Google Places Quality Guidelines Update -Ongoing Classes at a Different Location are Ineligible

Nyagoslav of Optilocal was first to highlight this recent Google Places Quality Guideline update:

You also can’t create a Places listing for an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent. Please coordinate with your host to have your information displayed on their Place page as a custom attribute or within their Description field.

The driving class that meets at the local club, the AA meeting at the local church, the Yoga class that meets at community centers, the Lamaz birthing class that meets at the medical center, the farmer’s market at the Mall parking lot…even if independently owned and operated are now explicitly prohibited from having a Places page.

Does the rule make sense? Certainly these types of businesses fall into a grey area and have long been a problem in Google Places. Is Google Places about a Place or about a business?

Given that Google has long contended that Places is supposed to be about a place then I suppose the rule has a logic to it. It is the same logic that would dictate a computer service organization that makes regular visits to the local university should not claim the university as an address.

That being said it points out another hole in Google’s ability to service this whole category of business.  Google’s suggestion to leverage the Place page of the location where a class is held to mention your event makes little sense, particularly since the Place page has become much more sparse. The only real opportunity to highlight a service like this on the location’s Place page would be the “Share an update feature”. Unfortunately that is as buried as the coupon feature. Using the now hidden extra details as Google suggests would be useless and there is not enough space in the 200 character description. Not a helpful suggestion at all.

The other question that comes up is how is this sort of business different than a container business (ie an independent eye glass store that is located within a Walmart)? I think that Google would contend that the container business has a permanent presence and physical infrastructure reflecting their brand where the mobile class does not.

While I feel for the sort of business that is affected by this decision, on average I agree with it and look forward to Google developing a better way for a business that operates like this to present themselves.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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18 thoughts on “Google Places Quality Guidelines Update -Ongoing Classes at a Different Location are Ineligible”

  1. Does Google really want to exclude the Rotary Clubs and other business organizations from ranking in Place Search? I think (know, actually) Facebook welcomes them with open arms.

    I think it’s a bad rule for searchers. An option for “events at this location” would get around it in a snap, where those clubs simply list themselves as an event rather than a business.

  2. Thanks for the recognition, Mike. Just a minor note – it is OptiLocal :)

    On a side note, I was also thinking about the dilemma “business vs. location” on Google Places, but as everywhere in the quality guidelines they talk about “business”, I believe this rule is rather controversial and not well-thought over.

  3. @David
    The ruling is consistent with their Places is a Place mantra but you are right, it is not good for searchers. The solution that would offer the best of both worlds, as you point out, is not rocket science..particularly if the dashboard were multi leve/multi user…so that the Rotary Club could manage their own meeting schedule at the given Place with impacting the rest of the record.

    @Nyagoslav
    sorry for the early morning (for me) typo… now fixed… although I kind of like the new name I gave your company… you better go buy the domain name before one of your “friends” in eastern Europe does so… :)

    I think that the rule is stating what has been the reality. I have seen a number of these types of listings get punished in the past…

    In some ways it reminds me of the battle between the storefront that is paying taxes and the illegal cart on the street that isn’t… it has two sides thats for sure.

  4. I’m not sure where this should be better posted but I figured why not give it a shot here. I’m sorry in advanced if this is too far off topic.

    Last week I noticed that Google has gotten rid of my alternate numbers on my listings. I go into my dashboard and make an edit to have them show again, the numbers still appear there when editing my listings but they’re invisible to the public. Has then been noticed by anybody else or is it just my account screwing with me?

  5. Mike,

    Thanks for catching what I view as an increasing problem within the Places Community. It’s getting more and more difficult to explain to clients why they don’t qualify for places due to their business strategy, and this is just another type of business that’s getting ignored and neglected by Google.

    @Douglas Our listing only has a main number so I can’t give a definitive answer, but I’ve noticed a lot of information has either disappeared or become hidden with the roll out of the “new look” for Google Places.

  6. I actually agree with this. Those items mentioned above aren’t businesses – they are events being conducted at places. I do event marketing and there are plenty of tools for it like Eventbrite and Constant Contact- but Place Pages aren’t the place to do it IMO

  7. I tend to agree with David.

    We have a local friend who runs fitness boot camps. He’s been putting them on 5 days a week in the same locations for, literally, years.

    They are the locations of his business and in my opinion he is legitimately identifying the “places” one can take his class.

    The fact is, he has no physical office address. Is his less of a business than a gym which offers a similar service? No, it’s not. But he’s penalized when one searches for his offerings due to his non-standard location.

    It’s a business, bound to a location, just like a McDonalds. It’s just not the only and/or primary business at that location.

  8. I agree with Jim, though this is a tough one…really wish there was a “know it when I see it” clause in G. Places.

    Kind of seems crazy, though, when you consider that even DVD vending machines occasionally have their own Places listings…

  9. @Will

    The thing we can’t see is the number of abuses that allowing this sort of business has caused. Google takes a broad statistical approach to index quality. If allowing this has led to 100X spam and there are only X affected businesses, they will come down on the side of banning the 100X… it is certainly a difficult one to police.

    @Phil
    Sometimes things get into the index that shouldn’t be…. UHaul for example has a listing for every mom and pop gas station that carries their sign… snuck in via some 3rd party…

  10. Google introduced ‘Bettys Hair (Inside Safeways). So why cannot they add
    ‘Boot Camp (Class at Church Hall). I assume that Safeways and the “Church Hall” have a Places entry. A list field could be added to the Places entry giving a list of allowed qualifiers for the host, say for the ‘Church Hall’, “Class, ‘Meet Up’”.

  11. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for highlighting this. Ideally Google should offer some facility to ‘attach’ events/classes to a venue listing (with the approval of a listing owner) to allow businesses that use locations owned by third parties to create time specific entries.

    Events/Classes could then be optimised for search based on location, keywords AND timing in order that the consumer is provided with relevant information and the original listing does not need to change.

    Any thoughts?

  12. @Andrew
    there are subtle differences between “container” stores and movable classes not the least of which is investment in infrastructure and a commitment to a physical location (that is more easily verifiable).

    Most class type businesses want 3 or 4 or 5 listings with one cell number. Do they deserve them more than a Doctor that call in 3 or 4 hospitals?

    @eIM
    As David pointed out in his comment, there are a number of useful ways that Google could handle this.

    I typically don’t suggest solutions as I figure they have enough PHDs per square meter to figure it out.

    Certainly Google could accommodate these types of business in some way…
    that would not compromise index quality and lead to merging.

  13. Two thoughts:

    One is that it would be hard to keep class-type listings up-to-date. A yoga class may last for six months and then be over. Who will take down the listing to prevent SERPs from displaying outdated info?

    The other is that I have to wonder if Google’s stance on this comes from their notorious problems dealing with multiple business types occupying the same location. Maybe they don’t want more of a headache.

    David’s suggested solution is a good one. These places might not need to have their own Place Page. I’m not sure. But what David is suggesting seems to me to be a workable solution.

  14. @Miriam
    Your point about dead listings is another good one.

    So it would seem that the reasons in favor of the policy
    -difficulty using 1 phone for multiple locations–> mergings
    -difficulty policing this sort of listing –>spam
    -trouble with dead listings after a class moves on –> dead listings.
    -these are more like events than Bricks and mortar –>belong some place else

    The reasons against:
    it leaves a class of business out of the index.

    I am with Google on this one. (Not that my opinion is a critical benchmark here :) )

  15. Good point Mike.

    Another way is to add a linking table to the Boots Camp Places entry where they can link to the class location in Maps, perhaps put a pointer type in Maps, with a start and end date with say 6 month elapsed limit.

  16. This rule makes sense but there really must be something available to small educational businesses who struggle to make a living and who operate by renting space for their organization on a consistent basis, often from community centers or shared studio locale or school. A shared address is an issue so google would rather remove than consider a real life business that is recognized by the local community. To me, places means that people searching to find products and services nearby can do so. They look for the place of service. If this is banned, the many educational services will be hurt. There must be another way to confirm that indeed this business is available from this location, as it’s own entity even if they rent space within a school or other location. How will google solve this?

  17. Hi there, and thanks for the very useful article!

    I have listings which I now believe do not match these new(ish) guidelines on ongoing classes, meetings, etc. and I want to remove them so as not to incur the wrath of Google.

    I wonder if you could give some advice on the best way to do this.

    I understand Google gives me 2 options – one to remove the listing from my account and the other to delete the listing from maps. I understand that Google in any case nowadays scours other online listings databases and builds up ‘unclaimed’ listings for businesses and shows these alongside user-created Places maps. (It seems to have done this for a number of my competitors.) If I choose to delete my locations from maps, will that mean that any other data Google would naturally crawl from these directories will also be deleted from Google’s databases, so my listing becomes totally invisible in Google maps? If on the other hand I just remove the listing from my account, will I still be contravening Google’s policies as basically dumping data I’m not eligible to have up online into their system?

    Are there any other Pros and Cons of the two different actions for someone in my position?

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