Google Places Basics: Two Business Listings Or One?

Many small shop owners think of themselves as being in more than one business. They have (perhaps loosely and imprecisely) marketed themselves under two or more brands into their local market and the allure of doing so on Google Places is strong.

Should they continue to do so?

Scott of BreakTheSeal in the UK asked me how to best handle this situation. He inquired:

If you have a business, offering 2 separate services but at the same address, under slightly different names, is it good to have 2 separate Google Places profiles or to amalgamate them into 1?

My predicament comes from a current client, a hair salon that also offers a specialist wig service for cancer patients.

I’m not sure whether to create 1 for each side of the business, Trinity Hair Studio and Trinity Wig Specialists, to target their individual service, or to create one for a Hair & Wig Studio. Will Google presume they’re duplicates if the same brand name at the same address is used and disregard one, if not both?

My answer:

Just because a business has two forward facing marketing brands & endeavors does not make it two businesses.

If they are to be separate on Google Places then they need to be completely separate everywhere both online and off; different DBAs, different (preferably land line) phone numbers, different suites, different print YP ads, different listings ACROSS the internet etc etc. Otherwise you can be sure that Google will assume that they are one entity and surely merge them into one.

If a business is not prepared to make the investment that the above implies (new phone line, legal filings, on-going marketing online an off etc), I would not even attempt it.

It depends not just on how the owner perceives the business brands & businesses, or how the consumer perceives them but how the Google algo perceives them. Given that it is a “black box” this is not easy to predict.

The Google merge & purge algo is imprecise and may still merge the two businesses even though they are in fact two distinct businesses, even with the many investments noted above. It is likely that the imprecision with which the business owner offered up their business has already creeped online and is “polluting” the clarity of their business in the local ecosystem

The other issue is that building out the online prominence of two businesses is roughly twice the cost and effort of building out the online prominence of one business. It doesn’t particularly scale – you will still need unique websites for both businesses, citations for both businesses, link backs for both businesses…

The safe route is to take the consolidated marketing approach. This will not only allow Google to “get it right” but allow you to focus your on line marketing resources & lower your ongoing commitments to that marketing. I would do a pre audit and attempt to assess exactly how muddled the current business identity is and first make sure that it provides a clear, single voice as to the identity of the business.

I would also consider whether there is a seasonality to the two endeavors and perhaps switch emphasis within Google Places to periodically reflect that.

Doing a great job online for one business is hard enough. Doing it for two is more than most small businesses can cope with on an on-going basis.

I am not saying, never do it. Just be sure that they understand the commitments and costs of being two businesses rather than one.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places Basics: Two Business Listings Or One? by

27 thoughts on “Google Places Basics: Two Business Listings Or One?”

  1. Thanks for the great post as always! As a dentist or a clinician, do we fall into the same area? I know that Google and other pundits have said that we can have one listing for the clinic, then one additional listing per every clinician. I have seen some do very well with this, while others are penalized by Google for multiple listings. They may also be diluting their efforts with multiple listings. Would it still be better to have one solid listing instead of multiple listings for different clinicians?
    Thanks!

  2. Google noted here and then clarified in their guidelines that:
    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.

    This is not a matter of punditry but acknowledgement that professional practices can have one listing per practice and one per practitioner.

    Google is going to bring individual practitioner listings into the index regardless of whether you want them to or not so the question becomes how to be leverage the situation.

    I think that it is easiest to “go with the flow” and claim each practitioner listing. It is best to keep it to just the practitioner name as adding the practice name after that or before it increases merging likelihood.

    Generally speaking the citations for the practice and practitioners are created and tracked separately (ie from different websites etc Avvo tracks practitioners only, Localeze tracks practices only, InfoGrid tracks both).

    Whether you want to optimize for both the practice and practitioner is a matter of budget and specialty.

  3. Thanks Mike! The only real real citation hiccup that I have had is with healthgrades. They use the information based on the NPI (National Provider Identitiy) that we all have to use. That info is based on the government listing and is slightly different than most of my other citation info. I have had to go with the flow and just let it be in many cases.

  4. What about hospitals? Main hospital listing only or per department ? We obviously would not try to create a listing per doctor / specialist, but having a separate listing for a Cancer Center, Pediatrics, or Neurology dept would ok, right?

  5. @Lauren
    Hospitals are a unique use case and one of the lease well served by the structure of the local ecosystem.

    You should minimally have one listing for each forward facing phone number.

  6. On a somewhat related note, what about businesses that have multiple offices, with separate addresses and phone numbers, but the same company name and same website? I’ve had several clients for whom we’ve created separate Place Pages for their different locations. Is that kosher by Google, or will they likely try to merge the separate listings into one? So far, they’ve kept the individual Place Page for each location, but are we in danger of that changing?

  7. There are many Google place page disconnects from the real world. Non-destination service businesses that service greater Corpus Christi are not included in searches when they are less than a mile away from its epicenter, across a small inlet in Portland, TX. Google’s inability to distinguishing between what are technically separate services offered from those that can be considered actual brand extensions is further compounded when there is commonality within the NAP. How about local service businesses that actually use a call center and where the call center’s address is at geographic epicenter, then use the don’t-show-the-address option for complete and intended unfair advantages in search results? Finally, there is the full spectrum of Google non-penalties to extreme penalties with no consistent or obviously rationale present.

  8. @Cindy
    It is kosher from google’s perspective to have one website and multiple locations and I have no doubt that it will continue to be so for the future. Otherwise all the State Farm agents, McDonalds and HR Blocks of the world would be in deep trouble.

    I do believe that there are better and worse ways to reflect this reality in the business website and better and worse ways to communicate it clearly to Google that will minimize the chance of mergings.

    @Jim
    Yes as with any system designed to scale whose quality control is driven by statistical analysis there are many “edge cases” that are not dealt with well… either by intention or by exclusion. It is the nature of the beast when dealing with ~150 million businesses around the world.

    One would hope that Google improves on these “edge cases” over time. In the meantime they can be frustrating to those that are affected and the beast that is Google moves on its own obtuse internal clock.

  9. Hi Mike,

    I thought it is important to have the company name, address and phone number on Google Places match the website and citations exactly. My client has 2 companies, 2 websites, 1 address. If I created 1 Google Places listing would the rankings not be affected because of the mismatch with the company name?

    Note – they have 2 Google places listings at the minute ;)

    Joe

  10. @Joe

    If you have done all of the work to create two distinct businesses, are providing strong local signals for the two businesses and Google is not merging them, that is great. I am not sure what you are asking.

  11. @Mike

    I only recently created the second Google Places listing so am concerned about them being merged and the rankings being affected.

    After reading your post I was thinking of merging them myself. I guess I will just see how it goes for now.

    Thanks for the post :)

  12. @Joe

    Gotcha… the real decision, as with all investments, is whether to hold your position, increase your position or pull out.

    Given that you have little to lose at this point, pulling out, as you figured out, is not really going to minimize your losses… worst case is it is a wash.

    Thus you are in a position of making the choice between a hold (no additional investment in the marketing) and increasing your investment.

    The answer depends on the projected value of the other business and the value of any given sale… if say one, two or three additional sales would more than cover the cost of investing in marketing the second location then I say go for it… go ahead and invest in citations, legitimizing the business, a phone line etc.

  13. Mike, I might advise this hair salon client a little differently, not from the Google Place position but from an SEO and marketing position.

    This client has two completely different markets – one with hair, the other without. So I’d definitely recommend they have two websites to cater to each and I don’t feel it’s twice the amount of work.

    If you merged the two businesses and sites into one, you’d still have to develop content for each. And your link building would definitely be double even in a merged site, if done right, because you’re trying to attract links from relevant sites, each market being different.

    The only place I’d think you’d save work would be in citation building, but would that be worth the trade off?

    Having two separate sites makes each one that much stronger in SEO for their particular markets. And you’d have the benefit of designing and building each site for that particular market. Imagine what the individual and separate home pages of the hair salon and of the wig site would look like and compare that to the home page of a site that catered to both. Coming from a marketing and graphic design background, I see them as very different. So from a marketing and SEO perspective, a combined business just wouldn’t be as strong in my opinion.

    But the cautions you give about getting it right with Google definitely must be heard and obeyed. Some may want to choose the easy and safest way out.

    My 2 cents, sometimes worth less, sometimes more. And always your admirer.

  14. @kathy

    Your advice is good and from a strictly SEO perspective it might make sense. But remember that the question at hand is about their marketing per se but their presence on Google Places

    I would agree with you 100% that if they have the budget, money and bandwidth that splitting out the businesses might makes sense assuming that the income from the second business warrants the investment.

    But having two businesses in the Google mind’s eye can’t be done by halves ie you can’t just do the website and the two Places listing (although you could do two websites and one Google Place). It needs to be done whole hog or not at all. Many SMBs can’t or won’t make the commitment of time, money and brain power to make two businesses work from one location.

    My experience is that advising an SMB is the easy part. Having them do stuff is the hard part….. Nothing is worse than having one unmaintained website other than having two unmaintained web sites along with merged business listings at Google.

  15. “My experience is that advising an SMB is the easy part. Having them do stuff is the hard part…..”

    Boy do I know that! So very, very true!!

    And one thing I didn’t mention is it might not even be worth the time and effort depending on the competition. If they’re in NY, the ROI might warrant it. In Timbuktu, no.

  16. Hi Mike

    This blog is really a treasure trove of information and one of the first sites I visit to be in the know about changes to local search. If you or any of the clever good people here could give me some advice that would be ace.

    There are 2 issues I’m facing at the moment:

    1. client places listing (duplicate issue) and

    2. competitors multiple listings (different business names same address and type of work).

    1. (sort of unrelated to the original post) I got confused between the original listing which was ranking quite well and a duplicate and had asked for a removal rather than suspending the listing in the places account. The wrong listing was removed. (Live and learn)

    But now another duplicate from a third party review site has popped up – it says owner verified listing but when I go into Google places it only shows the listing I’ve optimised. I think this new duplicate may in fact be a vestige of the old one I removed and asked to be deleted but I can’t be sure.

    It actually ranks higher than the listing I want to use but I can’t get to the better ranking listing through client’s places account and if I suspend the listing I want to use then that and the duplicate are both unavailable “Sorry Google places does not support the location at this time”.

    Any ideas or suggestions would be really appreciated?

    2. Clients competitor has 3 places listings within the 7-pack all for the same address with different registered business names. It is the same type of business for all 3 listings which is in my clients niche of ‘tv repairs’ He also has 2 separate sites to support these.

    What is the best practice for this? It doesn’t seem right to me and a little black hattish as the competitor is taking up 3 listings where it seems to me he should rightfully only have one.

    Do I report it to Google? Or do I emulate it and advise my client to register another business name in the hope that he can take 2 listings which along with organic search and PPC would then get him 4 bites of the cherry on the first page?

    Any thoughts and ideas on this would be greatly appreciated.

    thanks kindly

    [I am not a spammer] hee

  17. I have come across this issue quite often when companies try to re-brand or create an offshoot company. It is especially prevalent in HVAC and cleaning companies if you do a quick search. You will see that many have multiple companies with different DBAs but then see it is the same address, phone, or url. I got off a call just a while back on a client we inherited someone’s previous attempts to do what was mentioned above and Google had frozen/merged and denied some of their listings. We had to start fresh with all new numbers, DBAs, url, etc to clear up their issues.

  18. Thanks Mike For the above post. However, i have one query which is still unresolved.

    My client is running three colleges in three different locations..one is in NY another two are in different parts of Manhattan

    Query

    We have only one corporate website
    we have three different address (Physically present)
    Same toll free number for queries..
    I dont want to change the name of the college as it doesn’t make any sense. So i have added the same college name under three listings..

    Can i get banned of having the same business name ? (Very Imp)
    Is it mandatory to change the phone number. If yes..will extension work?
    Same website..
    Same Description
    Same Categories

    I really appreciate your speedy response as the listings are live and i dont want to take any risk..

    Thanks,
    Neha

  19. @Nehar
    You are eligible for one listing per location with Google. They prefer but don’t ban, a unique number for each location.

    What exactly are you asking me? If you will be punished or merged? The answer to both is that you are not in violation of any Google rule but the merge algo might bite you IF you have not made the presence of the 3 locations perfectly clear with a good website structure, unique landing page for each & strong upstream citations for each.

  20. Mike, I too would like your answer on “2. Clients competitor has 3 places listings within the 7-pack all for the same address with different registered business names.”

    Here’s another example that is slightly different. Search in Places for “scotts valley chiropractor,” you’ll see Dr. Hinde has 3 listings – 3 different business names, 3 SLIGHTLY different addresses (but all at the same place in reality).

    If you were working for Dr. Hinde’s competitor, what would you do?

    Thanks, Kathy.

  21. I tried to see if this question could be answered from the comments, but I haven’t seen this situation or anything similar discussed…

    I have a non-profit client that uses its buildings in Japan for two clearly separate purposes: weekly church meetings and free English classes. There are completely separate websites advertising each of the two activities. The websites and the operations are maintained by separate staff. They have separate names and phone numbers. However, they share the same physical address.

    Would it be appropriate for them to refer to the English teaching activities using the same address as the church and simply add “Suite 2″ as a way to make it geographically different, even though there really is no Suite 2? The English classrooms are contained inside the church.

    I asked the Google Places product manager about this situation at a conference last year, and he didn’t seem very clear about what to do. I’d be grateful if someone with experience here could jump in and give me some help.

    Thanks,
    Richard

  22. I had my website taken off Google Places recently when the florist who used my website for receiving orders decided to put her own website on Google Places. The site she has doesn’t sell flowers just shows more about her business etc in her own name which is what she wanted to get out there, were as my site was for selling flowers only.

    I still rank very well organicly but losing the listing has meant decreased sales and my florist isnt to bothered by that and also won’t add my site onto her listing for people who want to order.

    My question is much like the others as to what can i do to get the site back onto google places?
    I would like to keep my relaitionship with my florist but if i can’t resolve this I may have to find another.

    God Bless
    John F.

  23. Is it ok to have two different businesses in one same exact address? One is a food manufacturing business and the other one caters to web design services.

    regards,
    Carl

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