What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker

A client asked me to advise him on the best way to handle the categories in the MapMaker listing for his business. I felt that the question deserved a thorough and comprehensive answer so once again I turned to Dan Austin, MapMaker contributor and expert, with these questions:

What is the best practice for adding categories in MapMaker? How many is too many? What are the limits? What are the Gotchas?

Dan’s response:

There are no real best practices, other than avoiding keyword spam.

There’s a few problems with categories in MM,¬†namely:

*Categories in MM don’t match the categories in Places, creating data issues.

*Categories are not comprehensive. There’s quite a few “missing” categories. There’s no transparent process for dealing with category changes, additions, or deletions.

*The Place page utilizes the Establishment/Point of Interest category for all new POIs and for non-standard categories that Map Maker doesn’t recognize.

Here are my best practices:

*I usually limit it to five, since that’s all that’s present in the Dashboard. The only exception is Establishment/Point of Interest, which is an ‘invisible’ category on the Place page. If you utilize that as your Primary category on MM, you can have five additional categories, which should show up on the Dashboard. If it’s already present on MM as a Primary category, then you can either leave it or convert it to a different Primary category. I usually convert it to get the Payment options to appear and be editable in MM. (Since payment options are not displayed on Google+, this is almost a non-issue.)

*If I have more than five, I structure the non-standard categories last, and the two categories that I want to best describe the business first, since only two categories will be visible on the Place page. The rest will be invisible, but can still be used for search purposes. Non-standard categories are usually invisible, regardless.

*The Primary category in MM should always be what the business basically is. The category that follows should help best describe also what the business is. Example: A gas station. I would use: Gas Station, Convenience Store. The rest should just be considered for search purposes (like Service Station,¬†ATM, Car Wash, Propane Supplier, Beer Store, Wine Store). I go for generic search purposes rather specific terms, which is why I stick to the main categories. I try to think like someone looking for a place. If they can’t think of the name, what’s the first thing they think of? That’s the Primary category. What’s the second thing they think of? That’s the secondary category.

*Primary categories are not recognized by either the Dashboard or the Place page. The categories can get jumbled up, so the order you see on Dashboard, MM and the Place page can be different. The Place page is king, so if you want two categories to appear on the Place page, and you don’t see those two categories on the Place page, then you’ll need to edit the Place page directly using community edits, and then go back into MM (where the Place page is usually pending in your edits) to add the categories you just deleted back in. You’ll need approval for both set of edits for this to work.


So, in summary:

*Five categories. Six if you’re using E/POI as your primary category, which can be ignored, since E/POI is invisible.

*Standard categories only. Non-standard categories should be added only if there’s no better category. Non-standard categories can be added in addition to the five category rule, but should be added last. Non-standard categories are almost always invisible on the Place page.

*Only two categories are visible on the Place page. Use the best two standard categories to describe the business. Primary categories are not recognized on the Place page or Dashboard.

*Place page categories don’t match MM categories. Use Place page standard categories whenever possible to avoid data issues.

*The Place page is king. It may be necessary to edit the categories directly on the Place page, and finish up in MM.

Sorry if this sounds complicated, but it really is.

An issue to take up with Google:

Fix the dang categories! Categories should be consistent across all the products. There should be a comprehensive set of categories (presently they’re not). Primary category should be Primary on all the UIs, and Primary should be ‘locked’ to prevent non-standard categories from being added. So if you go on the Dashboard, the first box should have some sort of dropdown field that allows you to pick a Primary category, and nothing else. The rest should have a dropdown box and be free form, like MM.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker by

16 thoughts on “What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker”

  1. I have a question. I’ve only spent a minimal time looking into this on the MM side. What I noticed were enormous quantities of categories in MM for the few smb’s I looked at. Is that commonplace or unusual. For the one’s I looked at it appeared as if MM scraped every source under the roof from every possible place and loaded up categories. Clearly the smb’s aren’t creating them for the most part as smb’s aren’t fully involved in MM. The smb’s I looked at were probably not working their MM accts in any way whatsoever.

  2. Some have multiple categories, some have few. It’s dependent on merging issues (which adds more categories), the popularity of the feature (the algos and other users tend to add more categories), how long its been under the control of meddlesome owners (who like to add more and more categories, without really removing the old ones from MM, since sometimes MM doesn’t always play well with Dashboard when it comes to adding or subtracting information). I usually go through and do a ‘prune’ of non-standard and inappropriate categories in that case, but it seems that the more interaction a feature has with ranking, UIs, bots, etc. the more likely it is to ‘grow’ a lot of sometimes weird categories.

  3. What I find so frustrating is that the top two categories have been hijacked by Google and are not the ones that I picked – they have us listed as graphic design and music store when we provide a completely different related service. Its bad enough the category closest to what we do is basically a dead technology (VHS tape duplication) – the categories need to be updated and I love the idea of being able to lock in the primary one.

  4. Another thing that needs fixing is preventing algos from adding categories. I’m not sure if Google understands this, but the bots/algos make more bad choices than good (not just categories, but dupes, scrapes, etc.). They really have no business messing with listings, unless they make the bots 100% effective at choosing the right category.

  5. Dan:

    I appreciate your two posts on Map Maker. I have some questions specifically with regard to your description of “bots”.

    I’m not sure I follow what you EXACTLY mean by this. While I understand the term bot with regard to general search engine lingo, I’m not sure how you are describing bots with regard to MM.

    For instance I’m aware of a description of bots creating “null edits” with regard to MM. By that I understand that to mean:

    1. A google bot reviewed the MM record.
    2. Nothing was done to the record.
    3. The edit history records an edit but nothing happened.

    Is there more to this than I described? If so, what else is occurring?

    In a different scenario a “bot” effects changes on an MM record.

    How does that happen and exactly what occurs? I assume looking at some of our own records, and reflecting a full review of categories, I noticed that some of our smb’s have had an enormous volume of categories. They are far more comprehensive and diverse than what was placed in the places record. Specifically I saw categories that reflected descriptions from old YP’s. These particular categories have virtually no value to the business. They are incredibly tangential and from the perspective of the business they don’t convert. (after all that is where our ultimate interest lies).

    I use these as an example with regard to the question about bots.

    Is it possible that Google scraped all web documents that display NAP then aggregated all these categories and ultimately placed them on the MM record?

    Is that an accurate description of the “bot phenomena” as you understand? If not, could you redescribe it?

    If it is a description of part of the overall bot phenomena do you understand at all why some bots create “null edits” (ie no changes) and some create actual changes to the MM record? If so could you explain.

    Further assuming this data assembles into the MM record. How then does it interact with the Places data?

    As I looked at those ten to fifteen categories within MM for an smb, I don’t see it as a major issue, unless of course Google defines it as such. We never touched that part of the MM record. Its “growth” is a mystery to us as to how it occurred.

    In fact what is the impact if any? Does that mean that the record might show in Maps/ a Pac/ a merged Pac/ or a pinned result for those types of search phrases?

    Could it cause a penalty?

    I appreciate in advance any further descriptions you can provide.

    thanks, Dave

  6. To answer almost all your questions, all at once, I really don’t know. That’s beyond the limits of my knowledge. I’ll explain what little I know…

    By ‘bot’ I mean a program that trolls the internet or MM records making auto-approved changes. Bots scrape websites and create new POIs, add categories, change all the MM records to make them consistent with specific guidelines or desired changes, merge dupes, revert changes, and the like. I think of it as a semi-autonomous program that has a specific purpose, and is ‘let loose’ on the web to do it’s virtually unsupervised thing. I’m not sure if the agent that adds categories or makes undocumented changes could be described as a bot or not (sometimes it’s a human agent), but it’s close enough. Since I can’t see the changes, I don’t know what changes they’re making, and what, if any effect it will have on the listing. (This has never been explained to me by a Googler.) I’m assuming that the record is reflecting changes in data that isn’t accessible from the MM interface (photos in the Dashboard or Place page, for example, are hidden from MM). I don’t know where the ‘bot’ gets the category changes from, and I don’t know why it adds this (usually) worthless information. If Google would actually work on creating a comprehensive system of categories that is easily understood by the layman (and disabled the category bot), this wouldn’t be an issue. I don’t know if the additional categories have any effect on ranking, although I assume that from Google’s standpoint it makes it easier to find in searches. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of any more help, as the process is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I developed my category best practices to reduce the friction and hassle of handling data in MM (and Places), which is a barely functional UI for even experienced mappers. I guess I would question why Google would add categories that have nothing to do with the business, and why those ‘extra’ categories even need to be visible; if Google indexes the website and other listings already, it has a good idea what the business is, and how to get to it. It can do this with regular searches, but not Places searches? The whole process is too opaque, and if the idea is to keep everyone in the dark regarding how categories affect ranking, it really doesn’t work, because either people have too few or too many categories. For example, a change occurred, adding Construction to almost every Locksmith. Why? What does one have to do with the other? Not much. And yet there was a huge batch of Locksmiths that had Construction as one of their categories. No one is going to search for construction when they want a Locksmith. They’ll search for ‘lockouts’ ‘key replacement’, ‘key duplication’, ‘safe’ ‘safe & lock’, ‘locksmiths’, ‘locks’, etc. but not construction. How Google even mapped that category, or where it got that category from (since all the websites connected to the POIs I looked at didn’t really refer to construction) is a mystery. Presumably ‘they’ scraped the web and came across a treasure trove of the singular construction category (which doesn’t exist as a separate category in MM) and decided to add it. Beyond dumb, if you ask me. Why not just add Key Duplication Service and Safe & Vault Service to every Locksmith POI instead? It would be more useful and accurate than Construction, and they’re standard categories that apply to 99% of the Locksmiths out there, many of whom don’t even have those categories in their listing.

    I think another change that needs to happen is borrow from Yelp and Facebook, and develop service categories that better describe what the business does without using the regular categories (mostly this applies to restaurants, such as kid friendly and waiter service, but it could apply to any business that really has to stretch the category list to find out how to describe their business), and use checkboxes and a free form field instead. Although Google has provided the Description, etc. in the Dashboard, Places owners are frequently creative in the wrong ways and take that as an opportunity to spam their own Place listing, and they’re not always sure what to do with that section of the Dashboard anyway. But I digress…

  7. Dan: thanks for your commentary. Anyone else have insights into this aspect of mapmaker and how it impacts places records…please speak up.

  8. When a location moves it appears map maker updates the new location’s primary category to “Point of Interest” and leaves a duplicate behind with the old address. After going in to map maker to delete the duplicate, I am not “allowed” to select a real category as their primary category. What is the process to make sure this is updated in a timely manner?

  9. @Zachary: If I understand you correctly, in marking it as a dupe, it doesn’t allow you to edit the rest of the listing. Simply refresh the page and then edit the POI again. Or, ignore any ‘warnings’ that this is a dupe if it already has been approved as a dupe and then edit the duplicate to your satisfaction.

  10. I’m not sure what mapmaker is, but i’ve been using a google places listing for quite a few years. now that they’ve migrated it over to the google+ local businesses format, i am stuck with only a choice between such categories as sushi restaurant, movers, hotel, etc – all things that have absoultely nothing whatsoever to do with my acutal business, which is computer repair – apparently they have not yet considered that somebody would be in such a business – they do not provide categories related to it, and if i type in computer store, computer repair technician, laptop service center or anything else at all similar, when i click save, it tells me that it does not understand my category selection, please choose one of the suggestions provided – such as sushi restaurant, moving company, or hotel. could it be that google+ local has now actually become one of the worst designed and implemented products in existence?? it definitely seems to be heading in that direction. well, hopefully, eventually (and sooner rather than later), they’ll figure out how to do it right. thanks for any advice you might be able to give. obviously, if you are using a free product there is no support or assistance from google

  11. so, in case it was not clear from my previous comment (above), i have been unable to select any category because the only ones that google will permit or accept are totally unrelated to my business.

    1. @Beau
      Go here and scour Google’s categories to be sure that there is not something close. If you try some creative searches you might find one. Use the closest that you can find.

      Then, if you are using the Places dashboard, make custom categories for choices 2-5. If you are using the G+ Page management interface click go to the public view of the record and click on the public report a problem link and add custom categories to your listing. Remember that they need to meet the guideline of say what your business is, not what it does or sells…. ie insurance agency NOT insurance.

  12. Sorry to query this again, but if you are a service business visiting a clients home, no work done at your business premises, you cannot find your listing on mapmaker? (Assuming you have edited your places listing correctly). Does this impact on your ranking / seo potential?

  13. @Adrian
    Because of differing policies and practices, MapMaker WAS showing the service area businesses addresses even though it was hidden in Google Places…. Recently Google changed their practice and NOW no longer displays a listing in MapMaker that has the address hidden in the Dashboard. It will however show in Maps, + and search.

    This is a recent change.

  14. So Mike :
    As a small at home business owner who caters to my clients at their home I should hide my address in Places but how can I make it now show up on MM as to not violate the rules ?

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