Google Empowers Users, Creates New Headaches for Businesses

Google is helping local businesses by encouraging more user-generated content. In theory this is good. But more content does not always mean more high-quality content.

Google Empowers Users, Creates New Headaches for Businesses
  • Google is encouraging users to add more content to Google My Business listings, especially photos, and gamifying the process.
  • But the content that appears may not be the high-quality imagery and content that businesses actually want. Spam is challenging to remove from GMB profiles.
  • Enterprises should develop a direct relationship with Google, get employees to monitor profiles and actively solicit customers to post reviews, to counter low quality content and spam.

More is not always better with Google. On March 11, Google announced it is making it easier for people to upload photos of places on Google Maps. In addition, Google launched a "Local Love challenge" to encourage people to add ratings, reviews, and confirm information to support local businesses they’ve visited, from their go-to bakery to the neighborhood hardware store.

On the surface this news is about Google helping local businesses by building up their visibility in the Google universe through user-generated content. In theory, more content, more reviews, and more visual imagery should make a business’s Google My Business (GMB) listing more robust; and we know that GMB listings are the most important signal for local search. But there is a downside, too: businesses need to be mindful that more content appearing on their profiles does not always mean more high-quality content.

What Google Announced

Google said that it will:

  • Make it easier for users to upload photos of a business on Google Maps: "In the coming weeks, we’ll roll out a new content type in Google Maps: photo updates — an easy way to find and share experiences and highlights with recent photos. A Google Maps photo update is a recent snapshot of a place with a short text description, without the need to leave a review or rating." The idea is to encourage people to do more visual storytelling – for instance, uploading a photo of a beautiful fountain they noticed in a hotel lobby or a shaded outdoor patio in a restaurant that would be perfect for al fresco dining.
  • Gamify user content posting: Google has thrown down the "Local Love challenge" to encourage people to share reviews, updates, and photos of businesses on Google Maps. "[M]ost people using Android in the U.S. can join our first nationwide challenge to rally helpful reviews, photos and updates from sea to shining sea. Simply jump into the Contribute tab in Google Maps to join the 'Local Love challenge' and add ratings, reviews and confirm information to support local businesses you’ve visited, from your go-to bakery to the neighborhood hardware store. Each contribution will count toward a collective goal of updating 100,000 businesses. We’ll use feedback on the Local Love challenge to guide future campaigns in more countries."

What the News Means

On the one hand:

The initiative to encourage user-generated content also has a downside. More reviews also means more spam, which means local businesses will need to be more vigilant about monitoring spam. But what happens when they detect spam? Well, good luck. Google continues to do a poor job giving businesses tools to report and remove. To be sure, Google recently launched a tool to help businesses manage review removal requests, but it applies only to GMB accounts with a small number of listings in them. The fact that spam management tool has such limited scope, and Google’s low-key approach to making it available (there was no mention of this capability in Google’s March 11 announcement) shows you how blasé Google is about spam management.

Moreover, allowing users to upload more photos without giving businesses proper remediation tools is also a problem. As I have written, GMB listings are a magnet for poorly cropped and edited user photos that do not flatter a business. Having someone post a photo of a half-eaten tilapia on a table covered with detritus from a family dinner is hardly a glowing visual story. But it happens all the time and businesses are stuck with these unflattering images appearing on their pages.

This situation reminds me of the arms race that happened in the 2000s between Google, AltaVista, and Yahoo! to see who could index the most pages. The assumption by searchers then was whoever indexed the most pages provided the best information in reply to search queries. But the page indexing arms race did not always result in high-quality results. Google was able to pull away not due to quantity of results, but the quality of the results they returned. And now Google finds itself in the same position as it defends its turf on the Google universe: encouraging more content and more user engagement, which creates a bigger audience for advertisers. But until Google helps businesses manage the fallout of "more" not "better," enterprises may have some headaches to manage.

What Enterprise Should Do

  • Be vigilant for spam. I’d suggest focusing first on reviews because they have the biggest impact on your reputation; second, photos because of their increased importance in search visibility; and third, Q&A content that people post on your GMB listing. Rely on your employees to act as your eyes and ears, monitoring content and flagging off-topic comments and questionable-quality content. Get everyone on the same page and show them how to upvote good user generated content and flag bad user generated. (Disclaimer: my company offers an automated tool to help our clients monitor and manage content like this online.)
  • Develop a relationship with Google or find a partner who has one. Google does listen, but the problem is that Google responds slowly to issues when they arise as they are receiving feedback from millions of unique businesses worldwide.
  • Encourage your customers to post reviews. When you ask customers to review your business, you fight that spam with authentic content. Even better, you unlock the power of the "silent ones" who might love your business but just don’t get around to reviewing you unless you encourage them. Those higher-quality reviews improve your visibility on Google, too.

Google wants to keep people engaged in Google’s universe, and it has provided some great tools for businesses to build their content and visibility. It’s time for Google to help enterprises build a better-quality experience, too.

Adam Dorfman is the Director of Product Growth at Reputation. Follow him on Twitter at @phixed