Mike Blumenthal posted earlier this week that Google Local is now a veritable train wreck, and I don’t think his statement is hyperbole.
For some time now, Google Local (originally just referred to as “Google Maps”, then called “Google Local”, then called “Google Places”) has had some problems in how it handles how local businesses can manage their own data. All local data providers struggle with the process of how to verify whether someone has the right to change a business’s information — and Google’s phone call / post card verification process is no exception. So, it’s had that problem from the beginning, although it doesn’t seem to’ve gotten any smoother in the meantime.
Then there’s the changing nomenclature — they just don’t keep consistently using the same brandnames and terminology to refer to the data display, versus the interfaces that businesses use to manage their own data. Google Local Business Center became Google Places — where you could login to manage your Google Place Pages (your business profile pages that would appear in Google).
Now, along comes Google+ (aka “Google Plus”). Which has personal profiles for people to use in interacting socially, and then they allowed companies to set up profile pages for businesses — “Brand Pages”. Then the real sh*t hit the fan when they then smashed Google Places into Google Plus, and started referring to THOSE as “Google Plus Local” or “Google+ Local” pages.
But, what of those companies that had set up “Brand Pages” already?!? The advent of Google+ Local pages essentially converted all existing Google Place pages into Google+ Local pages — only, when they did that you didn’t automatically have authorization to edit those new pages, even though you might’ve already been verified to do so on the original pages. So, Google eventually rolled out another verification process for these new pages.
The product help forum for this new process, “Verification available for local pages created in Google+” (for those who have managed to figure out what’s going on and what things are called in order to locate the forum), shows just how fraught with confusion and issues the whole thing is. Here’s a posting from a confused business owner from just yesterday which demonstrates how awful the train wreck is:
“I still a bit confused…maybe it’s the terminology.I just created a Google + account (today 11/29/2012). In it, I created a business page (using Local Business or Place category). When I created the business page, there was no information about verifying using postcard option that everyone is talking about. I thought this is what everyone is referring to as Google+ Local.Therefore, I figured I was wrong in this assumption and decided to create a Google Places account. I went through the process and am now waiting for my verification pin to arrive in the mail.
Now that I did this, I have a Google+ Page and a Google Places account. Will I now have to wait for Google to merge the two into Google+ Local? Is this the correct process in creating a Google+ Local account? OR am I just totally lost….”
So, just the nomenclature and Google’s penchant for changing it every couple of years has helped to confuse businesses and make it difficult for them to handle. Every time they begin to understand, the names all change.
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. As I pointed out in “9 Common Ways To Bork Your Local Rankings In Google“, some business owners will include their city name in the names of categories (ie “Dallas Plumbers”) and Google allows this and will penalize them for it — unforgivable, actually, since this would be so easy to detect and warn them or bar them from doing it!
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. There’s little communications around these issues — for instance, what is a system issue, versus if a business simply entered something they shouldn’t have?!? How will they know? And, since a number of the higher-ranking people have departed from the Google Local projects, it leaves us wondering if there isn’t some institutional malaise there which is making it a bad place to work.
Finally, Google+ Local has not been completed. As Mike points out, will businesses expect to manage everything in the old Google Places admin interfaces, or on the pages themselves via the Google Plus integrated management?
From the outside this lack of cohesion and lack of focus make it appear to be the result of internal fighting inside the company on which system should now be dominant.
Please, figure it out Google, and please be so kind as to let us know what to expect.
Update: Andrew Shotland has now also weighed in on this, and while he agrees with Mike’s take (while also coining the fantastic moniker, “Google Plus Place Local Multi Merge for Business Dashboardgate”), he also suggests that Google’s not entirely blame because the difficulties involved in serving SMBs are just “the nature of the beast”.
It’s true that serving local businesses, and providing local biz info admin interfaces is highly challenging. No one has provided the one, perfect means of doing this, yet. There is complexity involved in local directory-style information.
However, I can’t give Google a pass on this one, because their systems are not performing adequately, nor anywhere near how they were intended. There remains an open question for local businesses: How should I go about managing my business listing and Google+ presence? What do I do when it doesn’t work right?
If only we could take Google’s own advice and just login to “bounce” the system into abruptly working right. But, it may require surgery at Google’s end before it’s going to work right for most businesses.