Google Maps announces Quality Guidelines & Reinclusion Option

Today Google Maps has introduced quality guidelines for business listings in the Google Maps. Google has also now provided a reinclusion option. Both are available via the Google Maps Help Center.

Quality Guidelines:

The following items outline practices that could result in your business listings being permanently removed from Google Maps. While they cover the most common practices to avoid, Google may respond negatively to other practices not listed here. If you have any question about whether or not a tactic is deceptive, we recommend you stand on the side of caution.

  • Represent your business exactly as it appears in real life. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
  • List information that provides as direct a path to the business as you can. Given the choice, you may want to list individual location phone numbers over a central phone line, official website pages rather than a directory page, and as exact of an address as you can.
  • Only include listings for businesses that you represent.
  • Don’t participate in any behavior with the intention or result of listing your business more times than it exists. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
  • Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title or address fields.

The guidelines are a first real indication of Google’s standards for defining a real business listing from a spammy one. Previously the only known criteria was the single location/single listing rule. However the guideline still offer some ambiguity as to what is spam and what isn’t. For example are affiliate florist’s phone numbers that are listed in local phone books like Superpages using local exchanges but having no actual address considered spam?

For the first time Google has made an authoritative statement about keyword stuffing of business title. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title or address fields. The word never indicates that it is a clear and unambiguous reason for being delisted but as I have found in the small business world there already is ambiguity as to naming of businesses. This reality creates a fairly broad area of both discretion for Google and unclearness for small businesses.

The reinclusion request takes on a certain confessional aspect with required self reflection and identification of the SEO firm that may have precipitated the problem.

Kudos to Google for clarifying their rules and creating an opportunity for reinclusion when appropriate. These rules provide much clearer guidance about what can and can not be done.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps announces Quality Guidelines & Reinclusion Option by

32 thoughts on “Google Maps announces Quality Guidelines & Reinclusion Option”

  1. I find the guidelines still very vague. When you read them the first time they seem pretty straightforward, but for example, having your title representing your business; in to what extent? Just your registered chamber of commerce name or can I list a business as ‘dental practice Dr. Wisdom Tooth’ if dr.wisdom tooth was my registered name?

    also not having your custom attributes conflict with your title might be something to look after when using additional info to describe your business in the title.

  2. Yes there is ambiguity in business naming so it will be a fine line that leaves a lot to Google’s discretion….not just as to what the name is but how one would go about changing it in a legitimate fashion.

    Yahoo for example forces the name back to some original source at the end of the year if you don’t pay for the premium listing…Will Google do that or will they just ban you?

    What is that original source that Google will use for reference so that you can change your name if you want to?

    Lots of questions…it is the new frontier with Maps Guide Jen playing Judge Roy Bean!

    Mike

  3. The naming convention issue is terribly vague and difficult.

    There are quite a number of businesses which have one registered business name, but are effectively doing business under a separate brandname. This creates a lot of variation among possible names which can or should be applied to a business listing.

    Just a few example cases:

    - Restaurants often start with one business name. Yet, when they expand to building restaurants in other locations, the additional locations will use a completely different restaurant name than the parent company name.

    - Doctors listings in directories are often only composed of their name, such as “Smith, John”. Their practice’s office is often a separate name — like “Medical Clinic”. Both names should perhaps be allowed to be used under separate listings (since Google Maps doesn’t allow for captions underneath an umbrella business name) so that users can find either listing, depending on how they search.

    - Businesses have a lot of variation between the official, registered business name with their tax office, versus the name on the sign outside their store, versus the name on their letterhead, versus the name they’re listed in within directories, versus the name they declare when answering the phones. In day to day use, a business may commonly state their name along with their motto or tagline.

    The desire to have a single, authoritative business name is admirable on the part of Google and completely understandable. However, the application of this has a definite element of arbitrariness.

    I’ll certainly avoid recommending that businesses state any sort of false business name in their listings, but I think in many cases it may not be difficult for them to officially rename themselves for greater advantage.

  4. Hi Chris

    Yes there is an incredible amount of ambiguity in naming conventions some legitimate and some not so. But as you point out there are plenty of reasons for incongruence that are legit.

    It will be interesting to see how Google implements a rigidly stated rule in the mess that is the real world….will they automate a check? will they only check if there is a complaint? What is the standard that they will use to check against? Or is this just FUD that will only be applied to some and not others?

    Mike

  5. Ambiguity aside, don’t you think this is huge that Google has finally put up SOMETHING? I’m excited to see this!

    May I ask a question of Chris? I thought your restaurant example was very interesting. I’ve never heard of this and can’t recall a single local example of this. Could you give an example of ‘child’ restaurants changing names from the ‘parent’? All I can think of is chains. I’d like to know what you know about this.

    The doctor example really deserves and answer. Does it have to be just Jones, Joe MD or can it be Marriage and Family Therapist, Joe Jones?

    Short of walking up to the door of your office and reading what’s on the plaque, what is Google’s definition of your official business name? We need to determine their trusted source for this, but they’ve made it pretty darn clear that, unless you were smart enough to name your business a keyword, putting one in the title is officially spam. Too bad for the New York Times who should have had the foresight to name themselves “big new york newspaper”!

    Thanks for announcing this, Mike.

    Miriam

  6. @Miriam

    It does reflect a certain maturation of Local and in that sense it is significant that Google has released guidelines. It provides a reasonable standard for a business to follow and business always functions best in a defined environment and that is a significant improvement.

    But and here is the big but…how will this be enforced? Will it be on an ad hoc basis? Will spammers be actively prevented from posting such a change or will they get short term benefit until caught? I guess I am asking if smb’s will be put at a disadvantage if they follow the rules?

    There is also the larger question of whether a business should be able to have an internet DBA and what would that look like if it were legit? In other words if a business that has a DBA different from their incorporation papers decides that they want a dba to cover local and the internet but not put it on their front door is that ok?

    Mike

  7. “I guess I am asking if smb’s will be put at a disadvantage if they follow the rules?”

    My feeling is that this will follow the pattern we have historically seen with so-called black hat tactics in the organic results. Google does not preemptively stop such actions. Rather, they quietly sidle up and deal with them when they find them. Google is extremely unlikely, in my opinion, to implement a manual review of all LBC listings (which would be the only way to prevent abuse) so I think, Mike, that SMBs do stand to ‘lose out’ to competitors who act outside of the guidelines.

    This brings me back to a discussion we had many months ago about some business (can’t remember which one) spamming the heck out of Maps and walking away with a very fat wallet prior to being de-listed. In the short term, they made a ton of money. But, then they suffered the consequences when Google discovered their activities.

    So, yes, SMBs will likely continue to suffer in local as they do in organic due to aggressive competitor tactics, but in the long-term, they can feel reasonably confident that they won’t have punitive action on the part of Google to deal with, ever.

    Like you, I really want to know about the DBA. This seems really important.
    Miriam

  8. @Martijn – thanks!

    @ Miriam

    I firmly beleive that Local needs to ultimate be handled differently than Web resutls for the simple reason that we need to strive for truth and trust as opposed to relevance…we need to know that the medical clinic is where Google says it is and that we can trust the phone number.

    In this context it is incumbant upon to build a system that verifies that truthfulness not just pass it through an algo…Yahoo checks these changes and ultimately my sense is that Google will need to work at the same standard.

    Mike

  9. Google is at their best when speaking out of both sides of their mouth. Vague enough to cover everything, precise enough to have a hammer. It’s a fun game for us SEO’s to play.

    We’ve been trying to use “Link Building by Vertical Measures” for many business listings, but not with Google or Yahoo.

  10. hi mike,

    this is good news about the guidelines. but i’m still curious about the issue i’ve pointed out to you before where a service (comedy defensive driving dallas) is provided at a location (local restaurants) that is not the actual business (defensive driving) address. i would assume this falls under “Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service.” but since they are using a business address, even though it is not their own…dang…well now i’m confused.

  11. Hi Kimber

    Yes your situation is a very gray area from where I sit and I would agree that it is an abuse. But I am not the final arbiter.

    In your case, you have two rules that are apparently broken, the service area rule and the multiple businesses at one location rule. HOWEVER, and it is a big however, The driving school that is using restaurants for course delivery is doing so with the agreement of the restaurant owner so Google has a verified PIN so….

    It comes down to intent. Is it deceptive for the school to show the locations where they present their material (the restaurants) as their locations…again my vote would be that it is deceptive. It would be like a rock star listing the auditorium where he/she performs as their local address.

    Ultimately you need to get Google to look at this issue again. Now that they have a formal reporting mechanism you will at least know that they have seen it, If they don’t get taken down you will know what their opinion is.

    Mike

  12. Mike-

    Great info you keep bring to the forefront of local.

    We have always made the recommendation to agencies, channel partners, and businesses that “pure” business information is what the sites what. It was just a matter of time before they put these types of guidelines in place.

    Best, Mike Pycha
    Localeze

  13. Is it ok if Google forces businesses to change the way they’ve done business for decades? Tens of Thousands of service businesses operate with a multi-city strategy. A one city territory is frequently not big enough to make a profit. So if I’m a plumber, I might consider the San Francisco Peninsula my territory – I advertise in Burlingame, San Mateo, Palo Alto, Half Moon Bay, Redwood City, South San Francisco and Mountain View. I’ve done this for 25 years or more, getting separate phone numbers for my yellow page ad to make sure that consumers in each of those communities know that I welcome their business.

    Google Maps comes along and I suffer a decrease in business because I don’t appear on the maps where I legitimately am doing business.

    The Palo Alto consumers suffer, because no experienced, qualified plumbers are located in Palo Alto (it’s way too expensive to locate there) and the only ones that appear on the map are startups, handymen and scammers.

    Why is this good?

  14. @contrarian

    In our capitalist society rights are defined by wealth not ethics so I will leave the question of Google’s rights to another discussion.

    I would agree with you that Google Maps is not as effective or useful as it could be in dealing with service area issues. I wrote this article on Searchengineland over a year ago suggesting ways that Local could integrate service area information in a meaningful way without compromising the promise of presenting accurate bricks and mortar information. Obviously, Google did not act on my suggestion to provide a service offering layer to Maps. Go figure.

    While your situation is not good, the idea of clear guidelines is good because it creates an understandable context in which businesses can compete. If you don’t want Local Search to become anything more than mere a Snake Oil Pitchman then leave the spammers (and large corporations) to do their thing. I can guarantee you that you will not be visible in that hypothetical environment either.

    Clearly Google is attempting to make Google Maps reflective of a physical bricks and mortar reality. If that is what they want then they need rules to police that. Could they do more and offer a view of the services offered in an area? Sure, but they haven’t yet. Given that their guidelines make some amount of sense.

    Mike
    BTW I don’t publish email addresses of posters, but I do require them when posting. I don’t require a URL which allows you to retain some privacy. I would appreciate if you respected that wish.

  15. I have tried and tried to change an incorrect business listing on Google maps and none of the instructions fit the situation. One listing is correct for the business and one isn’t, but there is no way to remove the incorrect listing and no one to contact. It is very frustrating.

  16. Google’s only support is at the Google Maps Help Forum. Their standard position is if you can’t claim a wrong record it will eventually be dropped from their system. Eventually turns out to be a long time.
    1)Have you claimed both listings in your LBC?
    2)Are you unable to claim them for some reason?
    3)Perhaps you can update the wrong listing via the community edit function if you can’t claim via the LBC

    Mike

  17. Any change is an improvement for local businesses.

    I have to read alot more to understand the changes.

    I have consulted with small local businesses for several years.

    Many have suffered from the impact of internet marketers.

    The florist industry is a very prominent example. There are a myriad of internet marketers that are not legitimate florists. They have contracts with the wire services, i.e., teleflora and FTD, to process their orders through local florists.

    These marketers have very pervasive SEO and appear in prominent search results all over the USA in every little town,etc. Their e-commerce sites take the customer orders and they inturn pass them over to the wire services.

    The wire services send the orders out to a florist in the area where the internet marketer received the order from.

    In other words, the internet marketers are scamming a 20 or better percent commission by just passing the order through the wire service. The local florist as a participant in the wire service has to give up appx. 30% of the sale to compensate the internet marketer and the wire service. This not only is a loss of income to local florists, but the local florist has no knowledge of the purchaser of the flowers.

    The internet marketers build highly competent email campaigns using periodic, but not less than 12 emailings pre year to previous customers.
    This is continuing to cause economic issues for brick and mortar florists.
    The largest number of businesses for sale in America for the past few years has been local florists.

    The Google maps and local business searches keep yielding up results on NON-local businesses ahead of local businesses. Google should prioritize local business listings accord to the search criteria used by the searcher. In other words.. If the searcher uses keywords flowers & Orlando the first search results should be from local florists in Orlando only

    As it is, the search results return NEAREST results, which means even the local florists in the specified city or usurped by internet marketers and other florists near, but not in the specified city.

    I realize most small businesses do serve greater areas than just where they are specifically located. Yet, the searcher didn’t ask that in the search. The search specified flowers & Orlando. Therefore, if the local business has a physical address within the specified city his listings should come before all listings that are not within the specified city.

    This way local area businesses with brick and mortar stores do have preference. They should have preferential positions as they are local businesses physically located within the specified (searched) area.

    As it is….the NEAREST results turn up a myriad of out of city results. The local businesses, even if there are only 3 of them turn up way back the search return results. They don’t have adequate SEO knowledge to pump themselves to the front of the listings, when they should precede all other local listings including NEAREST, if they have a physical address within the city specified in the search.

    This criteria should also apply to zipcodes as well.

    Local people are using the internet, not local yellow pages for the most part. This especially applies to larger metropolitan areas where there are adequate broadband providers and computer literate persons.

    The basic criteria for small business searches with the Google Maps should be…

    Local Business that provide the service searched and have a physical address within the specified location should receive preferential placement in local business with map locations. They should appear first in alphabetical order on search result pages.

    NEAREST local businesses should follow them on search result pages. The internet marketers should not appear unless they have a physical address within the search area.

    The internet marketers and directories should be allowed commercial advertisements, but they should NOT appear as LOCAL or NEAREST business within local type search result pages.

    This is not an isolated problem for florists. It applies to other types of local businesses.

    Search engine companies want people to use the internet, that is the future for the search engines. The search engines must accept constantly changing environments as they take on more areas of interest for searchers. Google and the other search engines have moved into establishing themselves as huge searchable directories, similar to a huge yellow pages. There are responsibilites that go with that enlarged role of service.

    Note: The yellow page directories even today alphabetically list local businesses. This may not seem like a best way, but how do you “honestly” provide a criteria that would be more important to searchers at this very basic level.

    Someone might suggest additional criteria for placement. Reviews.. we all know how they can be manipulated, time in business not good because a real loser can buy an established business.

    Alphabetical order takes the search engine out of qualifying business and still provides the basic information required by the searcher.

  18. Google seem to be really trying to crack down on spammers and fake businesses, i just wish it was easier to get help from google.

  19. Hi,
    My listing first disappeared from Local business center and now has also disappeared from google maps.

    If we can create only one listing per location, how come we can then upload a data file for more than 10 listings,

    Is there a chance that my listings can come back i was no 1 and was getting great business

    let me know

  20. Can you still access your LBC?

    Just because you can upload 10 doesn’t mean you should upload 10. The guidelines are pretty clear that one location gets one listing.

    From the guidelines:
    Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.

  21. Hi,
    Ya i can still access my LBC properly. All the listings are present and saying Active.

    Every competition i see has multiple listings some that do not even are present in the location.

    Has google flagged by listings is there any chance? can you help me with what do i do

  22. Hi,
    Our is a primarily a website development agency with core focus on websites, flash designs, and also print designs, interactive digital marketing and corporate branding.

    Generally i create a normal ad using the above keywords, fill everything from our timings, to payment that we accept, photos, our specialty and different industry we server.

    The ads that i had created were doing really good so it has really harmed us now that we dont have any ads

  23. 8.I am having the exact problem. My keyword was website designing company delhi it was comming at top in local business but now it’s disapeared.

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