As David Mihm pointed out in his recent Search Engine Land article summarizing some of the issues with local categories, there has been a lot of discussion about categorization in Google Maps. A number of suggestions for ways that Google might facilitate SMB interaction with the Local Business Center were offered.
In addition to penalties for businesses using geo phrases in the category fields, Google has made several minor but interesting changes to their categorization feature in the LBC that have flown under the radar for the last month.
Somewhere around mid August, Google started requiring that at least the first field be a category chosen from their drop down list. It will generate an error message if it is not from the list. The remaining four fields may be either suggestions from the list or custom choices. If a custom category is chosen, the user is alerted that it is in fact not a standard category.
The requirement of at least one formal category gives Google a much better idea of the general activities of the business and a clue about classification. It might also give Google a better idea of certain types of spamming. I presume that the custom category alert might force users to take a second look at the standard categories to see if any apply.
One additional category upgrade that I failed to mention is that Google Maps now displays custom category content in the Maps listing. This improved transparency gives all a better of idea what category is being used and if guideline violation is happening. Another positive move by Google ( I have been just gushing lately).
PS I also find it interesting that even this new relatively simple interface can cause legitimate confusion for some people. Here is a posting in the Forums:
Don’t understand error message on business category-
I’m a Long Term Care insurance professional. I selected Long Term Care insurance as a category & received – “Select at least 1 category that matches suggestions as you type”. What does that mean?