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31 August, 2017

Google’s failure with the new Question & Answer feature

phone display Google Q&AGoogle has done it again with the new Question & Answer feature. They’ve launched a new beaut feature with lots of optimism – and sadly, much naivete.

The Q&A feature was launched a few weeks ago. You could say it “sort-of” fills a gap left when the business description was removed. But rather than having the biz owner write a bunch of self-promotional bunk, Google decided to let “the public” decide what they want to read about a business.

Questions from potential customers can be asked, and the biz owner or the public can respond. Questions can be voted up; the idea being the most popular or common questions will rise to the top. Questions/Answers cannot be voted down.

The benefits to business owners include:

  • insight to what customers most want to know
  • insight to the language people use to describe your products / services
  • insight to the problems people most expect your product/services to solve
  • not necessarily having to answer every single question themselves.

Take those first three across to your website and other marketing collateral – they’re gold!

So with all this upside, why am I not singing it’s praises?

Because Google has a remarkable capacity to underestimate the stupidity and haters of the public.

Below are some screen shots taken of Questions and Answers from around the world.

Sometimes people are using the feature for reviews. Some exploit it to get points for their Local Guide status (3 points for responding to Q&As). Some use it as a free-for-all trolling opportunity.  Still others seem to think it’s a customer service portal where their individual case can be dealt with.

In the case of the Pentagon’s Q&A stream (last image), one profile (presumably a person but wondering if it’s a bot) posted around a hundred nonsense “questions”. Here are two of them translated:

translated swedish questions

Clearly Google isn’t doing ANY sort of quality control over the questions at this stage.

To be fair, Google does have a report feature. Some of the earlier ridiculous questions I’ve seen in screen grabs have been taken down.

Whose business has Q&A?

This Q&A feature was rolled out to all businesses, owners had no say in opting in.  So far I’ve only seen schools, universities, some landmarks, child care centres and prisons exempted from this.  There may be other categories excluded – if you spot one post in the comments below for other readers.

Why can’t I see it?

At this point in the rollout, these Q&A boxes show ONLY on Google Android Maps App.  You won’t see it if you have an ipad, iphone or desktop computer.

No notifications

As the business owner, you won’t see the questions people ask if you log into your dashboard – on any device.  This means many business owners are completely unaware of spam or ridiculous questions being posted on their listing.

And if someone does ask something inappropriate, the best you can do is report it.

Reporting bad questions or answers

Firstly, you will need to be logged into your Google account on your phone’s browser.  To report, click on the three vertical dots next to problem question.   Google will then trigger a browser window with a number of options for reporting the bad question or answer.

Depending on the reason you select, you may get a follow up screen.  When finished, the browser will give you the chance to “undo” your report.  If you tap “done” or click the x next to “thank you for the report”, nothing happens. At least not on my phone, so I simply close the browser window.

Managing Q&A

Since we all have this “feature”, here’s what I suggest you do.

  1. Write down three questions you most frequently get asked on phone inquiries or the first face to face contact.
  2. Get a friend to post them onto your maps listing from their phone.  You can put most any kind of text in the box, including URLs and emojis.  URLs are turned to straight text (so they’re not clickable), but emojis go in as they are.
  3. Using your phone, find your business on the map and answer those questions.  Don’t make them spammy with keywords, sales pitches or other rubbish tactics. Use plain, ordinary, everyday language questions and answers.
  4. Then ask your friend to vote up the answer.
  5. From then on, check your listing regularly.

Questioners can edit or delete questions, and you can edit or delete your answers.

You can’t risk ignoring Google’s Q&A feature

If you never get any questions from the public (bar the three you orchestrated), you’ll be laughing.  However, as the weaknesses of this feature become more apparent to more people, spammers, trolls and other reprobates will exploit this for all it is worth.

Emojis such as the Pile of Poo 💩  will start appearing in these questions/answers, along with heaven knows what claims about the business.  Competitor’s websites, phone numbers or offers may magically appear as a question or answer to try to woo customers away.

Customers may think this access to an online customer support department. And unanswered questions have the potential to be more damaging to people’s perception of you as a business owner, than unanswered reviews.

For all the obvious frustration in print here, I do like what Google is trying to do. See the benefits above.

But they have released this with too little control around it. They need to make this something business owners can manage.  Business owners need notifications, and they need the ability to remove bad questions/answers without having to rely on Google’s discretion as to whether something should be displayed.

After all that Google should have learned from Maps and Customer Reviews, someone should “get it” by now that crowdsourcing is a risky proposition.  Innocent business owners are able to be harmed by this and that goes totally against Google’s own “Do the right thing” code of conduct.