Monday 31 Aug 2009
Thanks to Mike Blumenthal for pointing out what looks like it will be a gradual integration of Google’s Street View into local business profiles. I had to do a lot of searches in Google Maps before I could get one like this to appear, so I guess this will take awhile to be fully integrated. Here’s a screenshot in which you can see the Street View image and link in the More Info popup:
Mike has pointed out some legitimate concerns regarding the fact that Street View frequently shows wrong shop fronts for businesses and that this may add to the confusion of Google Maps users who have been shown an image of a building that isn’t actually what they should be looking for on the street. Very true, but this new feature brought other thoughts to my mind – thoughts about the 2 categories of businesses that are clearly out of Google’s loop when it comes to local business representation.
According to a 2006 US census report 1/2 of US business are home-based. That’s not a number that most people would find safe to ignore, but Google Maps has more-or-less done just that by dint of the fact that they require the publication of a street address for inclusion in their local business index.
I frequently hear from home-based business owners, offering quite legitimate goods or services to their communities, who are not at all comfortable with publishing their home address on the web. There are not only basic concerns about privacy involved in this, but also the concern that people would arrive on their doorsteps, expecting to be able to meet the owner in an office or shop setting, only to find themselves interrupting the family dinner hour.
When you add to this that the new Street View feature being automatically included in the business will show a shot of the home-based business owner’s house, the challenges of this situation are only increased. This sector of American businesses – apparently 1/2 of the people contributing to our economy – will continue to be under-served so long as Google continues to rely on street addresses as an essential legitimacy metric.
These are the tutors, chimney sweeps, assisted living professionals, landscapers, etc. whose business models revolve around doing business at locations other than their own home-base. I don’t have a figure for this, but there must be millions of local businesses which operate this way and which neither have, nor need, a staffed office to supply customer service. When you need your trees trimmed, there is no reason for you to get in the car and drive to a business to request services. You just pick up the phone and dial and the workers come to you. It’s a pretty standard way of doing business for a vast number of industries.
Yet, here again, these types of companies are not invited to Google’s party unless they have a listed street address. As is the case with the home-based business, the go-to-client business owner doesn’t want to publish an address, not because of privacy concerns, but because there is no ‘office’ to send people to. It’s not part of the business model.
Google doesn’t accept P.O. boxes and if go-to-client businesses are compelled to rent virtual business addresses in order to be able to market themselves locally, the end result for the customer will certainly be a frustrating one if the customer goes hunting for a store or office that doesn’t actually exist.
This Issue Deserves Attention
I often find myself thinking that Google got involved in local business representation without a clear idea of what this would really be like. In hindsight, it seems weird that Google would decide to include only walk-in business models when such a huge number of local businesses don’t work that way in America, or anywhere else in the world. Only last week, I was talking to a mobile notary public who was frustrated to learn that she couldn’t be listed in Google’s local business index without owning a street address. It didn’t make sense to her, given how her business operates, and it doesn’t make sense to me, either. Mobile Notary Publics certainly qualify as very local in my book. Why not in Google’s?
Tensions Continue To Mount
What does a business lose when it doesn’t fit into Google’s narrow definition of local and legitimate? Obviously, it loses an extremely large opportunity for increased visibility. Of course, it is still quite possible to optimize and market local businesses via Google’s organic search using city names instead of street addresses, but it rankles that so significant a percentage of local businesses can’t make use of a feature that is supposed to be so…local.
Then again, business owners may be saved very real headaches if they are excluded from inclusion in Google’s Local Business Center. The chronic inaccuracies in Google’s index and Google’s un-neighborly policy of zero customer support have woven a phenomenal tapestry of business owner frustration, confusion and rage over the public misrepresentation of their companies by Google. Only this afternoon, I read what I believe was the darkest spin I’ve yet encountered on Google’s relationship to the local businesses they’ve elected to represent:
I’ve been trying to get help from anyone from google to clean up my googlemaps listings for three months. I have tried Google’s instructions, technical updates, and various techniques for handling duplicates, zombie listings, et al. I have still have two incorrect listings showing up in googlemaps for my business.
Silly me. I went down to the google office and asked for someone to speak with that would get this fixed. They gave me a phone number to to try 650-253-0000. I called the number and the receptionists tell you they can’t connect you with anyone and referred me back to the help forum.
I went back to the google office and asked them to find anyone that could please fix my googlemaps problem. They told me they were going to call security. I asked if security was going to solve my googlemaps problem, then they called the cops. Officer Spicely from the Boulder PD actually came to my dojo and told me if I ever went to Google’s offices again asking for technical support, they would have me arrested. Asked for customer support from google and the will have you harassed by the police.
Google maps sucks, google sucks, and Google employees better google the Boulder Grappling Academy before they come train. They aren’t welcome until they fix my google maps problem. What a bunch of clowns!
Obviously, there are two sides to every story. But, really, Google? Letting slip the dogs of war on a guy who has come to ask you to correct his business listing? I’d really like to know what actually happened at the Google office. Did the business owner do something threatening? Strike a jiu jitsu pose before the receptionist? I expect we’ll never know why Google would call out the fuzz on a local business owner who…wait a minute…came to a published local business address to ask for customer service from a company that doesn’t offer that as part of its business model. Hmmm…Maybe Google can understand the home-based and go-to-client problems I’m outlining, above. Maybe Google’s answer to their own problem is to list your address, but have armed men at the ready should anyone come visit you there. I can’t see that working for Grandma Queenie’s Dog Walking service…but, you never know.
At any rate, the response in the Google Maps Help Group from a Google employee is humming a very odd tune:
Hi Boulder Grappling,
We hear your frustrations. We’re also doing our best to help our users and we realize we may not get to everyone.
That said, please reply with links to the listings with which you are experiencing issues and explain what exactly needs to be resolved.
Maps Guide Brianna
Cheers? Is that any way to talk to a guy you’ve threatened to have arrested? Something is very off here and I’ll abstain from any further comment on this because it’s impossible to know what really went on with this case. I’ll simply say, it’s bizarre.
Over the weekend, I saw the first color coming into the trees in my corner of Northern California. Fall is approaching on fleet feet – time for fall cleaning at our house, and may I suggest, at Google’s house, too? Releasing new tools, new features, new apps…these things are noteworthy and nice, but if you do this on top of serious underlying problems, I think you’ll only end up deepening your mess.
Publishing Street View shots could be great for some businesses and users, but not if they are of the wrong buildings, not if the building is occupied by a new tenant who can’t understand why his address is showing a vaccuum repair shop instead of a law office, not when the law office has been categorized as an auto mechanic, not when the auto mechanic’s listing has been conflated with the laundromat next door and not when the laundromat owner hasn’t a clue as to why she can’t contact Google to report that people keep calling her to order a pizza. You get the picture. Wish Google could.