What is an acceptable business name under Google Guidelines? Poll Results

There was a fair bit of comment about small business naming practices for the internet in general and Google Maps in particular after the recent upgrade to their listing guidelines. The discussion revolved around the ambiguity that exists in the naming practices in small businesses and how that should best be projected into Maps to comply with Google requirements and best represent the business.

Here are the results of the poll on what you think is allowable under Google’s new Map’s business listing guidelines and you would recommend for a client (click for a larger image):

poll-results

Google’s Data-Rich Dashboard in Local Business Center- Official Announcment

Here is the official Google announcement of the new LBC Dashboard reproduced in its entirety:

 New feature will provide businesses with new visibility into the ways their local listings are found on Google, enabling them to make smarter decisions about attracting customers

Today Google is launching a new dashboard feature in the Google Local Business Center (LBC) that will provide business owners with a powerful level of information about how Google users are interacting with their local listings. The Local Business Center (www.google.com/lbc) is a free tool that enables business owners to control the content of their listings in Google Search and Google Maps. With the addition of the new dashboard, the LBC will now draw upon local search data to help owners optimize their local listings and their other efforts to attract more customers.

It’s estimated that 82% of consumers use search to find local businesses*, and the LBC dashboard will initially provide business owners with the following data on that activity in Google Search and Google Maps:

  • Impressions: The number of times the business listing appeared as a search result on Google.com search or Google Maps search in a given period.
  • Actions: How many times users interacted with the listing; for example, the number of times users clicked through to the business’ website or requested driving directions to the business.
  • Top search queries: Which queries led users to the business listing; for example, whether more customers are finding the listing for a cafe by searching for “tea” or “coffee”.
  • Zip codes where driving directions come from: Lists and maps of the zip codes users are coming from when they request directions to a listing.

With the LBC dashboard, business owners will be able to identify trends, such as days of the week when interest in their business spikes, or seasonality in the types of searches that lead potential customers to their listings. Owners will also be able to better determine how changes to their listings – such as adding a video or refining their category – influence the traffic to that listing.

The LBC dashboard also allows business owners to better measure the impact of changes to associated web content or adjustments to marketing campaigns – such as a new post to the company blog, or a new advertising campaign – by measuring impressions, actions, location, and more before and after the changes.

So, for example, a restaurant could host an event and then watch to see if queries for its business name increase in the following days. Or it could measure the results of an advertising campaign targeted at a nearby town by watching to see if more people are searching for directions to the restaurant from that zip code after the ad runs. It could also experiment with the information in its LBC listing to uncover which configurations produce more hits in Google search for certain keywords. With this data, owners will be able to make informed decisions about the most effective ways to promote their businesses and attract new customers.

The LBC dashboard will be pre-populated at launch with Google data from the past 30 days, and it will then be updated daily. All data available in the LBC dashboard will be anonymized and aggregated, so no individual Google user data will be shared.

The dashboard is accessible to any business owner who has claimed his or her listing in the Local Business Center. Business owners who do not yet have an LBC account can quickly create theirs for free by visiting http://www.google.com/lbc. The Local Business Center is currently available to business owners in 36 countries, but the dashboard feature will initially be available only for US listings.

For more information about the Local Business Center and the new dashboard, head to the Google Lat Long Blog for a tour. For information on how business owners can help Google users find and connect with their businesses, check out this list of tips.

Google Maps – What is an acceptable business name under Google Guidelines?

Update: Poll closes in 3 Hours. Please provide your input.

Google recently revamped their Business Listing Guidelines and has provided much more detail about what is acceptable practice in listing a business on Google Maps.

Despite their efforts to formalize what is spammy and what isn’t, the discussion in the comment section of the announcement post last week clearly indicated that at least in the small business arena, there is still a fair bit of ambiguity on what is appropriate in naming a business for local ecosystem in general and Maps in particular. This ambiguity closely resembles my real world experience where many businesses will have one name on their legal documents, a second on their literature, a third on their website etc.

Here are the specific sections from the new Google Guidelines that apply to business naming:

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 into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.

Let us know what you think is acceptable under Google’s current policy. I detailed some arbitrary hypothetical examples (as suggested by Stever of GeoLocalSeo). Please indicate which name below best exemplifies how far away from a smb’s legal name you would consider acceptable in a Google Maps context.

Carter Maslan comments on the new data rich Desktop for the LBC

Google is formally announcing their data rich Desktop for the LBC this morning. The new LBC view has been visible to a growing number of LBC users over the past week and should be visible to all US listings by Tuesday afternoon. I had some questions about the product and its focus which Carter Maslan, Director of Product Management for Google  Maps took the time to answer.

overview

MB: Please give me an overview of the product and its importance

Carter Maslan (CM): I have this mental image of a little shoe shop owner getting all of this info. Google is making all of this information visible. It is information that has never been visible before. The main thing motivating us, is giving offline businesses the same visibilty to information that you have with online businesses.

MB:What are you calling this new Lcoal Business Center Feature? 

CM:  the Dashboard in the LBC

MB: It is visible as a report in my LBC list view. The interface appears as if it could replace the current list view? Is it going to be the new interface? 

CM: If you are a single verified  business this is the first view that you will see. Right now if you have more than one listing it will be in the list view and will allow you to jump to the data rich view via the View Report Link. Further improvements are going to be made in the interface.

Now instead of the Local Business Center being solely a way to control how a business listing appears, it becomes an information rich source that can support an offline camapign. It will allow the small business to track and correlate offline activities with online behaviors.

MB: What is an impression? It is Just inside Maps or does it reflect Universal Local results as well

CM: An impression is the number of times the business listing appeared as a search result on Google.com search or Google Maps search in a given period.

MB: Initially I see that it is prepopulated with 30 days of data. Any chance of month over month comparison stats after 30 days?

CM: We could change on this but it will start on April 20 or so and go forward so if you look in August you will see accumulated history from that time. There are no plans for a month over month comparison at this time

MB: You have a small graphic indiciation completion level. Is there a guide somewhere that tells what  it takes to get to 100% or is it just populating every field to its maximum IE 10 Photos, 5 videos etc..

CM: We are making a change so that is more specific as to what the % complete indicates. If it isn’t available on rollout it will be available shortly.

MB: Does completion level have any impact outside of a guide to the client? I.E. does it affect standing?

CM: Nothing other than our standard view which is that if you have a complete listing you have a more appealing listing. It does not directly affect ranking. Our view is that the better you, as a business owner, represent yourself the better you able to selected among the choices. Our goal is to try to help the business present themselves in the best light.

MB: Any upgrades to deal automatically with clutter in the LBC? Will the new dashboard allow for easier management?

CM: In terms of the list view, there are no changes in this release. Going forward we’ll continue with the Local Business Center being the primary place where information is provided to Google. The interaction to get to the different views needs to be improved but we have a huge list of things we need to do. We are working as fast as we can in priority order.

MB: None of the “Top Search Queries” reported back include geo modifiers. Is that information not being shown? Or is it that the general terms with the out the geo phrase generates so much more traffic?

CM: Our report just includes the what part of the querie and and we are then summarizing the results with the where part of the querie. So the where part whether implied or stated are noted the same.

MB: I noticed in my test that roughly 20% of my Top Search Queires were “other”. Will we be able to access that information?

CM: “Top Search Queries” is analougus to Trends in that there is a necessity to protect prvacy on the 20% of the low volume searches. It would be too easy to identify individual searchers if we made this information available.

MB: One of the frustrating issues with the LBC is that it does not divulge the complete information that Google might be showing in Maps. I.E. where 3rd or 4th phone numbers are coming from or where a bad fax number is coming from. Are there any plans with your new interface to make that information more transparent?

CM: We are working on that particularly in the case where we know for certain that someone has verified and claimed a listing. We are working on changes that would make it less likely to display a phone number from other sources so that is going to be improved. 

MB: What is the Timeframe for that?

CM: It is a very high priority. We are already doing it to somne extent but we will be getting more strict going forward.

MB: You noted that the dashboard feature will initially be available only in the US. I am getting feedback that it is visible in Canada. Is that the case? When will it be rolled out internationally?

CM: It is based on the location of the lsting not the localtion of the LBC user. So Canadian LBC users can only see US listings in the new view.

MB: What is the timeframe for broader international rollout?

CM: It is a high priority but we have nothing specific to communicate. It will follow as we are able to provide it but there is no timeline to announce at the moment.

MB: What didn’t I ask that you think is significant about this effort or any of your Local efforts?

CM: This is a brand new set of data that hasn’t been visible before and I am eager to see how people actually use it…getting Google visibility and measurablity will offer huge benefits to the small business person.

Google Maps: New data Rich Dashboard in the LBC

Google over the next 48 hours will be rolling our a new analytic feature for the Local Business Center to all U.S. LBC listings. For the first time users of the Local Business Center will have access to detailed information about how their listing is performing in the Universal Local Results on the main results page and in Google Maps.

John Biundo of Stone Temple has done an excellent job describing the intricacies of the new product in his recent post. Here is a screen shot of the new Local Business Center feature:

dashboard

The new vies of the LBC will become the primary view for LBC accounts with single listings. It will be presented as a report in List View to those LBC accounts with more than one listing in the account. Initially it is only available to US users with international rollout time frames to be determined. Of interest is the new Business Listing Guidelines are prominently displayed.

Danny Sullivan speaks at Where 2.0 on the non-Zen of Google Maps

If you haven’t seen this video, you should. Its a great summary of the vagaries of claiming a listing using Google Maps and the often times negative real world affects when Maps and reality collide:

AOL is Now Selling Local 10 Pack Spots

A reader recently pointed out that AOL is now selling all the spots in their “Local 10 Pack” on a CTC and possible PPC basis through YellowPages.com and ServiceMagic. I don’t follow AOL search hat closely so this may have been happening for a while.  

Here are several sample searches:

Attorneys near OleanNY 14760 Local Sponsored Listings

See more local listings near OleanNY 14760 »

******

Auto Repair near OleanNY 14760 Local Sponsored Listings

See more local listings near OleanNY 14760 »

The results are not uniformly bad but particularly on the small town searches above the results are less than acceptable. In the lawyer search none of the results are even remotely local and in the car repair search most of the national franchises are not available in this market. When I searched for Plumber Olean NY, I was given a single plumber located 70 miles away that specialized in water proofing. Not much help if I have a leaky toilet. Searches in more urban areas (see Washington DC Plumber) returned somewhat better but still not stellar results. 

Whether that is a function of lack of inventory or a bad algo is unclear but the results are very unsatisfying. AOL is likely under pressure to monetize their search. It seems to me that doing it with such irrelevant results is a quick, one way ticket to oblivion. 

That being said there are a number of good reasons why a lower volume search engine might want or need to monetize these results. In the absence of an alternative ranking strategy, it is also a strategy that might make perfect sense as alternative to distance ranking in certain market segments (like plumbers) that are not really location based.

Should local listings on general search engines go to the highest bidder? Do you think we will see more of this practice on high volume sites?

Google Maps Guidelines: What has Changed?

Google updated the Maps Listing Guidelines earlier today. It is difficult to understand the differences without a direct comparison to the old guidelines. I have attempted to highlight the changes in italics:

Original Guidelines

New Guidlelines
  Modified Guidelines  
Represent your business exactly as it appears in real life. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.   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.
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 or address fields.   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.
List information that provides as direct a path to the business as you can. Given the choice, you may want to list individual location phone numbers over a central phone line, official website pages rather than a directory page, and as exact of an address as you can.   Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business. For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
Only include listings for businesses that you represent.   Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to represent.
Don’t participate in any behavior with the intention or result of listing your business more times than it exists. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.   Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
  New  
    Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.
    When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as "Airport Transportation", but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”. Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.
    Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as "click through" sites may lead to penalization.
    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.

In these new guidelines it appears that Google is making explict more cases of abuse. Obviously affiliate abuse and directories claiming of listings is targeted as well as category spam and title stuffing. It is unclear whether enforcement will be more proactive.

Google Maps: Updated Quality Guidelines for Business Listing

Google rolled out updated quality guidelines today:

Quality Guidelines:

  • Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to represent.
  • 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 into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.
  • Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
  • When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation”, but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”. Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.
  • Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business. For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
  • Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as “click through” sites may lead to penalization.
  • 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.

Local Search Ranking Factors 2009 Now Available

David Mihm has published his 2009 Local Search Ranking Factor interviews with contributions from 27 folks that work in local.

The study, while anecdotal in nature, manages to capture the wisdom of the many in it’s summary of the factors affecting ranking in local search.

All in all a stellar job with lots of tidbits of knowledge to digest.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search