Google Maps and YP – Comparing Oranges To…Tangerines

YP is the orange, Google the tangerine

My friends and neighbors in Local Search spend a lot of time calling attention to bugs and spam in Local Search. Having watched florists, locksmiths, plumbers and canoe resellers pull out their hair by the roots trying to get a fair shake in Google Maps, we’ve got pretty good cause for concern.

Today, in responding to a comment left by reader Martijn Beijk, it occured to me that my own professional gripe with Google Maps is twofold.

1) Google is attempting to do business with local businesses remotely, just as they traditionally have with all website owners. Relationships with Google are born not out of personal communication, but rather, out of traffic dependency on the part of the website owner in most cases. The lofty blank wall is especially evident in the Local Business Center environment where hapless business people are left without guidance or a reliable means of communicating with an entity that has made a business model out of displaying companies’ information.

So far, automation has not been a sufficient replacement for a genuine customer service department and, I’ve come to realize that my first gripe with Google Maps is rooted in comparing them to the Yellow Pages.

My father worked for traditional YP for several years and his entire worklife centered on contacting and advising business owners. He drove miles and miles every day to meet personally with clients and the rest of his 9-5 time was spend on the phone with new prospects. YP expends most of its efforts engaging and serving local business owners.

By contrast, Google does almost nothing to be of service, to be available to these people and I’ve realized that this has caused me to be rather critical of their business model. Google doesn’t feel like a good neighbor. They are mysterious, remote and, to regular folks, feel basically inaccessible.

2) My second source of Google angst revolves around lag time. If a local business owner manages to realize that Google has taken charge of their information and is prominently displaying it as part of their profitable business model, the business owner then has to figure out how to claim their listing. Then, if they accomplish this, they may suddenly realize that Google has made a mistake and is showing incorrect information about the local business. So, the owner then has to try to find a way to alter or report the problem. Or, they may discover that trying to get into the 3-pack or 10-pack is futile because some competitor has filled the listings with spam. Again, the local business owner has to try to find a way to bring attention to the situation.

Should he finally manage to receive a response to an email or get the ear of a Maps Guide, it may take weeks, months or an indefitine period of time for the issue to be addressed or resolved. We’ve seen this create genuine disaster for small businesses to the point of employees being fired and shops closing their doors. The problem of bugs and spam is real and it’s serious.

And yet, it was in articulating these 2 points to myself that it occurred to me that my beefs with Google may be a bit unfair.

Oranges and Tangerines
Google Maps and traditional YP are 2 different fruits, but not as different as apples and oranges. Both business models rely on using the data of local businesses for profit. Both are trusted information resources. Both send traffic. True, Google’s Local service is free and YP can cost you an arm and a leg. With the seriousness of the problems with Google Local Data, those high prices on full page YP ads may seem more worth it when you consider the huge difference in personal customer service.

And yet, the prominence of the 10-pack in Universal Search and the rapid user adaption to viewing Google as a replacement for Yellow Pages does much to even the odds. Beyond this, I want to rebut my own complaints against Maps as follows:

1) If Google were able to develop a relatively foolproof system of automation and a real means of communication (such as a Live Chat function) perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing not putting feet on the street to meet local business owners face-to-face. It’s not quite as friendly, but when I think about the gasoline crisis this planet is in, maybe having all those reps driving around in cars isn’t such a good idea after all. A lot of that gas mileage is wasted on customers who can’t decide whether or not they want to advertise. So far, no one I’ve met who understands the power of Google Local feels wishywashy about whether they want to be included.

I’m not overly fond of replacing human interaction with robots, and I’m definitely not a fan of downsizing, but Google could actually create new jobs for people by staffing a Live Chat resource in their LBC. If Google’s plan is to put YP out of business (and it certainly seems to be), I could root for them if they began employing people to interact with local business owners over the Internet. It doesn’t have to be in-person. So, I’m seeing potential here rather than a simple cause for complaint.

2) YP is far from perfect when it comes to providing accurate data. I’ve heard tales of woe from business owners whose names, addresses and phone numbers were improperly printed or who were accidentally left altogether out of the phone book. And then there is the fun of having your residential phone number incorrectly listed as the number of a local business. One year, my family got phone calls every day from people looking for a window glass company. That was fun!

And with Yellow Pages, there is no hope of a quick fix. If they make a mistake, the business owner knows it’s going to be one full year before the error is corrected. Even with Google’s lag time, I’ve seen them respond to a problem much more quickly than this. The most you can do when YP makes a mistake is call them up and yell at them. It’s still going to take a year to get help. I’d say yelling at Google may get results a little faster than this, from what I’ve seen.

And, so, while I’m not ready to turn a blind eye to the very real problem of bugs and spam in Google’s local data, I’ve realized I shouldn’t harden my heart. Google is trying to do things with the zest of modern business practices wherein everything happens online. Google is the tangerine.

I think there is a very workable business model here that is capable of offering an immensly useful resource to people. Bugs and all, I use Maps almost daily and cannot help seeing how proper staffing and a genuine committment to improving communication could take Google to the next level of effectiveness in what I consider to be their most exciting recent business endeavor. After all, YP is an enormous corporation, but they’ve gotten it right enough on a local level to seem neighborly. Google could do this, too. By adding accessibility to the mix of their efforts, they could replace YP. They could have it all.


Photo Credit: Joe Benjamin

8 Responses to “Google Maps and YP – Comparing Oranges To…Tangerines”

  1. on 16 Jul 2008 at 2:47 pm Will Scott

    Hi Miriam,

    Notwithstanding my heart is already hardened, and that I’m old enough to remember Yellow Pages as the only source for local businesses, I think there’s some good news in all this.

    As opaque as the system is the small businesses who figure it out will win. And since they don’t have time to figure it out they’ll need guidance which means we (the professional local search community) win.

    How bout that? The system is inscrutable so you, the small business operator, need a translator.

    That’s us!

    There are a lot of good ideas in the community — if we add to the portfolio of traditional search marketing local search optimization everybody wins.


  2. on 16 Jul 2008 at 2:58 pm David Mihm

    Great post, Miriam. I think Google has gotten noticeably better recently with respect to the speed of their updates. It does not seem excessive to me, for example, that it took 10 days to change the LBL title of one of my clients after they extended their “product line” (actually a service industry).

    I do agree that there is room for improvement with regard to the transparency and more human interaction is always a good thing. This could be one area where Google’s 100% algorithmic model will fail, at least in the short term, simply because small businesses don’t always lend themselves to accurate online indexing. But as mobile and local converge and more and more people are searching for businesses that aren’t showing up, or transcribing reviews for stores they’ve just browsed, that need weakness will probably be diminished.

  3. on 17 Jul 2008 at 12:25 am Miriam

    “The system is inscrutable so you, the small business operator, need a translator.”

    Well, I can’t argue with that, Will! I guess I’m torn between liking the business this brings in and a wish for everyone to be self sufficient…which would mean I’d be out of a job. Thank you so much for the comment and the sphinn!

  4. on 17 Jul 2008 at 12:31 am Miriam

    Thank you, David, for weighing in on this, and for your kind sphinn.

    I am really glad to hear that you are seeing a more rapid response. I think Mike Blumenthal recently said the same thing in a post. I was pretty happy that it took Google about 2 days to index our new phone number in the organic SERPs this past week. That’s the kind of speed I love and would love to see across the board in local.

    But, as the Eric Enge/Carter Maslan interview pointed out, there is this whole need for levels of verification in local that isn’t really present in organic. If Google were to include a Live Chat option in their LBC, it would be important for the operators to be empowered to handle verification rapidly. There’d need to be a method for that.

    It’s always so nice to see you here!

  5. on 17 Jul 2008 at 2:53 pm Don Campbell

    Nicely done Miriam. I tend to come down harder on the Yellow Pages – I think their model is too expensive and results are too hard to track for small business owners. But you bring up some good points – it can be very frustrating for a small business owner to have the wrong information in Google Maps and feel helpless to do anything about it. But we are seeing improvements in the responsiveness, and the Yellow Pages is adapting as well. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out, but one thing is for sure – in the mean time there is a lot of opportunity for a small business to manage their Google Local profile correctly.

  6. on 18 Jul 2008 at 12:44 pm Miriam

    Greetings Don!
    I agree, the cost of YP, especially in metropolitan areas, is truly forbidding, particularly at the small business level.

    YP has, in fact, given us a selling point with new clients in California. For the cost of a full-page, one year ad in the SF Bay Area Yellow Pages, we work wonders with a permanent website, which involves only a one-time investment and is theirs to keep indefinitely.

    But, of course, YP has made brave efforts to transition onto the web as well. Very smart of them.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  7. on 24 Jul 2008 at 7:58 am Austin Walters

    No one seems to be talking about patents. Since the US Patent and Trademark Office allowed for method patents, there are many local solutions that empower SME’s to post, edit and upload videos within their locally defined areas of business.

    One in particular is patent # 6,968,513 The method allows not only information about their business through a drilldown menu, but they can post “Today only coupons”, employment for the local business down the street and classified ads with video of their sales items within single or multiple zip codes. All do through their onw account manager.

    If Google, Yahoo or MSN had any idea of the research to develope such a patent, I’m sure the bidding war would begin for exclusive licensing rights.

    Keep up the research, its really good stuff.

  8. on 25 Jul 2008 at 8:07 pm Local Hound

    Funny Miriam, I’ve been on vacation and just got the chance to read this post tonite. It seems I’ve been guilt of comparing oranges to tangerines and didn’t know it until now :)

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