Google Places Guideline Update: Now Allowing Descriptors in Business Title

Google has announced an update to their Places Guidelines and now is explicitly allowing owners to add a descriptor, via the Places or Plus Dashboard, that helps people locate the business or describes what the business offers. From the post (bold is mine to highlight the significant change):

  • Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title.

  • In addition to your business’s real-world title, you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers.

  • Marketing taglines, phone numbers, store codes, or URLs are not valid descriptors.

  • Examples of acceptable titles with descriptors (in italics for demonstration purposes) are “Starbucks Downtown” or “Joe’s Pizza Delivery”. Examples that would not be accepted would be “#1 Seattle Plumbing”, “Joe’s Pizza Best Delivery“, or “Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas”.

Obviously for Google to make this change, they must think that they can control the inane and insane abuse that is likely to occur. Either businss name is no longer so important in defining search results or the descriptor (which can only be added via the dashboard) is ignored or Google is so confident that they know what the business name is that they can penalize abusers.

Or none of the above and the recent decline in the quality of their local index will continue to new lows.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places Guideline Update: Now Allowing Descriptors in Business Title by

66 thoughts on “Google Places Guideline Update: Now Allowing Descriptors in Business Title”

  1. You said… “Or none of the above and the recent decline in the quality of their local index will continue to new lows.”

    Hahaha… classic.

  2. Even in the example of Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas, the example is confusing.

    Business Name – Joe’s Pizza
    Allowed – Joe’s Pizza Restaurant
    Allowed – Joe’s Pizza Dallas
    Not Allowed – Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas

    Only one geo-modifier or descriptor is allowed, not two (or more). You have to infer this from the example because it is not clearly stated.

  3. Wow, this seems like a terrible idea to me. I know I can now look forward to a lot more crap data in local results. Even the ambiguity in that description is terrible and is going to create local SEO poop all over the web.

  4. @James thanks for the update. I added to the article above.

    @Casey who knows. Be a whole new version of Hummingbird guano… lets hope not.

    @Swanie my guess is not but that is a guess

  5. “In addition to your business’s real-world title, you may include a descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers.

    Examples of acceptable titles …”

    Translation (if your final statement is the case):
    “You may now do something that could completely ruin your NAP consistency.

    We’re going to be vague enough on the details of this update so that spam becomes rampant, and violators of the guidelines will see a spike in traffic from specific keyword searches until our systems suspend their listing or we embark on a mass listing clean-up five years from now.”

  6. @James – good call. They actually added the word “single” after we complained about the potential for abuse. Mike copied the original, not the updated version.

    Still, the example needs to be corrected.

  7. *attention to all those who love to game the business title… have fun ;-)
    How they are going to algorithmically control the spam that’s sure to come in waves, will be interesting to see.

  8. Wow, just wow. Like they don’t have a bad enough spam problem already.

    It also wouldn’t surprise me if the descriptor created NAP consistency issues because the right and left hand aren’t communicating.

  9. Google thinks “1 step forward”
    Reality “100+ steps backwards”
    Is this is what happens when you legalize Marijuana in California and put a bunch of overworked engineers in a room together? ;)

  10. Great. Here we go again.

    I can picture the title of your post from 2/20/15: “RIP Google Places One-Word Descriptors”

    Or maybe Google’s local QC department have finally thrown up their hands in defeat.

  11. How often could this descriptor be changed? Could a business use a geo-descriptor in the name of their business to target surrounding areas? Maybe switch it to a different geo/suburb every month? And how will this effect organic results targeted at a specific geo if that geo is part of your business name, even if you are not actually there?.. so many questions, so little beer.

  12. Well-said, Jeremy. And what about hyphenating two (or more) words, or just sticking them together…

    Just to think aloud here, the thing I really want to know is: what does this add? Whom does this help – and were those businesses truly SOL before?

    It can’t be to “level the playing field” where the spammers and the Good Guys do battle. I think this is just a way to legitimize what the Big Boys – hotels and car dealerships and the like – already do.

  13. So you can add “Downtown” but not “Dallas.” It’s okay to add a geo modifier… but it’s not.

  14. I have a recommendation for future spammers for a title: “Larry Page Recommended This Really Cool Not Spammy Locksmith In Mountain View, CA”. That falls within the new guidelines, right?

    To be fair to Google, it’s not like they actually have done anything to detect spammy POIs with descriptors.

    I found one that dates from Oct 2012:

    In Vogue Boutique – “Voted NW source favorite boutique”
    https://www.google.com/mapmaker?gw=39&fid=0x54906c8f3ba3b521:0xf15e9926df0bb731

    So whatever algorithms that they’ve been beta-testing for the last few years…I would say that they don’t work.

  15. And to make it even more confusing, this is the guideline that they tried out on a trial basis in Map Maker without telling anyone. Once I noticed the wording in our guidelines, I took it to our CM and she fought it out with the decision makers. After looking at the result of the trial and listening to her and my arguments against continuing it; they agreed with us and went back to the old guidelines.

    So in other words; if you add a descriptor in your Places dashboard, I can by the guidelines remove it via Map Maker. Sure, the LEs will deny it, not because their following any guidelines but rather because the LE system is just plain broken and they deny 98% of valid edits; and thus when the do deny it we have a system where we can get it re-evaluated by GRs. Since the place is claimed, it will be interesting to see which guidelines the GRs will follow.

  16. Really? REALLY? Like everyone else I think this is just going to increase the amount of spam in the SERPs. I truly can not imagine why Google would allow this. I’m sure the spammers are celebrating while the rest of us are shaking our heads in disgust.

  17. Hey Mike I remember when I attended the Local U in NY 2012 Joe Headly from Google said that it is not a violation of policies and 6 months later I heard via the community that GG just dropped the ranking signal within the business title so I’m not surprised !

  18. @Mary:

    To paraphrase Google reps: “Spam? What spam?” Leave it to Places to remain the undisputed King of Geo Policy Disasters.

    @Flash:

    By now, MM GRs are used to cleaning up after their country cousins at Places. Hilarity will ensue.

  19. So Google is updating right now i take it with Places. My listing doesn’t show on Maps after receiving a mail pin right now.

  20. Greg said: “they agreed with us and went back to the old guidelines… So in other words; if you add a descriptor in your Places dashboard, I can by the guidelines remove it via Map Maker. ”

    No Greg it’s still in the MM guidelines. We raised a stink when we saw it awhile back and pushed for consistency. Meaning we wanted them to correct the MM guidelines that said a descriptor was OK. Instead they made it consistent by changing the Places guidelines to match the MM guidelines.

    MM still says: “Exception: Single descriptor with business location or service offered by the business can be added to the name.”

    https://support.google.com/mapmaker/answer/1096113?hl=en&ref_topic=2889732

    They have been waffling on this though.

    On 1/28 I discovered a guideline change specifically prohibiting KW stuffing.
    I joyously broke the news: http://localsearchforum.catalystemarketing.com/google-local-important/14292-google-places-guideline-change-stop-geo-stuffing.html. (I included copies of the old and new guidelines in that post.)

    Shortly after I broke the news, I was told it was a mistake and that guideline change was retracted shortly after.

    In the thread above Greg said: “Regarding the Map Maker guideline, I did an escalation on that and as a result it’s officially rescinded; we’re just waiting on the guideline to be updated.”

    Now it sounds like everything flipped in the other direction. :-(

  21. Changes to guidelines normally take several months to get approved after the need for a change is determined to in order. I think that the last 5 things I got changed in the guidelines all took about 2-3 months after I reported the bad info. But the mappers and reviewers start following any new information as soon as we are made aware of it; Map Maker users are very used to the guidelines never being caught up with the actual way we are mapping. For this change, I got the word that we were returning immediately to the old guideline about 3 weeks ago. To be honest I’m not even sure if the request for the change to the published guidelines has been submitted yet; the person that was going to do it has been out on personal leave.

  22. Business Name – Joe’s Pizza
    Allowed – Joe’s Pizza Restaurant
    Allowed – Joe’s Pizza Dallas
    Not Allowed – Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas

    I don’t understand the point of this. They have enough data to create an internal representation of the feature that’s equivalent to those names. Adding these tags to the names is just clutter.

  23. This may be picky, but I picked up on this:
    “…you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business…”
    What if you’d like to describe a location that has 2 or 3 words in the phrase: “Los Angeles”, “Rancho Santa Margarita”? Or what about “unofficial” metro areas like “Inland Empire” or “Bay Area”?
    Maybe I’m thinking too much into it.

  24. Flash
    It was just pointed out to me that the current MM guidelines do support descriptor:

    A name should not include:

    -Personal names except for businesses named after individuals
    -Description or contact information
    Exception: Single descriptor with business location or service offered by the business can be added to the name
    Example: Café En Seine Dublin, KFC Restaurant and so on
    -Irrelevant keywords
    -Addresses or excessive descriptors
    -Phone numbers or URLs except if they are a part of business name itself
    -Store numbers
    -Special characters (like i.e. #@%^$*) unless they’re included in the official name
    -Generic names

  25. Yes, that was silently put in place as a test. Apparently it brings things in line with the overall Google policy, which is why they wanted to see if it would work. But that exact guideline you are pointing to is what I escalated via the CM as soon as I noticed it. I was told a few weeks back is now rescinded due to my escalation; and we are now waiting for a new guideline to be written, approved and published.

  26. Google has amazed me yet again with their ability to release a totally new concept with language that is so vague, you can derive all kinds of potentially wrong meanings from it. Why do we have to infer things? Why the heck don’t they just spell it out in clear language? It makes me think of a little kid saying, “I’ve got a secret. I’ve got a secret and I’m not gonna tell you.” Honestly! Totally agree that this is not a step forward in any way.

  27. I know Miriam. I can’t believe how many questions this has raised and how many potential loopholes it’s opened as well. I’m getting hit with lots of questions/concerns and I’m sure Mike is too.

  28. I saw a comment posted earlier that I don’t know if anyone shared any info on.

    If a business now uses a geo-locator term in their profile how would this potentially affect other citations online. How does the work with NAP listed in various places online?

    Is Google going to report that as a listed business name thus causing inconsistencies elsewhere?

  29. @Ed
    Google doesn’t rely soley on business name to create a cohesive cluster. It is unlikely that adding one word at the end of your name would affect their ability to cluster results…

  30. @mike that makes sense. Very good point. Thanks for the insight. I’m going to track my results as best as possible and watch for any negative effects. I’ll keep you posted if I experience anything I can actually document or report on.

  31. @Mike said: “Google doesn’t rely soley on business name to create a cohesive cluster. It is unlikely that adding one word at the end of your name would affect their ability to cluster results…”

    However we see Google create dupes all the time because the business name is one word different. Name variations sometimes as minor as with or without INC or LLC.

    So I’m wondering if all the citations are Alpine Services and the name is changed to Alpine Services Plumbing or Alpine Services Denver if we might see dupe problems as a result?

  32. @Linda
    Certainly no big data algo based system is perfect and that has been proven over time. However while you and I see the duplicates, as a percentage of the 125 million or so businesses in Google’s database they are relatively few.

    It doesn’t make it any less painful for the business it happens to and there still needs to be a discipline around naming. My suggestion: real name everywhere PLUS one descriptor at Google.

  33. @Mike:

    One workaround is to use MM’s ability to have multiple names for a listing, and then automatically tag the other name as Obscure and the main name as Primary, so that only the main name shows up in searches. That way you can put in a descriptor, which should only appear if you’re specifically looking for it (i.e. Starbucks @ Lynwood Safeway). Furthermore, a business could enter in the Official documented name so that it’s easier to verify on Places.

    It would cut down on dupes. It would shorten the time the Goog needs to verify businesses. It would satisfy businesses that want a deeper presence. It’s already being done anyway, with large hotel chains.

    It would also be more complicated.

  34. I was holding off until I know more, my contact that was on personal leave just returned today, but I will point out the that Map Maker guidelines about descriptors in names says they cannot be the Primary name, the must be an Obscure name. As all businesses must have a Primary name, that means that by the Map Maker guidelines the Primary name must have not descriptors.

    In case you’re wondering why there would be a guideline about that, certain descriptors have always been allowed, such as adding the mall name as Dan describes above.

  35. @Greg said: “but I will point out the that Map Maker guidelines about descriptors in names says they cannot be the Primary name, the must be an Obscure name.”

    I am looking at public help docs that must be different than what you are referencing. These are the help docs that led us to tell Google about discrepancies. To me it sounds like they are saying it’s OK?

    Name (It does not say primary or obscure either way)
    A name should not include:
    Description or contact information

    Exception: Single descriptor with business location or service offered by the business can be added to the name

    https://support.google.com/mapmaker/answer/1096113?hl=en&ref_topic=2889732

    Again those are the help docs we reported to Google. Are there guidelines somewhere else that say something different? If so then MM is even contradicting itself.

  36. You know what, I am at work and was doing it from memory, and as result I messed up. I’m right to say that it can’t be the Primary name. It doesn’t have to be marked Obscure, however. Scroll down the same page, Linda, until it gets to:

    Note: If you want to add a descriptor to the business name, for example, mall name in the business name, you can do this by leaving the Name Type unflagged.

    As for the part you quoted, again, that is the guideline that was rescinded and we are waiting for the published copy to be updated, which takes time. However, now that my contact is back in the office, I have made her aware what Places has done and she has scheduled a meeting with them. Here’s hoping they didn’t take advantage of her being out of the office to get her work reversed without her being able to voice her opinion.

  37. Obscure tags are more useful for roads than business listings. Originally, it prevented the Obscure name from visibly appearing on the road in Maps if the road had multiple names (Linda’s Lane, Linda’s Road, Linda’s Really Long Road, etc.). I think that’s still the behavior, but Flash will have to confirm.

    Primary is more useful for names on business, because obviously it determines what name shows up on the Google+Local page (as there can be only one Primary for each language type). However, it gets more complicated, because POIs setup in the Dashboard don’t tag the name as Primary (it’s just left blank), unless you tag it in Map Maker. Another example of inconsistent behavior between the Dashboard and MM datasets.

  38. A couple of points:

    “Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title”
    Would this be instead of your keyword-stuffed online business persona? Or perhaps Google is referring to my off-world business name that I use explicitly to attract the passing alien hotel groups that looking to limit the revenues they pay to the off-world OTAs,

    In terms of the actual instructions given: I feel sorry for the poor guy that has a company called “Joe’s Pizza Best Delivery” and who chose his business name to compete with “Joe’s Pizza Delivery”, he’s got no chance….and it is just another classic example of Google stiffing it to the little guy (humour!).

    G.

  39. I want to make sure I have this correct. If we add “jeweler” as the one descriptor to the business name, do we need update the name on all of the citations that we did for this business? We have never had an issue with this Google+ Local listing, even when it was called Google Places. If were were to add the descriptor, it would benefit this listing since the name of the business doesn’t describe what they do.

    Thanks.

  40. I’m unclear, how would it benefit them? People don’t scroll around the map looking for businesses; they use search. For search you wouldn’t need it in the title, just the categories.

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