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No. 703
October 18th, 2010

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Google Places Embarks on TeleSales Campaign for Tags

The following is a direct transcript of a call I received earlier this morning:

Hi David, my name is Christopher Smith — I’m calling from Google and I’m calling regarding your existing business listings with us, and some important changes and features to the account that I need to speak to you about.  We just launched a new product to enhance your listing — make you more visible, and make you seen all throughout Google searches — that includes Local searches and (unintelligible) searches.

It’s a new product, requires no contract whatsoever, and just a flat fee of 25 bucks a month.

At your convenience, please give me a call at 1-800-838-7970, and my direct extension is 23846.

And again, this is Christopher Smith calling from Google.  I look forward to your call, David.

I actually first heard about this campaign from SEO guru Scott Hendison after my presentation at the SEMpdx monthly event last Tuesday but didn’t get a chance to blog about it last week.  Interestingly enough, Scott mentioned that he was forwarded the call by a client that had two identical listings claimed in two different accounts — one in his own account that he hadn’t touched in years, and one in their own account.  When he tried to follow the salesperson’s instructions and added the Tag, both he and she remarked that it was not showing up on the listing.  She asked him if she could look into it and call him back.

About 40 minutes later he received a call back asking him to verify the listing ID number that he saw in the URL string.  He did indeed verify it, and seconds later overheard her shout to an engineering colleague on the other side of the room something to the effect of “Yep, that’s it, go ahead and merge those listings.” Bang–the listing was immediately taken out of his account and the tag properly associated with the client listing.

For what it’s worth, Scott also mentioned to me that his sales rep told him she was in Phoenix and that she was very helpful in answering all of his questions.


#1 Google continues to adopt a confrontational stance towards IYP publishers.

At the Kelsey show in Dallas in September, Chris Silver Smith (presumably no relation to the Christopher Smith above) reported that Google’s representative, Todd Rowe, invited attendees to:

  • “Let us know what is working and what is not”
  • “Partner with us expanding what worked well, and fixing what’s broken; We are so much in “build mode”, and we need to be able to respond to needs.”
  • “Broaden our opportunities by broadening our partnerships.”

I’d be interested to know from any IYP readers of this blog whether Google has embarked on any kind of reseller strategy with them for Tags yet.  The direct-telesales-to-SMB’s strategy demonstrated by Christopher’s phone call suggests that the above statements made by Rowe in Dallas may have largely been lip-service to the IYP industry attendees.  These telesales are surely going to cut directly into their bottom lines if they’re not getting a piece of the action.  It’s not coopetition–whatever that means–it’s competition.

#2 Having trouble with your listings? Give Christopher a call at his direct line: 1-800-838-7970 x23846.

I find it fascinating that Google would embark on what seems to be a fairly significant sales process for Local before getting its customer service ducks in order.  No one knows the problems that SMB’s are experiencing with Places better than Mike, and they are myriad.  Frankly, I’d recommend to ANY business having trouble with its listings that they give Christopher a call at the number above, agree to sign up for $25 on the condition that he get them out of whatever limbo state they’re in.

Folks like Dave Oremland (earlpearl) have been suggesting that Google offer a paid customer service channel for Places from the very beginning, and based on Scott Hendison’s experience, this certainly seems like it would work as a de facto customer service channel.

I would imagine this is one of many experiments we’ll see Google making not only with Local ad products but also Local ad strategies as it tries to scale its revenues across the fragmented SMB landscape.  Telesales seem to be one of the least algorithmic ways to accomplish that (strangely, Tags still do not seem to be available for verified bulk upload accounts).

This strategy might signal a change in thinking at a somewhat deeper level among Google Places’ leadership that human interaction with SMB’s is necessary at some stage, even for a largely DIY-product like Tags.

  • The google telesales people have been pitching my big hospital clients on tags – our response – “we’re not buying anything until you help us fix our borked places account”. If you’ve ever worked with a major hospital campus with a combined mailroom but many buildings, you’ll realize how difficult it is to verify/tweak those so that they appear in a 7-pack or 10-pack properly. As it stands, you may get a random minor physician at the very top (due to some upstream provider scraping listings) and the main campus at #8 or not even on the first pg of listings. This is horrible for the searcher experience.

    They played lip service to wanting to help us, even having us send a spreadsheet explaining the issues – now, nothing. Even the emergency services (which used to have an expedited form on Google) are still wrong. We begged for some special help – adding that there is zero chance that we’re doing any kind of hijacking bs. I know that within 15 minutes, a well-connected Google Places staffer could fix this whole mess for them. But, they don’t seem to exist – even in the help form.

    I think that Google Places / Local needs to set up a special “campus-scale” contact form where we could get help on special cases like this – hospitals – universities – research campuses. As it stands, it seems that we are being told “it’s not our fault your mailroom doesn’t work efficiently” – which is bogus, and “we’re not a phone directory for your company” which completely dismisses the real searcher experience of searching, driving to a specific building (with it’s own reception, parking, etc.) on campus using their Google Maps.

  • @Scott very interesting…

    1) you’re saying that Tags ARE enabled for your verified bulk upload account?

    2) You asked your Tags rep for help and they refused it? If that is the case, it appears that Tags reps are inconsistent as to when they do and do not provide customer service…

    Mike Blumenthal and I have been working with one hospital client in particular who has the exact same problem…and I’ve worked with universities who have all kinds of problems with improper merges, too.

    For hospitals it would seem essential for the public interest to get these data problems corrected as Miriam Ellis pointed out two years ago.

  • Yes, their account is a potpourri of messed up, suspended, old, new/wrong listings… but the verified listings have tags enabled and we’ve actually purchased one for the main hospital – hoping this might ensure display in the 7/10 packs (it hasn’t.). But there are a potpourri of problems – some verification issues, some bugs (e.g. cannot save a change on the places address of a verified listing) and more.

    Why Google won’t set up a better way to verify (e.g. postcard delivered *inside* a Fedex/UPS envelope at customers’ expense as an option) is perplexing to me. Real-world mailrooms receiving thousands of pcs of mail/day are a messy place. My client said they’d spend $20+ per listing *all day long* to get verification codes on their desk reliably via traceable carrier….(

    I asked the tag rep for help (they had $$$’s in their eyes) … and I (not he) suggested I send a spreadsheet summarizing the listings with the problems. He agreed – asking me to send it to a address (!) … which made me nervous … At some point I started wondering if the rep was actually a Google employee or if I had stepped into a scam. A little phone number sleuthing and an email to Places team verified he was legit. But it sure smelled funny. And at that point I had lost hope.

    If my client and I had a few minutes with a Google Places staffer with some back-end access, our spreadsheet, this whole issue might go away – and we’d buy a couple dozen tags, and I could stop feeling so incompetent for being unable to efficiently help them!

  • Lauren R

    Hi David,

    What has been your process for large hospitals and Google Places? My client is a Boston hospital with three names and numerous departments. We are not looking to touch the individual doctor listings, but correcting each department listing would be nice. We are torn between bulk upload and tracking down each listing. Do you and Mike have a defined process that you suggest for hospital listings?


  • myles

    Is anyone seeing a positive CTR or conversion improvements from using Tags yet? (we don’t have them in the UK so i don’t have first hand experience yet) Thanks

  • Hi David,
    A question that has come up for me…if this is for your Web Design company, and Google won’t show a 7 pack for this vertical, why are they calling you? I would really like to know…

  • I’ve never known them to be much of a sales organization (though they certainly have the technical skills to make it happen given the right focus). Seems to beg the question as to whether or not they will attempt to acquire a built-in sales force from one of the YP’s and dress them in Google shirts.

  • earlpearl

    My oh my. Interesting all around.

    1. Phone Sales for Tags. Why not? I’m sure its both an effort to generate revenues and a test in a very big way. Here is the dominant SE in most of the world trying phone sales; a practice that they have avoided to date. Yes its an inexpensive product, but possibly more importantly its about as easy a product as they have so on that basis its salable. It will be interesting to see how they proceed. My strongest sense is that currently it is a test.

    2. Hand merging of the account. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the Places Forum, though nowhere’s near as much as Mike. I can’t help but think of what must be thousands of unhappy SMB’s that never got responsiveness (myself included at times). To think that the sale was accompanied by an instant hand merger and solution. Wouldn’t that be something if all problems could be solved that way. Google simply chooses not to do it. I simply can’t believe this situation hasn’t reached the major media.

    3. On the reseller interaction/competition. Somehow I don’t think the major resellers are focusing on Tags. Its a small ticket item. I suspect Google both shows them “love” and interaction….and it clearly competes with them. Its a somewhat muddy relationship.

    4. David: I’m not sure I was the one that referenced paying for customer service. I’ve seen it suggested…and maybe I did reference it initially and/or offer it as an alternative. It certainly has been mentioned many times as an alternative though.

    Currently I’m not enamored with the idea based on these concepts:

    A) I view Google Maps as the current de facto equivalent to the Yellow Pages. I’m not sure about all YP regulations…but they have fallen under at least state regulations for years. More relevantly White Pages were forced to print copies in many states. Getting phone numbers correct and having access to them is a fact of life.

    That Google doesn’t do this as a matter of course works against past experience that required that everyone with a phone would get a White Pages and that there have been laws against inappropriate uses of the YP.

    B). If there were a paid customer service, at whatever level, it would discriminate in a way against the smallest of businesses. Hey, they should get access just as the US established some level of support for rural areas where without it phone service would not have been affordable.

    5. @ Scott Clark: It floors me to see that hospitals continue to have these problems with Google. I recall a couple of years ago when either the first or one of the first such problems occurred with Duke University Hospital. As I recall, the contact from Duke pointed out how these erroneous phone contacts were playing havoc with the phone systems. Critical care elements were being besieged with simple calls.

    That is outrageous. Imagine a critical care unit being screwed up because the phone lines are answering calls for the hospital gift shop.

    Later, Miriam aptly reported on this. For a short period Google had a special group and process set up to clean up these problems in hospitals.


    That really speaks to their overriding perspective on providing customer service. I’m surprised these problems haven’t been elevated to a higher level on behalf of all hospitals and a large scale effort hasn’t evolved to embarrass google to tackle this issue.

    For those who follow these issues its no revelation to know that when faced with overriding publicity on these potentially embarrassing issues, Google quickly fixes problems in the Places arena.

    For more information on the tele-calls, Greg Sterling did a piece on this, following your article, David. It adds additional interesting perspectives on the tele-sales efforts.

  • Can’t add much to the technical side on this but…
    If Google keep giving try before you buy coupons for
    Adwords to the SMB’s in the UK and they want to increase revenue
    from them from Google Places…how long before Google Places becomes
    a paid for enhanced listing? Multiply every category by £20 a month x 7
    for each country and you have one big revenue stream.

  • Bob

    I work for YPG (Yellow Pages) in Canada. From where I sit dealing with listings is a very complex issue. I can understand why Google quietly dropped the special group dealing with hospital listings.

    My understanding is that YPG feeds Google, via the various Canadian Telcos (Bell, Shaw, Telus), with most of their listings for their map places in Canada. If we get it wrong then invariably Google gets it wrong.

    I could go on about listings forever. It has taken me years to gain a deeper understanding of listings and I still don’t know everythin there isto know about these little beasties. There are some people I work with at YPG who’s WHOLE career spanning 20 or more years is dedicated to getting listings correct.

    Try dealing with a dentist or a lawyer when and address or business name is incorrect. God forbid that the phone number that gets listed is wrong.

  • Thomas

    I too work with listings.

    The way Google Places has rolled out has been increasingly worrying for directory businesses in the UK. Google have surely just decided that they want a slice of the directory/listings pie and helped themselves to a very large chunk of it. Taking up the top half of the screen for a relevant places search, snuffs out the directories that have been plying for this business (and working hard with SEM/SEO to get up the rankings) – it’s a big, really worrying move into this marketplace.

    Scary stuff!

  • I received the same Tags sales call from Google. The rep, also from Phoenix, started by fixing a typo in the headline, which was certainly endearing. Then she was off to the races pushing me through the configuration steps of signing-up for Tags, like there was no other obvious course of action. “Cancel at any time” she said.

    My mind wandered during the call to the SMB owner OKing the “free month trial” and then forgetting it for years. And of course paying for years. Sounded pretty lucrative to me.

    The call really felt more like they were helping me, which was creepy. I saw no effect from the Tags and canceled two weeks later.