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Google Local Maps Is Not Yellow Pages

When Mike Blumenthal posted about a Google Maps for Business Owners Group rep appearing to upsell Adwords to a local business owner seeking better Maps rankings, it put me in mind of one of 2007’s most dramatic happenings – the Denver Florist episode.
To recap: the Denver florist reported that his business had collapsed because a competitor had been given one-box placement above his own, once-successful organic ranking, stealing major business away. The most curious element about this whole agonizing situation was that the angry Denver florist made a big point of mentioning that he was spending thousands of dollars in Google Adwords, and because of this, he seemed to feel he was entitled to more favorable treatment.
I was left wondering why he thought his Adwords spend had anything to do with his un-paid rankings.
Had someone told him this, or was this simply a proof of the illusion that Google Maps works like Yellow Pages in a you-get-what-you-pay-for manner?
Then Mike posted his Adwords Upsell post, which I read carefully. The rep is NOT saying, “if you sign up for Adwords, you’ll get a better organic or Maps ranking.” However, I can imagine that a harried local business owner could read their advice that way.
Today, I came across an all-too-familiar post in the Google Maps for Business Owners’ Group:
Last week we had over thirty reviews of our shop Canoesport in
Houston, Texas.
The reviews are now gone! Please put them back.
I am an adwords subscriber and have paid Google thousands of dollars
for your services.
Please contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx

Here we have yet another business owner believing that their Adwords spend is related to their standing in Google Maps. I think one can read this in one of 2 ways:
1) Someone told the Canoe Guy that spending money in Adwords = preferential treatment.
2) The statement about the Canoe Guy’s involvement in Adwords is meant as a sort of, “do you know who I am?” kind of remark. In other words, “I’m an important customer who gives you lots of money – treat me like I’m valuable to you.”
I’m not able to determine the true intention behind these Adwords spend statements, but I find them very disturbing because they represent a serious disconnect between Google and local business owners.
Google Maps is Not YP
Any local business more than a couple of years old is likely to be coming to Google’s local listings from a traditional Yellow Pages mindset. As I recently documented, a business owner in San Francisco, CA can hand their YP rep a check for $90,000.00 and be certain that they will receive a full page color ad in the phone book for this investment.
There is no amount of money any business owner can give to Google to get a guaranteed ranking in Maps. As the Canoe guy’s plea for respectful service indicates, small business owners are failing to understand this important fact.
And this is why Maps is coming across as unstable to us and our colleagues in Local Search. It’s small wonder to me that the Local specialists we’ve been interviewing over the past 2 weeks are describing local search as frustrating and half-baked. SEOs are used to a no-guarantees world. Small Business Owners are not.
If Google intends to keep Maps algo-based instead of payment-based (and I’m sure they do), I urge them to adopt a more transparent and educational rapport with SMBs. I feel very sorry reading the bewilderment of the local business owners who are finding themselves swimming against the tide in a help group, praying for answers, rather than dialing up an assigned rep as they would with YP.
It’s only making matters worse if Maps reps are upselling Adwords in the midst of this, furthering the money = preferential treatment delusion.
A Good Neighbor Policy
I was recently talking to Mike about Google’s seeming inability to ‘get’ local business owners. Mike felt that Yahoo! was making a better effort to create a friendlier atmosphere for them, right down to the language in the business registration process.
Succeeding locally involves becoming a stable part of a community – becoming a good neighbor.
I would like to see Google adopt a Good Neighbor Policy if they want to honor the mentality of local business owners. To me, this means being open and above-board regarding the rules, functions and benefits of Maps. It feels precarious to me that so many SMBs are suddenly discovering that their business information has been sucked into Maps without their knowledge and that finding out how to take control of one’s listing and correcting the numerous errors one may encounter has been made about as transparent as mud for these important folks. Google Maps has got a communications problem.
I want to see Maps succeed. I love Maps. I use it repeatedly just about every day. But what will happen to the Google brand if the Canoe Guy gets no real answer as to why his reviews have disappeared? What if all the canoe guys, and florists, and bakers and dentists, and roofing crews and catering companies have a vague, unsatisfactory experience with Maps that ends up harming their bottom line? They certainly aren’t going to become the evangelists Google needs for this growing enterprise.
Google’s local business owners are also Google Maps users.
Worth thinking about…