Video Deep Dive: Google’s Q&A – Questions and Answers examined
Mike Blumenthal


This is our Deep Dive Into Local from January 15th, 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 “Deep Dive in Local” with Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling. This week, we’re going to talk about Google’s Questions and Answers feature that first started appearing on the knowledge panel, mobile-only last August. Last month, it was released to the full desktop. And working at GetFiveStars, of which I’m a principal, I’ve been working for the last three months on building a product to help agencies and brands deal with questions and answers. And so, as part of that, I’ve been doing a fair bit of research about questions and answers.

Mary: yes, and I wonder really how many agencies are looking at the questions and answers that their clients are getting, because this is something that we should all be doing.

Mike: We should all be doing it. The problem is it’s very difficult because Google doesn’t have a great alert system. The only alerting they’re currently doing is if you’re logged into your client’s GMB on your android and you’re logged into Google Maps with the same login, you might get some notifications there. But if you’ve got multiple clients and multiple GMB accounts, there is no current way to monitor them. Which is why GetFiveStars stepped into that breach. We’ve built a monitoring product that sends out alerts when we find new questions, or find new answers, or if a question has been removed, we can help you understand that. And we created a dashboard so an agency can do this at scale. One of the difficult things is making it efficient right now because you’ve got to literally sit at a desktop and go out to multiple locations to see what’s happening.

Mary: yes, it’s extremely hard to monitor. I would expect that if Google decides that this is a feature that they want to keep, and it seems like they’re going to, that they’re going to have to come up with some better monitoring system.

Mike: yes, like all Google products, typically it starts out in one little corner, and then if it’s broadly accepted within Google then it moves into others. So we do anticipate an API and/or better notifications going forward. When that happens, GetFiveStars will switch over to their API. But for now, I don’t think there are any other solutions on the market to monitor these things at scale. So…

Mary: yes, I don’t either. Or, monitoring it for quite a few, dozens and dozens of multiple clients.

Mike: Exactly. I mean, One of the questions that I got when I was showing this to some beta testers was, “Well, how common is it in our industry?” And one of the ways I would show that is go directly into the local finder…say I do a search, say “Carpet Chicago”, and from there, go into the local finder. And then in local finder, just click through.

And what I found was, a much higher penetration than I thought. So I actually did a penetration study with a number of verticals, and I looked at six verticals. Looked at car dealers, employment agents, dental practices, fast casual restaurants, insurance service, like plumbers and such. And we saw a big difference. And then we looked at Big Box retail. So we looked at seven. In each of those, we had at least 150, often as many as 500 locations to look at.

And we found a big difference on a category basis. Car dealers had 30%, dentists had 14%, plumbers and electricians had 1%. Surprisingly to me, big brands like Home Depot and Target had almost 90% of all of their locations had questions on their knowledge panel already.

Mary: That is very interesting, and it kind of points out how big brands need to make sure that people are seeing the right…one of their business locations when they search, that it’s the one closest to them or they’re going to end up asking questions of the wrong location.

Mike: Right. So on average, 25% of every location we looked at already had a question on it. The other interesting tidbit was once a question is there, it’s more likely to get more questions. So the average questions per location came out to 2.5 or something. So it’s one of these things that seems to engender more questions once you have one.

Mary: yes. And I have an Android phone and I’m logged in all the time. And I get, kind of, passive type notifications that somebody got a review. Because I’m a local guide, I get, “You’ve been to this location. Can you answer this question?” one of the things…

Mike: So, I have a question about that feature. I’ve seen it too. Does it require that you have reviewed that business, or could you have just uploaded a photo? Or could you have just have asked and answered an ad…, one of these attribute questions?

Mary: I think that I’m mostly getting them for businesses that I have reviewed. And then I’m getting a lot of questions. Like, just about every time anybody has a question about that business, I get the question. But I’m finding that a lot of the local guides are not really stepping up, they’re saying stupid things, they’re not answering questions.

Mike: yes, I just found an Advantage Car Rental where somebody asked a question, “Why does this location run out of cars?” And the local guide says…his answer was, “Avoid this location at all cost,” right? The kind of question a business dreads, kind of answer a business dreads.

Mary: That was no explanation.

Mike: No explanation. Right?

Mary: yes. I mean, at least give us an explanation if you’re going to trash a business.

Mike: Well, this is the reason I think that businesses or agencies on their behalf have to get out in front of this in a number of ways. And one of which is responding to questions as the authoritative answer, so at least one of the answers is correct. “Does Barbara Oliver …, do you custom jewelry?” Well, the answer isn’t yes.

The answer is, “Yes, and we work with you in such and such a way. This is kind of time frame to delivery, and we give you the drawing first, and then we give you a physical mock-up, and then we actually do it.” And so the question is more nuanced…the answer is more nuanced than yes or no, I think. And I think the business needs to be out there. But, if you don’t know that you have questions, how do you get out there, right? You’ve got to do monitoring.

Mary: And you can report questions. And there’s a real catch-all reason for reporting a question, that it’s off topic. But it’s kind of hard to tell what they’re going to consider being off-topic or not. But I would definitely recommend that you try reporting questions that are not appropriate in one way or another.

Mike: Yes. Joy wrote about the new guidelines for all maps and user-generated content that was released last month. It applies to reviews and photos and Google Q&A. And many of the similar terms are there that were relevant to reviews: “deliberately fake content,” “off topic,” “defamatory language,” “personal attacks,” those sorts of things.

One of the things that…and Google then when you report them, and we have a function in our new package that allows you to get there really quickly and easily to the reporting location, but Google gives you I think six reasons for reporting off topic, no longer applies, it’s advertising or spam, hate or violent or inappropriate, incorrect information, and something else.

What we have found is that, right now anyways, that moderation is very quick. We’re seeing anywhere from a day to two to take down inappropriate questions or inappropriate answers, which is nice. Although, my suspicion is that once they train the AI machine learning to Know what a good question or a bad question is, or to know what a good question or answer is, that the machine will not be running in real time. And I think that they will also outsource some of that to India. I think when that happens, response time for moderation will drop. But right now, it’s quite quick.

And I think it’s important that a business stay out, engaged in those to keep the context positive. I also think it’s important that a business sit down with …I think, an agency should sit down with a business and help them craft the questions that they want to ask that really do facilitate the customer journey at the knowledge panel. And my other research indicates that 70% of all consumers stop at the knowledge panel and make a decision.

Well, if that’s the case, then you want to be sure that the questions you’re asking there make that decision easier to be made. And that may be excluding some people who are calling you only to find out you don’t do what they want. I mean, it’s actually more efficient for you to have good questions out there that limit them in some way or encourage them in some way. So in all of this, I think it’s very fertile ground for an agency.

Mary: Right. So the things that people are asking about on your Q&A can be good information that you should be putting on your website and vice versa. Good information you have on your website should probably be showing up in that Q&A.

Mike: Another interesting piece of research that I did was I went into the dental segment, and I looked at detail as how these questions broke out. And I categorized them into five or six categories. In the case of dental, it was, “What policies do you accept?” was a big category. “Do you offer this service? If so, how much?” was another big category. And basic business questions like, “What’s your fax number?” “What’s your email address?” “Do you speak Spanish?” Those constitutes 77% of all questions. Totally legitimate questions.

But another 23% were such that they were violations in the terms of service. Six percent were totally irrelevant, couldn’t understand what the question was about, gibberish. Six percent were people in the dentist industry and it was thinking that this was a real-time communication platform and being annoyed that the dentists weren’t getting back to them because they had an aching tooth and they need an appointment. So in that situation, if you’re getting those kinds of questions you might want to think about turning on Google’s messaging functionality.

And then 11% were reputation questions, mostly negative. And it’s absolutely critical that you understand that Google Q&A isn’t just a way to facilitate a customer journey, it’s a way to stop a customer journey if that sort of critical content, which is often times inappropriately formulated, is left to stand. So I think it’s critical that agencies and businesses stay on top of those things in a proactive way.

Mary: Right. And given the problems that Google had moderating, successfully moderating, the crowdsourcing on maps, do you think they’re going to be very successful with this, or do you think we’re just going to end up with this huge mess again? Put you on the spot, huh?

Mike: Google loves big data. They love artificial intelligence and machine learning. The problem with big data and artificial intelligence and machine learning is it handles the 90%, 95% correctly. It’s the edge cases that don’t handle correctly. And Google typically has not moderated those edge cases with any sorts of ongoing investment in humans. And I think that’s critical. And I think we will see here the same failings we see in their review corpus moderation, where frequently bad actors successfully game the system.

We’re seeing some gaming already in Google Q&A and are not taken down without active engagement of an agency or the business in terms of reporting. And then even when they get reported, often times Google doesn’t see the big picture or the broader view. So I do see that there will be problems. All the more reason for agencies to look at this process and engage and help the customer, the end user at the business location, deal with it. Or brand manager, it’s the same thing. I think Google has spent a lot of time over the last couple of years stealing website traffic, keeping them at the knowledge panel or the local search result.

And I think it’s absolutely critical for you to protect yourself there and to enhance yourself there. And I think Google Q&A, currently anyways, is a big part of that. I saw one of the questions at a big box retailer in Denver is, “Who other has found this location to be racist?” Doesn’t take many votes for that question to pop up on your knowledge panel. It’s sort of a social media faux pas by Delta or United, certainly would hurt their brand immediately.

Here though… as it goes viral across the country. Here though, it’s sort of death by a thousand cuts. I mean, how many of those kinds of questions can a brand sustain in a local context before it adds up to serious long-haul brand damage? It’s a worry. It should be a worry to people.

Mary: yes. And I think it’s also worrisome that Google hasn’t made it very clear what’s Q&A and what Q&A is supposed to be for, and what chat…what’s chat and what is chat supposed to be for? When you go to the local knowledge panel and it says, “Do you want to ask a question?” , if your question was, “Can I get an appointment?” That’s your question. Even if that’s not what Google had in mind.

Mike: Correct. Now interestingly, when I started analyzing Big Box stores, and I’ve expanded my research there, the questions are both…they’re lower percentage of terms of service violation, and a higher percentage of product and certain legitimate product and service question. So it’s, in that context, it does seem to be at least weighted in favor of rational behavior. I’m not sure it’s always the case. And certainly, we saw some brand threatening questions there as well.

But the problems, both the frequency in Big Box, as we saw in the case of Home Depot and Target, almost 90% of all locations with questions. So frequency there is quite a bit higher, but also we saw better…generally a better quality of questions. Although again, local guides often did not take the time to answer them correctly. They would say, “Oh, call the location and ask.” That’s not answer.

Mary: Right.

Mike: Right? yes. So I put together, just as a note and maybe in closing, this idea of a framework for a business or an agency or a brand manager. You plan, you post, you monitor, you respond, you report, and then you rinse and repeat. So by that I mean you plan out the questions that you want to put at your location, to highlight and facilitate…to highlight your location and facilitate the customer journey.

You will post them yourself. You post the questions in the consumer voice, you log in as the business, you post them, you monitor. If you’re single location, get an android, hook it up to your account. If you’re multiple locations, look at GetFiveStars or some other way of monitoring. Respond in the voice of business with authoritative answers so that these sort of yes and no question get overwhelmed with correct detailed questions. And the ones that are bad, you report them and monitor your reporting. And then start that over, rinse and repeat. It’s an ongoing process. I think it’s a great opportunity for agencies to have a new billable service.

Mary: So do you…would you see this, , monitoring and responding to Q&A falling under the realm of social media managers in a big brand? Or where would you see that lying?

Mike: It’s a great question. It’s, sort of closer to social media than it is to reviews. But it sort of bridges that gap. So whoever is handling reviews, whoever is handling social media, one or the other have to…need to dive into this. Or both, because there are reputation issues, there are social questions. I think… and it needs to start with effective monitoring, but I think you need a plan for reporting and putting your own content out there as well. So I think generally, since it would involve some content, either cooperation between the reputations folks and social folks, or it falls on the social folks’ lap.

Mary: And I think that one of the things that has to happen is that those social folks have to be willing to go find the correct answer and respond to it if they don’t know what it is. I mean, I get so sick of the social people on Twitter….. their answer is, “Ask customer service.” It’s like thank you very much, ? Why do you exist?

Mike: Right. Well, it just points to the need for…we’ve seen this before, you and I in our consulting, where there isn’t a lot of integration in these companies. And I think that there needs to be. That perhaps, in this case, customer service and social and review groups need to cooperate, because it bridges all of those things.

Mary: And in some cases, they need to have some people with some technical expertise about their niche…

Mike: Right, exactly.

Mary: …as a resource to help these folks out.

Mike: Right. Because in this case, the questions are going to hang out there for a long time, and I think that you want authoritative answers. I get frequently asked, “Is Google using this as a data source to rank us?” Well, Google is a data company. So if they can figure out how to separate the noise from the signal in this, then yes. I do think that they will look at it. I don’t think it’s a place where manipulation is going to go very far.

I think to me the goal is to make the customer journey easier, more successful, and to not tarnish the reputation of the company. And so, I think you want to do this with the customer in mind, like you just pointed out. Answer the real questions, ask the real questions, and make sure they get answered properly because they’re going to stay out there for a long time.

Mary: And I think from Google’s point of view, and then when you think about ranking, we’re thinking more about relevance. , which ones of these long tail things are you relevant for?

Mike: Exactly.

Mary: And having the right questions and answers is going to help you rank for more relevant things.

Mike: I think we’re pretty well covered it. With that, we will say goodbye and see you next week. Take care. Thanks, again, Mary. Thanks for joining me.

Mary: Thank you. Bye-bye.

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