Google is always busy, but this past week they’ve been even busier than usual.
In my article last week, I told you about the expanded roll out of Google Home Services into more cities including Phoenix and Atlanta. Earlier this week, Google launched another program called Google Places Questions & Answers worldwide that could affect your small business. Well, not exactly a program, more like a new Google Maps feature, but only the mobile app and only for Android users.
So what exactly is this new feature from Google? How does it work? And when will it be available for iOS and desktop users? Plus what’s the benefit, if any, for small businesses and could there be any downsides? There are lots of questions to be answered, so let’s dive right in.
What exactly is Google Places Questions & Answers?
Google Places Questions and Answers is the official name of a new feature in Google Maps for Android that allows users to ask questions about a business or place that other users and the business can answer. Businesses can also ask and answer questions and Google suggests that businesses ask and answer their most commonly asked questions to help get the conversation started. It’s important to note that this feature doesn’t appear in Google Maps for most service based businesses.
Google Places Questions & Answers is a new feature in Google Maps where users can ask and answer questions about businesses and places.
Google is rolling out the Google Questions and Answers over stages. For now, the feature is only available on Google Maps for Android. Right now, only business owners, Google users who are Local Guides, level 2 and above can ask and answer questions about businesses and places. In the coming weeks, Google will allow anybody to ask and answer questions in Google Maps for Android. There’s no word on when the new feature will be available for iOS and desktop users, but according to Google’s Lisa Wang in her post in Local Guides Connect, Google will be rolling it out on mobile Google Search “soon.”
Google Maps notifies users and business owners whenever someone asks or answers their question.
Google explains how it works in this post in Google Support. Basically, to ask or answer a question in Google Maps for Android you open the app, search for a business or place, then tap the name of the place at the bottom of the screen. From there you can see if your question has already been asked and/or answered, ask a question, or answer somebody else’s question.
You’ll get a notification from Google Maps when someone answers your question. And if someone asks or answers a question about your business, you’ll also get a notification from Google Maps so you can answer it. It’s important that you note that the notifications are in Google Maps and only Google Maps. They aren’t part of your Google My Business Stream.
Users can upvote questions and answers which improves the ranking of a question or answer and which ones appear at the top of the list.
There’s another layer to this feature though. Users can also upvote questions as well as answers. This means that there’s a ranking factor to the Questions and Answers feature. Questions who have the most upvotes will appear at the top.
If you’re having deja vu right now, you’re not alone. That’s because Amazon has had a similar program called Community Q & A, since April 2014. The Amazon feature allows customers to ask and answer questions about products available on Amazon. Plus business owners can also ask and answer questions. Users can up or down vote questions and answers which affects which questions appear at the top.
What potential problems could Google Places Questions & Answers cause for small businesses?
Google Places Questions and Answers in Google Maps is a nice feature for consumers, but as a small business owner, you might be feeling pretty nervous at the thought of yet another crowdsource feature.
Google’s new Questions and Answers has the same problems that Google Reviews does. Google, not the business owner is the moderator. For Google Reviews it makes sense for Google to attempt to have some control over whether a negative review can be deleted. But with Questions and Answers, we’re talking about frequently asked questions about a business. and it makes more sense for a business owner to moderate those.
Google, not the business owner, moderates the Questions & Answers feature.
If somebody posts a wrong answer to a question, the business owner should be able to delete the answer. But that’s not how Google set it up. Added to this issue is the fact that users can up-vote answers. As a result, there’s a potential for the wrong answer to get more votes than the answer you as the business owner posts. That means the wrong answer would be at the top and labeled as the top answer. Since what’s at the top as well as labeled most helpful will be what your potential customers trust the most.
Wrong answers and spam could get upvoted and rank higher than correct answers from business owners and loyal customers.
Like with Google Reviews, a business owner can ask that a question or answer be removed by flagging it. Google will then assess it, but depending on what they decide, it still might not be removed. Google doesn’t have the best reputation for removing spam and retaliation reviews from competitors so it’s unclear how great they’ll be at controlling the same kinds of activity in Questions & Answers in Google Maps.
Google Places Questions & Answers is only available in Google Maps on Android devices.
Another major problem with Google Places Questions and Answers in Google Maps is it’s only available for Android devices and newer androids devices at that. Sorry, small business owners who use iOS phones and tablets or who do all their monitoring on their computer at work. You either can’t take part and have to hope no spammers or trolls are abusing this Google feature, or you have to go out and buy a new Android device.
Google didn’t build multiple location capabilities into the Questions & Answers feature.
Oh, and do you have more than one location? Sorry. Google didn’t build in multiple location capabilities so you have to assign a manager or other employee to each location. And get them Android devices if they don’t have one so they can post questions and answers on the business’ behalf and address incorrect answers. Did I mention that there’s no way for you to opt out of this feature?
What are the benefits of Google Questions & Answers for your business?
With so many potential headaches, are there any benefits to Google’s new Questions and Answers feature? The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom for your small business because of this feature. There are ways you can be proactive about spam and troll questions and answers as well as up-voting without having to rely on Google moderators.
You can be proactive by encouraging customers to answer questions about your business in Google Maps.
Just like you can request that customers post a review of your business in Google, you can encourage your customers to participate in Google Places Questions and Answers in Google Maps.
But there’s something else, unlike with Google Reviews, business owners are encouraged to post their own questions and answers. That means you can post the most frequently asked questions about your business. You can also ask employees and loyal customers to up-vote your questions and answers to ensure they’re the most popular and stay at the top of the list.
Google’s new Questions & Answers feature is another free opportunity for you to interact with your customers.
Like with Google Reviews, Google’s Questions and Answers feature gives you yet another free channel where you can interact with your customers. And any opportunity to have a conversation with your customers is a good thing. People tend to do business with people they like and trust. So when you respond quickly to customer questions and concerns, people see you as a caring, friendly person and will make them more likely to choose you over your competitors.
You can’t opt out of Google Questions & Answers, so the best strategy for you as a business owner is to embrace it.
Google Places Questions and Answers in Google Maps is new and Google is still testing how it will work. It’s impossible to know how successful it will be or if it will be a feature that Google will keep. I for one don’t understand why they just launched it on Android. I also don’t understand why they decided it was a good idea to not let business owners moderate their own questions and answers. Hopefully Google will change some of those elements as they see the feature in action.
You can’t opt out of Google Places Questions & Answers, so like anything that Google does, the best strategy for you as a business owner is to embrace it. Smart business owners can use Google Questions & Answers to talk to new customers and continue the conversation with existing customers. It’s possible for you to be proactive and optimize Google Questions and Answers so your answers to questions are the first ones people see when they read about your business in Google Maps.
With the right reputation management strategy, you can use Google Questions & Answers to help your business.
Bottom line, Google seems to be developing more features and services that are designed to keep its users on Google rather than visiting your website. With Google Home Service ads and now Google Places Questions and Answers, Google wants to make its users feel like they can find enough information about your business and even contact your business directly without ever leaving Google.
In my opinion, small businesses still need their own websites, and shouldn’t just rely on Google alone, but for new businesses just starting out who have limited marketing budgets, these new Google features can help you grow your business so you can meet your goals and grow that budget so your marketing strategy can evolve as well.
That way you can adapt to whatever new feature Google throws at you.