It's not a Harlequin romance novel nor even a better class of historical fiction. Google really is running away from the castle with their new Places contact form!

When I read the announcement yesterday that Google had added a new 'Fix A Problem' section to their Places Help Center, and that the section actually drills down to a contact form, an image burst across the screen of my mind of Google galloping away from a crumbling castle toward a brighter new era. In making this latest decision regarding their highly visible local product, Google has grown less anachronistic overnight, at least in my eyes.

The Discomfort of An Anachronism

I'm a fan of well-written historical fiction, but when it is translated onto the television or silver screen, one thing that never fails to drive me crazy is when the producers fail to get the flowers right. You'll have George Washington making a bold speech about independence next to a bouquet of roses that were first cultivated in 1973. Whoa, George, where did you get those posies?

Similarly, I recently watched a refined Victorian lady deliver a bouquet of wildflowers she'd supposedly picked in the woods to her kindly old mother. The only problem was, the flowers not only weren't wildflowers, but they were modern cultivated garden flowers of the type one can pick up on the nursery racks of a today's drug stores. The only way this woman could have gotten this nosegay was to have trampled through her neighbors' yards stealing their flowers - 100 years in the future!

Okay, so not everyone is going to take this kind of nitpicking issue with blossoms, but most of us know how to recognize an anachronism and feel weird when we see something or someone represented as being out of time with the times they inhabit.

The crumbling old castle is Google's historic stance on customer service. Granted, half a millennium ago, it was acceptable to dub yourself 'the magnificent' and have a host of serfs toiling at the miserable bottom of your feudal pyramid while you lived off their backs and never bothered to look a single one of them in the eye. But we're supposed to have grown beyond that now.

Practically since Google's first essay into the world of Local, business owners and SEOs have been begging for customer service. I have written countless articles over the past five or so years attempting to point out the injustice of profiting by representing real business data without permission from business owners while simultaneously refusing to speaking with them and, to date, that has been Google's modus operandi in Local.

Google's announcement of associating an actual contact form which will ostensibly reach a real person at Google is their first effort to shed the mantle of anachronism that has clung so uneasily to their broad shoulders. Google is finally realizing that you cannot process real world business data solely through the machine of the algorithm. Too many people are getting hurt and too many people are voicing their anger.

It is early days yet to write about the success of this first attempt at customer service. How effective will it be, how many business owners will know the form to fix a problem exists, how quickly will a response from Google be received and how quickly will said problem be resolved? No one I've spoken with in Local knows these answers yet, but every single person I've talked with so far is standing up and cheering for Google's latest move.

We don't have a phone number yet, nor a dedicated rep being assigned to help business owners manage their highly visible Google Places accounts, but we are centuries closer to dignified treatment of local business data and local business owners with the release of this new contact form.

Close your eyes and I believe you can see Google running away from the feudal castle - or at least tippy toe-ing out of it for the very first time into the bright sunlight of the social real world in which they play so large a part. It almost looks like this long and tortured story I've been writing chapters of for so many years may have a happy ending.

October 4, 2011

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.


I actually just wrote a blog post about my own frustration with Google Places. While a contact form isn't a direct line of help, at least it's a life jacket. I know that having a Google Places account is important and I'm supposed to be managing my clients accounts. Not having mine working is a little embarrassing.

Great article, Mirriam!!!

As I have said - Google would not really have any specific benefits from offering real customer service for Google Places. Since the beginning of Google Boost the customer service for their paid program is really fast and thorough. Furthermore, they have an appointed employee, who is replying ALL questions related to AdWords Express in the Google Places forum.

It would not take that big of a resource to do the same for Google Places. At least regarding the forums. But they DO NOT want and do not actually have the urgent need to do that.

Anyway, imho this "innovation" is too small and insignificant for the attention it is being given. Yes, a real person will look into the issue. But it is the same with the "Report a problem" feature. And we still don't know what the response time would be.

I'd first wait and see how this "customer service" works before praising them.

Hi Nick,
It's nice to hear from you. Yes, a lot of Local SEOs don't have Places accounts of their own because Google still doesn't accept SEOs in its index, so unless you have some other family business to play around with, most of your experience will come from handling client accounts.

I like you life jacket reference. That's a good one. Thanks for stopping by!

Hi Nyagoslav,
I continue to enjoy getting to know your 'take' on things as I read your comments here and elsewhere. I'm with you on Google's lack of internal motivation to support Places, but also believe that the public (including folks like us) needs to continue leaning on them from an ethical standpoint regarding this. You say:

"Anyway, imho this "innovation" is too small and insignificant for the attention it is being given."

It is a small change, but after spending years and years agitating for ANY form of direct contact with Google, the advent of a contact form does not strike me as small. Now, in the larger scheme of things and compared with how I would LIKE Google to be handling local business owners, it is small and it isn't enough. But it is something, and we've gone on so long with nothing, anything is big news, I feel.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to hear your thoughts.

It's about time that Google started to take steps in this direction. They have made local a more important part of the SERPS for local businesses so they should start taking some feedback on fixing the many problems with it.

Yes, it's definitely nice to see Google opening up to some assistance. Rather than spending hours in front of the computer searching through google help forum and other sources, you can now actually have a contact form to fill out. "But," eventually I feel that Google will be throwing out a lifejacket (great), but then pulling you into the "boat of all evil." This is most evident in not the google places side of things, but rather in the Google AdWords area. You can now chat with reps with AdWords problems. But, I feel like Google is not hiring true customer service reps. Rather, they are salespeople in a "i help you" disguise. Trying to convince me that I will get the most clicks from running my keywords in broad is evidence of this. In reality, this just brings in more money for Google. I wouldn't be surprised if Google starts forcing Google places accounts to pay for profiles!

I love your style of writing, especially the incorporation of outdated flowers ha!

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