Google rolled out Questions and Answers in August 2017 and many studies have tried to understand its impact and acceptance among consumers, businesses, and brands.
This feature has been helping local business owners to answer consumer questions. Initially, it was restricted to Android Google Maps.
There is consensus among consumers and brands that Google Q&A is a good platform for effective communication in terms of exchanging requests, advice, and copious help.
Scope and Limitations
It has been noticed that several big corporations and SMBs are not showing any enthusiasm to this Q&A feature. A study by Get Five Stars says that questions exist for an average 25 percent of locations on Google Maps.
Despite the hype, it seems Google Questions and Answers are still underutilized by small business owners (SMBs) and marketers.
They are yet to monitor the questions received from the business listings. This is contrary to the passion with which SMBs track online reviews. The same zeal was expected in tracking questions on their listings. That is yet to show up.
Despite the service being there for more than 200 days traction seems slow. According to a study by GetFiveStars,’ nearly 25 percent of businesses have pending questions.
Some SMBs also complain that nowhere in the Google My Business dashboard notifications for new questions are showing up. There is also a perception that Google is more oriented toward Local Guides in getting answers than making the business owners themselves answer questions.
How Can Business Owners Track Qs?
There are two options for a business owner or marketer to track Qs. One is –installing the Google Maps app on the mobile phone and turning on notifications. For this, the SMB must log on to the account that manages Google My Business to get push notifications every time a new question is asked.
Then there are paid services from agencies monitoring the feature. Currently, there is Get Five Stars active in monitoring the service and makes the questions pretty well organized.
Digital Marketer Makes a Study
To assess the reality an expert has compiled a case study on the Google service using upmarket San Francisco as a sample and came up with interesting findings.
In the first step, the volume and nature of questions that targeted a San Francisco’s 20 busy industries were evaluated. Then the answers and responders were divided into three groups. Local Guides (LG), random users (RU), and owners (O). The top 10 businesses included the following.
- Mexican Restaurants
- Italian Restaurants
- Chinese Restaurants
- Car Dealers
- Clothing Stores
- Real Estate Agencies
- General Contractors
- Cell Phone Stores
- Yoga Studios
- Carpet Cleaning
- Hair Salons
- Jewelry Stores
Key Takeaways from the Study
Stark patterns were observed from a table plotted to study the 123 questions that generated 274 answers from SF businesses.
Generally, big brands avoid Google Questions and Answers. San Francisco was no exception. The city was chosen for a case study because it is famous for grooming new tech.
Questions unanswered from Whole Foods, Sephora, Taco Bell, Macy’s, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Target, and T-Mobile. Walmart garnered thousands of questions but the brand gave no response.
The key take aways included the following.
- The number of answers exceeded the questions.
- Some questions received no answers
- Certain questions had answers ranging from five to 10 or more.
- Some industries like hotels and restaurants generated more questions.
- Mostly the owners’ column remained completely blank.
The findings revealed that local businesses in San Francisco were not attaching much importance to the questions and no effort was made in answering Google Questions and Answers.
Local Guides Dominating Answers
Majority of the answers were provided by Local Guides. Out of the 274 answers, 232 were replied by Local Guides designated by Google.
These users called local guides get alerts when questions are asked and they are motivated by the award of 3 points per answer.
These points fetch perks such as Google Play Music free for 3 free months and 75 percent discount on Google Play Movies.
According to an expert, Google’s strategy of incentivizing replies is involving sources whose knowledge base is of questionable quality.
An example will suffice–when a consumer asks a hotel whether they have in-room hair dryers, there are 10 local guides replying “yep”! Many local guides also replied “I don’t know,” “maybe,” and “call the business and find out.”
At the same time, there were many helpful answers from Local Guides. Many consumers also appeared confused as evident from the trend of thanking people replying to their questions instead of using the ‘thumbs up.’
Confusion about the Format
Some consumers were making statements and posting reviews instead of raising straight questions. Hotels and restaurants topped with both questions and answers. There was no surprise as people love talking about them.
Questions were very few for businesses like yoga studios, florists, and hair salons. Maybe these are early days and predicting an ultimate outcome will be hard.
Risks of Non-Management for Brands
Marketing expert Mike Blumenthal suggests companies should proactively handle the feature by making use of FAQs to provide expert answers. Else reputation damage will follow if others start responding.
The case study author notes that a limited exploration of San Francisco has left wondering on the number of companies or consumers paying attention in most industries.
Slow but Steady Growth
According to the GetFiveStars study, total numbers of questions for the 1700 locations investigated have doubled between November–December of 2017.
The San Francisco sample shows that the apathy of SMBs on answers needs to change. Maybe that more volumes of questions can make business owners rethink.
Future Gains from Google Questions and Answers
An early adoption makes sense for business owners. An active Questions and Answers presence could double up as a ranking signal. The local pack rankings do matter in business growth. The SMBs need to understand the risk of leaving answers in the hands of the public. Such answers will vary in accuracy and the risk of losing leads and online reputation looms large.
Use the Opportunity for Consumer Engagement
As a way forward, businesses must diligently inspect the knowledge panel to see questions received. If there are Questions, answer them in the best style.
Spend a few hours every week to make a company’s 5 most common FAQs into Google Questions and Answers queries and try to answer them.
Log on to the company’s Google account while replying to make sure the message passes off as the reply from the business owner.
In case you are marketing a business that has some good Questions and Answers align this to the social media rounds for better reputation management.
Using the service of GetFiveStars will be effective in monitoring Google Q&A feature. Their ORM software (object-relational mapping) packages also take care of spam inquiries and responses. To assess the utility of Google Q&A, the following questions can help.
- Have you ever asked a question using Google Q&A feature?
- Did you get an answer; was it helpful?
- Who answered? The business/random user/Local Guide?
- Have you seen examples of business owners answering questions effectively?
- How do you rate Google Questions and Answers? Is it a winner? Is it worth your time?
Overcome Delay Factor
Regarding the motivation to sustain this feature, picking up the phone and asking questions straight to a business for a faster response will remain the preferred method.
For example, when you want to confirm the availability of organic avocados from California in a supermarket, calling them and finding out is the best way. It is unlikely that you will visit in Google Q&A and wait for a knowledge panel to answer the query by lunchtime. Answers should fly faster.
Moreover the problem of some questions receiving useless answers wastes time. It is hoped that such teething problems will vanish once the feature picks up more pace.