Auto dealers say Google's imperial approach is risky
David Barkholz is a reporter for Automotive News.
Auto dealers are losing patience with the often imperial ways of Google and beginning to look elsewhere for online vehicle shoppers.
Mark Brady, executive director of Fisher Auto Inc. in Boulder, Colo., says Google has a responsibility to explain why the giant search engine cut customer reviews on his Google+ Local page in August from 300 to 11.
Dealers create Google+ Local pages for free and then can channel customer reviews to the site. But Google ultimately has the power to determine those that stay based on Google's secret algorithm to determine authenticity and relevance.
Brady has tried for months to find out from Google why it deleted reviews, but Google won't answer his e-mail or phone queries.
"They ought to get out of reviews if that's how they are going to run that business," said Brady, who added that since Google deleted reviews his Honda and Kia stores get about half as many phone calls from Google searchers a month as they did before the cuts.
Google's mysterious ways and impenetrability prompted Tom Wood Toyota to encourage its customers a year ago to provide reviews to online vehicle shopping site Cars.com over Google.
Diana Weaver, the store's Internet marketing director, said the Indianapolis-based dealership now has more than 400 reviews on Cars.com and fewer than 30 on Google after mass Google deletions. "I could see the handwriting on the wall," she said.
These days, dealers often refer to Google in mocking terms, such as "the man behind the curtain" who, like the Wizard of Oz, held himself out as all-powerful.
Because Google frequently makes dealers guess how to obtain legitimate reviews or how to get in front of a shopper using a Google search, a cottage industry of consultants has sprung up to guide dealers through the land of Google.
They are as much shaman as technician, though. They often guess wrong on what works best.
Recently, one consultant acknowledged the blunder of advising dealers to collect customer reviews on iPad kiosks at their dealerships a week before Google cut hundreds of the reviews collected that way.
When the experts have a hard time keeping up with Google's constant maneuvering, things have to change. Google could start by coming out of hiding and directly telling dealers what it needs of them. If it doesn't, it risks losing them to other sites.
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