It’s already hard to remember a time when a local SEO’s priorities included having to deal with Google My Business’ various support teams across email, phone, live chat, and social media.
Earlier this year, though, it was a different story. So, inspired by serious issues with incorrect recommendations, errant listing suspensions and very long wait times for reinstatements earlier this year, I sought to find out what the local search experts (many of whom are GMB Product Experts) really thought of the quality of Google My Business’ support, and compiled the following reactions from a long list of local SEO pros, including Joy Hawkins, Ben Fisher, Greg Gifford, Dan Leibson, Dana DiTomaso, and more.
I have it on good authority that the quality of support isn’t likely to magically improve once the virus clears, so let’s consider this the “wayback machine” of GMB support gripes, and just hope that the future doesn’t so clearly reflect the past.
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Incorrect or misleading information and advice
One very common response from almost all sides was around the issues with incorrect information being presented as fact. While experienced SEOs may be able to see through the misinformation, any local business owner looking for help from GMB support runs the risk of being told to do something that either won’t help with their problem at all or will actively damage their business’ visibility.
Ben Fisher (Steady Demand): Phone support is a gamble: if you get someone untrained, they will destroy you with the wrong information. On the other hand, if you get someone who has some sympathy, they will not only help you but follow up to make sure all went okay.
My tip for phone support is to listen to their voice and see if it’s clear that they’re talking from a script. Interrupt them and ask them: “How are you doing?”, “What time is it there?” If they stick to the script, tell them you need to run because of an emergency or something.
I do love live chat, but it is severely understaffed. The staff they have added in the last six months or seem to be the same staff, experience-wise, as phone support.
The worst cases of misinformation I have experienced are where support is telling a user to create a new listing because of the actions of a previous manager. This problem can be overcome, but it’s really difficult and usually requires the involvement of a GMB Product Expert.
Phil Rozek (Local Visibility System): We avoid and dread support at GMB like it’s the DMV. It can be good for simple requests, like moving reviews or redirecting a closed page, but I pretty much never contact support. My clients occasionally do, simply because that’s more efficient than my acting as a conduit, but that’s a big time-taker because it’s extremely tough to speak with a human at GMB.
When you do get through to someone, often there is a quasi-language barrier that leads to misunderstandings. Then there’s the conflicting advice: over the years, Google reps have claimed things like that keyword stuffing in the description helps rankings, call-tracking numbers aren’t allowed, and that clicks are a direct ranking factor.
I chalk that up to a lack of training, or a lack of clear SOPs from Google, or both. In any event, the time it takes to get help that may or may not help, and the confusion caused by well-meaning GMB support reps, often makes business owners wonder whether they’re too reliant on the “local map” and going about their local visibility all wrong.
Jason Brown (Sterling Sky): To say that the latest round of new hires is not properly trained is the understatement of the year. I know more about Google’s policies and procedures, and find myself having to train the support staff. It’s worse for the average user that doesn’t know any better.
We’re at Google’s mercy, and sadly, they don’t seem to care (at least, that’s the message that they’re conveying). I’ve had to point out countless flaws and issues when I contact support, and have had to contact another Google employee for assistance. The average user can’t do this, and so is left hanging.
Dana DiTomaso (Kick Point): The recommendations coming from official GMB support channels can definitely be misleading. For example, they have said that a listing was suspended because we updated the categories on the listing, yet egregious spam lives on.
There also seems to be a high number of suspended listings right now [this was in late February]: we have a client who has a suspended listing (one out of their several locations) with no reason given, and no response yet to our request for help.
Tom Waddington (tomwaddington.com): While I think GMB support wants to help users resolve their issues, I feel the overall priority, at least for a phone support agent, is to convince you that the issue is resolved or will be in a day or two, so that you leave positive feedback regarding your experience with them.
There is typically a survey you will be asked to complete at the end of a support call, but there have been times when my talk with support didn’t go well, the issue wasn’t resolved, and the call disconnected during the transfer to the survey.
GMB is a complex product and support agents aren’t going to have the training and experience to understand all issues. I think the desire for positive feedback along with genuinely wanting to help a user can lead to bad or incorrect advice from a support agent that is trying to placate the user.
Gyi Tsakalakis (AttorneySync): There seems to be a lot of inconsistency in the quality of support depending who happens to field your inquiry. Some of the GMB support folks seem knowledgeable about the platform and common issues, while others seem to lack even a basic understanding of GMB language and core concepts.
Tim Capper (Online Ownership): Getting some odd advice from business support can be frustrating to businesses as well as the community, especially when said advice is broadcasted publicly: because people think it’s from Google, it must be legitimate advice.
On the contrary, business support is basically a call centre, with set procedures for set issues. They’re not in direct contact with Google My Business product managers, and equally, no single Googler knows or understands what are exact ranking factors are.
I can only surmise (having listened to countless hours of recordings from account managers for GMB listings during compliance auditing), that call handlers who feel confident with the product will offer their own advice whether they think it may help or have heard other agents offer similar advice.
Some particularly troubling pieces of misinformation I’ve heard are:
- Adding keywords into your listings, shop code and labels will help your listing rank better (they won’t!)
- Deleting a suspended listing and starting again will solve the suspension issue (it won’t!)
- Edits made to your GMB listing will ‘reset’ the account’s authority (they won’t!)
- A ‘permanently closed’ listing will go away eventually (it might not -– I have a business still showing ‘permanently closed’ after 12yrs and three different businesses at location later!)
Greg Gifford (SearchLab): Every once in a while, I’ve gotten some bad help. We had an issue with a duplicate listing, and got it fixed, and then a month later GMB support finally replied to the initial request we’d put in… and then a month later they answered again.
We’ve also seen the Twitter team send out a few questionable tweets, like saying that keywords in the description help in ranking. Some are more helpful than others, and i think that sometimes they just answer ‘off the cuff’ and don’t realize it’s bad information.
Colan Nielsen (Sterling Sky): Users need to exercise caution when taking advice from GMB support. I’ve actually written a piece detailing the questionable advice I’ve heard.
Dan Leibson (Local Search Guide): I think their support channels suck. I think there is no meaningful way to report systemic, broken things. Everything is treated like you want the secrets to their system or are trying to game the system when you just want them to fix their broken stuff.
Advertisers get no benefit regardless of spending a ton on ads, despite the fact that they are disproportionately affected by these problems and are more trustworthy sources of reporting.
Speed and efficiency issues
Another commonly-raised issue was the speed efficiency of advice. When your GMB listing is suspended you’re likely to be losing a lot of money every day, and from my chats with the local search community, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
(It should obviously be noted that as of right now, Google has advised that GMB support is going to be slower than ever while they prioritise certain actions related to Covid-19, and social support has been entirely switched off.)
Phil Rozek (Local Visibility System): I had a years-long saga of trying to get Google to remove the “Dentist” category from my Local Visibility System GMB page. Why was it there? Well, as a local SEO, I tinker all the time, often using my own GMB page as a lab chimp.
In one experiment I changed the primary category to ‘Dentist,’ but I couldn’t change it back. I I contacted them through Twitter and email, and while the reps were helpful, after some back-and-forth they were stumped, and apparently kicked up the question to a supervisor. I never heard back. (In Google’s defence, I didn’t attempt to call them, but that’s because I didn’t have a business day to spare!)
Gyi Tsakalakis (AttorneySync): GMB issues can have significant consequences for local businesses. When a listing is suspended, it can be really frustrating to get a response like:
Tim Capper (Online Ownership): Support channels all vary in efficiency, especially when there has been a large swath of suspensions. When these happen (and they’re happening more and more), support grinds to a halt. Last year we had an unprecedented 6-week delay in getting reinstatements getting looked at.
I’ve personally found Twitter support to have become swamped as it has become more popular and delays are occurring. You also have to DM details of the issue, which isn’t ideal when it’s a nuanced issue.
Ben Fisher (Steady Demand): According to those whom I talk to at Google, 90% of accounts have only one listing in them. This infers that the majority of listings that are on maps are single users with a single account. In other words, most of them are ‘mom and pop’-type businesses.
So, therefore, GMB builds things that address single account holders the most. Makes sense that support would acknowledge this, right? Heck, no! Have you ever tried to get a reinstatement completed? You get back this email telling you that they need more information, or they are not compliant, or there is a problem with the… whatever.
In the example below, they didn’t tell me the name of the business and supplied a generic response when I asked for it.
However, if you go elsewhere and submit a contact form, you get back this beautiful template that tells you the business name and address!
Claire Carlile (Claire Carlile Marketing): Personally, when I have an issue, I usually turn to Twitter DMs, but the support I’ve received there has been variable in terms of quality and timeliness.
It is frustrating to send a DM about a problem and then have to wait weeks to get an answer. By the time you get it, you’ve usually found a solution or the problem is no longer a problem!
Personally, I turn to an internal network of fellow GMB aficionados, and the forum, for insight. I just can’t wait two or three weeks for an answer from Twitter support. Also, if you have multiple questions about multiple accounts, it’s very hard to manage responses there.
It’s not all bad, though!
At the time, given the severe slowdown in GMB support responses, the misinformation being shared, and the backup in suspension investigations, I was fully prepared for an onslaught of rage towards the GMB support team. And while I did indeed get that in some quarters, I was really pleasantly surprised by the positive stories, understanding and empathy shown elsewhere.
Joy Hawkins (Sterling Sky): Bad advice is normally given out when users expect Google support to be able to answer questions about ranking tactics, like in this example.
Google My Business support is generally good at fixing issues with listings but there is a limit to what they’re able to do when technical issues and bugs are frequently a problem with the platform. If you’ve been told something by GMB support that you think is incorrect, it’s always fine to get a second opinion by posting on the GMB forum.
Greg Gifford (SearchLab): The support team is trying, but so often they’re completely overwhelmed by the volume of support requests that things don’t work out so well. Overall, I’ve had great experiences. You just have to wait a bit for your reply or solution.
Gyi Tsakalakis (AttorneySync): I’m really empathetic to folks working the GMB support channels. They’re regularly inundated with issues from all directions.
From my vantage point, Google just doesn’t allocate the resources needed to appropriately support GMB. That being said, they’ve definitely moved in the right direction. It wasn’t that long ago that support requests simply went unanswered into the Google abyss.
I’m extremely grateful for the ability to have some means to escalate issues. For example, in dealing with a particularly troublesome law firm listing suspension issue late last year, I got a response within thirty minutes that led to a rapid reinstatement:
Tim Capper (Online Ownership): I really like the original ‘contact support’ form. You can give a pretty detailed report on the issue, then when you get the reply email, you can reply with additional screenshots to help the agent.
By providing the agent with all the details at once in the form, I normally get the issue resolved within 24hrs, with no ‘back-and-forth’ required.
Claire Carlile (Claire Carlile Marketing): My main point would be that, however frustrated one might be with lack of advice, quality of advice, or speed of advice, we need to remember that GMB is staffed by human beings who are doing their best given whatever resources or internal guidelines they have or do not have.
My tips would be to always be polite, not to be snarky, and to always thank people for their time – whether it’s Max, Flip, Brad, Liz, Mark, Dany, Zach, Matt, Tori or Jenny!
Colan Nielsen (Sterling Sky): Over the years, GMB support has evolved from being virtually non-existent to something that has become very useful for solving most types of GMB issues. Looking at the evolution of the ways that you can contact GMB support alone is a testament to the attention that the GMB product is getting and the progress that they have made.
The future of Google My Business support
While it’s hard for me, here in the spring of 2020, when nothing is as it should be or as any of us would have expected it to be, to summarise the current status of Google My Business support, I do have some closing thoughts on its future courtesy of some of those I spoke to.
Gyi Tsakalakis (AttorneySync): While I’m not very optimistic that it will happen, I’d like to see Google take more accountability for addressing GMB issues and providing support. Like other support contexts, it’s neither fair nor productive to attack the front-line support people.
Instead, I’d suggest putting more pressure on Google to take Google My Business issues more seriously by allocating the necessary resources to properly support and address these issues. Lack of support is harmful to both businesses and their customers.
Andrew Shotland (Local SEO Guide): As is often the case with Google services, the scale of the problem must be in a way overwhelming. And while Google has been making incremental progress, it still feels like a drop in the bucket.
There has been a lot of speculation over the past year that Google is going to roll out a paid GMB service. While we all cringe at Google taking even more money from our collective pockets, if a pay model allows it to more effectively address some of the glaring problems with GMB, I imagine the majority of local businesses and agencies would hold their noses and willingly pay it.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.