Episode 4: Unclaimed Businesses

On quite a few places on Google Maps you will see a button ‘Claim this business’. What is meant with this? How does it work? And why should all businesses do it?



Jan Van Haver 0:05
Hello, and welcome to the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. It’s been about two weeks since I released the last episode – high time that we dive into it again. So here is episode number four. Today we will be talking about unclaimed businesses. What is exactly meant with this ‘claiming’? How does it work? And why should all businesses do this as soon as possible? This episode is recorded at the end of March 2019, and is therefore describing the situation as it is today. If you listen to this episode, at a later point in time, things might obviously have changed.

Vanessa P. 0:49
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 0:51
If you open the page, on Google Maps, with the details of a ‘point of interest’ (a place on the map), sometimes right under the ‘Suggest an edit’ – that’s probably something you are familiar with: this link where you can click to suggest an edit – well, right underneath you sometimes see ‘Claim this business’. Unfortunately, you see this in quite a lot of cases. And I personally see it as a core task of local guides to help local businesses understand the importance of this. Today’s episode contains a lot of info, therefore, that is really meant for business owners. But local guides should definitely be aware of that, to first understand what is behind some of the functions of Google maps that you might already have seen or used yourself. And also, as I said, to be able to help local businesses.

Jan Van Haver 1:45
So what does ‘Claim this business’ mean exactly? What happens when you click this button? Well, in fact, you then start a process where the first step is that it takes you to the URL business.google.com. Actually, anyone can do this – start the process, I mean. But only the business owner can complete it successfully, because it usually includes sending a card by post, so a physical card by post with a six or eight (I don’t remember exactly the number of digits) code on it to the address listed for that business. So only people with access to the physical mailbox can complete the process, which is of course a good thing. And what you’re doing in this process is actually signing up for Google My Business which I mentioned already a few times in previous episodes.

Jan Van Haver 2:42
What is this Google My Business then? Well, it gives businesses control of the information about their business, on Google Maps of course, and this is crucial for the way the business will show up in search results. And for most local businesses, of course, the search results and especially the local search results are crucial. If you are a restaurant you want to show up high when somebody types in restaurant or dinner reservation in an area near you. Google My Business also allows you to make all the ‘Point of Interest’ changes that local guides can make. But of course, because they are entered by a source that Google obviously trusts, the business owner, there’s no risk of them going pending, they will be applied of course. Plus, you can do some more things: you can add as business owner up to nine categories for different activities. As you might remember from episode 2, the episode about categories, local guides can only work on the main category. And the example I gave there was for a Chinese restaurant where the local guide has to choose between Chinese restaurant as category or Chinese takeaway restaurant, the business owner can just say okay, I’m a Chinese restaurant at as additional category I add Chinese takeaway restaurant.

Jan Van Haver 4:05
Another thing that the business owner can do in the Google My Business is enter special opening hours, for example on bank holidays. Local Guides could also do this partially because they are limited to the next seven calendar days. For business owners there’s no such limitation. And then another thing you might remember from episode 2: local business owner can also enter category related features like, for example, the check-in or check-out times, if you have a hotel or a bed & breakfast, or the menu for a restaurant. Another nice thing is that these Google My Business program also brings insights for the business owner, for example, which search terms were used to find your business, per week, per month, per quarter – you can see this in very nice lists. What kind of actions did your customers or potential customers do? Did they just visit the website? Did they request directions and stuff like that?

Jan Van Haver 5:14
The photo views: you can also see how many times your photos have been viewed. And also compare this to other businesses like you. Are your photos being viewed more or less than theirs? You can even check how many photos have been uploaded by customers of yours and compare this to businesses like you. So it’s really a bit of Google Analytics for your own business. By the way, before I forget, there’s one very important thing to mention to business owners and that is that Google My Business is completely free. The reason for this is of course that is also the control center for advertising on Google and the Google platform. And obviously, Google is providing all this information, all these services, to hopefully convince business owners to start advertising on Google.

Jan Van Haver 6:13
Another important aspect of the Google My Business program is the possibility to check ratings and reviews. You can see who left them, which Google Maps users, which local guides, and then also respond to them. And as local guides, you might already have experienced this: that you get a reply from the business owner to a review you wrote. Well, that’s due to this aspect of the Google My Business program. So that’s an important way of communicating and interacting between the businesses and the customers. But there’s other ways, for example Q&A, questions and answers. I’ll come back to that later in this episode. The businesses can also write posts to inform their customers, or potential customers about, for example, upcoming events.

Jan Van Haver 7:04
And this is very important for one of the relatively new features in Google Maps, which is the possibility for users of Google Maps to follow businesses. You might have noticed already on the point of interest page, there is now a button that says follow. Well, if you click that you start following the business. And this means that all the posts that are published by this business will pop up in the tab ‘For you’ on the Google Maps app.

Jan Van Haver 7:34
Another new feature that business owners specifically need to activate within the Google My Business interface is messaging. If this is done, when opening in Google Maps the point of interest page, there is a button that says ‘Contact’ next to the buttons where you can for example, find directions to the business or the button to call the business. Well if the messaging is activated for that business, there will also be a button ‘Contact’. As a Google Maps user, you can use this to just send a short message to the business owner. And those messages will then show up in the section called ‘Messages’ of the menu of your Google Maps app – where you find ‘Your places’, ‘Your timeline’, ‘Your contributions’, there’s now also ‘Messages’. And if a business has replied to a question you asked, it will pop up there, which is great, of course, for real-time direct interaction between businesses and customers. Unfortunately, this is not very well known yet. So I really hope that more and more businesses get to sign up for Google My Business and activate this messaging functionality.

Jan Van Haver 8:51
Google My Business also gives control over photos. You might have seen already for a lot of places on Google Maps that sometimes you can see separate tabs: the photos by the owner or by the customers. Well, that’s controlled here. Also in Google My Business, you can specify separate categories for the photos like ‘interior’, ‘exterior’, ‘food and drink’, ‘common rooms’ – for example a breakfast area in a hotel. Even photos of the team can be uploaded there. And there’s also one photo you can specify as being the cover photo, and one you can specify as the logo photo, which comes in very handy if you do not have a website yet, because the Google My Business program also lets you create a website with a few easy clicks, using of course all those pictures and the information you have uploaded there.

Jan Van Haver 9:50
Finally, just for the sake of being complete, I can add that the Google My Business program also has a section where you can do some maintenance, like decide which users can edit the info of your profile – which can of course also be an external agency. That’s up to you as business owner to create extra users. And if you have more than one business or more than one location, you can add locations and you can manage those locations. All of that you can do in the browser once you have claimed your business. But there’s also a mobile app simply called Google My Business. There, you can do most of this stuff as well. In the browser, it’s sometimes a bit more convenient. But the app is also needed. It’s very important for this messaging function I talked about earlier. The browser version only allows the business owner to activate it, but the app is needed to read incoming messages and reply to them. And there in the app, you can also set a kind of automatic greeting, for example: “How may we help you?” So, it’s standard text sent to anybody who is sending a message to you as a business.

Jan Van Haver 11:03
Something I want to mention briefly here is a peculiar behavior I see with chains. So chaines of stores – one central chain headquarters with, say, 50 or 100 stores. Often those are claimed, but they’re not taking advantage of the Google My Business Program at the shop level, especially when it comes to direct communication with the customers. It’s probably done by the marketing department at the headquarters, right? Or perhaps possibly even the legal departments. Not going to go into comment on that, but usually, that’s not very helpful to make things user-friendly. But they don’t understand the full potential of these communication with the customers, especially when it comes to the Q&A section, the questions and answers, I mentioned it before. So now we’re going to dig in a bit deeper into that.

Jan Van Haver 11:57
All users of Google Maps can ask questions about businesses. Those are then sent to the business owner and also to local guides who reviewed that place or added pictures there. Perhaps you have received already some pop ups yourself that there is a question that you might be able to answer as local guide. If you provide an answer as the business owner – if you have claimed your business – then this will also be clearly marked that the answer is coming from the business owner, so that’s also really a added value. However, in the current reality, most questions are answered by local guides like yourself. There are, however, a few big problems with these questions and answers. The first one is that Google Maps users often think it’s questions TO businesses, not ABOUT businesses. The result is then: questions being asked that are answerable only by the business owner. For example: “Is article X or Y currently available in your shop?” Obviously, if your business is not claimed, you won’t see it, you won’t be able to answer it. Which is, of course, quite negative as impact it might have on your business.

Jan Van Haver 13:15
The second problem, which is even more serious, in my view is that Google Maps users often do not realize that these questions and answers are public. Every user of Google Maps can read the questions that you enter there. And that’s really bad because a lot, well not a lot, some of these questions contain quite confidential information. Let me give some examples. I’ve seen a question where a lady was asking to a theater if there were still tickets available for next week’s weekend show because she wanted to surprise some friends of hers. Well, obviously, if some of those friends are also using Google Maps, the surprise might have been spoiled already. Okay, that’s quite harmless. But there are others. Like, for example, the one I saw from the person asking if he could open a bank account and just said, together with his name – if you ask a question, the name of the user is also there – “Yeah, I get approximately €1600 on my bank account every month”. So with that data, he wanted to open a bank account. I don’t think that person was aware it was public. And if he would be aware, he would not be publishing that kind of information, of course. Some of the questions I’ve seen, even contain health related information; that’s definitely something that should not be available on a public forum like the questions on Google Maps.

Jan Van Haver 14:47
A third problem is that the questions and answers, the Q&A section is only available on Android, which is probably one of the main reasons why a lot of chains that I mentioned before, or agencies, or even business owners do not even see the questions a lot of the times. And thereby also do not have a chance to reply to them, which probably leads, from business owner perspective, to customers (or potential customers) asking a question to what they think is you as business owner, and not getting any reply at all. You can imagine what kind of effect that has on the image your business might have for those people. But also, for regular users of Google Maps only Android gives the full experience because, and this is a literal quote: “When your question is answered, you’ll get a notification if you have an Android device”. That is especially important if you realize that the Q&A section is not available on the desktop browser version of Google Maps, but it is around if you do a regular search on Google. Just go to google. com and type in “Ben’s bakery”, then in the search results, in the top right corner, you will see a kind of maps preview where they have found Ben’s bakery. And there you have a link to ask a question. But again, as I mentioned, it’s only if you have an Android device that you will see the answer in the Android version. A bit weird, but that’s the way it is. I have no indication, no idea if and when this will be available on iOS or in the Google Maps desktop version. Anyway, on Android it’s already available since the summer of 2017.

Jan Van Haver 16:40
So what do I often do? What is my solution? If I get a pop up, saying there is a question from a Google Maps user where I cannot give the answer because it’s not about the business, but to the business, or because it has personal information, and so on, I’ve created a kind of standard text to explain this. And I go to the point of interest page, copy the telephone number, paste this in my standard text and then upload this version of the text with the telephone number and ask the user of Google Maps to preferably call the business, and then upload this as the answer to this question.

Jan Van Haver 17:26
So in fact, only this Q&A section is already more than a reason for business owners to claim their businesses, as I mentioned. What impression do customers or potential customers get if they ask a question on maps, and this does not get answered even after two or three weeks. But another crucial reason, as mentioned before, is getting control over your data because if you have claimed the business, you can make sure that everything is entered correctly, and that it cannot be changed by, for example, local guides who might accidentally make a mistake because they don’t know know the rules yet. But there are worse scenarios. You also have spammers who make errors on purpose. You have people hijacking places, or even competitors. Think about that. What about your competitor around the corner? He might change the phone number for your point of interest into his phone number, so that people looking up your place on Google Maps might find your place, call the telephone number and end up at his place! Not the best of scenarios, if you ask me.

Jan Van Haver 18:41
As I mentioned at the start of the episode: in my view, local guides should also actively help to spread the word about claiming the businesses to local businesses, which are often just a one or two person operation without a lot of time or money to spend on marketing. So please do help your local community and local businesses to spread the word about the claiming and the Google My Business Program.

Vanessa P. 19:09
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 19:13
In what a great idea, I want to focus on one specific idea from Idea Exchange, the section on Local Guides Connect, the official platform for local guides, where you can submit suggestions to improve Google Maps or Local Guides Connect itself. Other local guides can then like (click the like button) to vote for those ideas. Some of those ideas really have been implemented already. And I’m really thrilled to say that one of the ideas that I proposed, was not implemented yet, but it got moved to the status ‘In progress’. It’s the idea to add a category called beverage store. I’m really thrilled – that is happened in the last week.

Jan Van Haver 20:00
The idea I want to focus on today is also related to the Q&A section that we talked about so much today. The idea is called “Q&A on Google Maps sorted chronologically”. The idea was submitted by iorikun301, a local guide from Indonesia. The problem now with these questions, and the sorting of it, is that to find the answer to a question, you often have to go back to the page of the point of interest. In my case, for example – what I was talking about with my default text I have prepared -, I have to go back to find the telephone number. And then you return to the question section and… where is the question again? There are hundreds of questions sometimes for a single point of interest. So it’s extremely difficult to then find back the question that you wanted to provide the answer to. The reason, which was explained in the comments to this particular idea by one of the Google moderators, is that the questions are sorted on popularity. So the one with the most likes will be on top. They’re not sorted on time, so when it was submitted, or the relevance. The example given here is that for a cinema, there was a question to the cinema about a popular movie. But the question dates from, say, a year ago, and the question was referring to a popular movie playing one week later after the question was asked. Because of the popular movie title, this question got 20 likes. So also one year later, when this movie is no longer playing, it still is on top of the list of the questions for this point of interest, which makes no real sense, of course.

Jan Van Haver 21:49
So the proposed solution here is to add sorting options to the Q&A section – that you could sort for example by date, that the most recent one would then be on top. So far, this proposal, this idea only has four votes. So please click on the link that I will provide in the shownotes and upvote this idea as well.

Jan Van Haver 22:14
Before wrapping up today’s episodes, I still want to mention that I am just a local guy like most of you, and I have no official affiliation to Google or the Google Local Guides program. Anything I say in this program, in this show, therefore, is also only my personal interpretation. And then finally, I want to draw once more your attention to the 2nd European Meetup that will take place in Belgium in the beautiful city of Ghent from the 7th until the 10th of June 2019. Up to now, participants from nine different countries have already signed up so please do me a favor, check out the post on Connect that I will link to in the shownotes, of course. Perhaps you can sign up representing your country and thereby making it 10 different countries. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Jan Van Haver 23:08
And that’s all I have for this fourth episode of the LetsGuide Podcast. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did in creating it. And by all means, do reach out to me to let me know what you found about it. Or if you have any questions, you can, for example, mail them to letsguide podcast@gmail.com or you can reach out to me on Twitter. You can find me there under LocalGuidesGuru. Or on Connect of course, Local Guides Connected, the official forum for local guides, there under my real name Jan Van Haver – and by the way, I’ve written a post there quite recently on how I became a podcaster. You might find that interesting. As always, the shownotes can be found on the letsguidepodcast.com, and I hope you will find one or two minutes to give a rating or write a review for the LetsGuide Podcast in your favorite podcasting app. I hope to find you back here in the audience in about two weeks time for episode 5, which will be about point of interest names.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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