Ever since Google rolled out Questions and Answers in mid-2017, I’ve been trying to get a sense of its reception by consumers and brands. Initially restricted to Android Google Maps, this fascinating feature which enables local business owners and the public to answer consumer questions made it to desktop displays this past December, adding yet another data layer to knowledge panels and local finders.
As someone who has worked in Q&A forums for the majority of my digital marketing life, I took an immediate shine to the idea of Google Questions and Answers. Here’s a chance, I thought, for consumers and brands to take meaningful communication to a whole new level, exchanging requests, advice, and help so effortlessly. Here’s an opportunity for businesses to place answers to FAQs right upfront in the SERPs, while also capturing new data about consumer needs and desires. So cool!
But, so far, we seem to be getting off to a slow start. According to a recent, wide-scale GetFiveStars study, 25% of businesses now have questions waiting for them. I decided to hone in on San Francisco and look at 20 busy industries in that city to find out not just how many questions were being asked, but also how many answers were being given, and who was doing the answering. I broke down responders into three groups: Local Guides (LGs), random users (RUs), and owners (Os). I looked at the top 10 businesses ranking in the local finder for each industry:
|Industry||Number of Questions||Number of Answers||LGs||RUs||Os|
|Real Estate Agencies||0||–||–||–||–|
|Cell Phone Stores||14||3||3||–||–|
Takeaways from the case study
Here are some patterns and oddities I noticed from looking at 123 questions and 274 answers:
- There are more than twice as many answers as questions. While many questions received no answers, others received five, ten, or more.
- The Owners column is completely blank. The local businesses I looked at in San Francisco are investing zero effort in answering Google Questions and Answers.
- Local Guides are doing the majority of the answering. Of the 274 answers provided, 232 came from users who have been qualified as Local Guides by Google. Why so lopsided? I suspect the answer lies in the fact that Google sends alerts to this group of users when questions get asked, and that they can earn 3 points per answer they give. Acquiring enough points gets you perks like 3 free months of Google Play Music and a 75% discount off Google Play Movies.
Unfortunately, what I’m seeing in Google Questions and Answers is that incentivizing replies is leading to a knowledge base of questionable quality. How helpful is it when a consumer asks a hotel if they have in-room hair dryers and 10 local guides jump on the bandwagon with “yep”? Worse yet, I saw quite a few local guides replying “I don’t know,” “maybe,” and even “you should call the business and ask.” Here and there, I saw genuinely helpful answers from the Local Guides, but my overall impression didn’t leave me feeling like I’d stumbled upon a new Google resource of matchless expertise.
- Some members of the public seem to be confused about the use of this feature. I noticed people using the answer portion to thank people who replied to their query, rather than simply using the thumbs up widget.
Additionally, I saw people leaving reviews/statements, instead of questions:
And with a touch of exasperated irony:
And to rant:
- Some industries are clearly generating far more questions than others. Given how people love to talk about hotels and restaurants, I wasn’t surprised to see them topping the charts in sheer volume of questions and answers. What…