Google Rolls Out Major Update to Google My Business Guidelines

Google has rolled out a major update to their My Business (ie Places) Guidelines. The new Guideline offers much more concrete examples and clarifies a number of situations particularly multi-practitioner listings and their naming.

Some obvious highlights:

  • Descriptors of any sort are NOT allowed
  • Categories should be the more specific category and NOT the overarching, general category
  • Increased name and category consistency amongst multi location chains
  • Two or more brands at the same location must pick one name
  • If Different departments are to have their own page they must have unique categories
  • Practitioner’s pages, in multi location practices should have their name only and not the name of the practice
  • Solo Practitioners only can use the format of Practice: Practitioner
  • Virtual Offices are NOT allowed unless staffed. (If they are staffed then they aren’t virtual are they?
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Google Rolls Out Major Update to Google My Business Guidelines by

59 thoughts on “Google Rolls Out Major Update to Google My Business Guidelines”

  1. One bit of clarification on the “Two or more brands at the same location must pick one name” summary point.

    In some cases, if the brands operate independently, Google states that they can each have their own page, with just their business name. In Google’s example, KFC and Taco Bell, though both are under the Yum! brands umbrella, could both have unique pages, though they share the same address.

  2. Mike- can you clarify the “Solo Practitioners only can use the format of Practice: Practitioner”…

    You said “can”… does that mean they don’t have to? The majority of my dentists have branded practices. I can’t see how their Google listing would be Smallville Family & Cosmetic Dentistry: Robert Smith DDS.

    That’s a mouthful!

  3. Also, I think the chain name/category consistency is kinda nonsensical. We have a large national auto dealer conglomerate as a client, since they have several brands they represent the can’t have “Toyota dealer” as a category across all their locations. They aren’t all Toyota dealers. And their categories keep getting updated to generic “car dealer” via Map Maker community edits.

  4. I agree with many folks here and other places. I advised not adding descriptors when it was announced because I thought that guideline would get reversed too.

    Overall though I think they did a great job. I like the way everything is spelled out more clearly and I think the abundance of examples will really help SMBs understand a little better.

  5. “Virtual Offices are NOT allowed unless staffed. (If they are staffed then they aren’t virtual are they?”

    Was confused about this as I run my own virtual business from home. Did a bit of research and found this:

    “Brand pages
    Brands, organisations, artists and other groups or individuals can create Google+ pages to connect with followers, fans and customers on Google. Brand, organisation or artist pages don’t include address or other physical location information that appears on Google Maps.”

    Good to know!

  6. Hey Mike!

    “Practitioner’s pages, in multi location practices should have their name only and not the name of the practice”

    Can you point me in the right direction of where you are seeing this in the guidelines? I see the part about multi practitioners at one location…but I cant find this part.

    Thanks!
    Rachel

  7. I’m actually excited about the clarification regarding virtual offices. There are many legitimate reasons why a business has a “virtual” office, as we have come to define it. Perhaps they would be best described as a “shared” office with completely distinct businesses.

    But I know many lawyers, financial professionals, etc. whose only location is a “virtual” office. They are there during normal business hours. They might even have a full time employee there as well. So these updated guidelines clearly allow for that type of situation where in the past it was murky.

    I think Google might scrutinize those listings a bit but if they are legitimately being used then they are rightfully allowing these businesses to have a local page.

  8. Storm,

    Just in case you aren’t aware (and I apologize if you are), a “virtual office” would be considered something like a Regus shared office space where numerous professionals all rent services to some extent.

    In some cases, they are absolutely virtual and they are using it just as an address to try and show up in local results. In other cases, they are sole practioners or at least small practices where having their own, private physical office isn’t practical and they will actually rent an office or two.

  9. @Rachel
    If a practitioner is the sole public-facing one at this location and represents a branded organization, the practitioner page should not be separate from the organization’s page. Instead, create a single page, titled using the following format: [brand/company]: [practitioner name].

  10. @Phil
    The category thing still needs clarification. Is a lawyer that does general practice and criminal both or just criminal? I don’t really know. I asked and haven’t heard back.

  11. @Mike

    So for multi location practices…lets say 2-4 different offices…that have multiple doctors at each location, it is still okay to have individual doctor listings as well as a practice listing per location?

    Thanks for your advice!

  12. @Rachel. Yes, the updated guidelines say that in a multi-practitioner listing there should be a page for the business and each practitioner can have his or her own page. But the page should use just the name of the practitioner and not the practice name.

    This is good clarification as there have been lots of issues in the past when practitioner listings included the practice name and everything got botched up with Google getting confused.

  13. @Mike

    Regarding the categories, the way I’m reading it is for sure the lawyer should have Criminal Lawyer as a category. And if they practice a different form of law, they should have that category as well. And if there isn’t a category specific, they should choose the closest match.

    So if in addition to criminal law, the lawyer practiced something else, they should choose that category and if one didn’t exist then choose the next closest match, which might be General Law.

    But is Google really going to crack down on this? I almost think this is more of a statement to not worry so much about category selection since Google is going to be looking at your website and other content around the web to figure out what exactly you do and for what queries you should rank.

  14. Apparently no descriptors doesn’t include ATMs, as they cite “U.S. Bank ATM” as an acceptable name.

    They also mention a category called “University Department” which is as of yet nonexistent, both in the My Business dashboard and Map Maker.

  15. @Sara
    If your business location combines two or more brands, do not combine the brand names into a single page. Instead, pick one brand’s name for the page. If the brands operate independently, you may use a separate page for each brand at this location.

    I guess the question is: What does it mean that they operate independently?

    Does that mean a different phone number?

    What about Coldstone at Tim Horton’s? It’s just a sign over the door and a few more menu items…. but its still Tim Horton’s. Do they get a separate page?

    In the various KFC/Taco Bell combos it isn’t clear to me.

  16. Another Change I noticed
    and I write about it on http://www.localstrategy.it/collegamento-rel-publisher/ (Italian Only)

    Now “Rel=publisher” is NOT allowed for linking a website to Google+ Local Page

    In https://support.google.com/business/answer/4569085?hl=en
    you can read

    If you have a local Google+ page, you should use the local verification process to add your business information to Google Maps and display the verification badge on a Google+ page. It’s not currently possible to link a local Google+ page to your website.

  17. Thanks a lot Google. This maps/places/local/mybusiness or whatever the next name will be debacle is fast becoming a distraction from actually running a business. With 200 locations, this reversal of the Feb. guideline is extremely painful and will be very time consuming. And how are we supposed to differentiate our locations in your less than stellar interface, since they will all have exactly the same name? And what about using mentions in G+? With ALL 200 of my location G+ pages named exactly the same thing, when I type in the +[company name with no descriptor] my popup list of 200 locations contains no differentiation between them. So how do I mention one location now?????? Seriously Google, this is not “real world” at all….

    1. @john a descriptor is anything added to the business name that describes the business in more detail but isn’t how they are known in market. IE Starbucks Downtown would be the name with descriptor and should now only be listed as Starbucks.

  18. With categories, I understand that a good rule of thumb is to make your primary category as closely related to the business or keyword as possible. You can add other categories that are appropriate. So if you’re a Ford dealer, select the primary category as Ford dealer, another category can be car dealer and so forth.

  19. Hi Mike,

    No, I am not using bulk. 150 of my locations are already verified in 2 accounts. I spoke w/ a Google rep via the Google My Business Help Center telephone support and was advised not to use bulk. My understanding is that all my verified locations would then need to be deleted. Is this accurate? Thanks for your help.

  20. @barney
    If they are service area businesses then you have no choice. They must be in My Business not bulk.

    I they are store fronts and did a bulk upload you might be able to not delete them by transferring ownership to the bulk account.

  21. Hi Mike,

    Aha! Yes they are service businesses. (and Google has no proper category for them, so we are forced to choose a “store” category…) go figure 🙂

  22. @Mike – it’s the same idea as the Taco Bell/KFC – it says that “If your business location combines two or more brands, do not combine the brand names into a single page. Instead, pick one brand’s name for the page” so by reading that, a business that has “Buick/GMC” in it’s name should be doing two pages, or only have one of the brand’s on the page.

  23. @Mike

    You’re right, it isn’t clear what substantiates “operates independently.” Google could certainly make that clearer. But I would guess that it’s similar to Google’s new policy about Pharmacies within Supermarkets – those should now have unique pages, i.e. a listing for Sam’s Club Pharmacy, primary category “Pharmacy,” and Sam’s Club, primary category “Wholesale Club.” The pharmacy would likely have a unique phone, unique primary category, possibly unique hours, and maybe even a unique entrance, so they are now to be listed separately. This makes it easier for a user to get exactly what info they are looking for on Google rather than scouring a combined listing or the business’s website.

    Similarly, KFC and Taco Bell would likely have unique phone numbers, unique primary category, etc. etc.

    Google’s statement could also refer to the fact that at the enterprise level, KFC and Taco Bell probably both have their own marketing budgets, teams, managers etc. etc., despite being under the Yum! brands umbrella. In working with large brands under the same umbrella, I’ve never run into an instance where two large brands like KFC and Taco Bell housed their listings under one Google account – they are always in separate accounts. Imagine trying to tell Taco Bell that they have to give up their Google listings and let KFC manage them with a co-located business name – KFC / Taco Bell. Probably isn’t going to fly, and this is just Google clarifying that both can have unique listings though the brands are co-located at the given address.

  24. @Sara
    Yes I think you nailed it. I haven’t been into a combo KFC/Taco Bell… do they really have their own phone numbers?

    @Colleen
    If they are housed in one building, have the same staff and have “Buick/GMC” in their business name then they should have one page ala “Rick Bokman Buick/GMC”.

    If however they have two stores front right next to each other and each has their own staff and answer the phone separately like “Paul Brown Dodge” and “Paul Brown Kia” then they should have two pages.

    If they are a single storefront with both brands in one building, each staffed differently, each serving a different product and each (probably) having their own phone then they would get two pages. See Sara’s example above.

    Those are three clear examples. However I can envision that there are situations that are not that clear.

  25. “If your business rents a temporary, ‘virtual’ office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours.”

    Did they mean to say “unless it is staffed by employees of your business during your normal business hours”? Building on what Lloyd alluded to earlier, in the past, even when a business followed this policy but happened to be in a space used by Regus, guilt by association could follow. Wonder if that will change.

  26. Thanks for pointing this out, Mike! Definitely good to know for us in the dental space and working with solo or multi-practitioner businesses.

  27. Let’s see them enforce it. They say “no use of descriptors” yet, if you’re a multi-location business, you might have BUSINESS NAME – LOCATION to describe what part of the city you’re in … IMO there’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, it’s BETTER for user experience.

    For example this: http://goo.gl/BDFaPo …. technically, shouldn’t this listing be penalized according to their TOS 😛

  28. Andrew, the location information is already part of the feature. Duplicating it in the name is redundant and messy, and makes it harder for Google’s algorithms to deal with it. Google’s algorithms are expecting just the business name, not a location, in the name field. Adding location descriptors to names can cause searches for that location to map to that POI when they shouldn’t. Improving user experience by feating the location more prominently is a trivial change Google can make if they choose to. Improving user experience should not start with corrupting or misrepresenting the underlying data.

  29. * To clarify, I’m talking about multi-location businesses, that have more than one location in the same city e.g.:

    BUSINESS NAME – CITY SOUTH
    BUSINESS NAME – CITY NORTH
    BUSINESS NAME – CITY WEST
    etc.

  30. @Andrew

    It doesn’t necessarily negatively impact the feature it’s used on, but it can negatively impact the surrounding map.

    You could just as easily argue for putting phone numbers in the name. That would undoubtedly make it easier for people looking for your business to get ahold of you. But that’s not what the name field is for, and doing that would have other negative consequences. What you’re effectively doing is trying to circumvent Google’s system for presenting data by compromising the integrity of the data fields. It’s Google’s map, and ultimately their decision what each data field means. It is not the place of the users to redefine what the data fields are to be used for.

  31. Bravo Andrew! It seems Google is breaking their own rules. I have same multi location issue. Handle exactly as you describe.

  32. While I’m not disagreeing with you Levi, I’m basing this off of doing the actual work for clients, and seeing what’s worked, and what Google actually penalizes clients for.

    When this can exist – http://goo.gl/BDFaPo it throws the whole “guidelines” thing off 🙂

  33. @andrew
    Up until this week, the use of additional descriptors was explicitly allowed. Now they are explicitly not allowed. So while it has worked well in the past, Google is now saying that they now have guidelines against it.

    Historically, Google has implemented algo based enforcement rules 90 days after a guideline was introduced. I think it likely that the same will happen in this situation.

    I do not think that an account will be suspended or that rank will be reduced as in days of yore. But I do think that Google will look at what they think the name should be and will automatically switch to that name.

    We see that happening already on a number of fields in the current MyBusiness dashboard with the “We have updated your business information based on user reports and our data.” message.

    My suggestion? The time to start planning your client transition is now and not wait until Google has made the change for you.

    The issue isn’t right or wrong, or your idea of user experience vs the next person. It doesn’t matter that Google has a location that is currently in technical violation. What matters is that Google has offered up a new set of guidelines, they are big, we are little and they will win the argument one way or the other.

    These sorts of changes are what make them such a bad “partner” to rely on. Like all capitalists, they are driven by their own self interest. The “free market” doesn’t quite work as advertised. There is no reasonable competition from which to choose.

    Unfortunately, it is what it is.

  34. These changes were bound to happen, as Google is maturing, businesses all around must be better organized on web through proper categories and these guidelines are only going to help them, as it will help visitors easily reach them faster.

    And I think, this is just the beginning, more updates are in the pipeline.

  35. I think they’re aiming for more brand alignment with the name consistency guideline. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if a separate account type is created in the future… Something like “Google My Business Franchises” or “Google My Business Enterprise” to help make management easier and distinguish between multi-location businesses and brand chains.

  36. Hey Mike, Is it okay for a Lawyer business to have multiple business locations listed on Maps and on the website too? These addresses have unique information such as contact address, number, category and specialisation associated with one website.

    They also have their practice specialisation within their page name, for example: “Brand Injury Lawyers”, “Brand Motor Vehicle Injury Lawyers” – I doubt if it it’s fine to continue with the same. What do you suggest?

    1. @Sukh
      You are allowed one listing per actual location and the names of the business need to be as they are known in the real world, without descriptors. So it ok to have multiple listings if they do in fact have multiple locations and the specialisations need to go.

  37. I hope that Google can enforce the manned virtual office rule, and if they do, those attorneys with hundreds of “offices” spanning the entire western hemisphere are in for a rude awakening. While that approach may be a smart revenue model for them, I’ve always hated the false impression it gives to customers who are looking for a local service provider. Plus, seeing as I’m fighter for the underdog, I’m hoping these new guidelines are enforceable and will give those businesses with shallower pockets a fighting chance.

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