Are Google’s Many Broken Features Reflections of Google’s Style?

Mike: Greetings from Google Boulder! I am at the PE meetup, drinking the Google Kool-aid.  

David: Well at least Kool-aid is a tangible benefit, unlike the Badges and “Perks” with which Google rewards their top-performing Local Guides. Glad that your years of free customer support provided to the world’s second-most valuable company are finally getting compensated.

In all seriousness, I’m sure that the relationships you’ve been able to build with Googlers have no doubt helped when you’ve needed to escalate client and customer issues to an appropriate level.

Mike: The other benefit is the cold, brisk mountain air of Boulder. 

I thought that we could talk about the many “broken” features of Google Local of late and how Google’s “interface to the world” handles this chaotic state. 

David: Well on that note, I gather your escalations haven’t been particularly successful in recent weeks! I’ve certainly been following your “canary in the coal mine” updates on Twitter regarding Barbara Oliver’s GMB Q&A volatility

Unlike that situation, I have not exactly been holding my breath for Google’s organic ombudsman response to our colleague Joy Hawkins’ inquiry into a seemingly major algorithm update for local results last week.

Any other chaos that I’ve missed?

Mike: As to other chaos, there was a day last week when all reviews and stars just upped and disappeared, and the Google My Business app stopped working effectively if you have Location Groups in it. 

David: Sheesh, hadn’t seen either of those issues. Let’s stick with Q&A for right now. For those readers not following you on Twitter (aside: if you’re not following Mike, what’s wrong with you?), what’s been happening there?

Mike: Google My Business Q&A has been particularly erratic for at least 30 days, and so far, even with my Product Expert access, all that I have gotten is “crickets.” 

Starting October 10th or so, we started seeing Business Profile Q&A coming, going, coming and then going again. 

Given the silence on the support side I am wondering, is this just the world’s biggest dumpster fire or is there some other method in the madness? 

David: With this specific feature, I wonder if perhaps Google is finally attempting to integrate Q&A into Google My Business? You and I have long thought it strange that the search team responsible for the initial product didn’t seem to think that it might be essential for business owners to know that a question had been asked, let alone to provide a more qualified answer than a point-seeking Local Guide.

Mike: There is certainly a lot of product rationalization and rule-setting that could take place with the product, but to have chaos for 30 days seems hard to understand. 

David: Perhaps there was an erroneous, attempted transfer of Q&A into the GMB ecosystem that is in various stages of being rolled back as a troubleshooting mechanism? Is there any rhyme or reason to the specific Qs or As that have gone missing?

Mike: There doesn’t seem to be any identifiable pattern to what disappears or reappears. This might just speak to testing in the real world as Google is wont to do, but I find several other aspects of this problematic — the uncertainty that it causes to businesses that are heavily engaged with GMB and the lack of a spokesperson to even address the issue with some clarification. 

It doesn’t appear that the Search Liaison deals with GMB or local in the least, nor does John Mueller. So while there is direct support via Twitter, for the most part these sorts of questions go unanswered.

David: Local results at Google have been at the kiddie table for years (see: Marissa Mayer’s “demotion” to Local). But given the massive increase in “near me” searches and Google’s mobile-first fixation, I thought they (and we) finally had a seat in the boardroom. Apparently not.

As far as I can tell, Map/Pack results historically have not been in either Danny Sullivan or John Mueller’s purview, so even if they wanted to respond it’s not clear they’ve been given the necessary background on any update or a green light to speak publicly about it.

In fact ,Danny’s official response to search community questions this past week refers to “content owners” — not at all a moniker any of us (let alone Google!) would use with respect to businesses’ GMB profiles.

Mike: Yes, it does seem past time for Google to have a public presence in this arena, but there are so many issues that we have seen over the past few weeks that it would be more than a full-time position.

David: (!)

Mike: The issues that arise in Local where the real world meets the virtual seem to require more human explanation rather than less. Major ranking changes seem a case in point. Real businesses, rightly or wrongly, have been freaking out for the past two weeks with nary a word from Google about algorithm updates like they offer for traditional web rankings. It’s scary for those businesses. 

David: And in at least some high-profile cases, the algorithm update seems to have yielded dramatically inferior results. Without a Local ombudsperson there’s not really anywhere to report them.

Mike: To some extent, the Google “method” of release quickly, break often, iterate, and finally reject or accept a change collides very directly when it interfaces with the much slower-moving real world. 

David: This speaks to our ongoing antitrust discussion and whether business harm is a justifiable prong on which to spear Google. Volatility is one thing, but a broken utility is another. And realistically, because of Google’s market position, small businesses have nowhere to turn when that utility is flat-out failing on fundamental levels.

Mike: It certainly points out that with or without antitrust intervention, Google’s brave new world of local needs a much more active communication approach to answering the many and ongoing issues that arise on an almost daily basis these days.

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After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider.  He’s the former founder of GetListed.org, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GatherUp, a feedback and reputation platform, and LocalU, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time. He writes at his blog and does a twice-a-week podcast about Local marketing. 

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Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either davidmihm@gmail.com or mike@gatherup.com, or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

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