February 14, 2013
Google has just rolled out an update to the local business listing guidelines that once again allow for support of individual departments within hospitals, universities, local governments AND businesses as long as they have unique phone numbers and a unique forward facing presence. In other words the emergency room no longer needs to be listed via the main number or the Community Development agency can now have its own forward facing presence. And the men’s clothing deparment at Macy’s can now be the Men’s Clothing Department at Macy’s. This policy is actually a return to the original policy that was upended about a year ago vis a vis hospitals but opens up a new opportunity for multi department businesses. It also opens up the possibility of spam and new enforcement from Google.
The additional update in regards to individual practitioners is a formalization of a policy that has existed in Places but not in MapMaker. If you are a practitioner that works out of several offices you are now formally permitted to have a practitioner listing at each location but for just the hours that you are actually present there. This statement from below: “The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours.” if not followed to a T could lead to the listing being rejected for non compliance if Google were to call or find that you show yourself as being in two places at once.
- Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
- Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.
- Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may be listed separately. These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances.
Compare the New & Old Guidelines:
March 24, 2012
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?
November 1, 2011
Today, I am presenting at the seventh GetListed.org Local University in Ellicottville, NY. in cooperation with Google, Bing and range of local sponsors. Some of you I know and the others I hope to personally meet. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask any questions that come to mind or to just introduce yourself.
These links will provide background information and details for a pathway to dig deeper into the world of managing your listing in Google Places and ethically approaching the review process. For those of you that are not in attendance, the links provide a good overview of critical base line ideas and tactics that every local campaign should embrace.
Google Places – Its not your mother’s yellow pages.
Slide 2 - Sept 2011 Search Engine Market Share
Slide 13/14 - The Importance of Page One Visibility
Slides 17/18 - How the Google Cluster Works
Slide 24- Choosing the Right Category – A Tool
Slide 24 - Writing a Great Business Description
Slide 24 - Google Places Policies: Quality guidelines
Slide 25 – Checking for Problems – NAP Audit
Slide 26 - Creating a GeoSitemap – A tool
Slide 33/34 Local Search Ranking Factors – the many variables
Slide 33/34 A brief list of 10 Ranking Factors – somewhat old but still valid and a quick read
Slide 33 Thinking about your Business Name in the Internet Era
Slide 34 - User Generated Content – Geo Tagged Photos
Slide 30 - How To Gather Reviews
Slide 30- Where to Gather Reviews
Slide 35- The Importance of Citations
Slide 35 - 20 Citation Sources in the US
Slide 40- A Listing management tool
Reviews – Jumping Into the Void
Where to Gather Reviews
Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews
Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience
Asking for Reviews – UMoveFree Finds the Groove
Garnering Reviews – A Mom & (no) Pop Shop finally Hops on Reviews
Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash
Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews
Google Review Posting Guidelines
June 6, 2011
As a general rule, Google Places has been providing major updates to the quality guidelines in late fall with the most recent last November. Minor updates occur as needed but most frequently occur in the spring.
This update (highlighted below in yellow) occurred on June 2 and has import for a range of businesses:
Ineligible Business Models
- Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.
- Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public are not eligible for a listing on Google Places.
- Rental or for sale properties, such as vacation homes or vacant apartments, are not eligible for a listing on Google Places. Create a listing for the central office that processes the sales or leasing offices, rather than the individual rental or sale properties.
- You cannot create Places listings for stores which you do not own, but which stock your products. Instead, consider asking the store owner to update their own Places listing with a custom attribute specifying brands or products they stock, including yours.
Clearly it makes sense that a local tire company that sells Bridgestone tires should not be included in Bridgestone’s local marketing efforts or bulk uploads. But the world of small business is messy. At the extremes are a single location local business and a company owned store. In between there every type of relationship from independent reps to franchises. Within franchises there are varying degrees of control and corporate identity.
As the Places Quality Guidelines have evolved they have attempted to clarify and codify what is and what isn’t a Place of business. Sometimes that has gone better than others. While this rule makes sense and if taken literally is mostly clear, it is always the edge cases that create havoc. And in this situation the edge cases are plentiful.
The example I gave above is obvious. Valley Tire should not be claimed by Bridgestone just because Valley Tire sells their brand. But what about Avon Representatives? They are independent reps that usually are dedicated to selling only the Avon line of products although since they are independent they could also sell Tupperware or Cutco. But it appears that they have been claimed.
As you move into the service area one wonders whether this guideline applies at all as it specifically refers to products. But what of the insurance agent that primarily sells a single brand of insurance? Is he eligible to be listed by national company? And what if he gave permission to the national company to do so on his behalf?
This rule on its face makes lots of sense. Businesses and SEOs alike would be best served if Google addressed some of the possible scenarios that this guideline covers and take a few minutes to clarify their thinking.
February 11, 2011
With the ending of Google’s real estate listing service in Maps, it was necessary for Google to update the Google Places Quality Guidelines to reflect the fact that the service was no longer available as a listing option:
||New Quality Guidelines
|Ineligible Business Models: Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.
||Ineligible Business Models: Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.
|Rental properties, such as vacation homes or vacant apartments, are not eligible for a listing on Google Places. Create a listing for the central office that processes the rentals, rather than the individual rental properties. If you’d like, you can then add your real estate properties to Google Maps so that they are available on our Real Estate layer.
||Rental or for sale properties, such as vacation homes or vacant apartments, are not eligible for a listing on Google Places. Create a listing for the central office that processes the sales or leasing offices, rather than the individual rental properties.
November 23, 2010
The newest Places Quality guidelines include a number of significant changes.
In this update Google has not just added new rules but has removed a few specific guidelines from the previous set. A significant one that was noted by Linda Buquet was the removal of the following phrase in regards to content used in the description and the custom attribute fields: This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields. It won’t be missed as it was a nearly impossible guideline to comply with.
Google is formally embracing an idea that was previously accepted by them of allowing creation of one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the office. They are also making their clearest statement yet about virtual businesses and their relationship to Places: Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.
Besides the obvious ban on the common use of Tag lines in a business name and the ban on the use of keyword information in the address field, the biggest changes and ones that will be hard to comply with, (and interesting to see how it is enforced) are the changes on categorization.
Here is a comparison of the previously published guidelines to the new ones on a line by line basis to help better understand these changes. I have italicized the differences in both directions if a significant rule was removed from the older guidelines. (more…)
November 17, 2010
Google last rolled out the last major Places Quality Guidelines update almost exactly one year ago. There have been a number of often critical additions (here, here and here) during the past 12 months.
Google has once again released a major update to the guidelines. Historically, these guidelines have preceded algo based penalties for non compliance.
I have highlighted in bold the obvious changes in the document below. The addition of Category selection guidelines is a crucial change to examine. (more…)
August 16, 2010
Google has recently added a new “best practice” to their business listing quality guidelines:
- Use standard capitalization & punctuation, unless your business name or address in the real world contains unusual capitalization & punctuation.
The guideline makes it clear that you can only uses non standard capitalization and punctuation if in fact your real business name includes those attributes. The change in and of itself is not that big of deal. One assumes that a business should be allowed to use their name as it exists in the real world. But this change to the rules is also accompanied by a companion upgrade that no longer prevents the use of these attributes in entering the business name in the Places Management (LBC).
For those businesses, like mine (blumenthals.com) that included a punctuation AND effectively a URL, we were not allowed to use the actual name in the Places Management area (LBC) as the filters there would “reject” the listing. Until the punctuation was removed (ie changing blumenthals.com to blumenthals) the listing would not be approved and would not show in the index.
An example of this problem was most visibly demonstrated by McDonald’s who had been unable to get their standard name approved. It has resulted in an incredible variation from corporate standards in the representation of their name in Maps (and a touch of spam?):
I wrote about this problem (Google Maps + MickyD’s =s McIrritating) in September of 2009. It is nice that it appears to have been finally resolved.
Please let me know if you 1)have experienced this problem and 2) if it is not rectified for you.
April 26, 2010
Google has recently added a new section to the Google Places quality guidelines concerning Custom Attributes & Description fields. From the updated guidelines (bold is mine):
Custom Attributes & Description
- Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields.
- Please see this page of Google Places User Guide for examples of acceptable custom attributes.
Google typically prefers to provide less rather than more guidance in the quality guidelines unless there is significant abuse, a significant decline in end user experience and/or a ranking penalty. This update is consistent with the geo-spamming penalties we have seen in the past. Obviously if you are in Columbus Oh, Google already knows that and including the phrase in the description and custom fields has no purpose other than to “fool” Google. It is unclear to me though, what situations this new rule applies to besides the excessive use of geographic terms.
I see some difficulties with the guideline as well. If a business title includes the word physician, the category is also physician, might it not make sense to perhaps include the word physician in the description (i.e. Dr. Alvarez is a caring physician) and perhaps in the custom attributes as well to describe additional medical practices performed that didn’t fit in the 5 categories?
You thoughts on this change and its import?
November 6, 2009
Stefano Gorgoni has pointed out that Google has once again changed the Business Listing Guidelines as regards to legal business name, switching back to the standard that was in use previously:
|The business name on Google Maps must be your full legal business name.
||Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
|Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.
||Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.
|Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.
||Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.