There have been many questions about the recently publicized change in Google’s Places policy that home based businesses that do not receive customers at their home should hide their address. Many have been critical of Google’s change and many have criticized the apparent illogic of the rule.
I see the issue somewhat differently. Certainly Google has a right to create guidelines that affect quality as they see fit. And this policy is mostly rational. Or rather its intent is. Its goal is to provide Google Map users with locations that they can drive to and have a reasonable expectation of finding “somebody at home” there.
But Google has not done everything right with this change.
1) Penalties should never precede the public policy which was the case here by a number of weeks. We were seeing this in the forums and with Andrew Shotland’s post long before it was publicly acknowledged. Change the policy, publicize the change and then enforce.
2) The initial phone calls that Google makes to inquire about whether a home business deals with customers at home should be cooperative not confrontational. If you are going to call SMBs then help them know that they have inadvertently stubbed a toe in regards to a new rule and ask them to fix it. Why anger or create fear in a potential customer when you don’t need to?
3) If after some period it has not been fixed and the SMB has been alerted THEN remove the listing. It would be ideal if you then properly communicated to the business as to why.
4) The policy is written in such a way as to be somewhat illogical… as Miriam Ellis pointed out in her post. If you take it literally then there would be many businesses that would be in violation of the policy. The reality is that world is more complicated and Google’s guidelines need to reflect that granularity.
I recognize that (as an old mentor used to say): Rules are for Fools. He meant that rules should not be taken too literally. They need to be contextualized. The intention with the guidelines is to not be dogmatic but to provide operating principles that offer a framework for quality and Google’s enforcement. Unfortunately there are many in the world that would prefer more explicit and accurate guidance.
The intent of the policy is to make sure that listings in Maps can be driven to. That is appropriate and as it should be. However the framing of the policy speaks in terms of customers only. Many businesses have a physical location but do not receive customers at that location. They do however conduct business meetings there, receive vendors there, do employee interviews there and need to be able to be found on Maps. And one would think that Google would want to be able to provide driving instructions for those locations and did not mean to exclude them with a rule.
If this guideline only applies to home based businesses (which appears to the case) then perhaps Google needs to make that explicit in the documentation. Not every rule need apply to every business. Alternatively they could rewrite the guidelines in a more general way. Instead of making the criteria whether customers visit a location, make the criteria whether business is conducted in a face to face way (to include vendors etc) at that location.
In the meantime, as SEO practitioners you need to handle this guideline with reason. Some thoughts:
Does hiding an address affect rank?