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Google Questions and Answers

Question: Do you know what Google Questions and Answers is?

Answer: While I can’t read your mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re unfamiliar with this new feature. Quietly launched less than a year ago, in August of 2017, Google Questions and Answers provides a bridge between businesses and potential customers. When exploring Google, customers have the opportunity to pose a question directly to business owners and other customers familiar with the business. The feature is accessible and easy to use, and yet many marketers and small business owners have neglected it.

Whether you were unaware of the program till now, you’ve been intimidated by it, or you doubt its value, we’re here to provide some clarification. If you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

Pile of colorful paper notes with question marks.

What Is Google Questions and Answers?

Google Questions and Answers is a new feature that helps businesses and customers engage with one another. It provides several helpful methods of engagement:

  • First, people can ask questions about businesses, and businesses and their customers can answer.
  • Second, businesses can post frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers, anticipating customers’ questions and providing helpful responses.
  • Third, both customers and businesses can give a “thumbs up” to good questions and answers from the community. This will raise them higher in the queue, so that they receive more attention. It can also affect where they appear. For example, if a question has more than one answer, the one with the most thumbs up will appear first.

Google hopes to benefit both the customer and the business with this feature. Although many companies communicate directly with customers via social media, most people find new businesses using Google, so it makes sense to offer a Q&A feature on the search engine. Plus, the Questions and Answers feature appears directly in search results. Customers can receive more details about a business without contacting them in person or by telephone, which may help them make a more immediate decision.

The Questions and Answers feature is currently visible on both desktop and mobile browsers via search with your local listing. Typically only one or two pairs of questions/answers will be shown, and you can click a link to view them all.

Wait – Is this the first Questions and Answers? Wasn’t there another?

Yes, in fact there was. A free knowledge market, the original Google Questions & Answers was launched in June 2007 in Russia and then extended to China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and many Arab and African nations. Using nicknames, users asked questions and answered the questions of their fellow users. Google provided a point system to incentivize users to answer questions. The program was closed seven years after it began, in June 2014.

No, not that one. Wasn’t there another Questions and Answers?

Yes, you are correct! (Google is clearly not concerned with repeating titles.) In the original Questions and Answers, which was launched in August 2001, Google staff members answered questions by e-mail for free. Unsurprisingly, demand overwhelmed supply. The service was up and running for a single day before being disbanded.

What You Need to Know

Should I be paying attention to Questions and Answers?

Yes. In fact, some would go so far as to say it’s crucial that you monitor your listing’s Q&As.

Why? People may already be using your page’s Q&As. They are interested in your products or services enough to leave a question, so if you give a prompt and friendly answer, you may gain a new customer.

In addition, this is a crowdsourced, customer-facing program, so it poses a big risk if you neglect it. Your customers are asked to respond to people’s questions as well. If someone has an unfortunate experience with your business, they may leave a negative response. And if someone knows very little about your business, they may leave an incorrect answer. Based on other customers’ bad information, someone might decide to avoid your business. If you jump in and provide a quick response, you could turn the sale around.

Luckily, Google does remove questions and answers that violate their guidelines. So if you notice a question/answer that shouldn’t be there, report it so that Google is aware. For example, users aren’t allowed to use the Q&A feature for advertising, they can’t ask/answer a question if they have a conflict of interest, and they can’t misrepresent their identity or their connection with the business. If you report a violation, the question/answer will typically be removed within 36 hours.

Remember that Questions and Answers can greatly influence your online reputation as well. If you don’t monitor your business’s Q&As regularly, it could become a brand liability. Potential customers with unanswered questions may feel neglected. Past consumers with a grudge against your business may try to get revenge by answering a question badly. If questions are answered with arrogance or disdain, people may get a bad impression of your company and do business elsewhere. This is why it’s so important for you to watch your business’s Q&As for updates.

Do customers typically provide good answers?

It is a very mixed bag. Some answers are helpful and accurate, but others are just plain wrong. In addition, some answers are funny, snarky, or needlessly complicated. If you ignore Google Questions and Answers and let customers provide answers to all the questions about your business, you’re placing your business’s reputation at risk.

Unfortunately, Google incentivizes Local Guides that have previously engaged with a business to participate in Questions and Answers, giving them three points per answer (which can be redeemed for certain benefits, like free months of Google Play Music). At this point, Local Guides are the ones answering most questions, and many are willing to post false information or to answer with unhelpful replies like “I don’t know” or  “Call the business and ask” in order to get points.

Are business owners and customers treated differently?

In most ways, no. Business owners and consumers are both allowed to ask and answer questions. And when a question is displayed on a search results page, there is no indication as to whether a business or a consumer asked it. Everyone is treated equally. In fact, you can even answer your own questions! Consider adding some FAQs to the feature and then answering them yourself for a jump start.

However, Google does indicate whether a consumer or a business owner provided an answer to a question. Despite what you may have guessed, consumers are treated more highly when it comes to answers – meaning that in the event of a tie, a business owner’s answer needs more upvotes than a consumer’s answer to rank more highly.

How will I know when someone asks a question?

Previously, unless you had an Android phone or tablet logged into your Google My Business account, you wouldn’t receive a notification when someone asked a question of your business. Obviously this wasn’t a very accessible solution. Now, however, you can also set up e-mail alerts within the Settings section of your Google My Business dashboard.

In the future, we expect to see more notification options.

Get Ahead of the Game

Many business owners and consumers are still confused about Google Questions and Answers or reluctant to use it, so you can get ahead of the game if you embrace it now. Monitor your business’s Q&As, respond to questions quickly, post your own FAQs and answers, and report any contributions that violate Google’s terms of service. Google Questions and Answers offers a great way to improve the customer journey from their initial search on Google to their purchase of your products or services. With a little effort on your part, it could be a great way to improve your online reputation and increase your conversion rate.

If you’re interested in improving your search engine optimization (SEO), check out 417 Marketing, an online marketing company based in Springfield, Missouri, that specializes in SEO and web design. Click here to contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.

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