One of the most exciting things Google did last year was give business owners access to their listings on Google Maps. The Local Business Center interface makes it easy to add your business to Google’s database or update your existing business listing in Google Maps. Once you verify that you are associated with a particular business, you can add or change all of the information about your company including the address, description, business categories, operating hours, payment methods accepted, the actual placement of the marker in Google Maps, and many other facets. Sounds like a dream come true for small businesses, right? Not exactly. Stay tuned.
Let’s think about what must happen behind the scenes for this to work flawlessly. Google has to aggregate, de-dupe, normalize and filter several large data sets from disparate sources, without a unique, standardized identifier for each business. Navteq provides the maps. Data aggregators like InfoUSA and YellowPages.com compile the business listings. Epinions, Judy’s Book, CitySearch and othes provide reviews. If there is one thing Google excels at, it is exactly this type of data compilation.
So why is the Google Maps Help Group for Business Owners clogged with reports of incorrect information? Business owners that have verified their listings and updated their information frequently find that the data they typed in themselves is no longer appearing correctly in Google Maps, if it appears at all. For any offline business, having the wrong address or phone number suddenly appear in Google Maps can be a crippling turn of events. Compounding this problem is the ridiculously long periods between data updates. Google is only batch updating the Maps and Local Business Center data every 3-4 months. That means that if you find incorrect information about your business it could stay that way for 3-4 months before you have a chance to correct it. There is only one moderator in the Help Group and she is trying her best to keep up with the influx of new questions, requests and confusion/frustration. I get the impression it’s not her full-time job either because of her infrequent, rapid fire posts about known bugs and specific examples of what to do/not to do.
I have experienced this first hand with a client’s 80+ business locations. I created and uploaded a bulk file with each of the listings’ information and sat back to wait. After a couple months the upload seemed to work and our listings appeared in Google Maps….right next to duplicate listings from other data sources, some with incorrect or outdated phone numbers. Additionally, even though I painstakingly added operating hours and other details for each location, that information did not make it into Google Maps, and hasn’t in the 3 updates since.
I could go on all day with examples from the Help Group, but I thought I would turn this into a productive post by offering some suggestions to Google:
1. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. The Local Business Center can be a very powerful tool for businesses, but only if it works as promised. Currently, the risk of incorrect information showing up in Google Maps might be too high for some bricks and mortar businesses to assume.
2. Provide more help in the Help Group. Maps Guide Jen has been great when she’s available, but it appears that she is not able to address Local Business Center issues on a full time basis. Small business owners that are not very tech savvy are not going to understand the issues behind the problems we’re seeing. They will seek support and expect a response.
3. Fix the bugs faster. My last listing said one of the locations was verified on December 31, 1969. I am pretty good at history…Google was not around the year man landed on the moon. I raised the issue in the Help Group and I’ve been told that it is a known bug and I am unable to update my listings until it is resolved. So, more waiting.
4. Update the data more frequently. I understand it is a monumental task to update all of the Maps databases, and I’m sure you’re working on it. But 3-4 months between pushes is too long when you’re talking about business owners’ livelihoods. Can you imagine what would happen to your business if the Yellow Pages had incorrect information for your business? If you’re not ready for primetime, roll back the Local Business Center and just use the original data sources. At least that way there are fewer issues with duplicate listings, incorrect/missing data and inconsistent information.
5. Get better at de-duping the data. Noboby benefits from 3 duplicate listings in Google Maps search results. Currently it seems that data provided by the business owners are prioritized below other data sources such as InfoUSA and YellowPages.com. Why not trust the business owners more and only use their data when it is available? I see this issue frequently in the Help Group.
The Local Business Center is a big competitive advantage for Google, and they claim to have hundreds of thousands of businesses participating already. Do the cases cited in the Help Group represent just a small percentage of the total Local Business Center listings? Or, are the problems underrepresented because business owners aren’t paying close enough attention and/or not reporting them? Based on my experience, I would assume that there are many, many more problems than we know about.
Hopefully Google resolves these issues sooner rather than later, or stops promising things that are not fully baked. But then again, even though Google ceremoniously took Maps out of beta, it doesn’t mean that it is ready for prime time just yet.