Should You Add City to Your Business Name at Google My Business?

Should you add city to your business name at Google? This question recently came in from John Simonson from Webstream Dynamics at the Local U forum (paywall):

A (small) multi-location retailer who just starting using Yext was told by a Yext rep to append to their business name their city so to distinguish between their various locations.

[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]

Note: Addresses and phone number are different for each location.

Do you agree or disagree with that local seo strategy?

My answer:
Currently it is against Google’s GMB guidelines.

And currently Google is not in any way shape or form enforcing those guidelines. It is an active discussion on the Google GMB private forum but Google has not yet responded with clarification.

What do you do as a Local SEO? How do you counsel the client?

The question confronting a client is, given the lack of enforcement, will Google punish the business in some way if they decide to enforce this? If you think that Google will not punish the business then its fine to do this. If you think that they will punish the business for rule violation, then it should be assessed on a risk reward basis. I have no idea which way Google will land on this.

From where I sit, the obligation of the Local SEO in this situation is to inform the client of the facts, the possible downside risks and let them decide as to the course of action.

Here are the Google guidelines as they currently are written in reference to adding City name to a listing:

Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended. Refer to the specific examples below to determine what you can and can’t include in your business name.

Throughout the examples below, names or parts of names in italics would not be permitted.

Your name must not include:

  • Service or product information about your business, unless this information is part of its real world representation or this information is needed to identify a department within a business (see “Departments”). Service information is best represented by categories (see “Categories”).
    • Not acceptable: “Verizon Wireless 4G LTE”, “Midas Auto Service Experts”
    • Acceptable: “Verizon Wireless”, “Midas”, “Best Buy Mobile”, “Advance Auto Parts”, “JCPenney Portrait Studios”
  • Location information, such as neighborhood, city, or street name, unless it is part of your business’s consistently-used and recognized real-world representation. Your name must not include street address or direction information.
    • Not acceptable: “Holiday Inn (I-93 at Exit 2)”, “U.S. Bank ATM – 7th & Pike – Parking Garage Lobby near Elevator”, “Equinox near SOHO”
    • Acceptable: “Holiday Inn Salem”, “U.S. Bank ATM”, “Equinox SOHO”, “University of California Berkeley”

As you can see the current written guidelines explicitly prohibit the practice and suggest suspension as the penalty.

Current Google practice in this situation, when the name violation is reported by the public or a local guide, is to change it back to the normal name and do so without any penalties.

Unfortunately this is leading to a whack a mole situation with smaller, spammier players who then go and change it back. And so the snake chases his tail.

Google has generally looked the other way with larger players and has also often rejected edits to smaller businesses.

Google’s stated goal is to create a map product that conforms to the real world. Thus the initial and clearly stated reason for the ban on using city in the name if it isn’t normally there.

BUT the real world is a bit messier than that.

And when you view a list of locations under a brand search for a multilocaion business, it might be helpful to the searcher to see more clearly where each of the stores is located. That same argument however does not really apply to plumbers who are looking to manipulate for their personal gain.

And to a large extent these folks are, in my opinion, creating a situation that Google is likely to respond to with increased enforcement. Whether they, in that scenario, ignore or make an exception to large brands is another question.

Obviously the problem is much larger than just whether a business should add a city to a business name. All too often businesses also include everything in their business name including the kitchen sink. And all too often, as Joy Hawkin’s has recently pointed out, it’s a quick way to success at Google.

This case though interested me as even large scale providers, like Yext, are encouraging the practice. And on the Google side, this has been going on, in one form or another since its inception (see my 2006 post on the topic).

What do you tell your clients?

What do you think Google should do?

This is cross posted here and at Localu.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Should You Add City to Your Business Name at Google My Business? by

16 thoughts on “Should You Add City to Your Business Name at Google My Business?”

  1. I saw one public comment that said Google was ok with it as long as you are a brand. Apple does it and it’s ok becuase they are a brand. The GMB forum is also filled with complaints of businesses adding their city into their business name. Google does correct it once it’s escalated. I am not advocating that people do this, as it is against Google’s guidelines, but it does feel like it can be done until you get caught. Google does need to crack down on GMB spam, names and reviews.

  2. Good post Mike and a pressing issue in local. I sat idle for a while watching spammers slowly creep into the Pack. Soon they became dominant simply by spamming the business name with either practice areas or cities in the title. None of the businesses had the traditional LSRF results either, so the business name was the biggest factor in their ranking. They were ranking over my clients when I was following G guidelines and doing the “right” things.

    Recently, I began “testing” adding cities or practice areas to the business name. The results were immediate, having several clients jump from 4-6 positions right into the Pack. Bottom line, spamming works. I’d rather not lump myself into that category but when I’m one of the few following G guidelines and not being rewarded, while competitors are spamming and getting reaults, I made the move.

    If G begins enforcing their own guidelines, I’d suspect many of those businesses will drop from the Pack and the SEOs who have been following best practices will see their clients receive a nice boost. G seems to only care about monetizing the first page and Packs rather than enforcing their guidelines. Til then…

    1. I show the client what/who is ranking ahead of them in the Pack and why. I then explain to them the G guidelines but note that they are not enforcing the guidelines at the moment, and if the client wants to test, we can add information to the Business Name.

      Some clients have said yes, others have said no. The results the clients see are almost immediate though. It validates the test in their eyes.

  3. Mike,

    I did this for a client with 5 locations with immediate results and got into the pack with the spammers. I communicated the risk vs reward with the client and was given the green light. BUT… the client was inundated with other SEO’s contacting them and scaring the heck out of them trying to steal the business. I made the mistake of going back to “by the book” and now we fell out of the pack. I’m going back after discussing risk vs reward once again. I agree that Google is focused on paid. This client is also home improvement so “home services” will be the next hurdle once Google adds their category and area. Ugh. Organic is disappearing so may as well get it while it’s still here.

  4. I learned that this doesn’t work the same way in every country. I inherited a GMB account (I work at an agency and the customer had set up the account himself) with 800 location in multiple countries. All ventures had “Company Name” + [CITY] and 99% was validated.

    For better management we decided to split the ventures between national accounts. After doing this, all locations in a specific country (Greece) were rejected by Google and had to be renamed and revalidated. This was done via postcard and took a long time. The name correction let to a problem with the local community which started renaming almost all ventures to the old name which caused issues with the validation again. We are half a year further now and almost 60% is validated again.

    It might work if you add city names, but it might also get you into trouble.

    1. Erik, were either account verified? We have a verified account and even we have had our listing reviewed and suspended. We had to submit pictures of our store front with signage to verify the location was real. We haven’t added the city to our name. However we learned that we can as we are a brand. It’s different for the business that are not brands I’ve been told.

      1. The account that originally held the locations was verified. The locations were moved to a new account which wasn’t yet verified.

        The locations are all part of a brand but that didn’t give us the possibility to use city names.

  5. Back before the Penguin algorithm rolled out, SEOs were faced with a similar dilemma. Private Blog Networks were working extremely well to rank websites, and those that used them were winning in the rankings against the “white hats”. It was frustrating for the SEOs that were following the rules. Then, Google rolled out the penguin algorithm update and everyone that had been using the more visible PBNs got penalized.

    Though I’m doubtful that Google will do something similar and retroactively penalize GMB spammers, I think it’s important to let clients know that they have done it before and they could potentially do it again. Playing by the rules totally sucks right now, but is it worth the risk of having to start from scratch?

    Hopefully Google fixes the spam problem soon. It’s ridiculous.

  6. In the UK, M&S adds location to most but not all of the GMB titles of the stores in my county https://www.google.co.uk/maps/search/marks+and+spencer+surrey/@51.50858,-0.3225606,10.88z

    I advise my clients of the rules and risks/rewards and let them make the decision. The absence of an effective deterrent does unfortunately increase the incentive to bend or break the rules because abiding by them results in unfairness. Google really need to find a better way of enforcing their rules.

  7. I’m with Darren on this. I advocate explaining to clients what their competitors are doing (breaking a guideline like this), but I’d never advocate jumping on the guideline-breaking bandwagon. Why?
    1) Even if the client doesn’t mind the risk, we’d be teaching them how to cheat instead of how to succeed.
    2) We can’t predict the extent of the fallout should Google ever decide to crack down. It could be minimal or disastrous. We don’t want our own hard work jeopardized by this type of risk-taking.
    3) It’s not good branding. If you’re Bagel Shop, be Bagel Shop – not Bagel Shop Hoboken.

    All that being said, the burden is on Google’s shoulders to make their guidelines mean business. They look very silly creating rules they don’t enforce. So, Google, either remove the guideline or stand behind it. The present state of affairs is doing no one any favors except spammers 😉

  8. Letting your client know is all well and good but they are busy people and soon forget warnings. So if they acknowledge the risk when you tell them and decide to proceed anyway to gain advantage, the moment they are penalised it becomes the local SEO’s fault regardless of what you told them. Therefore, it is not worth the risk and better to tell the client that it is against Google rules. Period.

  9. As we all have witnessed, Google tends to shoot first and ask questions later. Like all Black Hat or “guideline” adverse practices, it is not a matter of “if” you are taken out, just a matter of when.
    It is SO frustrating when the Big G does not enforce it’s guidelines in local to help level the playing field for righteous providers.
    As for the “Big Brands”, they’re safe. Google has proven time and again that they will gladly turn a blind eye to “non-guideline compliant” by a major brand, and AdWords client.
    It is the little guys (local businesses) that will be affected most.
    Just a matter or time.

  10. This “risk vs reward” question in particular doesn’t seem like an ethical dilemma to me. At least not given all the factors. (Caveat: I have not yet advised a client to try this.) Doing something that is risky, in this case violating a Google guideline, is not dishonest. It’s simply risky (and apparently a low risk at this time).

    A business could go out of business based on Google’s current behavior. That’s a real world issue. It’s a decision to be made by the business not the SEO or local marketer.

    Worst case scenario…the listing is suspended then you have to fix the title to get suspension lifted. Now the business is back where they were with regards to ranking…some degree of invisibility. But in the meantime there would likely be an increase in revenue, which could mean more budget for other forms of advertising (probably paying Google, ironically).

    I have a client I would encourage to take this risk (re: adding city name), if their business name were different. Unfortunately, adding city name would not be enough.

  11. This “risk vs reward” question in particular doesn’t seem like an ethical dilemma to me.

    Bill
    It is definitely not an ethical dilemma in the business v. Google relationship. They are both functioning with the rules in which they exist.

    It IS an ethical dilemma for the Local Marketer that is interacting with the client. The Local Marketer could in the end lead to the business being punished and the business might not know at all about the decisions that went into or only be slightly aware of it.

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