This is our Deep Dive Into Local from April 9th, 2018. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.
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Mike: Hi, welcome to The Deep Dive into Local with Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling. This week we’re going to talk about my research in Google Q&A and some recent interviews and articles I’ve done.
Mary: Yes, Mike did an article at Street Fight last week talking about his eBook. And again, he did a webinar at MOZ talking about Google Q&A. And I know this is something that’s taken over your life since Google put it out.
Mike: Here’s why it’s so interesting to me. Firstly, back to the idea that so much business is coming to a business from the Google lounge panel. Somewhere, the case studies I’ve done, it’s 70%. Some people are saying it’s higher than that. It could very well be in some industries. A lot of businesses are coming directly from Google. Q&A plays into that because it’s very visible on both the desktop and a mobile. More visible than things like the new Owner Description. It’s very, very front and center. It’s in the first page of the search results. Very, very visible.
And what I see happening, which is so amazing to me, is that Google is able, through leveraging the power they have with local guides, to engender a conversation around a location. So historically, Facebook has been very good at generating a conversation around a brand. And sometimes that brand, it might be in one location, but often it’s many locations. And Facebook’s been very good at that. But Google, with encouraging the local search and encouraging business engagement local search, and encouraging local guides to come and leave reviews and answer questions, we’re starting to see conversations occurring around a location.
Here’s an example. I found a location in my research in target location in Denver where they had 15 questions. And one of those questions, the writer asked if this location was racist. And six answers conversing about whether it was racist. A Native American chimed in that they thought it was. Somebody else chimed in. They thought it was just incompetent people. But that was, literally, a conversation about the hardest question in our country taking place around a location on North field Boulevard, in Denver. I mean it was incredible that Google has enough market power to, one, drive people to the location knowledge panel, get people to ask the questions. And then with their 50 million local guides, drag people to answer those questions effectively resulting in a conversation going on around this place.
Now, it’s obviously a conversation that the brand would be very uncomfortable with, and everybody in America should be at least thinking about. But the question arises. One, it really says that local is here, right? That local, as demonstrated by Google, is a player in our society in terms of helping people make a decision. And two, it has huge impact on the reputation of a brand. And so I just see that as fastenating. So I can’t take my eyes off it.
Mary: And the thing that stuns me is that they’ve put this thing front and center. And at first, nobody even knew what the heck it was, what they should do with it. There was no notice when you got any a question. And when searchers see that, like you say, it starts a conversation. But the searcher is the one who’s picking the topic of the conversation. Not the business. And in some cases, the topic is completely wrong. it has nothing to do with the business. And in some cases, it’s actually customers who are expecting a real-time answer. And…
Mike: Correct. So there are issues with it. I mean my research indicated that in the dental segment…oh, I don’t know. It was 5% or 6%. I thought it was a real-time communication platform, and we were disappointed when it wasn’t. In the big boxes, it’s less but still some percentage. I mean what I saw was, in the big box world, I think 11, in a case study I did, 11% of the questions were reportable under terms of violations and insurance service. In the dental segment, almost 25% were reportable under Terms of Service. So there is a Terms of Service…
Mary: So is this…
Mike: …and a number of these questions do violate those Terms of Service. But from Google’s big data point of view, if, in the case of big-box stores, 90% of the questions are good. They’re happy.
Mary: Yes. So when you say that by Terms of Service, you’re talking about Terms of Service for asking a question?
Mike: Terms of Service for questions, for user-generated content on Google Maps. In December, Google released a new Terms of Service Agreement that covered photos, reviews, and Google Q&A, and Google Maps. And basically, it’s similar to what we saw in reviewed Terms of Service. thy can’t be racist or they can’t… no links, no phone numbers, no self-promotion, no swear words, those types of things. In the case of questions, they have to be on topic, and they’ll be taken down if they’re no longer time relevant. There’s a number of issues beyond that when you report them. You’ll see the six things that you can report them on.
What I found as interesting, so Google has started, we’re seeing them to start to filter and take down questions. So in my analysis, I’ve looked at about 1750 locations, three or four thousand questions. Seven percent in unmonitored locations, roughly 7% of all questions, have come down, been taken down. Weather by Google over the years are most likely by Google. But as I noted a little bit earlier, somewhere between 11% and 25% of those questions are violations of the Terms of Service. So every business needs to be monitoring these and reporting these if they’re inappropriate.
In the one case study where I have a client with large number of locations actively managing those locations, they were able to get 25% of the questions removed in total. So clearly, if a brand wants to maintain their brand integrity, there’s everything to be said for monitoring and reporting Q&A to get rid of the bad ones.
Mary: One more thing that Google wants us to do for them to make their product better?
Mike: Well, I don’t think a brand. I don’t know if you remember that old subtitle to Dr. Strangelove, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” basically, the same thing applies here. How I learned to stop worrying and love Google Q&A. Well, maybe not love it but, at least, live in it. It’s a reality. It is they’re big we’re little. It is the reality that Google is delivering on the table and your brand can be negatively impacted by this. So I think there’s huge benefits to engaging whether you want to or not. I don’t think there’s a choice.
But I think more than just reporting what we see, is a lot of local guides given that they’re very…they give very silly answers. I saw one question at a Walmart where one guide said, “Yes,” one guy said, “No,” and a third guide said, “Maybe.” Well, that seemed very helpful. And I think that the brand engaging in this conversation at the local level would speak well to the brand authority on this topic but also speak well to the fact that they care that consumers get the right answers. I think brands that engage with this will win in the sense of establishing themselves as trustworthy brands to have a conversation with. I think of if like reviews in 2008.
I was suggesting 2008, 2009, 2010, and you were, too, that brands engage their reviews. Very few did. They ignored it. I think the same issue here. They should engage. And I think that there’s a positive outcome if they engage and the rules of engagement are well thought out and planned and can happen at scale. I think that there’s a lot to be gained by having conversations around your location. And there’s a lot to be lost by not …
Mary: Right. I think that’s the key. Is that there’s a lot to be lost especially if you let this go a year or two before you realize the impact of it.
Mike: Correct. There’s a lot of research in the social media world, not a lot but a fair bit, that says that a negative social context online will lead new users coming in to behave negatively. And we can see this happening at Yelp, where Yelp encourages negative reviews by suppressing single star…first time reviewers, positive reviews, but letting first time review…negative reviews getting through. They created a general negative tone, and we see the decline of star ratings at Yelp over time whereas you see a more balanced view elsewhere where they don’t have that same thing. I think not reporting negative things that are in violation of Terms of Service will lead to a general negative tone around that location. And if you have enough locations with enough negative tones, I see it as brand detrimental to the brand of that company.
Mary: Yes. And sometimes these conversations, these inappropriate conversations, go on for a very, very, very long time. And it’s hard to imagine that the business is not aware of it and hasn’t done something about it.
Mike: To Google’s credit, recently, they did start alerting, by email, the owner and manager of the business account. But there’s no way to deal with these at scale. It’s strictly email. And so that’s still problematic. So that’s an issue. But Google is starting to report there’s no API yet, which is one of the reasons we built the tool int GetFiveStars so that agencies or internal in-house people could deal with multiple locations at scale with a dashboard, keep track of what they report and what they haven’t, which ones got removed, which ones havn’t, which ones they responded to, which ones they haven’t, those types of things. It can be done at scale, which I think is critical if you’ve got more than a few locations.
Mary: Yes. I think so too.
Mike: I mean the other thing, though, is that there’s really good intelligence available. I mean go back to this question about, is this store racist? Well, if I was at store at national level, I would swoop into that store and figure that question out, and make sure that people are trained so that this doesn’t ever become a question again. Hey, this question may or may not be removed from their knowledge panel. Historically, in the case of reviews, Google has not removed reviews that have mentioned racism as a cause. Google considers that not a violation of Terms of Service.
So I don’t think a discussion of racism would violate the Google Q&A Terms of Service. So the question is, what does the company do about it? I mean, if it occurs at more than one location, that maybe they have a bigger problem. But could just be, they don’t have a well-trained staff. Or it could be that actually racist employees in this location could very well be. I mean branch amuses as constructive criticism and swoop in and deal with the situation. So there’s a lot to be learned from it as well. I don’t know that it is a little wooly bully. It’s a little freeform. It’s like scary. And in that fear, your tendency is to ignore it. But I think it could be exciting and exhilarating and beneficial if you look at it as the public speaking their mind and you hearing it and engaging with them.
Mary: Right. It’s all about engagement. And if you can figure out the right way to do that, it’s going to benefit you. And with most Google stuff, I’d say with the exception of Google Plus, usually figuring out how to use it early on is going to help you in the long run.
Mike: Well, that’s a good summary here. As Mary noted, I did do an e-book. It’s available at http://ebook.getfivestars/q&a. You’ll find it in her blog. And I love interesting Q&As;. So if you find one, email it to me just so I can put it in my library of interesting Q&As;. Okay, we want you to share those with us at some point.
Mike: Some point I might, but anyways. All right. Thank you for joining. I think that’s everything there. You have any other questions?
Mary: No, I think that’s it.
Mike: All right.
Mary: Thank you.
Mike: Thanks for joining us.