Google Places Updates Quality Guidelines

Google last rolled out the last major Places Quality Guidelines update almost exactly one year ago. There have been a number of often critical additions (here, here and here) during the past 12 months.

Google has once again released a major update to the guidelines. Historically, these guidelines have preceded algo based penalties for non compliance.

I have highlighted in bold the obvious changes in the document below. The addition of Category selection guidelines is a crucial change to examine.

Get started: Quality guidelines

Google Places brings users and their local businesses together, both online and in the real world. To best serve our end users (and your potential customers), we’ve come up with a list of guidelines for your Google Places account and listings.
Your Google Places Account
Ownership: Only business owners or authorized representatives may verify their business listings on Google Places.

Account Email Address: Use a shared business email account, if multiple users will be updating your business listing. If possible, use an email account under your business domain. For example, if your business website is www.google.com, a matching email address would be you@google.com.

Your Business Listing
Business Name: Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world.

  • Do not include marketing taglines in your business name.
  • Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name field, unless they are part of your business name.
  • Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business in the business name field.

Business Location: Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location.

  • Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Listings submitted with P.O. Box addresses will be removed.
  • Use the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
  • Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
  • Businesses that operate in a service area, as opposed to a single location, should not create a listing for every city they service. Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas. Learn how to add service areas to your listing.
  • Businesses with multiple specializations, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the office.
  • Do not include information in address lines that does not pertain your business’s physical location (e.g. URLs, keywords).

Website & Phone: Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible, and provide one website that represents your individual business location.

  • Use a local phone number instead of a call center number whenever possible.
  • Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or “refer” users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business.

Categories: Provide at least one category from the suggestions provided in the form as you type. Aim for categories that are specific, but brief.

  • Categories should say what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not on what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or things it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description or as custom attributes.
  • Categories should not contain location-based information (for example, Dog Walker Los Angeles is not permitted).
  • Only one category is permitted per entry field. Do not “stuff” entry fields with multiple categories.

Custom Attributes & Description: Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. Learn more about acceptable custom attributes.

Other Items of Note
Ineligible Business Models: Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.

  • Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public are not eligible for a listing on Google Places.
  • Rental properties, such as vacation homes or vacant apartments, are not eligible for a listing on Google Places. Create a listing for the central office that processes the rentals, rather than the individual rental properties. If you’d like, you can then add your real estate properties to Google Maps so that they are available on our Real Estate layer.

Disclaimer: Google reserves the right to suspend access to Google Places or other Google Services to individuals or businesses that violate these guidelines, and may work with law enforcement in the event that the violation is unlawful.

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

29 thoughts on “Google Places Updates Quality Guidelines”

  1. Mike, I regularly am asked questions about local search for businesses with service areas well beyond their physical address. Do you have a sense for how businesses listed with designated service areas (as opposed to a designated address) optimize for a search in that area? For example, if I search for “plumber Berkeley CA”, will businesses listed with a Berkeley service area have a meaningfully lower ranking than a business with a Berkeley physical address?

  2. Is there additional information as to if this is a retroactive effort meaning that previously claimed listings would be affected?

  3. @Ted

    When the service area feature first surfaced it was the kiss of death and it totally killed any ranking IF you chose “hide this address”. However with the rollout of Places Search, those penalties disappeared.

    It is still an open, if esoteric question, if the size of the radius or the choice not to show address has some absolute affect on ranking.. if it does, it is a small amount that can be easily overcome with a good web site.

    @Brent

    Google does not indicate if or how a given listing might be affected in any formal way. When their rejection algo was revised in June of this year and they implemented penalties of one sort or another against guideline violators it showed up first when users edited their listing. However, in the second wave, listings were rejected even without users touching them.

    So while I can not guarantee that it will be retroactive, give past performance, it makes sense to get your records squared away.

  4. I do think the guidelines are getting clearer with each update and are likely reflective of chief problems Google encounters.

    I would recommend that Google keep working on the language of this one:

    Categories should say what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not on what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or things it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description or as custom attributes.

    Many types of business categories say what a business does as well as what it is. Language just works that way. I know what they are getting at, but I don’t think they are explaining it clearly enough yet to be foolproof.

  5. I agree with Miriam;
    eg. Company name: “Blah Blah Laser Hair Removal”, Category: (per Google suggestion) “Laser Hair Removal Service” —> is this ok? or not ok? Hard to tell via the present Guideline wording.

  6. In regards to categories and being what you are and not what you offer, where is the line drawn? For instance could a plastic surgeon list breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, or facelift in addition to just Plastic Surgeon or surgeon? It seems adding things like this significantly improves placement for many listings.

  7. @Andy & Miriam

    Yes it gets messy quickly.

    “Plumbing” is obviously not acceptable but I suppose “plumbing service” is?

    “Sony Products” is not acceptable but is “Sony Products Dealer”?

    It would seem that with little work (and a good copywriter… hey this is right up your alley) you can circumvent the guideline.

  8. @ Ted & Mike

    I agree that with the new layout of “Georganic” results, a city that a business is actually located is much more relevant for users, hence to Google as well.

    As a veteran (former) in Maps’s spam, i can tell that each time that Google Maps is publishing their new guidelines- the spammers are rubbing their hands together as each & every section is clearly leads directly to ‘how to trick them’ & get to the top results.

    for instance- use KWs in address line, all their Categories explanations, custom Attributes, Area Served & many other etc..

  9. Regarding NAP correlation (name, address, phone number) between the Places page and the website – if my site’s Title tags are optimized for the service area and NOT the physical address, will Places search fail to see the connection?

    Let’s say I’m located in Brooklyn, but my target area represented throughout the site says “Greater NYC Area.” How could that affect ranking?

    I guess the larger question is how much stock does Places search put into on-page content?

  10. @Iam

    There are a lot of nuances about ranking that involve the interaction of a successfully optimized website for service area and a service area business as identified in Places that is not yet known.

    That being said, the business is located someplace and usually Google uses a number of “signals” to fully understand that: Places Dashboard entry, Contact Us page, KML files, hCard formatted information. I don’t see any indication that on page factors like title tags would override any of that.

  11. @Mike

    That was my thought as well. Places seems to be setting the standard that your Places Listing is what gets you ranked, while your website is your marketing tool to expand upon the Place listing.

    In essence, your Places Dashboard is what Google needs to acknowledge you, and your website can have a somewhat different message (as long as it isn’t completely contradictory or spam).

    If nothing else, I imagine including the hCard would override any contradictory tags or copy.

  12. @Puresheer

    As a veteran (former) in Maps’s spam, i can tell that each time that Google Maps is publishing their new guidelines- the spammers are rubbing their hands together as each & every section is clearly leads directly to ‘how to trick them’ & get to the top results.

    At this point, these are “stale” techniques, no? Clearly Google thinks they have them under control or will soon or they wouldn’t be so obvious about them. I wrote about Google penalties for geo cramming categories a while ago.

    It seems that it is the “next” technique that would be valuable to spammers not the last one.

  13. @ Mike,
    You got it totally right! the guidelines reflecting old/er spam techniques. To rephrase- The guidelines are causing the new spammers to rub their hands together (i can see that in the Locksmith industry for new companies that trying to join the endless marathon this industry is in).
    —Remember— even older techniques are still VERY valuable. even something old, stupid & simple like this listing. See listing title & categories

    The old, more experienced spammers are already couple of steps a head. I’m sure that in time Gmaps team will catch up a bit & keep on refreshing their guidelines accordingly as there are heaps of stuff they are not really aware of (apparently).

  14. Here’s a good example of location spam

    Search Google maps with this: security pest ma

    They have one physical location and 60 Google Places listings!
    How about verification by mail only (no phone) and re-verification for Companies like this?

  15. Oh man, thank you watch dog Mike, for catching these changes as soon as they happen.

    I can’t even comment about the category change right now. Brings up SO many issues and questions for me. I’m going to blog it and try to figure out some of my thoughts about it as I type.

    HOWEVER, as I was starting to write my post I was going to use the guidelines change about descriptions that we all thought was causing so many rejections and problems as an example of a point I was trying to make. When I went to grab a quote from the guidelines, I noticed – THAT PART IS GONE NOW!

    Previous guidelines:

    “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, address or category fields.” (bold/caps by me)

    Many of us on the Places forum translated that to mean that ABC Plumbing in Atlanta could not have an innocent description that read “ABC Plumbing is a local plumbing contractor serving the Atlanta area”.
    And it appeared many were getting rejected or having other problems, due to violating that part of the guidelines.

    NEW Guidelines:

    “Custom Attributes & Description: Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing.”

    So the part in bold was omitted. Accident? Oversight? No longer a prob? Relaxing of that rule???

    What do you think?

  16. Gosh, good catch, Linda. I would love to here further comment on that as I have found this whole ‘do not repeat’ thing to be incredibly nitpicky and cumbersome.

  17. Hi Miriam,

    Once I got used to the description thing to me it wasn’t a big deal. I would just write it more as a subtle sales message to help conversions. (Got used to writing in synonyms too. ) ;-) BUT that’s partly because I could put the main keywords in the cats. IF that’s changed now, then I guess I may need to put some KWs in the desc. But of course they don’t typically do much for ranking there.

    But this category thing is a big deal for me in my market. It crosses over into so many other areas and has tie-ins to lots of issues that have to do with how the new merged algo works too. My short post is turning into a big long book about all the challenges and questions this new vague guideline raises for me.

    BTW been wanting to meet and talk to you for a long time. (Not many female Places warriors like us out there!) We should connect one of these days. :-)

  18. What about service providers (eg. SEO providers) that can have clients everywhere? The web, even Google, benefit from the fact that the web has no limits in its reach. How will they treat business with an online presence or won’t this limit them in some way.

  19. I haven’t tried to create a Google Places business listing, yet, but all of the rules are a bit overwhelming.

    I do appreciate the information! I’m sure having the facts about what is and is not allowed will help me set up a listing that doesn’t get taken down.

    I have a quick question: How do you stay on top of the changes Google makes and what they mean for their users? Thanks!

  20. “I have a quick question: How do you stay on top of the changes Google makes and what they mean for their users?”

    Hi Mark,

    The best and easiest way to stay on top of it, is what you are already doing. Read Mike’s blog. He reports all the most important changes.

    The 2nd way is time consuming, but that’s to read or at least scan the Google Places forum every day.

  21. When I read stuff like this, a dilemma sets in.

    At the moment, I am number one in local results for many of the keyword phrases for my telecom business.

    The dilemma…

    If I make the changes outlined in the posts NOW, I risk LOSING my position to a competitor, or even getting dropped entirely off the page BECAUSE the present rules are in effect. No-one really knows if / when the NEW “rules” will go into effect… or whether there will be revisions that will be incorporated if / when they do implement the changes that will make any changes I do today detrimental when the FINAL changes actually DO occur.

    But on the other hand… if I WAIT to make the changes, I could end up in purgatory if they boot me out because of the fact that I was non-compliant when the changes do / did kick in!

    It seems to be a roll of the dice, and either way, I could cost myself (or my SEO’d customers) weeks or even months of de-listing by trying to simply comply with a set of rules that aren’t in place at the moment, and could be weeks or months off in actual implementation… or may be different when they actually do change to the new rules!

    If you screw up, it can be hell to pay, and you may not even know why or what you did to incur their wrath!

    Then the issue comes into play with my SEO customers… with the same potential problem with them… make the change to soon, and they drop… too late and it’s purgatory.

    Just venting!!!!!!!!!!

    John Palma

  22. Great post. Thanks for keep updating the latest guideline. I’m wondering what is the best to do for a business that target two languages. Two listings, different languages separately?

  23. Hi Mike, I’ve been running through these updated guidelines to see how a client of mine’s listing has been rejected. The listing was active and ranking well for over a year. Now, even though it says we’re rejected, we’re ranking around 5-7 rather than 1-3 like before. The only issue I can see with the guidelines is that the listing is accessed through a domain that is not related directly to the clients domain. I’ve other listings in the same position without penalty, but has anyone seen this affecting listings on their accounts?

  24. Aloha Mike. What chaps my hide is that I have reported at least ten businesses using different url’s with city keywords for each location, that are all in one packs, or number one in the ten packs, and nothing ever happens even after several months. Instead, I get an email that says it is an owner verified listing and to contact the owner. WTF?

    But if I was to do that, I would instantly be banned. What gives?

    All you need do to rank in Santa Monica, for example is a url like http://www.santamonicainjuryattorney dot com, and a keyword stuffed name like “John DOE personal injury attorney Santa Monica” and you can beat everyone. And they NEVER get removed. Nothing has changed.

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