Google+ Local Quality Guideline Update Allows for Multiple Departments

Google has just rolled out an update to the local business listing guidelines that once again allow for support of individual departments within hospitals, universities, local governments AND businesses as long as they have unique phone numbers and a unique forward facing presence. In other words the emergency room no longer needs to be listed via the main number or the Community Development agency can now have its own forward facing presence. And the men’s clothing deparment at Macy’s can now be the Men’s Clothing Department at Macy’s. This policy is actually a return to the original policy that was upended about a year ago vis a vis hospitals but opens up a new opportunity for multi department businesses. It also opens up the possibility of spam and new enforcement from Google.

The additional update in regards to individual practitioners is a formalization of a policy that has existed in Places but not in MapMaker. If you are a practitioner that works out of several offices you are now formally permitted to have a practitioner listing at each location but for just the hours that you are actually present there. This statement from below: “The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours.” if not followed to a T could lead to the listing being rejected for non compliance if Google were to call or find that you show yourself as being in two places at once.

  • Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
  • Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.
  • Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may be listed separately. These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances.

Compare the New & Old Guidelines:

Old Guideline New Guideline
Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.
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 hospital or clinic at large. Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may be listed separately. These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances.
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Google+ Local Quality Guideline Update Allows for Multiple Departments by

48 thoughts on “Google+ Local Quality Guideline Update Allows for Multiple Departments”

  1. It’s about time. Thanks a bunch, Mike (and Google).

    Now if only they’ll clarify whether you can delete individual practitioner listings if you really just want one “main” listing, then I can die a happy man.

  2. How would you be able to communicate a single individual at multiple locations is the same person? What page then becomes the canonical author page? Then pull in the problem of personal vs business profiles. Still lots to keep busy on.

  3. @Mike
    Yeah, it would be interesting to know how the practitioners should be named. We’ve been having trouble with a financial advisor client whose main listing name keeps being overtaken by an individual financial advisor’s listing in search results (we had not asked for individual advisor listings) and so Google keeps having to fix the issue every so often.

  4. @Phil, they won’t remove practitioner listings (usually) any more and even if you suspend in dash they won’t go away.

    But yes would be nice if it was spelled out in guidelines so it did not waste everyone’s time and clog up the troubleshooter with problems support won’t help with.

    I think it’s due to the scraper and feeds. Lots of directories list the practitioner, so I think they got tired of constantly deleting them only to have them re-surface again the next scrape. Plus they think users may want to review a their individual provider esp in large group practices.

    Here are emails from support about it and more details:

    Google Places DUPLICATES – Have Doctor, Dentist or Lawyer DUPES? You NEED to Read This

    BUT practitioner dupes def can hurt the practice’s ranking or dislodge it from blended, as I’m sure you’ve experienced.

    So that article also links to recommendations for how to MINIMIZE practitioner dupes, so they don’t negatively impact the practice’s ranking. (Just don’t claim them to minimize them, do user edits.) Lots of consultants have tried these techniques with good results.

  5. Good stuff, thank you for spreading the news. Wonder how they’ll audit to curb the abuse. We now not so patiently but collectively await a solution to the practitioner naming issue flip flop conundrum.

  6. @Linda

    Yes, I’m well aware; that’s exactly what I was referring to :)

    What I meant was that Google itself isn’t clear in tellingdoctors/lawyers that they can’t remove those listings.

  7. We have a few locations that are currently having trouble with Google that this may help, but I’m not holding my breath. For instance, we have a single physical building that has two distinct brands (Subaru and Land Rover). Currently, Google+ does not allow us to show either one of them as a separate listing because they share a physical address. We cannot list it as a single listing, though, because of manufacturer compliance. While we are struggling through the process of splitting the physical address apart, it is taking much longer than we would like. Do you think this change will actually help in this situation?

  8. @Brandon
    This change is an ideal fit for your problem (one that is experienced by almost every dealer in the US). I think it imperative that you follow this These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances. to a T.

  9. Just wanted to thank you, Mike, for altering us to the guideline update. I have a question for you: do you feel their has been improvement in Google’s ability to sort out the details in a case like the one Brandon is describing, above? Has the risk of accidental merging lessened at all over the past year, the past 6 months, in your view? I would like to know your opinion.

  10. @Miriam
    The risk of merging has greatly reduced over the past twelve months. Google, in converting local to a knowledge graph architecture and away from a web type search result that was reconstituted from the ground up every 6 weeks, removed the primary architectural cause of merges as an artifact.

    They have also created tools to separate clusters that do merge so they now fix the problem when it does occur.

  11. wow how interesting. so Google didn’t allow multiple departments at the same address? seems a bit limited to me. thank goodness they’ve changed this.

  12. The wording ” ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances,” suggests the possibility that many companies that don’t fit the ideal guidelines will try to take advantage of the new leniencies anyway. I have, on my desk, for example, a limousine company that offers special winter ski resort transportation services. This other service has a separate website, but not (as ideally would be hoped) a separate address or phone number. Nevertheless, they would like to be registered on local directories. I would imagine many other companies are like this one, and many will register both services on Google and the results will be mixed.

  13. @Boruch

    I think that the ambiguity of the statement serves two purposes: 1)it allows for the errors that the algo is likely to make and 2)it allows for human discretion in the many grey areas that will exist.

    The grey area interpretation would allow say a car dealer that has two distinct marketing presences/brands/buildings but a single phone but would likely allow the nuking of your example.

  14. Similar but not exactly the same issue – Managing a CHAIN of hotels – I use one business page on G+ but then have 14 (or so) different google plus locations. While trying to verify the pages G+ keeps on making me chose one adress – I need to claim more than one in various locations – anyone got any idea or encountered this kind of thing??
    Thanks for any advice

  15. One thing I find interesting about this that may or may not be clarified is how Google wants the individual practitioners to handle the phone number situation. There are a lot of medical and legal practices with multiple practitioners, but one main number. In the multiple department guidelines it says, “These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers…” However in the case of individual practitioners it simply says “practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours.”

    My gut says they would still need individual numbers simply based off of experience, but perhaps things are changing with Google. What are your thoughts Mike?

  16. @Mike Wilton
    I think having the same phone number is OK by the rules but unfortunately the algo may merge the listings. I have some that are the same that have stayed intact and others that have merged.

  17. Thank you, Mike, for sharing this news! This is exactly what we’ve been trying to get Google to do. We are working with multiple healthcare organizations and they all tell us the same thing: each department is run separately and needs it’s own listing. So, this is some very happy news!

  18. Google is writing:

    “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”

    Can anyone explain me in layman English what that mean?
    IF I have NYC, NJ, DC, and LA locations and they’re operated separately (yet under same domain) with physical buildings for each; Can I create a listing per location, or not?!

  19. @Elchanan
    You can have one listing for each physical listing. If your NYC office services Long Island you can not create a listing for Long Island, you need to add service areas to your NYC listing.

  20. Mike,

    Do firms who have multiple Google + listings at the same address (for different professionals, for example) net more traffic?

    If listed by department (i.e. workers comp, divorce, etc.) might the traffic received by those departments be more relevant for the same reasons one might create a new Ad Group on a PPC campaign?

  21. @Rafi
    I think in the legal world, trying to squeeze departments into the Practice, Practitioner mix that is already allowed would be viewed as spam. I do think though that those verticals could be pursued via the practitioner listings.

  22. Ok, so how do we do this? Can someone link me to step by step how to instructions on how to create the multiple department listing.

    I am having issues with a listing that I created for a mortgage broker. Google replaced the phone number and the website overtop of the existing one for a different person. We need to create the listing so that both people co-exist on the same listing rather than one or the other.

  23. Teresa

    Just because Google allows this by the rules doesn’t mean the system will keep two different but very similar listings from merging. This is particularly true if the signals that Google looks at ate not strong and distinct.

    If two listings have merged or have been overwritten with incorrect data your best bet is reaching out to Google support.

  24. “Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.”>Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.

    Interesting, since I’ve been trying to correct the hours of a hospital physician from 24 hrs on + and Mapmaker and I’ve been told the hours are correct for that physician. I explained to the Google rep that those hours apply only to the hospital and that the physician does not actually work there 24 hours, but the rep claims to have verified that these hours are correct.

  25. I’m in a bit of a sticky situation with regards to some duplicate accounts that a client created.

    Basically, although their firm has only one location, they thought it would be a good idea to create a separate listing for each member, of which there are like twelve.

    I have on multiple occasions requested that these extras be removed as it’s bad SEO in general, and some of them are actually appearing above the genuine firm listing I’ve curated. Still no progress, though.

    Any thoughts?

  26. I had some ‘violation’ issues I had to deal with recently.

    I run a solo, service-area business. However, I also, on occasion. deal with face-to-face customers at my home/office location. Google apparently only deals with absolutes, and will not allow a listing unless certain unpublished conditions are also met.

    (quoted from various emails with local-help@google.com)

    ” In order to display your address at a residential location you must have a sign displaying your business name and allow customer walk-ins anytime during your operating business hours”,

    “Only locations that have regular store hours and accept walk in customers ‘off the street’ are allowed to have their address shown”,

    “Residential addresses or locations that require appointments are not allowed to show their address”.

    Through many requests, I was never pointed to where these ‘regulations’ are posted or available.

  27. This is an old discussion, but if anyone still reads it, no one tackled the question as to whether departments in a company registering separately on Google + Local need separate domain URLs, merely a separate page on the company website, or for that matter merely a separate listing in the contact page and maybe on the home page where address info is exhibited.

  28. In reply to Boruch, I use unique pages whenever possible. It seems that is not an issue, but it appears to be necessary to have the provider’s or department’s phone and address (if different) on the page and not just the main phone and address. This has been more of an issue on the Google Map Maker side than with G+.

  29. I have a law firm with four physical location offices where our lawyers can meet with clients in the offices (pay rent to owner of building). I have four local phone numbers, one for each office but three of them are forwarded to the main number. I have four google+ business pages, and all are merged with places, one for each physical location and each one has its own phone number listed. Is this the right way to do this or should I be putting the same, main phone number on all four google+ business pages? How does google handle this type of situation, four offices, four phone numbers, with all numbers forwarded to one main number?

  30. Well, if the main office is where the phone numbers go, then I guess I only get to list the main office address on google local and the other three offices (that are physical offices that I pay monthly rent for, but just aren’t permanently staffed with a secretary of my own, although they have a secretary but I just don’t use them to answer my phones) don’t get a google local listing or google plus page, is this correct? Can I list all four address with just the one main phone number for all of them or is this still a violation as well? I really appreciate the feedback.

  31. Steven, Google has suspended entire accounts and deleted listings for many attorney’s that do what you are trying to do. I could show you lots of examples and weeks of headaches this problem has caused some other attorneys.

    It’s not just about the phone it’s about the real world experience.

    If someone finds your office on Google, drives across town. Finds parking. Waits for elevator. Gets there and there is no one to help them… Google feels that’s a bad user experience. That consumer/potential client, would too.

    So virtual offices/Regus type offices are not allowed. It’s a violation.

    You are allowed one listing for your main office where you really are most of the time. The others you would need to market via organic.

  32. Thank you so much. I will delete my three google plus pages and google local listings for the three virtual offices. I really appreciate your responses about this, I just put these google plus pages up and wasn’t sure if I had done it right, which it looks like I didn’t. One more question, I also have four yahoo/bing local listings each with different phone numbers, can I keep these up or do I need to take them down too?

  33. We’ve received a client brief for a company that offers it’s services though a network of 3rd party local companies. They want to put together a directory of these “service centres” and provide each with a landing page or microsite, and wish each microsite (possibly with an opt-in) to have a google local search result.

    I suspect that this would not be allowed by Google as it would go against the spirit if not the actual terms of the Local search offering, and if it were possible it might set up potential issues in the future should the 3rd parties want to set up local search results for their own websites.

    Unfortunately I know very little on the subject and have had trouble tracking down reliable sources of information, so if it would be possible to get some confirmation or otherwise that I’ve understood this correctly then that would be fantastic.

  34. @Paul
    I am not positive that I fully understand the reality you are describing.

    Are you saying that the company offering the services works with a range of existing local businesses? IE Firestone tire has local Repair Shop A that sells their tires and local Repair shop B that sell their tires? And that they want to set up Google Places locations as if they were Firestone A and FirestoneB?

    If that is the case then it is against Google rules. There is an explicit guideline that says: You can’t create Places listings for stores which you do not own, but which stock your products. The same applies to services.

    Each store is eligible for one listing per store location in the name by which they are commonly known.

  35. Ah! Thanks for that, sorry for being vague… your interpretation of what I was getting at was spot on.

    I just searched for the phrase “You can’t create Places listings for stores which you do not own” and found it on the Google Places quality guidelines page, which I’d been through once but managed to not spot that most important line… Brain must still be on holiday by the looks of it.

    Thanks very much for clearing that up.

  36. I know this post is a bit old but had a question.

    For individual practitioner profiles, should they have a unique phone number?

    I know it’s best practice for their URL to be the dedicated page on the main business site but was wondering if they also need their own phone number. Doesn’t seem like they should.

    Thanks!

  37. I didn’t realize there was a limit of three, but in the case of my hospital, each practitioner does not usually have a unique phone, so I list the department or clinic phone. It does not seem to be a problem.

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