My Experience Using Google Local During A Medical Emergency

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Perhaps it can stand as a living testament to my deep passion for Local Search that, in the midst of my appendix potentially rupturing, I turned on my computer to start finding doctors.

Because we’ve recently moved the SEOigloo to its new and improved location in the quiet countryside, I had yet to find a new local doctor. Maybe not too bright on my part, but I’m of that toughing-it-out school of thought when it comes to medical matters. I’ve had enough doctors send me home with a large bill and a ‘let us know if you feel worse,’ to have reached the conclusion that I’ll probably get better from most bugs on my own…and for free!

This time was different.

Clearly, civil war was going on in my stomach and I needed some help. In my fevered state, and with my husband’s face turning greyer by the minute, the foggy idea came swimming to the top of my head, “search for the service + location in Google. You’ll get the 10-pack you need. Right now, Google is your best friend.”

Picture, if you will, the pitiable aspect of me hunched over my laptop in mortal agony, and Google returning me, over the course of several days of exciting medical visits in all directions, not one single accurate local result.

Doctor #1 (the guy who looked like Elvis and was wrong) – Wrong phone number, wrong address
Doctor #2 (the much nicer doctor who told us to drive straight to the hospital) – Wrong phone number, wrong address
Doctor #3 (the expensive specialist) – Wrong phone number, wrong address

– and, most disturbing of all –

The Major Local Hospital (where I did not have a very good time) – Wrong phone number.

The 10 pack returned wrong data for literally every one of my searches conducted during a serious medical emergency. It’s all very well that you’re supposed to dial 911 if you suspect you’re about to die, but I preferred not to turn this into a scenario involving panic and ambulances, and I was afraid the ambulance drivers might just be using Google Maps and would never find me, anyway.

I ended up having to rely on that other 3-digit lifesaver, 411, to get the numbers I needed, and I got directions to the three doctors’ offices from receptionists. It was like living a life B.G. (Before Google). I’m out of pain now, and the men of science have decided I’ve got something much more vague and mysterious going on than appendicitis (I’ve yet to decide whether that’s a cause for celebration) but with this clearer head on my shoulders, I’ve got some questions for Google.

1) How serious are you guys really about Local Search?
Is this a scenario where my understanding should be, “the 10-pack is good enough for finding a local shoe store, not meant for finding local medical help,” – in other words – not meant for serious functions in life?

2) Is hit or miss good enough for you guys when it comes to this?
I know, in Organic, you return me a whole bunch of results for my search term. You’re not responsible for the accuracy of the information you’re returning. One website may return me totally accurate, informative, correct facts. Another website may be Wikipedia. It’s not up to you to judge the truthfulness of the data provided by your algo. But are you carrying that attitude over into Local Search? Does 4 wrong out of 4 tries to get a phone number seem okay to you? You’ve recently told Mike Blumenthal Google Maps has a wiki-nature. Can you see from my medical anecdote here that applying a wiki philosophy to contact information for medical providers is, somehow, inappropriate?

3) Who’s going to tell businesses that you’re displaying their data?
When I called the incorrect hospital number listed in the A position in your 10 pack, the phone was answered by some obscure staff member with an office somewhere in the hospital complex. It was obvious that she’s become used to redirecting people to the actual main number for the hospital. Had my appendix not potentially been about to explode, I might have done an act of civic kindliness and explained to her that the reason she’s getting all of these phone calls from sick people trying to speak to the front desk of the hospital is that Google is showing an incorrect phone number at the top of their SERPs. But, you know, with the groaning in pain and all that, I couldn’t really be bothered to go into it. And, anyway, shouldn’t that be your job, over there in Mountain View, having taken the trouble to index the information of the hospital and the 3 doctors? Shouldn’t you guys be calling these vital local medical services providers to let them know you’ve got their data and to verify with them that it’s correct?

4) Don’t you think it would be horrible for a little old lady to die on her way to the doctor because you sent her across town to the wrong place?
Okay, so maybe a little old lady is still clinging for dear life to her Yellow Pages, heavy as it is to heft around, but I want you to get my point. All three of the doctors in my story have moved within the past couple of years. Your 10-pack and Maps are still showing their outdated data. The Internet is supposed to be occurring in real time. When I want pizza, I want it from a pizza place that exists NOW, not one that closed 2 years ago. And, when I want a doctor, I have to go visit him in his present office. Had I not been following Local Search news over the past couple of years, guys, I might very well have taken your maps at face value and driven to completely wrong locations…with my appendix potentially rupturing. I’m being rather tongue in cheek about this, Google, but it’s really no laughing matter when an entity with your prominence and visibility is getting it wrong when it comes to things like hospitals, police departments, fire departments, etc. Getting it wrong could actually cost lives.

These are my questions. I feel like I’m living large right now, comfy on my couch and seated in the total absence of glaring lights and grim-looking physicians, but it really was a pain and a let down trying to use Google Local Search while I was in bad shape and being returned nothing but errors.

I think it behooves us to look once more at the response you made to Mike’s little demonstration of how easy it is to hijack the listings of even major corporations like Microsoft, coming on the heels of his articles about florists and locksmiths losing as much as 30% of their income because of their companies being misrepresented in your vastly powerful local application. I quote:

The wiki nature of Google Maps expands upon Google’s steadfast commitment to open community.

I have some problems with what you are saying, after my recent experiences, and with all due respect, I feel you’re missing a couple of critical points in your approach to Local.

1) It’s all very well to be committed to an open community, but first you’ve got to find a way to let that community know it exists. In all of my years serving small business owners, I have, to date, had one single client come to me knowing what Google’s LBC is. The other 99% of the SMBs I meet have no idea that their business has been indexed by Google and have zero inkling of the huge effect it may be having on their finances. A high ranking, correct local listing can mean great profits, but an incorrect or hijacked listing can spell doom. To date, no efforts that I know of have been made to contact the community to which your are claiming to be loyal. If even Microsoft is in the dark, can you really blame my busy local doctor for having failed to grasp what’s going on?

2) Wiki is not going to cut it when it comes to the representation of real businesses. It’s fine if people want to contribute data about crawdads or Abraham Lincoln or the Ming Dynasty. Misinformation on such subjects is unlikely to have serious monetary or mortal consequences. But Local business listings are not meant to convey interesting trivia, whether they are found between the pages of a phone book, on a TV or radio ad, or on the Internet. Errors have real life consequences for business owners, consumers and citizens and I continue to believe you’re going to continue to fail to get it right with the LBC unless you’re willing to staff it. And, I honestly believe that, because of the major importance you’ve placed on Local in your SERPs, a major part of your reputation is going to rely on how you handle the ever-growing list of issues that are arising around the public service you’re attempting to provide.

3) Lastly, I think it’s especially important to point out that what community already exists around Maps is having to go it almost completely alone. There is no easy way for me to report to you the 4 errors I encountered trying to get medical attention…and I sell Local Search Optimization as a service to people! I am currently deeply embroiled in attempting to get one of my client’s listings fixed in Maps, and you can believe me, I am not going to go through the trouble of trying to report these incorrect doctor and hospital listings to TeleAtlas on my own time.

If someone like me, who deeply believes in the potential of Local and who blogs about Local and who dreams about Local can’t talk to you when there’s a problem, who can? Yes, I know about the Maps help group, but the atmosphere there is completely remote, and the frustration of business owners is everywhere apparent. I strongly believe that if you want to create a community, whether open or otherwise, the first step has got to be you getting involved. You’ve got to be reachable, responsive and real about this.

Do you think, after my experience with this medical emergency, that I am feeling confident in the Google brand of local data? Do you think I’d recommend it to my mother? Not right now, that’s for sure.

Google, I want you to succeed. I want Local to be what it can be. So, I’m blogging about this, on my own time. I care that much.


P.S. Many thanks to everyone who has sent such nice get well wishes! I’m hanging in there and hoping for the best!

22 Responses to “My Experience Using Google Local During A Medical Emergency”

  1. […] Advertising Agencies?rajesh dhingra on Google’s forced choice for the Authoritative WebsiteSEO Igloo Blog » My Experience Using Google Local During A Medical Emergency on Google Responds to Microsoft HijackingMatt McGee on Hey I resemble that remarkMike on […]

  2. on 04 Nov 2008 at 4:58 am Mike Blumenthal

    I am so very glad to see that you are back, despite Google’s best efforts to lead you astray.

    Wikipedia, at least, has a review process for open edits and a hierarchy of editors to make sure that critical edits are legitimate. Even in the most wiki of environments, they have learned that totally open leads in the wrong direction when striving towards truthfulness.

    The business community gets little guidance or help from Google but Google’s community edit cohort has even less.

    Great post. Ironic that I wrote a realted but much less personal post yesterday that I published this morning.


  3. on 04 Nov 2008 at 6:06 am David Mihm

    Miriam, what a terrible story!

    I am all for a set of trusted editors that can update out-of-date listings as necessary, though I can imagine that opens up all kinds of process worms for spammers…basically G just needs to continue to commit their own resources to Local.

    I am not sure that Google should be held to any higher standard than the Yellow Pages that have created this bad listing data in the first place. Perhaps they should do better policing of these old data sets they are pulling, however, and only list businesses for which they have full confidence in a recent contact set.

  4. on 04 Nov 2008 at 6:42 am Lori

    Hi, Miriam! So sorry to hear about your health issues and your local search issues!

    I’ve often felt unsure of the information I’ve received from Google Local, and I think you hit the nail on the head – too much of the info is outdated, and there’s no easy way to report problems.

    Until then, I almost always doublecheck phone numbers, address, directions, etc. unless I’m familiar with the place already and just needing the exact info or something.

    Get well soon!

  5. on 04 Nov 2008 at 11:45 am admin

    Hey Mike,
    I think a little bird told people I was ailing, because I received lovely notes from my friends in local search in all corners of the world. Thank you!

    I was just reading your post! Incredible.


  6. on 04 Nov 2008 at 11:50 am admin

    Hi David,
    I’ve often thought about how print Yellow Pages can only be updated once a year, and that this necessarily means that any business that moves during the course of the year loses the accuracy of their YP listing. But, people understand that this can happen and are used to the concept of annual correctness, as it were.

    The web, on the other hand, has been forged primarily by webmasters, who make edits to the contents of the web in real time. Because of this, I think most people expect what’s on the web to be current. So, this is the frustration with obviously antique data being in Local. I think what’s on the web does need to be held to a different (if not higher) standard than print advertising, because the nature of the web tends to be so current.

    I vote for your idea of having full confidence in any data that’s displayed. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  7. on 04 Nov 2008 at 11:54 am admin

    Hi Lori,
    Thanks so much for the get well wishes. It’s been quite a week!

    You are very wise to double check local data. It’s a lesson that I’m sure countless people are learning after having experiences like mine using Local. And I doubt that learning such a lesson is doing good things for Google’s rep.

    It’s lovely to see you here, as always.

  8. on 04 Nov 2008 at 12:00 pm Dave Oremland


    Glad to hear you are back at home. So sorry about your difficulties.

    Sometimes, when our emotional state has been rocked, we write with greatest clarity and meaning. Your post above is an example.

    From propagating misinformation about medical information to enabling criminals to twist Google’s own directory in a way that benefit’s their theft, Google avoids the need to be responsive and responsible. It has become the “defacto” source of information for many consumers of many products and services. Regardless it strives to respond to the level of responsibility that comes with that burden/opportunity. Very well written blog piece.

    Hope you continue to recover.


  9. on 04 Nov 2008 at 1:29 pm admin

    Hey Dave,
    Thanks for the kind comments. I’m glad this posts comes across as clear and strong. I would hope anyone from Google reading something like this could get into the user’s shoes, and see the real-life consequences arising from flaws in Maps. I believe that ‘responsibility’ is the operative word in your comment, and all of us are hoping to see Google shoulder the weight of the situation they are actively creating.

    It’s always so nice to see you here, Dave. I’m hanging in here and relishing having enough health to be using my laptop, catching up with all the news.


  10. […] Miriam Ellis wrote last night about how she recently moved, and didn’t have any contact info. for a local doctor, and had a […]

  11. on 06 Nov 2008 at 11:15 am Dana Lookadoo


    Sorry to hear about your pain and non-resolution. Praying for wisdom for those doctors and that they are not using Google to diagnose your issue!

    Coincidentally, exactly 1 year ago, my husband experienced excruciating pain that got worse. Through Google, I diagnosed it was appendicitis. Having moved only 4 days prior to a new town, I went searching for medical care. Fortunately, I did get good information from Google Search, because I was looking for reviews of doctors and hospitals. I learned it was worth the time and travel to go to a hospital 25 miles away vs. 3 miles. Success!

    Since my husband knew the area better than me, he drove there, no map needed. However, he was in the hospital 2.5 days. I was now on my own. I relied on Google Local’s maps to guide me. The map gave the wrong street name. I drove in circles across a freeway and back multiple times. I walked into the hospital frustrated at Google. hmmmm…

    Now, my Mom & Step-Dad are moving to the area, 1 year later. They were in town yesterday to sign papers and needed a place to eat. Google to the rescue? NOT! Google Local failed us. I thought I knew where I wanted to send them and gave directions based off Google Local. The location on the map was wrong!

    Hope your post and our situations will make a difference. If Google Local doesn’t improve, your stomach will not be the only place civil war occurs.

  12. on 08 Nov 2008 at 10:59 pm admin

    Good Evening, Dana!
    Sorry, I didn’t see your comment right away. That really is a coincidence. I feel like you know exactly what I went through, and I so hope your husband got good medical care. It’s a scary time when you’re sick like that, and everyone who loves you is scared, too.

    Your experience truly underscores the point I’m trying to make. When it’s a wrong restaurant location, this is a hassle. When it’s wrong emergency care information, it’s a real hazard.

    On a positive note, this post had led to a Google employee getting in touch with me, and I’m looking forward to speaking with her more fully about this issue in the new week.

    I really appreciate you taking the time to share your strikingly similar experience. You have to figure this is happening to hundreds, if not thousands, of people every day.

    It’s a real pleasure to see you here, Dana!

  13. on 09 Nov 2008 at 11:14 pm Yura

    Good to hear you are okay.

    Kinda surprised by the ghastly quality of Google Local info, though not totally. As you have put it in your post, it does seem like Google Local is a fifth wheel to Google and it’ll fix it, when it’s done with its other properties.

    Now, if you remember Blogger/Blogspot, a blogspot blog is now synonymous with a spam blog. So I don’t think Google’s driving in the right direction: I suspect it’s using Google Maps.

  14. […] Monday 10 Nov 2008 I’d like to follow up regarding the post I wrote last week about my experience using Google local listings during a medical emergency. […]

  15. […] Google when my emergency search for doctors and a hospital in my brand new home town returned me nothing but errors. Not one single result in this critical category of local business information was correct for my […]

  16. […] Google when my emergency search for doctors and a hospital in my brand new home town returned me nothing but errors. Not one single result in this critical category of local business information was correct for my […]

  17. […] as I thought this is quite important, and we all want accurate information – especially when you need it the most Share and […]

  18. on 29 Jan 2009 at 4:23 pm SMB’s Need More “Local” Outreach

    […] commitment to make SMB’s aware of how and where their data is being used, and take the responsibility for accuracy more seriously than they do […]

  19. […] about the need for a factual content layer in Local. It also speaks to the need for more customer service options and accountability on the part of […]

  20. […] last year when Miriam Ellis of the Solas Web Design noted the great difficulty she had with emergency health numbers in Google Maps, Google’s Maps Guide Jen […]

  21. […] of the service that they provide, sending phone calls off to the wrong department, having the wrong address or phone number for the emergency room can lead to disaster. It points out the social problems that can affect us all when critical public […]

  22. on 31 Dec 2009 at 5:03 am Year In Review: Local Search & Maps

    […] is that job "good enough?" Perhaps not when it comes to police departments, hospitals, or other emergency services, whose Authoritative OneBox results all came under increased scrutiny this […]

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