Is Google Just Putting Lipstick On Its Places Pig?
Remember the infamous ad from many moons ago by Charles Schwab that showed a room full of stock brokers being incentivized to sell a bad stock and the manager tells the team to “Put some lipstick on this pig” ? If you don’t check it out here.
Anyway, that expression is harsh for sure but I am beginning to wonder if one of Google’s concentrations these days, Places, is just another instance of a big company promoting a less than workable solution because it needs to. In other words, is Google putting lipstick on their Places pig?
They have put a pretty new landing page up for Places which looks nice. Check it out.
But as Barry Schwartz reports over at Search Engine Roundtable the analytics attached to Google Place Pages stopped reporting on February 18 and have flatlined ever since. On March 4th Googler Brianna said this in the Google Places help forum
We are aware that dashboard statistics for listings have not been updated since February 18. We are actively working to re-populate data for dates since February 18. Thanks for your patience.
Well, isn’t that special. After two plus weeks Google recognizes that something as prized as their Places offering is broken. Honestly, if they had any idea what it means to give a rip about their users then they would have said something on February 19th at least in the Forum but if it weren’t for a dedicated few non-Google employees nothing would be answered there ever as it is.
All of this is pretty disconcerting considering Google’s push to make local what local can be. There are 50 million place pages in Google’s database. The last report (which I cannot verify because that would require human interaction with an actual Googler) is that 5 million pages are now ‘owner-verified’. Google is busy now trying to sell Boost and Tags to those account holders because they see blood in the water (when translated that means potential revenue).
What they are not doing is making sure that the underlying product works well. Seth Godin wrote an interesting post this weekend. According to Godin no amount of evidence or fact-based marketing can change a person’s mind if they have no desire to change. This is what is starting to happen with Google Places. If Google today came out and said, we have made Places work perfectly, you can update your account effortlessly, you can manage the data easily, we will communicate with you with a flesh and blood human and Places analytics will be just right, I wouldn’t believe a word of it. A lot of us expect Places to be highly dysfunctional thus we are losing interest in seeing whether it is actually ever fixed. And worse, if it is fixed we won’t believe it.
To show how important this is to their future though, Google asked Marissa Mayer to take over the local side of the business because there is ‘gold in them that hills!”. They rolled out Hotpot and are trying to pump up Latitude in order to look cool and act as if they get social. What do we, the actual users, get? Nothing. A broken product with no support and a sales force looking to move it forward even in its current state. It looks like Google is simply trying to put lipstick on the pig that is Google Places.
Don’t get me wrong. Google Places is a great idea and one that could have enormous value. The trouble is that value comes from something working well not just that someone tells you that it is important. Google chooses to either ignore the whole working well part and just expects the lemmings to follow them.
Rather than just gripe about this I am offering a few simple suggestions for Google to consider which would do some cosmetic surgery on Places rather than just trying to neaten up a mess. Here we go.
- Communicate often – If Google would only talk more regularly and openly using real people a lot of this user consternation would go away. Why not develop a Places version of Matt Cutts? Can’t the algorithm clone Matt? Maybe make a female version they can call Katt Cutts or something?
- Admit problems quickly – This head in the sand, take it or leave approach from Google is killing any hope of developing trust between the company and its customers whether they be the SMBs working to muddle their way through Google’s self serve puzzle or the service providers guiding SMBs through that same mess. Did I mention communicate?
- Publish a strategy – Most people get frustrated by Places because they are not quite sure what they are meant to do. While there has been interest in them around Google Map results it wasn’t until the SERP changes of October 2010 that their importance was ‘declared’ for real. Suddenly the Place Page was featured in local searches over traditional organic results in many cases. Hard to ignore and now the rules have been switched. And face it, except for a few ‘in the know’ types this change seemed rather abrupt and changed the rules swiftly and significantly. Wouldn’t it be nice to see where all of this is heading so plans could be made to optimize the opportunity for everyone?
- Get the basics right – For the love of Pete, just going into the help forum for Google Places is enough to depress anyone trying to get anything done in this system. Reviews missing for months on end, analytics stop reporting and are simply not trusted anymore, an act of Congress required to make changes. The list drones on and on and simply points to a system that is being rolled out to the public one wheel short of functioning.
- Communicate – Did I mention that one already? Well, it’s pretty important so I’ll say it again so I can say later that Google didn’t listen twice.
- Show some humility – So the rest of us humans aren’t lucky or smart enough to be a Googler. You are the superior race but guess what. There is some recent evidence that long standing rulers can be brought down by the little people. I am not sure how this might happen but it would be cool to have a Google Revolt to make them change? Any suggestions on how this might happen aside from a pitchforks and torches march on the Googleplex please let us know.
There’s more I am sure, but I’m not sure how many of you have made it this far so I’ll stop.
One thing I will say is that I would love to be proven wrong. I would love for people to come out of the woodwork to tell me that Google is doing all they can to make Places the offering it could be. I just don’t see it because many of the leading voices in the local Internet marketing space have expressed similar concerns. Imagine how the SMB feels. Google passes along its edict and we are left to deal with it. Nice.
So are we stuck with Google’s pig? What are your thoughts on this one?