If you own a local business and get a phone call from a rep identifying himself as contacting you from Google (even if the call is coming from India), don't make the mistake of assuming it's yet another annoying phone scam. Mike Blumenthal has just reported confirmation from Google that these phone calls are legitimate and are part of Google's 2010 effort to clean up local business data quality. This unexpected new move from Google has three interesting aspects to it worth pointing out.

The Good
I fully support any efforts Google makes to clean up spammy issues in Google Maps and Place Pages. This latest phone call program apparently stems from a new policy of verifying community edits made to business listings. So, if someone tries to make an edit to your business listing, you may get a call from Google asking whether the edit that's been suggested is an accurate one. Frankly, considering the great silence that has historically surrounded Google Maps, I was amazed to hear of Google reps calling business owners. This is really something new.

This program may help prevent negative competitive editing and hijacking, to some extent, so that's the positive aspect of this activity.

The Bad
The Google phone reps are not allowed to give out any type of contact information or call back number to the local business owners whom they are phoning. There goes a sense of trust in the legitimacy of the phone call! If I hadn't read the news about this and a client phoned me saying they'd been contacted by a 'Google employee' who wanted their business data, I would tell the client this was likely a scam. Business owners are inundated with phishing and telemarketing calls. How many of them are going to trust that Google is really phoning them? It's really unfortunate that Google didn't come up with a more trustworthy way of implementing this program.

The Ugly
Saddest of all, one has to fear that real scammers will benefit from this scenario. Once business owners understand that Google might actually phone them, how easy would it be for the bad guys to pretend they are from Google (after all, they don't have to provide any type of ID, thanks to Google not requiring this of their own employees) and get access to unsuspecting business owners' data, Place Pages and more? The results of this could get ugly, indeed.

In Conclusion
It's pretty easy for business owners to learn that certain entities will never contact them for particular types of information. For example, online banking entities warn their clients that the bank will never send them an email requesting their account details. Paypal provides similar warnings. Business owners learn not to respond to suspicious emails, once they have been advised not to.

Now, here we have Google, whose reputation for silence has engendered the belief that no one would ever actually hear from them, suddenly phoning the public. It's great that they are making these calls, but I would exhort Eric Schmidt to consider putting some type of safeguard in place so that business owners can identify that these calls are truly coming from Google.

I would suggest that an email be sent out to the business owner, notifying them that a call will be coming in from a Google business rep within the next day, week, or something similar. This would enable the business owner to cross reference the email and the phone call, arriving at some semblance of validity. Of course, scammers could duplicate this process, but at least it would give the business owner something along the lines of a heads-up that a real Google rep needs to speak with them.

I don't know if Google is depending upon the element of surprise in these calls to see if a phone number is answered by a legitimate business, but we're really looking at a problem if the business owner is trying to hide details from Google while Google is trying to hide details from the business owner. It starts to look like a strange boxing match, doesn't it?

It will be very interesting to start hearing more anecdotes from SMBs who receive these calls as time goes by. If you run a local business, I'm glad you are reading this article; per usual, Google hasn't done much to educate their public regarding this new policy. At least, having read this, you will know that a call from Google may be the real thing. May I suggest that you use this unprecedented opportunity to ask some of your most burning questions about Maps and Places? The chance may not come again.


August 3, 2010





Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.






Comments(19)

Miriam -

Thanks for the great explanation about why local businesses will be amazed and confused with this new call program.

With so many telemarketer calls asking to verify our name and address, I'm sure I'm not the only small biz owner wondering if I've hung up on Google. Now our whole staff will feel compelled to hear them all out. Great. Not.

P.S. When I grow up, I want to write like you. :)

Well put, Miriam....and I like the email verification idea too....that at least would let clients know that the person doing the calling IS from Google, eh!

So far up here in canuckland, not a single call to any of our two doz clients....so we await rollouts up here still...

:-)

Jim

Whether it's from India or Indiana, a caller will have to convince me of the legitmacy of their phone inquiry - in other words, why do they want this information? Or else I will politely decline to participate.

Hi Miriam!
Good post!
I think that the real bad thing is other than the fact that scammers can call & try to hijack one's listings, scammers can 'confirm' fake details when Google call them, unfortunaely it's as easy as pie...

If Google really wants to fight spam & scam, the best thing to do is to be in fully cooperation with credible & accredited associatons who can easiy confirm the validity of a businss.

Abby.

Hi Cathy!
What a treat to hear from you, and you made my day with your nice compliment.

Yes, this is really going to be a problem for any business like yours. You'll have to tell your employees about it, they'll actually have to remember you told them about it and then it's going to be up to whomever answers your phone to make a judgment about whether the caller is really from Google or not. Not the headache you needed, I'm sure.

Thanks for stopping by!
Miriam

Hi Jim,
So nice to see you here. Yes, why is it that Canada almost always gets delayed treatment with everything related to Local? I'd sure like to know. I love Canada - you've got the coolest flag, maple syrup, nice people and are the home of my very favorite rock band in the world: Rush! You folks deserve better.

However, considering the negative aspects of this new campaign, perhaps this is one time when it might be easier to be left out :)

Thanks for stopping by!
Miriam

Does Sergio Leone's family get royalty from EVERY person that uses his movie title in every article that was written? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly- greatest spaghetti western ever!

Well Miriam. From my experience you need to provide Google supporting evidence that the data you provide is accurate by having the same address and phone information in various other business directories. The most important thing beyond that is getting more reviews on your Google Places listing than your competitors.

Thank you Miriam for the information! The only problem I see is how I would be sure that people from the other side is REALLY a Google guy?? Just because he said that? I don't think I like the idea...

hey Cathy!
thanks for your inform about that. actually, if i don't read your post here, i will deny all call like that.

On July 21 I got an email from someone at google suggesting a phone meeting to discuss ways to improve things. I thought it was a scam inititally but they quoted our account number so I replied. A phone meeting was arranged for the next day and the lady from google was very helpful, even suggeting ways to decrease costs. It's a shame, but very understandable, that we are always so wary of someone trying to help.

Thank you the info! i get many calls for my webisite , but the problem all asking for money , you never know is people are from google or just a ..........???
great subject.
Thanks again

Great info. I have done a lot of reporting to Google about local businesses that have gone out of business and it seems they never get removed. I think one great way to help small business owners who aren't as web savvy would be to create a account Manager level like the My Client Center in AdWords. I manage Local listings for several of my clients and do so with a email address they have control over since the listing is theirs not mine. This means I am constantly having to log into each account to make changes. I would much rather have access like in AdWords, perhaps even with a certification program like the AdWords Professional program. This way business owners could verify the identity and knowledge of the person who can help them the most if they are not web savvy, their online marketing consultant.

Wasn't it just last week someone published an article about how listening to the Google rep "ruined" his PPC campaigns? He got reimbursed (by Google, via coupons) but the lesson learned was that the Google person had little knowledge of Google's PPC beyond the basics, but represented an authoritative resource. Fool me once.

Now Google is using overseas call centers to cold call SMBs, without any means of verification? That's crazy. First, every scammer can now call SMBs pretending to be Google. Second, SMBs already don't trust Google in many ways. This will not fix that problem, and can make it worse.

The scariest part for marketing pros who are not Google employees, is what Google might do based on their cold calling. If the SMB thinks it's a scammer, and doesn't cooperate, what happens to the local listings/rankings? If an employee gives the wrong feedback to Google, can it be corrected by the MSB owner/manager?

The fact that Google gave up hope for SMB's verifying their listings and opening a proper communications channel is also foreboding. Google needs to accommodate agencies... this will not go well for them in the long run if they continue to plan on disintermediating the trusted SMB marketing representatives.

Google calling a little ole plumbing company in a region with fewer than 800,000 people? I can't think of any kind of verification that would keep me on the phone.

Hi Keith -
That sounds to me like you were speaking with an adwords rep, because you mentioned costs. Google does have Adwords reps. It's the fact that they are calling businesses about Local that is new and unusual.

Hi Alex -
Yes, that is a problem...differentiating these Google callers from typical telemarketers.

Hi Randall -
Yes, for now, it's just better to keep all the client accounts separate. In the long run, that's better for the client as you never know how long their relationship will last with a specific marketer. But, yes, it would be easier if there was some type of official webmaster account for Local SEOs, at least in the short term.

Hi John -
The points you've brought up regarding the open invitation to scam, plus the fear of negative consequences due to business owner hangups, are precisely the ones that strike me as concerning. We are up against Google's determination to handle nearly everything algorithmically, but I will continue to agitate for a genuine customer service dept. to be put in place behind Local. This could happen, actually, as Google's testing of new Local SERPs layouts seem to be moving more towards paid results, in some instances. We'll see.

Hi Juliette,
Many business owners feel just the way you do about this, and I can see why.

Thanks for all of the great and thoughtful comments, everybody!
Miriam

So true, so how am i going to differ the actual google call from scammers??? I prefer to hang up...

Thanks very much for the heads up Miriam. I am letting my cleients know. I also agree with your good/bad/ugly scenario.

Greetings! I received a call from Google a couple of months ago. He announced that he was calling from Google about Local Maps. At the time I was giddy and unquestioning. He asked if blah blah was my company's address. No. I moved 3 years ago. He requested the correct address. I advised him that my site is run from a home office and I did not want it listed in Local. He was polite and understanding. Wow! Google called me! Then I started wondering how Google could conceivably call me. Could they possibly have the manpower? It had to be a joke or scam. He had the correct phone number, but an old address. Real or not, it was fun to feel important for a few moments.

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