Don’t Serve Clients at Your Business? Hide Your Location – Or else

Two weeks ago Andrew Shotland described how he had his listing taken down after a Googler called him and asked whether he served clients at his location. When he said no, his listing was taken down. He ran across what was then a “hidden” rule. The rule has now become public. If you don’t serve clients at your location and only serve them on site it is necessary to hide your location in the Places Dashboard.

Here’s the advice that was recently added (but still somewhat hidden) to the Help Files:

What are my options when defining a service area?

Don’t receive customers at your location? Serve customers at their location? Select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option within your dashboard — if you don’t hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.

Update: Google has added this new requirement to the Guidelines:

If you don’t receive customers at your location, you must select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option within your dashboard. If you don’t hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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39 thoughts on “Don’t Serve Clients at Your Business? Hide Your Location – Or else”

  1. Still seems crazy to me that something like this can’t be automatically accounted for – e.g. when you check that you don’t server customers at your location you get a message that says “we are going to automatically hide your location”.

    Seems a bit more effective than freaking a business out by removing their listing.

  2. Good tip. Does this also apply to companies that provide electronic services and never see the client at their office, which could be their house?

  3. Just when you think Google Places is evolving….

    better support systems, new forum, in fact Google is going to help SMB’s to set up their own mobile sites… for free.

    Just found out it will roll out in about one month.

    So what if a business serves client’s at their addresses? How will Google be able to determine that other than calling, like they did with Andrew, or choosing the option in their account?

    Are they going to call every service-based business in the world? lol… I wonder if they will just arbitrarily remove listings without warning.

    I wonder why Google even cares…to me it is a clue to something about their algo….

    Mike, thanks for reporting this shift!

    @Andrew: I totally agree with you…

  4. Okay – this has got to be my least favorite Google decision EVER! Go-to-client business models must make up at least 1/2 of the types of local businesses in American towns. I’m ticked.
    Miriam

  5. You beat me to the punch Mike. I was waiting to blog. I just asked Google to reconsider or at least give formal notice or a warning or something before implementing this. Or I think there will be quite the backlash and this could hurt a lot of SMBs.

    PLUS every SMB and Places specialist still thinks of hide my address simply as an option or feature G offers home businesses that want to hide their address for privacy reasons. That’s how it’s always been presented.

    In fact check out the FAQ right on the Places home page:

    “What if I don’t have a store or office?

    Every business listing must have a mailing address. If you work from home or you are a mobile business you can specify a “service area” in the sign up process and CHOOSE to hide your physical address.

    (CAPS by me)

    Note they say CHOOSE to hide, not you must.

  6. How can this happen ? Just imagine if I have a office but my work is as such that I must serve my clients at there place, what am i supposed to do ?

  7. To all

    Am in Germany so I will be brief. I think google’s intentions here are well meant even if their communications have sucked.

    If you have a home business that doesn’t accept visitors and isn’t really a business location, then you need to follow this suggestion.

    If on the other hand you have a business location (even a home based one) and do accept visitors (if only the occasional client) then you should choose service area and show your address.

    If you think of it from the human point of view, Google is attempting to accommodate both home and B&M locations AND provide the best user experience.

    Before Venice, the hiding of your address punished your listing. Now that virtually all displays are blended and there is no longer a ranking disincentive, Google is attempting to clean up their approach to businesses based on whether a user should/could use Maps to find them.

    That all being said, Google once again has managed to miscommunicate their goals and intentions or as Linda points out their confused intentions……. they will get it some day… in the meantime… I think that this decision reflects a rational path forward.

    With the new clarification, there are three classes of business:
    1)Pure Bricks & Mortar that sells to clients/customer at their business location only
    2)Businesses with a business location that don’t USUALLY serve customers at their location but could. They do however accept business related visits like employment interviews, vendor visits.
    3)Home based businesses that ONLY service clients on site and really don’t ever transact any business at home.

    I realize that in reality there are more than 3 business types BUT Google in the past only had two… and they are trying to clarify their rules and be closer to that reality. Not a perfect simulation but reality is messy.

  8. But are we going to be penalised in the rankings if we check the box and effectively admit that we dont have a local bricks and mortar business?

    I can see the rationale – Google does not want to be serving up addresses and then having disappointed customers when the business is not actually there.

  9. Mike,

    It makes sense. But I was always under the impression that not displaying your address was the kiss of death in rankings? Anyone notice a difference with this new option?

    And does anyone know if that will expand your radius of your possible rankings.

    How will citations work with no address being displayed. And what about a trust factor…?

    Even though people know a plumber is at your location service based, people still see trust in seeing an address… even a mailing address.

    It would make more sense to me if it was a displayed option that shows up on the Google Places listings.

  10. @Jo – I agree with Mike that there is no/limited penalty any-more.

    I would have originally thought there would be a penalty associated with having your address hidden, but I’ve been tracking a competitor for over 6 months who mysteriously changed their page to remove the location and I’ve seen no apparent change in rankings for them.

    (Other than regular ranking changes due to SEOs doing their thing throughout the vertical)

  11. Re: Ranking – I don’t work with service area businesses much so have never tracked it. In the PAST it used to seem hiding address hurt rankings and that was the common thought. But for quite some time now I’ve seen lots of top rankings with round map markers and no address. So I think it’s changed and don’t think it affects ranking as much now.

    Duane asked “Also, aside from the trust factor, can business with a bad location benefit from these changes?”

    I’m thinking it could possibly help and am going to test it. Not with a BAD location per se, but a business that’s in a small town right outside a large metro. Thinking switching to service area MAY even help rank better in the bigger city – not sure.

    I’m going to do a before/after adding service area and hiding address ranking report on a listing and if I see anything significant will be blogging the results.

  12. @Jo we posted at same time. I had 2 thoughts when I read your comment.

    1) You still have to enter your address on your Place page so even though you hide it from public view I wonder if they still might factor in your location. (You know how they say they still read and factor in more details section even though it no longer shows live.)

    2) If what you say is true then the opposite COULD also help certain businesses. If you WERE far from centroid but hide address, the map marker may generically be more in middle of town. So could help in those cases? (Not sure.)

  13. @Andrew, since Mike is out of country with limited time, I’ll answer your Q, from up top.

    “Does this also apply to companies that provide electronic services and never see the client at their office, which could be their house??

    Technically if that’s the case they do not qualify for a Place page at all. Only brick and mortar SMBs with face to face contact do.

    Per the guidelines:

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

  14. Thanks for the tips everyone! Back to the original story; I must say that I absolutely hate the new Google Places India team. Their service techs are rude to my clients when they call, causing nothing but confusion with their vague questions.

    I, like others have posted, avoid hiding addresses because it has always been the kiss of death. Going forward my fear is that Google will flip their philosophy again and, if I change various clients listings to the hide address, their listing will suddenly get penalized. Lets just say that Google and I have real trust issues ;).

  15. All — your feedback here’s heard. I’m sorry we didn’t roll this out in a clearer way, and we’ll work to do this better next time changes occur.

    As Mike points out, showing your address is still an option. You can show your address if you legitimately serve customers there, even if it is a private home. The purpose here is to avoid a bad user experience: User goes to a place listed on Google Maps only to find that it’s a private home and they’re not taking customers there.

    We’ve added language to our quality guidelines (under “Business Location”) to make this rule clear to all users:

    http://support.google.com/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=107528

    Thanks,
    Vanessa, Google Places community manager

  16. (Somewhat) agree that in theory , this seems (somewhat) logical, but in practice , this could be alarming to business owners.

    For one, Google is now policing whether or not a business serves customers at their location or not based on a phone call to the business? How do you define “serves” clients at their location? So much gray area.

    I can see many instances where a business serves clients at the clients home, but still wants their “operating address” displayed for trust purposes.

    Seems odd that a search engine would get in the business of deeming when it is appropriate or not for the business to display their business address and remove their listing (see:penalize) accordingly? Seems like that should be the business owner’s decision.

    @Mike … what is “isn’t really a business location”? Impossible to define in the smb world. I guess what is a bit unsettling about this is it doesnt seem like is should be on Google to determine what is and is not a “business location” and Google should not REMOVE listings based on their definition of ‘business location’. That should be the business owner’s decision to show their address or not. There are so many gray areas that there would be a ton of collateral damage if a policy like this is kept.

    SMB landscape = all gray areas. Very tough to tread these kinds of lines.

    @Vanessa – very tough to define “legitimately serve customers there”. Knowing the SMB landscape, that is very, very arbitrary. Slippery slope.

  17. @Vanessa

    Thanks for stopping by.

    @All
    Since blended results came out in late 2010, hiding an address has not affected ranking in those blended results. If an address is hidden it was and still is “punished” somewhat in Maps. It usually drops on the order of 10 or 12 spots in Maps. Thus when Google was surfacing Map and Blended results in organic at roughly equal proportions it affected ranking in the main serps if the results came from Maps.

    However, since Google has moved almost entirely to blended results in the past 6 weeks this “punishment” no longer affects any of your results in organic. It still affects your listing inside of Maps but the loss of rank in Maps has a trivial affect on your traffic since Maps never sends much traffic anyways. I suppose it could affect mobile Maps as well.

    Regardless I think the traffic loss due to the “punishment” is trivial as most people use Maps for driving directions and thats why you hid the business in the first place.

    @Jacob
    The owner still has complete control over whether he chooses to show his address or not. If he wants to show his address then when Google calls and checks in with the question about whether he serves clients at his location he needs to respond in the affirmative. AND he needs to be willing to service the client if he/she in fact drives out to his house… That to me is not a big deal.

  18. Seems to me if only businesses that have in person contact with customers qualify for a Google places page as Linda points out the guidelines show – doesn’t that disqualify Google?

  19. @Chris
    Google does transact business with clients at its locations… you or I are not typically considered important enough (ie our Adwords spend doesn’t hit the radar) to do so.

  20. Can someone please tell me the EXACT location where I can check the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option? I must be going blind because I cannot find it anywhere in my dashboard.

    Thanks

  21. Have known for this a few years… still think its crazy! what baffles me even more are some of the spam words… “pine” street is one clients address.. added it only to get told its a spam word.. but put the words pinestreet as one word and presto..go figure!

  22. If anyone happens to visit the area in question on the technical help forums that deals with this conversation they will find thousands of business owners commenting on the same facts.
    The call was quick
    The caller was rude
    The owner answered all questions as should with a valid home office
    and lastly there listing vanished within minutes of the caller rudely hanging up on them.
    I am not too sure that Google really feels the burn of there India Maps division making the final decision on this subject. Take the number of posts on the subject there and then figure in how many business owners know how to find the forum then figure in it may be only 15% of all the listings that were affected and you have a epidemic in work.
    Now that being said the “dont show my address” does not affect page ranking when the rest of your web presence is good. I know that from a first hand experiance. MY own.
    Search roadside assistance in San Antonio Texas and see what you come up with on the top spots. Then please mull thru the top 2 and tell me where you find points of contention with the rest of there listings. Page landing word stuffing, category word stuffing, Texas locksmith liscense being missing etc. Oh and yah removing your address does not affect page placement here.
    Sorry for the rambling but im fed up with these issues with the revamping of a already broken system.

  23. I’m curious if anyone had their listings removed and then changed their address to “hide my address” and had their listings come back…

    If you did this how long did it take to get them back?

    I think I’ve fallen victim to this myself, but I haven’t “hidden” my address just yet.

    Thanks!

  24. Corey I don’t think just hiding your address will bring the listing back. Don’t think they spider, see change and magically restore. Think you need to get support to re-evaluate your listing after you hide address.

    To get help with your missing listing…

    Use Google’s Fix a Problem Troubleshooter
    (Be sure be logged into the same account your Place page is in)

    http://support.google.com/places/bin/static.py?hl=en&ts=1386120&page=ts.cs

    I have verified – Yes >> I have used report a problem – Yes >> Last option – My listing no longer appears on Google Maps.

    You’ll get an auto-responder, but once you get a reply from a live person (can take several days) explain your situation.

    Linda

  25. @Linda – thanks for the response.

    I understand (from what I’ve read) that the blended listings aren’t “supposed” to be affeced by the “hiding” of your address in Google Places because SEO has some effect on where those show up, but that your listing on Maps itself could fall. Is that a correct understanding?

    If so how will these listings be affected :: http://screencast.com/t/V2ryTQMLU

    (or are those still considered blended listings?)

    Thanks!

  26. Corey that particular example is blended.

    It’s harder to tell them apart now. But you can tell it’s blended because there is no link at top that says “Places for Keyword near City” PLUS you see meta titles instead of Places titles.

  27. In order to be in compliance with Google’s regulations, I changed a few of my client’s Places listings to hide their address and use a service area. Within a week both of these listings dropped from first to outside of the 7 pack in blended and Places searches. The strange thing is that if you do a search without the keyword and location and just use the keyword, it still ranks high – as long as you are physically within the area you are searching.

    This shows me that it still affects your rankings if you hide your location. Especially if it’s still ranking without the location when doing a search.

  28. For 31 years I legally operated a fully licensed tow company from my home. Zoning was fine with this. Customers would come to my house where our office was and give us keys for their cars, payments, etc. Our business license shows this address, our equipment is parked there, our 40 foot radio tower is there, our base station radio tower is there and our telephone is answered by my wife there. Then on Mar 5 2012 Google Places deleted my business base on a report from “Anonymous” that we had gone out of business. No word received from Google, we just disapeared. Google insisted I could not operate from my home. For 2 months we have been trying to work with Google and for 2 months our business has been terrible, almost closing us. I have now setup another listing for our storage lot in hopes that will be acceptable. On top of this, we keep being told that our listing has spam, but we cannot find out what that means. We have stripped our listing to just the mandatory requirements and read Google’s policies until our eyes are dropping out. We cannot find any violations, yet we are still accused of “deliberate spam”. When you cannot get guidance from Google, when a nameless, faceless person controls your listings, when you cannot find out what you are doing wrong, when nobody can solve the problem after more than 40 emails, 4 faxes to Google in California, and no response to 2 priority mailing, frustration sets in.
    I and many other legitimate companies are in limbo and many will probably be forced out of business because of a system that is badly broken, cannot be fixed, and that is arbitrarily operated. We hired a company to do a web page for us, and we keep trying different things to clean out our “spam” (whatever that is) and we are just spinning our wheels. Why can’t somone at Google simply tell us what is needed so we can do it? How many companies will be destroyed before Google gets its act together? How long before some government dude decides that Google’s power has gotten so big that it is considered to be a monopoly that is violating anti-trust laws by destroying many businesses? After two months of being almost shut down by these arbitrary practices, I am fed up but I must keep fighting until something happens. I once thought Google was great, I now fear and loath it. What has Google done for its reputation by going after so many small companies? Sorry for going too long, but I and many others are sick of this treatment and of Google, but we have to depend on it, because it is virtually the only place we can go (it controls 70% – 80% of the internet).

  29. Read some of your comments and have some answers: Google closed us without any notice, we found out when business dropped. We got added back for a few hours, but after the India team hung up on me when I had trouble hearing the lady who called, we were dropped again. Google should honestly call the business, send an email, or send a letter to confirm information rather than just shutting a company down. If a company is reported as “out of business” Google could easily confirm it. And what does it matter if a company operates out of the owner’s home as long as it does so legally? And why does Google determine whether people come to your home for business and not take the word of the business owner?

  30. Okay, this is getting silly. I’m a reputable and established plumbing company and have been on Places for a long time. We moved around during the boom/bust cycle and it played heck with the listings.

    I’m off the Places list today after being on for two days. The Maps people called and asked if I had a storefront and I said yes, by appointment only. Two minutes later I’m off the Places list.

    I checked off the “Do not show my address” and resubmitted.

  31. OK, my problem is that I can’t even FIND the “do not show address” option. I know I clicked it before at some point, but now my address is back, and I can’t find the option to change it back. I don’t WANT my address up there, as I provide a very private, personal service and my clients prefer discretion. Also, I work from my home, BY APPOINTMENT ONLY, and I don’t want people just showing up unannounced. Can somebody PLEASE point me to exactly where that option is now??? I’ve searched and searched to no avail.

  32. @Natalie
    It depends on which dashboard you are using.

    If it is the new one then edit the listing and
    -select edit Address.
    -then UNSELECT the “I serve customers at my business address” option. See a screen shot here.

    If you have the old dashboard go into edit mode and
    -Select the down arrow on Service Areas and Location Settings
    -Select Yes, this business serves customers at their locations
    -And CHECK Do not show my business address on my Maps listing

    See a screen shot here.

  33. Thanks for the email, Mike. I’m posting anonymously because I don’t want to get on Maps’ radar again.

    This subject is really all about Maps and its job. Maps is attempting to create a near perfect image and that includes the businesses. If some business tries to screw Maps job up by not following the parameters, it gets the ax.

    Believe me, I know first hand. My plumbing company serves people at their homes. No walk-ins whatsoever. We also rent commercial space when times are good and when times are best, we expand to other counties. When times are bad, like since 2008, I can operate from my house and a storage unit in town. That’s what I’ve been doing.

    At first, Maps had a hard time keeping up with me and then I gave them b.s. addresses to stay on top. I gave them huge amounts of grief and let me tell you, they react strongly to that. They deleted real life, honest reviews and kept the bad, competitor-posted ones.

    I’d get an ally like Mike and a Google employee to help me and then Maps would swoooop in and knock me off. Mind you, if I had the capital, I’d be in a shop with a real commercial address, but to this day, it’s a week-to-week struggle. It was embarrassing, to say the least.

    NONE of that drama was needed. Why? All I had to do was check “Don’t show my address”. After I checked it, I’m still in the top three listings. Boy, was my face red.

    Okay, why do I still score high on Maps without an address? That’s better explained by Mike, but know that I’m a legit business and have been on Google since Day One. I’ve got cred.

    Again….Maps is doing its job and woe to the one who tries to screw with it. Be honest with them.

    And Maps? Can I have those 10 missing reviews back? Please?

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