Google Places Guidelines No Longer Prohibit City in Your Category Field – Should You Add It?

Joy Hawkins of Imprezzio Marketing, alerted me to this post in the Google forum where a business noted that the Google Places for Business Guidelines do not prohibit the use of city in the category field . Apparently Google has recently changed the Google Places Quality Guidelines and removed the prohibition against the use of geography in the category field.

Should you now add your city to a custom category?  The short answer: No. Google knows where you business is located.

Old Guidelines New Guidelines
Provide at least one category from the suggestions provided in the form as you type. Aim for categories that are specific, but brief.

  • Categories should say what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not on what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or things it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description or as custom attributes.
  • Categories should not contain location-based information (for example,Dog Walker Los Angeles is not permitted).
  • Only one category is permitted per entry field. Do not “stuff” entry fields with multiple categories.
Select at least one category from the list of available categories.

  • Categories should depict what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not what it does (e.g.Vaccinations) or products it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description.

Here is the long answer.

The Google Places Guidelines have apparently been rewritten to apply to the new Google Places for Business Dashboard. In that environment there is no option to create a custom category nor any ability to add a geographic modifier to a category. Businesses can only choose from a predefined list of categories so the rule becomes irrelevant. The option to add custom categories is only possible in the old Google Places for Business Dashboard which will soon be going away.

Those of you in the old Dashboard still have the capability to add custom categories but I would strongly urge you not to add city to your category field, even if competitors are doing so. The reason that Google originally banned the practice was that it gave companies an unfair edge in the search rankings and was widely abused. In response Google at first wrote a guideline to prohibit it. However some months thereafter they implemented an algorithm that punished those listings using geographic category modifiers by dramatically reducing their rank and preventing them from showing in their primary category searches.

That algorithm change is still in effect even though the rule isn’t. As happened to the poster above, a business that was using this sort of modified category called me, desperately wondering why their listing was no longer visible. Within 48 hours of removing the geo modifiers from their business name AND categories, the business bounced back onto the front page listings.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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9 thoughts on “Google Places Guidelines No Longer Prohibit City in Your Category Field – Should You Add It?”

  1. Great observations!

    Google really doesn’t need the “is not does” guideline listed anymore either. That will no longer be an issue with the new dash.

  2. @Colan
    Yes, I am not sure why they included that as it is largely irrelevant. It is even confusing for Google though having two sets of dashboards and keeping the attendant rules straight. :)

  3. Categories are a mess right now at Google local. I would highly reccommend that anyone having trouble ranking locally for a city that they are in call Google Places help to confirm that the primary category is correct.

    I’ve worked with about a dozen places listings in the past month where the category is accurate in the dashboard but after calling Google and asking them to confirm the categories they told me that on their end the categories are not set. Within 10 minutes of getting off the phone, the local ranking jumps drastically. The reps have mentioned that custom categories is part of the blame for these issues. I should mention that not all of these had custom categories and we always follow categories best practices.

    I hope this helps someone else! Enjoy the hold music (haha!), you’ll be there for awhile. :)

  4. @alicia
    Thanks for the tip. You can affect the same result (or at least check if google has it correct) by going to the Plus Page and selecting the report a problem link and seeing how the categories are handled. Correcting if need be.

  5. Hi Mike

    Doesnt this kind of mean that there may be the return of Custom Categories? If you (currently) are only allowed to use the Google Suggested Categories, well then there is no way to add the city to it anyway?

    (Maybe I missed something)

  6. LOL @Colan and Mike – why do I feel a strange thrill at Google being confused by its own dashboards and rules :P

    I shall not go rushing in to alter anything in the old dashboard that may one day miraculously morph into the new…

    Is it worth calling Google to correct anything if my clients are still on the old dashboard? Or should I just continue to be patient…

    *watches tumbleweed roll by*

  7. @Jo
    why do I feel a strange thrill at Google being confused by its own dashboards and rules

    Uh… because you, like me, are a little weird. :)

    Is it worth calling Google to correct anything if my clients are still on the old dashboard? Or should I just continue to be patient…

    Absolutely. They have the tools to push a change in 5 minutes that might take 5 weeks to show up after an old dashboard update. Make it your first or very quick second stop. Just prepare yourself for some really terrible hold music.

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