Frustration with Google’s LBC

At this point there’s probably nobody that understands the intricacies of Google’s Local Business Center, its benefits and challenges more than Mike Blumenthal. Mike has tirelessly documented the problems and made suggestions for fixes and improvements. He’s like a one-man focus group/Q&A team for Google in some respects.

Yet in this post Mike seems to almost be throwing up his hands in frustration in response to Google’s inability to get it right:

Yet in so many ways the Local Business Center continues to fail in its promise and the possibilities remain unfulfilled.  It is still bug ridden, the interface & process is hard for most people to learn, and it seems to be a poor step child in the pantheon of Google products. Despite its importance in the marketing plans for many bricks and mortar business the LBC receives little in the way of upgrades and less in the way of support.

Why do you think that many of the problems Mike identifies haven’t been fixed or corrected?

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18 Responses to “Frustration with Google’s LBC”

  1. Tim Cohn Says:

    Because the traffic it generates doesn’t warrant all out pursuit of its potential.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    You’re saying Maps doesn’t generate that much traffic?

  3. Tim Cohn Says:

    I am saying local search as a % is still minute relative to their total traffic.

    Without an increase in searcher sophistication or absent Google’s simplifying the local search and find process local search and their Google’s local business center will continue to languish.

  4. Chris Silver Smith Says:

    This is one area where Google might’ve done well to’ve gotten a few experienced people to assist in development as opposed to populating the product dev group with relatively inexperienced newbies.

    For instance, the processes for combining data from a great many sources for business listings are pretty complex, by necessity.

    If you have a business’s listing data coming to you from 5 different sources, and each reflects slightly different information, which one trumps the other? Let’s say you have one listing from InfoUSA, one from Superpages, one from Localeze, one from Lawyers.com, etc.

    Let’s say that Superpages shows an different address for the listing in a recent data refresh. Should you trust it or InfoUSA? Well, we know InfoUSA phones each business once per year to verify info — perhaps we should trust them above the others? But, wait! Superpages may have contracted with the Verizon Telco to get business data updates when companies change their phone numbers and such — perhaps they have better info in this case. But, wait! Lawyers.com does a lot of hand-holding of their clients — perhaps they’ve got even more direct info than the others!

    Assembling a proper logic to decide which data prioritizes over other data sources is highly complex. Yet, we’ve seen numerous cases where Google Maps has assembled relatively simplistic logic for these sorts of things, so it’s easy to see that they have a long way to go before the data quality is as robust as some of the other companies who’ve been doing business data for decades longer.

    I’d say that the biggest difficulty is one that’s experienced by all the online business directories which want to allow endusers and business owners to update their own info, though: how do you make it easy for people to update listings, while keeping people from doing bad things? Other companies have more intensive requirements for authorizing a user to update a listing, but Google has chosen in many cases to trust endusers more in order to make it easier to effect changes. This has resulted in a number of exploits and malicious defacing of listings, as Mike has frequently documented.

    Finally, frustration has increased as Google’s previously-agile team has slowed down with some of the traditional bureaucracy that occurs with big companies. Before changes go live, they’re apparently adding on a bit more rounds of testing, usability testing, and limiting what projects are worked upon.

    Further, to handle more data partners and projects, one must increase team size. Yet, increasing team size often results in more bureaucracy and complexity in coordination. Growing pains.

    So, there are some multiple problems which I think are going on here, which boil down to some degree to not having enough experienced people in the driving seats.

  5. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thoughtful remarks and I’m sure relatively accurate. Thanks Chris

  6. David Mihm Says:

    Greg, thanks for providing a larger spotlight on this issue in a way that few people in Local can. Mike is dead-on, of course, and I found Chris’s comment particularly insightful.

    “Assembling a proper logic to decide which data prioritizes over other data sources is highly complex. Yet, we’ve seen numerous cases where Google Maps has assembled relatively simplistic logic for these sorts of things, so it’s easy to see that they have a long way to go before the data quality is as robust as some of the other companies who’ve been doing business data for decades longer.”

    I’m going to disagree slightly with Chris on this point only. I have been doing a ridiculous number of searches on the “Big Three” for random businesses, nationwide, recently (will post on my blog in the next week or 10 days as to why).

    From this rather large, albeit anecdotal, set of businesses, I’d say that Google’s data set actually seems to be of slightly higher quality than Yahoo’s or MSN’s for businesses who have obviously not claimed their listings.

    However, if a business has claimed its Yahoo listing, Yahoo does a very good job of finding it, and associating the proper categories and contact information, oftentimes better than Google.

    In other words, for claimed listings, Yahoo seems better at this “Local canonicalization” than Google (i.e. even if a business has claimed a listing on Google, I frequently see duplicate listings for the same business on maps.google.com).

    But for my money, Google’s data prioritization, for unclaimed businesses has been “pretty good” so far, maybe a B+.

    The real trouble with Google is that the LBC / claiming / hijacking process needs some serious work, as Mike has pointed out so well on so many occasions. And I’ve long been an advocate for a dedicated support team for the LBC.

    Now of course my data set for comparison has only been looking at search engines, so there may very well be data providers and YP portals that do a much better job than any of the engines. But they’re just not getting the traffic or the recognition from searchers that their results are better.

  7. Will Scott Says:

    David and Chris make some excellent points.

    The point I often make is more noblesse oblige.

    Whether the effort is an A, a B+ or an F the problem is that Google is now THE authoritative reference yet isn’t accountable to the position.

    So, for the data and its implementation to be any less than an A+ is reckless, irresponsible and has an unduly negative impact on those businesses who’ve mastered Google’s other mechanisms but are not of sufficient scale to warrant API access or trusted Bulk Upload.

    Worse still, given David’s case, the hijacking whether intended or accidental is unacceptable. The correlation mechanisms are too weak and too weighted toward large data suppliers.

    Take, for instance, http://gog.is/new+orleans+tax+preparation in which H & R Block is in all 10 of the 10 pack spots.

    This is reprehensible. It demonstrates a weighting toward the big brand who can push, or pay someone to push, their listings through a bulk upload or API.

    So, whether the data prioritization is crappy or excellent doesn’t matter when the system supports such blatant abuse by big brands and so penalizes abuse by smaller players.

    Ultimately, the business impact of this weak implementation necessitates a much greater diligence than has been displayed thus far.

    (climbing down from soap box)

    Will

  8. David Mihm Says:

    Will, stop using fancy foreign words. Peons like me won’t understand what the hell you’re talking about.

    I totally agree that big brands seem to have gotten “the better” of 10-pack rankings recently, which seems totally counterproductive to why I think Google put it there in the first place. Big brands have the money and human resources in place to master the LBC. SMB’s have neither the time nor the awareness.

    That is a problem.

  9. Will Scott Says:

    David,

    You use Firefox right? Highlight all those high-falutin’ concepts you don’t hear up there in the Governor’s office and choose “Search Google for X” :)

    But I’ll explain it here for those without a right mouse button.

    From Wikipedia:

    The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term “suggests noble ancestry constrains to honourable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility.”

    Based on recent experience, I think the mastery has nothing to do with “Human Resources”. I think it has everything to do with trusted feeds. Again, picking up on the @graywolf rant relative to big brands dominating and getting away with murder while little guys get smacked right out of the index. (case in point uncoverthenet.com).

    Notwithstanding Andrew’s assertions to the contrary in his recap of local predictions from last year, local sites can win against monster directories in the organic results.

    If the LBC or some API access to it keeps that from happening in local (more references = higher rankings) then there’s little hope when it’s been shown that the 10 pack is cannibalizing traffic from organic.

    I’m just sayin’ — with power comes responsibility (there — happy now David :))

    Will

  10. mike@acorg.com Says:

    @Tim

    You say that the % of local is minute yet I have heard quotes on this very blog of local modifers being used in up to 60% of general searches. Mike

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  12. Tim Cohn Says:

    @Mike

    This is why Geo-targeted Advertising exists and its one of the reasons why Google’s trounced its competition.

    The vast majority of searches do not contain geo-modifiers.

  13. Mike Blumenthal Says:

    I think it is important that we separate the discussion into “the technical problems” and “the Google response”…

    I think Chris has nailed the technical side. To me the customer relations and response side is equally fascinating.

    Many businesses make mistakes. Since Google is in the internet business it makes sense that theirs would be technical….Most businesses however when they make a mistake, and the customer complains, they have some sort of formal mechanism to respond to any and all complaints.

    Google on the other hand, from what I understand, deals with their “complaints” in a somewhat algorithmic way. I assume that it came out of their experience with complaints in search.

    I gather that they have software that tracks and tabulates complaints about Maps in the forums and certain high profile blogs across the internet. These complaints are aggregated in a database and scored. Humans then respond to the top, most visible problems only.

    Because of cross dev group constraints, my understanding is that they can only deal with the specific listing or complaint. IE if the complaint was about a hijacked listing they take care of the one hijacked listing but do nothing about the others that are likely done by the same person using the same profile. Those will be dealt with only if they are reported. This explains why the florist hijacking that I reported on in September STILL has hijacked listings in the index.

    If my understanding of Google’s “customer relations” model in Google Maps is correct, it explains why the LBC is so frustrating. Most people expect a response, hopefully a helpful response, but any response would probably suffice. Under the current system only the highest profile problems seem to rise to that level.

    This algo based system probably worked very well in search. It is probably low cost. But clearly the system is flawed when applied to SMB’s using the flawed LBC. Often simple answers are dealt with in the forums (at no cost to Google) by more experienced users. But problems that relate to underlying technical limitations or flaws can’t be handled that way. Many thus go unanswered.

    Most of the small business owners are grateful for Google’s giving them exposure. Most don’t want to rock the boat and complain too much. But in the end, it is an inadequate system as it needs humans responding and humans fixing.

    Mike Blumenthal

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  17. Dave Hucker Says:

    and then of course….there is the fact Local Search on G Maps is free.

    What Google really wants businesses to do is create an ADwords campaign.

    Although Google gets tons of traffic off of “Maps” (most I’d imagine from frustrated SMBs searching for their business listings), they have an ad interface that they actually use to make MONEY. :)

    And Google is a business after all, so Maps generates traffic and Google uses it to get businesses interested in geotargeted search, but after all is said and done, they want these SMBs to invest in their Adwords product and even Google cannot afford to throw highly educated employees into addressing the complaints of an SMB who’s business isn’t coming up in G’s lost leader product (maps).

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