding out so long in the belief that Google would fix this…
Can’t believe I didn't reference the post below earlier. But most who read me know I actually retired from doing hands on optimization for clients back in May, exactly due to the issues you brought up. I was tired of apologizing for all the broken buggy problems and looking like a fool because I was impotent to make things work right. I had the most understanding clients on the planet I think, but I'm still certain most believed a company like Google could not be this messed up, therefore Linda must really just not know what she is doing. And I could not keep working in the red, due to the unpaid time-suck that dupes and bugs created.

If things worked right and if I could just help clients improve visibility and ranking I'd still be doing it. I loved that part! Just could not handle all the problems, financially OR emotionally.

Here's my post for anyone interested that may have missed it.
Why I Got Out of the Google Places Optimization Business
 

Dave

Member
Joined
Nov 19, 2012
Messages
254
These two posts do not reflect a 180 degree turn with regard to conditions. And most certainly not about my position.

One was about support and the article stands the test of time. The other was about poor implementation and slow improvements in the listing management software and the poor communication by Google.

One article is not a 180 degree turn from the other. Both were and are accurate about their respective topics and reflect the uneven changes at Google.
Mike: its my interpretation on the 2 threads I cited. It is not what you said.

I still think it is a 180 degree change with regard to the status or at least the optimism abt google places.


G Places has been buggy since it was introduced. Always. Always frustrating, always a problem, always wrapped in non communication.

One year ago there was optimism that had changed. This year we seem back to the status quo, maybe worse, maybe better but not clearly so. Its still buggy, non responsive, problematic.
 

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