When customers walk into your place of business, phone you, or reach out to you via email or social media with a question that’s clearly a lead, you’d never, ever answer:
But it’s exactly this, and several related scenarios of absurdity, that have resulted from Google positioning itself as the dominant middle man between customers and local brands while failing to adequately communicate or enforce product policies.
Examples of Google Business Profiles gone bad are often comical, but it’s no laughing matter for your business to shed revenue for the sake of some jester’s joke. Then, spammers jump into the game, and that’s about as humorous as hitting your funny bone. And, sometimes, it’s even somebody on your own staff or a marketer you’ve hired who goofs.
Good local companies work so hard to develop exceptional customer service and a sterling reputation, and the Google Business Profile can brilliantly showcase both when carefully curated. But lack of vigilance over five key sections of this most visible online asset can cumulatively undermine offline goals.
Today, let’s look at some serious gaffes, get you set up to mitigate them, and put a watchdog mindset in your local place of business.
One of my favorite Local Tech Leads at Moz, Robert Reis, recently pointed out to me that Google’s sternest local guidelines actually reveal their greatest vulnerabilities. This is certainly true when it comes to Google not wanting brands to keyword stuff business names, because it so clearly appears to impact local pack rankings. Take a look at this all-too-common tomfoolery:
Then, there are other cases in which a business listing can be maliciously edited or hijacked by a competitor, an angry customer, or another third party. In this example, not only has the business name been edited, but the website URL has been pointed to ripoffreport.com:
What to do:
Customers may laugh, but certainly, they will not trust business names like these. If someone in your own company has been keyword stuffing, show them Google’s explicit guidelines regarding formatting names to match real-world business titles and edit the name to conform to the rules. Any other course risks losing customers and being reported by the public to Google for a violation.
If you suspect that a competitor’s high rankings are stemming, at least in part, from keyword stuffing, do a little research. Look at the name on their street signage in Google Street View. Take a photo in person if necessary. Look at the name on their website. Phone them to see how they answer the phone. Then, if you’re convinced that the guidelines are being broken, submit your evidence via the Business Redressal Complaint Form. There is no guarantee that Google will act on your report, but this is the main vehicle for seeking action.
If your listing has been hijacked and maliciously edited, I recommend starting by reporting the full details at the Google My Business Help Community. Ask the volunteers there to give you current steps for resolving the hijack. You can’t ever be totally safe from the possibility of hijacking, but do be sure you’ve claimed any GMB listing for your company. Some local SEOs also recommend making occasional null edits (hitting the submit button in your GMB dashboard without changing any of the listing data) as this activity might make your listing less prone to third-party edits.
I like to give business owners the benefit of the doubt for making a judgment call error when they review themselves. But it’s always embarrassing to see any company misusing reviews to sing their own praises, and particularly so when their family members point this out in public:
More often, the business is the victim of review shenanigans. Google’s forum is continuously emitting distress signals from business owners who feel they’ve received one or more negative reviews from people they’ve never had a transaction with, as illustrated by this interchange:
What to do:
Falsifying reviews is illegal and has resulted in multi-million-dollar FTC fines in the United States. If you own or market local businesses, adhere to the Consumer Review Fairness Actand read the guidelines of any online platform on which you are receiving or writing reviews. Don’t review your own business or have past or present staff do so. Don’t review your competitors. Don’t incentivize reviews in any way, or post reviews on behalf of anyone else. Don’t hire any marketing firm or use any review management software that violates guidelines.
If your business becomes the subject of a review spam attack, screenshot and document all of the fake reviews, then flag them from inside of your Google My Business dashboard via the three little dots associated with each review. After three days, contact Google through their online chat option to follow up.
Google will make the ultimate decision on whether to remove the reviews and they are quite strict about what they view as negative vs. fake. If Google doesn’t remove the reviews, I would suggest two things. First, I would report the reviews to ReviewFraud and then, if the sentiment in the reviews is damaging enough, you might need to contact an attorney to see if further steps can be taken to prompt removal.
If you suspect a competitor is trying to boost their own rankings with review spam, document what you see and report it via the Google My Business Help Community.
“I cannot for the life of me believe that you would allow a normal user to upload photos to my business listing without my approval and you do not give THE OWNER OF THE PAGE the ability to delete them!” – from Google’s Forum.
The above quote typifies the frustration business owners feel regarding yet another element of their Google listing that is open to public contributions. Brands often think of these listings as belonging to them, when, in fact, they belong to Google. Images are considered to be a strong factor in CTR, so it’s particularly aggravating when user-uploaded photos either misrepresent or embarrass the business.
Google can also pull random images from website pages into your profile, resulting in your business being represented by something like … melted ice cream?
Claire Carlisle recently documented Google’s penchant for pointing European users to Google Image Search instead of the photo section of listings. There is some reason to suspect this may happen in the US in the future, which could result in all kinds of strange optics popping up in association with brands.
What to do:
If an image accurately represents a lack of proper management at a location of your business, fix the issue or such imagery will continue to surface. You can then try flagging the photo, identifying yourself as the business owner, and explaining what you’ve done to correct the problem. However, unless the photo violates Google’s guidelines, it’s unlikely to be removed. Barring removal, be sure you are adding as many high-quality photos as possible to your listing to lessen the impact of a single image.
If the image violates Google’s guidelines, click on the name of the person who uploaded it and copy their profile URL. Then, report the user via the Google My Business Help Community, requesting that the profile be removed for failing to adhere to the guidelines.
If you see something like the warning symbol appearing instead of a photo you’ve tried to upload, check the above forum for reports of known bugs. You can always remove your own photos via the trash can symbol in your Google My Business dashboard.
Hours of inconvenience
“This is not a sustainable way to treat a business or customers.” – A reviewer experiencing unmanaged hours of operation
When customers feel that it’s your business playing a joke on them, they’re unlikely to return. This collage of 1-star reviews captures the collateral damage of neglecting to properly manage hours of operation on the web:
What to do:
A consistent theme in these damaging reviews is that customers are checking multiple places on the web to be sure an establishment is open on a given day. We’ve all come to depend on websites and business listings to provide this information, and it’s truly inconvenient when these assets mislead us. Few businesses can afford to let multiple customers down and no business can survive customers sensing they’ve been tricked!
The good news is that the fix for this is quite simple. Google’s tutorial for setting special hours if foolproof, and it will only take you a few minutes each year to ensure your profile displays correct information every day of the year. And, of course, update your website to reflect this data, too.
There are no dumb questions, but…
Sorry to say it, but there are actually some answers that are far from smart. I’ve saved for last the most extreme example of real-world businesses becoming the butt of online jokes.
Google Q&A is beginning to have all the earmarks of an experiment gone astray, and if you’re not actively managing this feature of the Google Business Profile, chances are good that your customers are experiencing a bizarre substitute for customer service.
Brace yourself for this collage:
What to do:
A quick study of the public responses to real consumer questions shows the state of total confusion surrounding this GBP feature. For example, one customer has mistaken it for a “discussion board” not associated with the business; this is incorrect. Others are proclaiming that they aren’t associated with the brand and don’t want to “lead people”, despite responding. Still, others are steering potential patrons away from the brand to a competitor (yikes!).
But, predominantly, we have wags replying to questions without having any information to share. “IDK” and “Why don’t you call them yourself?” typify this ridiculous behavior. Why would anyone waste time doing this, you might ask? We can put it down to two things: the old adage about idle hands and Google’s still-new program of perks for participation. Note how many of the individuals in our collage have achieved Local Guide status for giving out these useless answers. Raise your hands if you’re not impressed.
But now, put your hands back on your keyboard for a little work. Unlike the review medium in which guidelines forbid you being an initiator, Google Questions & Answers invites businesses to post and answer their own FAQs. All you have to do is spend a few minutes populating this area of the Google Business Profile with common questions and responses. Then monitor this feature on an ongoing basis so that customers are receiving a helpful, authoritative response to questions. Q&A is a lead-generating asset and conversions are totally within your control.