By now we must all be aware of the Goliath enterprise known as Google. In fact, the greater majority of people reading this post will have already used the search tool a few times today. Suffice it to say convenience has its advantages, yet it’s important to understand the entire story. To a small independent business, this comes at a heavy price.
In order to be established online, one simply must embrace and utilize Google. That, in and of itself, is not wrong. What becomes difficult, however, is the level of dependence (and ultimately control) this major company breeds. You see, questions do not need to be asked beforehand concerning what might work best for everyone. In other words, the developments of the Google platform are not a democratic process whatsoever. You/we receive what is dictated to us, period. We’ll come back to this important point in just a moment.
E-commerce has changed, and rightfully so. No longer do people rely on their own intuition for making purchasing decisions, rather the real weight is now bore by a collective community of “reviewers.” Businesses work hard to cultivate high quality relations, and ideally the experiences consumers have with each respective establishment will be shared among their peers and family through resources available on the internet. This is the direction we’re headed, and it will (so far as we can tell) not change anytime soon. We’re not sure it should either. It’s important to gain a better understanding of why we turn to others’ opinion when it comes to making decisions of our own, and the answer there is because it provides unbiased (theoretically) points of view we may relate to one way or another. In other words, we’re seeking consensus and weighing our options.
A second element of building an online reputation rests heavily on SEO (Search Engine Optimization), in which Google, Yahoo, Bing, YP.com, and several others come into play. It’s inevitable that businesses invest time and resources into making sure people can find them, and we’re no different. There is a defining characteristic, however, that makes or breaks a company’s ability to “rank” higher, and that clearly is money. Plain and simple, in this case, as in many others in life, the Presidents of our past speak loud and clear. Companies like Coca-Cola, Apple, Red Bull, and their counterparts… they can easily drop six figures monthly, to assure their place on “the list.” With that said, how do small businesses compete? Well, they strategically approach their “online footprint” in the same fashion, only with significantly less zeros at the end of their monthly bill.
OK, now let’s return to that point a couple paragraphs ago. These “search engines” utilize what’s called an algorithm, and believe us when we tell you it is constantly evolving. In fact, one of the key changes we’d like to highlight here is also a main reason for writing this blog entry – weight of online reviews, and more specifically how they’re recognized. In August of 2011, Google in particular crushed the spirit of countless small businesses across the nation, including ours. At the time, we had 179 of our customers submit qualified reviews based on the service(s) they received through our shop. Those testimonials were displayed prominently at the top of our main Google page, adorning the site with a badge of honor that was neither freely given nor achieved without sacrifice. Point being, our commitment to service and complete customer satisfaction earned every line of feedback we received – good, bad, or indifferent.
Come one cold morning in August of 2011, literally overnight, our viewable (without conscious effort) reviews were reduced to 17. That’s right, 162 of our reviews were considered inferior to those left directly through Google.com’s mainframe. They were still there, in that they didn’t disappear, but online visitors would be forced to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find them… and even then Google didn’t make that process easy. There was reason to believe that might be the final blow, so to speak.
Enter Google + into the picture and well, you guessed it… Google decides to make more changes, once again not designed to protect or preserve small businesses. Thus far Google’s answer to facebook has been less than impressive, but they’re committed to building on this platform. Recent changes (implementation of Zagat scores) cater to the proposed growth of their Google + environment. To be clear, Google used to be set up on a “star” grading system. This is what most people recall… and honestly, what made the most sense. I mean, when was the last time you didn’t understand the notion of 5-Star dining or hospitality? When you read the Entertainment section in your local newspaper, does it not sink in when the critic says your highly anticipated summer blockbuster was given 3.5 out of 5 stars? Right, and so our point is who in the world needed a different system? Google apparently felt all of us did.
Zagat scores were intended to compile a numerical value based on Google’s ability to decipher (read as interpret, or misinterpret, as it were) each review. In other words, a bot (short for robot, and yes… this means exactly as it sounds) scans the text left by our customers (and yours, if you’re a business owner) and decides for itself how “valuable” they might be. Our experience has actually shown some of our most favorable reviews to be given low scores, so does anyone want to explain that to us? If you’re wondering, we reached out to Google… and well, no comment.
IT’S TIME FOR ACTION.
What does all of this mean? We’re glad you asked. We hope you’ve made it through this blog post and now feel better educated on how this process works. We want this for you because it makes you a more conscious consumer, but also… make no mistake about it, we’d like your help. Based on these changes our small business has gone from a 4.5 out of 5 star rating with 179 easy viewable reviews, to a 20 out of 30 (which is less than average) Zagat score with 51 reviews, several of which Google’s bot has scored incorrectly.
If you have a Google account (gmail, YouTube, GoogleDocs, etc), we graciously invite you to follow this link and leave our business a review directly:
CLICK HERE and you’ll find a Royal Blue radio button labeled “Write a review.”
Google will make a decision (by design) to consider your review very important, as it’s been submitted directly through their system. Bottom line, with the ongoing developments in how we approach local commerce, small businesses NEED Google, period. We must play by their rules and make the best of what’s available to us.
We greatly appreciate your time, trust, and confidence. In our nearly 40 years of Community Automotive Repair serving the greater Grand Rapids community we’ve come across and have had to be flexible with countless items of change. This definitely constitutes one of the most challenging, in terms of the importance we give online correspondence and reputation.
From all of us, to all of you… have a safe and pleasant holiday season. Regardless of how or where you celebrate, know that we’re very grateful for you.