If you have a business that serves a local community and have recently discovered that it is no longer visible in Google search results, then I have good news and bad news for you. First, the good news; the problem is likely a glitch in Google’s own search algorithm. The bad news; Google wants you to deal with it yourself.
I’ve been consulting with SMBs (small to medium sized businesses) for several years now and have been a big fan of Google products that help promote businesses on the Web. Lately there have been a lot of changes to the Google search platform that have been quite good, in my opinion, as they have cleaned out a lot of spam from search results. It is becoming increasingly difficult for black hatters to game the system. This is good news, even if a few legitimate businesses get inadvertently penalized.
What isn’t so good is Google’s negligence in fixing problems which they have caused. Many business owners have discovered that their listing in local search results has suddenly vanished. Google provides no explanation or recourse, unless the business owner weaves through Google’s maze of support options to submit a ticket. After a few days, the business owner will receive an email that outlines a couple of steps. First, make sure the business complies with all Google Quality Guidelines. Second, go to the ambiguous platform called Mapmaker to make sure the business isn’t marked to be removed. Of course, there is no indication in Mapmaker that would indicate that a business listing is marked to be removed. Finally, even after having done all that, you may have to delete your listing and start all over again anyway.
In other words, “Sorry we screwed up your listing, but you’ll have to go through the process all over again and all those reviews you’ve worked so hard to accumulate over the years, yeah, you’ll have to get new ones because those will get deleted as well.”
Or is Google’s real message a little more sinister? “If all that proves to be too much work, you can just forget about your free local business listing and advertise with us instead.”
What a brilliant marketing move! Having grown dependent on Google search results and having no idea how to fix the problems with their local listing, business owners will now be forced to choose Adwords, Google’s paid advertising option if they want web visibility. It’s not just business owners, but consultants who have lots of business clients as well will choose to put their clients into Adwords’ campaigns. Google is cashing in! It’s a brilliant idea. Suck them in with a free listing, then find a way to make them pay. In fact with policies that shrewd and profit savvy, I may even become a stock holder.
Really, it’s time for other search platforms to step up. Bing is making a good go at it, but Yahoo is still full of too much spam. ASK.com is owned by Google and AOL just doesn’t have the juice anymore.
Bing is our best shot, but so far Google still owns roughly 65% of the US internet search market. This has to change. As an online business consultant, I find myself searching more and more for alternatives to Google.
Is it really a brilliant move to “force” business owners into paid search advertising? Maybe in the short term, but most of the consultants I know represent thousands of SMBs. They’re not happy. Many of them feel betrayed and even abused by Google’s negligence and indifference. And that can’t be good for long-term sustainability.