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An Open Letter to Google Places Team: Less Community, More Real Help Please!

Dear Google Places Team,

Google Places has the potential to truly help businesses of all sizes since virtually every business be they large or small, has a place page for its location as well as its satellites. That’s very cool. We as regular folks using the Internet like the potential.

I use the word potential only because while there can be great benefit to a business with regard to Place Pages and now with the added Google+ brand pages (why aren’t these two integrated in some way anyway but that’s for another letter, I guess?) yet you still don’t seem to understand some simple concepts.

First is customer support. I realize that place pages are free blah, blah, blah but even free deserves some help especially when you make random changes to how pages are displayed, you merge listings without warning and you change data in listings that are supposedly controlled by the very business owners that were aware and conscientious enough to verify and claim their listing so THEY could give the correct information rather than the outdated info you have gotten from one of your data warehousers.

Your approach to your “customer” is incongruent at best and pathetic at worst. You want everyone to claim pages and take control then you change things without sufficient warning etc, etc. Could you explain that, please?

Even more interesting though is your attempt at building community around place pages. Your blog is filled with profiles of people that are our “neighbors”. Well, for about 99% (number pulled out of the air for effect, I admit it) of those seeing the profiles, we don’t know this hyper cool person and likely will never meet said person, let alone really care about their likes and dislikes etc etc.

You know what would build community around Place Pages? Information about how to get help that isn’t in a forum that is manned not by someone who is not being paid to help and yet does an infinitely better job of helping others understand the whole process than most folks on your team, aka Mike Blumenthal. No actual regular Google employees who deal with these issues from your side of the table on a day to day basis so us commoners can get a better grasp of how to use these offerings more effectively.

Oh and not to mention the fact that you have introduced the ability for a competitor to actually place an ad inside the map bubble that appears for a business listing? That’s just plain lame. ( I just remembered that one so I threw it in here so I wouldn’t forget).

There is SO much more but I wanted to really write this letter to see if anyone in Mountain View is actually listening to people who use your systems and services for local reasons. I know you will say there are gobs of people working full time to make sure that things are running smoothly but why don’t you give us names? Give the local search community our own Matt Cutts or something. Throw us a frickin’ bone here (I used by best Dr. Evil typing motion with a pinky up to type that one).

So that’s it for now. I know there are a million other issues to address and I can only hope that some of the real local experts will chime in with comments to help share their level of frustration with your efforts to build community that is surfacey and does nothing to actually make your service work better. After all, if you paid real attention to the actual business owners’ needs, we will actually spend more money with you because it is generating revenue for us. How about that?!

So Google Places team, is there anybody out there?

  • http://www.localvisibilitysystem.com Phil Rozek

    Thanks for the great post, Frank. You hit the nail on the head. I sure hope that HQ is listening…

    What would be nice is if Places had an actual *phone number* business owners could call. Fine, it would be one of those phone trees, and people would be able to bake a turkey in the time it would take to get through to a human, but at least there would be *a* mechanism.

    Hell, maybe they charge some small per-minute fee–which many business owners would gladly pay just to get something resembling an answer.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  • http://google.com Lior Ron

    Frank, here’s a name for you :)
    I’m the lead product manager for places and just wanted to drop a quick note that 1. we are listening and 2. we’re fully aware of the issues you point to.
    We’re committed to improve Places and improve support as part of this process. There’s dedicated people involved in support and we have rolled out better support tools on the forums lately. Yes, there’s a long way to go, but we’re committed to the product and to making it better, step by step.

    Lior Ron.

    • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Frank Reed

      @Lior – Great. I am most definitely looking forward to what you are trying to accomplish. I think I may have said enough already but there really isn’t anywhere to go but up so you are in a good position. Contact us directly please!

  • http://www.webpartnergroup.com/ Web Marketing

    I am so with you on this. There really has to be someone who’s only focus is handing out the much needed support where Google Places is concerned. Forums are really not much help. Something more immediate would be great.

  • http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/ Linda Buquet

    Hi Frank,

    I hear you and feel your pain. I’ve been one of the most vocal critics in the past about Places problems and how badly support is needed.

    But I have to say I’m seeing lots of improvement recently, so I believe Google really is committed to change!

    Vanessa, the Community Manager is VERY pro-active about getting things turned around.

    She recently invited me and a few others to be Top Contributors in the forum. We are able to easily escalate support problems to Google and get right to the people that need to make it happen, whether it’s an engineer or the spam team. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve escalated user problems and gotten an immediate fix! They are also very open to our feedback and have implemented numerous suggestions we’ve offered and lots of things are in the works that will improve Places.

    So there’s a bigger team of TCs to help and super responsive support behind the scenes to make things happen.

    Also recently a team of support staff is very active in the forums. Numerous times a day you’ll see them immediately fix problems for users. I’m talking flip a switch. Bam. Fixed! (Not like the previous forum support that would occasionally comment but seldom really make anything happen.)

    Additionally the new troubleshooter they recently introduced actually works and gets your problem directly to the support team who is fairly fast about following up and fixing things. So the troubleshooter IS a direct support line to Google, I just don’t think that many know about or are using it yet. Sometimes the path to get where you need to go in the troubleshooter is not crystal clear, but we are working on refining some of the messaging to make it more useful.

    So I think we are turning a corner. If I can ever help, let me know.

    Linda

  • http://www.SmallBusinessOnlineCoach.com Matthew Hunt

    Frank – nice “open letter”. I should write my own too. All us local SEO’ers should.

    Nice to see Lior pop in.

    And yes like Linda said, Vanessa is very good at helping in the forums and support does seem to be improving.

    Still ways to go though with this product. I just wish they’d charge for support and allow folks to get asap. We’d all pay for it.

  • http://www.bizfinderlocal.com Cindy Morus

    Another issue that Google needs to address is the ability of competitors to post very negative reviews on a Google Places page. There’s no checks and balances for the business owner who may have worked for years and years to establish a good reputation only to have it trashed. There are lots of complaints about that on the Forums but no responses other than to get more positive reviews.

    Another issue is how hard they make it for customers to post a review because you have to have a gmail address. How many customers are actually going to go to all that trouble especially if they’re non-techie customers such as many on on Comcast, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. Why should they have to go to the trouble of setting up a gmail account just for reviews?

  • http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/ Linda Buquet

    @Matt I agree and have said for a long time I think a paid support option would be really smart.

    @Cindy, I hear you but what you posted is a bit of a double edged sword.

    Letting consumers post without a G acct would reduce the barrier to entry and make it easier for them to post reviews. But it would ALSO make it easier for fake review spam and the competitive review sabotage you talk about. If people have a G account at least G can track them down, see related reviews to investigate – close down their account, etc. If there were just millions of anonymous reviews it seems much harder to even try to control things.

    I agree the review piece is problematic and needs LOTS of improvement, but it’s a really tough nut to crack.

  • http://www.bizfinderlocal.com Cindy Morus

    @Linda, Point well taken but Yelp will let you use any email address and I haven’t seen any posts that Google is actually tracking them down or closing accounts.

    Have you?

    It would be great if that was happening.

  • http://www.bartendingschoolpittsburgh.com Dave

    I’ve been a periodic visitor, commentator, question asker, and sometimes helper within the google places forums for most of its lifetime. I’m certainly not there with any frequency now as is Mike Blumenthal or other newer Top Contributors.

    For most of its life its been incredibly frustrating. Essentially its been the “anti” customer service entity: A place where smb operators and there agents tried to get help, and expressed incredible frustration with and at Google. Records would appear, go missing, appear with wrong information, get merged, lose information, be hijacked, etc.

    Most of the time Google would never respond.

    In fact if there has been a “customer service” entity over the years, the primary source was Mike Blumenthal’s expertise with regard to Google Places as Frank referenced in his article.

    (Lior: Google really should have paid him for his services: He has taken on your job, articulated and shamed Google into making improvements, and goaded and pointed out issues that required responses–none of which Google did on its own)

    More recently there are quite a number of additional TC’s (Top Contributors) who are taking on the same task.

    All of that is fine…but its still not Google Customer Service.

    One of my accounts recently started suffering from the dreaded “We currently do not support this location” message….which is a mysterious way of describing:

    The darned record is totally missing and gone for NO APPARENT REASON WHATSOEVER!! How in Hell did that happen? What am I going to do? Its as if the number one source for finding businesses just decided to TANK my business and make it so no customers can find me!!!!

    Without thinking I immediately went to Mike Blumenthal’s blog for a “fix” I had recalled the issue being discussed fairly recently. With years of experience in dealing within Google Places…..I had ZERO confidence in Google Places for a response….but tremendous confidence that the issue might have been covered by Blumenthal. In fact my memory of recent articles was accurate. The issue had been covered this past summer and September when a rash of these events were occurring.

    The “fix’ was simple.

    Twice now the mysterious change has occurred. Twice I used the ‘fix” first publicly described in public on Blumenthal’s blog.

    In both instances I published in the Places forum with regard to the issue. In both cases I searched out someone else with the same problem and suggested the “fix”.

    Fortunately there are TC’s doing this…and far more frequently than me.

    But SOMETHING TOTALLY UNUSUAL and to my experience never before seen occurred:

    I asked for a Google response in this thread: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places/thread?fid=6cccf153cc8b6d8b0004b4264dfddc78&hl=en

    As referenced above in some other comments, Vanessa, one of your employees actually gave a “formal Google response”.

    Now that is qualitatively better than a response from a TC. Its more formal and official.

    ITS CALLED CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!!

    Hopefully that formal response will be attached to all future visits to the Places Forum by businesses suffering from the same mysterious malady. Google sends out plenty of emails to businesses that claim records. Google could send out emails on the issue. It could post the response at the top of the Places Forum with specific language as to the issue.

    It could try and make it easier for businesses to correct this recurring issue. AGAIN ITS CALLED CUSTOMER SERVICE

    Actually kudo’s for the improvements. Kudo’s for bringing Vanessa aboard. Kudo’s for giving an official response.

    Here is hoping you continue on that path.