It’s been a challenge for small businesses — and even professional marketers — to stay current with the flood of new Knowledge Panel Business Profile features that Google has introduced in the last couple of years.
One of the most visible of those features, released in August of 2017, is Questions & Answers. In a nutshell, Q&A enables any Google user to ask, and any Google user to answer, any question about any business in the world. These crowdsourced questions and answers appear prominently on the Business Profile anytime that business is searched.
Because this feature was incubated by Google’s search team and not natively within Google My Business (GMB), even business owners actively engaged in their GMB dashboard haven’t had much insight into questions their customers were asking. Alerts about new Questions from Google are currently limited to the Maps app for Android.
With our latest feature release, businesses can now can assess, monitor, and respond to new questions directly from their Inbox.
We also incorporate your engagement with Google Q&A in a new “Communications” section of the ThriveHive Google My Business Grader (also free).
To get started monitoring Q&A on your Business Profile, just enter your email address, sign in with your Google My Business Account, and we’ll automatically begin your monitoring and assessment.
We’ll also guide you on questions that you should be asking and answering on your own profile to give customers a complete picture of your business.
Fundamentally, the act of listening to your prospective customers’ questions isn’t all that different from other forms of “social listening.” But because of the open nature of Q&A, business owners have a greater opportunity to influence the conversation by asking and answering their own questions (in fact, Google recommends this in its own marketing materials).
To make the most of this opportunity, GatherUp’s Mike Blumenthal has outlined a 5-step plan for success with Q&A: Plan, Post, Monitor, Respond, and Report. (We of course hope that our Grader and guided marketing Inbox can help you with all of the above!)
We don’t know what effect, if any, Q&A has on how well you rank; as with so many Google My Business features, the best advice is to focus on your prospective customers — and not on SEO — when considering what questions to ask or how to answer them.
But let’s address the first two steps in Mike’s plan, and the advice Google gives in those marketing materials:
What questions should you ask and answer on your own Business Profile?
That’s what we sought to answer with our latest research study.
We examined the Business Profiles of each business in our Perch app customer base (63,122 questions and 47,039 answers). To satisfy our own curiosity, we paid particular attention to questions that had been asked or answered by Business Owners or Local Guides–though our results are based on data for all Q&A, not just these two special user types.
Our amazing Data Science team then processed question text into word counts. Since some words are more relevant to question content than others (e.g. the word “and” versus the word “appointment”), word counts were adjusted to increase the value of relevant words over non-relevant words (i.e. term frequency-inverse document frequency weighting). Questions that had similar values for these adjusted word counts were then grouped together using a process called K-Means clustering.
Within each group, one question was identified as “canonical” based on how well it represented the group. The final list of canonical questions had specific holidays and products replaced with general tags (i.e. “holiday” and “product”) based on a publicly available dataset (i.e. Ontonotes).
Other potentially-interesting metrics we looked at:
Each of these metrics is available on a per-category basis. Dive into those results by searching your Google My Business category here.
Perhaps not a surprise, but we found that 91% of questions from prospective customers have yet to be answered by business owners.
91% of questions from prospective customers have yet to be answered by business owners
If you’re not familiar with the Local Guide program, it’s essentially Google’s version of Yelp’s Elite program, where active Google Maps users are rewarded with points and various other perks for helping Google build richer profiles of local businesses.
We found that three-fifths of all questions (61.6%) had at least one answer from a Local Guide. But perhaps even more interestingly, 82.6% of all questions answered had at least one answer provided by a Local Guide.
Business owners should keep in mind that answers from Local Guides or the general public may or may not be accurate! So be sure to respond to each question to ensure your customers receive correct information about you.
As we reviewed the questions themselves, we found a surprising number related to “are you open today?” “can I make a reservation?” or other time-sensitive information. This speaks to the demand from consumers for more real-time messaging–a neglected feature we expect Google to encourage among business owners soon.
These ‘immediate’ question types were particularly prevalent in relation to holidays. Google has been prompting verified businesses to specify holiday hours for several years. But in many cases, customers are still asking those questions via Google Q&A.
Google has also been adding attributes — many of them sourced from Local Guides — to Google My Business profiles for the past couple of years, but as with holiday hours, consumers still ask about these frequently.
Prices, parking options, delivery options, gift certificate availability — all were common questions across many different categories.
As a business owner, a good practice might be that as you see Google suggesting attributes for your business, consider asking and answering a question about that attribute on your profile at the same time.
Auto repair shop: Do you do emissions tests?
Bakeries and pizza restaurants: are there gluten-free options?
Golf courses: Do the carts have GPS?
These are the kinds of specifics that customers want to know.
This is a great takeaway for business owners: Q&A gives you the opportunity to showcase the products and services that make you stand out with potential customers. Think about what makes you unique or what some of your top-selling items are, and highlight those in Q&A to attract more customers interested in those items.
Either that, or a lot of Seinfeld fans do. We found that the most commonly asked question of modeling agencies is “Do you have a hand division?” 😂
Please keep in mind as you review these takeaways that:
Despite those limitations, this study builds on two earlier, smaller-scale studies from GatherUp’s Mike Blumenthal and Moz’s Miriam Ellis. We hope it increases the knowledge among the local business marketing community about how to build compelling, engaging Business Profiles for your customers.
The aggregate data alone are interesting enough to look at, but the real value comes in diving into our results by category.
We of course hope you use our results to ask relevant questions and propose answers on your own Google My Business Profile. But you don’t have to stop there.
You can use our results to populate website FAQ pages (perhaps with more in-depth responses than make sense in the limited space of your Google My Business Profile). You can use them in tandem with Service Menus for items your customers commonly ask about. Or perhaps as the foundation of market research into new product or service offerings among your own customers.
This is the first of what we hope will be an ongoing study of this exciting feature of Google My Business Profiles. Got suggestions for future exploration, or more basic questions about Google Q&A? Let us know in the comments (probably a more natural place than our own Business Profile, although we’ll check there, too ;)), and we’ll do our best to answer!